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What a First-Time Homebuyer Needs to Know

Written by Ilyce Glink on June 17, 2011 in Real Estate  |   5 comments

In the current market, first-time homebuyers have their work cut out for them. In the past, when the market was going up, first-time homebuyers’ main concern was finding a home—any home. Their secondary concerns were how to get financing for the home and the condition…

In the current market, first-time homebuyers have their work cut out for them.

In the past, when the market was going up, first-time homebuyers’ main concern was finding a home—any home. Their secondary concerns were how to get financing for the home and the condition of the property. They knew that if they could purchase a home, they would make money down the line, regardless of the type of property they purchased.

How the market has changed. Today’s first-time homebuyers need to go back to the basics. First, you need to ask yourself several questions:

  • Is my credit good enough to buy a home?
  • Do I have enough money saved for a down payment?
  • What neighborhood do I want to live in?
  • What type of home do I want?
  • What is my budget?
  • How long do I plan on living in this home?

These questions are just a starting point. You may have dozens more. The most important thing is that as a first-time homebuyer, you understand the current real estate market.

If you are planning to live in a home for only a year or two, you may be better off renting than buying a home. If your budget won’t allow you to buy in the neighborhood you want, you may want to wait a year or two so you can save more money to buy in that neighborhood.

If you are a first-time homebuyer, you should make sure your credit score is over 720. The higher your credit score, the lower the mortgage interest rate you’ll be able to get.

You should also have saved up at least 20 percent of the value of the home. If you can put down at least 20 percent toward the purchase of your first home, you will save money on closing expenses and on monthly loan expenses. If you put down less than 20 percent on a home, you will probably have to pay private mortgage insurance or a similar payment to get your loan. In some cases, you may have a lump-sum payment owed when you buy the home, along with a monthly payment for several years after or for the life of the loan.

If you can minimize those up-front and monthly payments, you will save quite a bit of money over the long term.

If your credit and savings are good enough to buy a home, you next have to focus on buying in a community that will suit your needs now and in the future. It won’t do you much good to buy a home in a neighborhood you hate. You may want to have a wish list and a list of must-haves. If you have an understanding of what you must have versus what you would like, you will be better prepared to make smarter decisions when buying your first home.

Whether you use the Internet or a real estate broker, make sure you find a good neighborhood in which to buy your first home. Most first-time homebuyers will live in their home for five to seven years. You want to make sure that in five to seven years, your neighborhood is still a great neighborhood with great schools and other amenities.

A common first-time homebuyer mistake is forgetting to budget for increased expenses as a homeowner. And remember—the larger the home, the higher the monthly expenses. With a larger home, you’ll have higher heating and cooling bills, higher property taxes, and higher repair and maintenance fees.

As the saying goes, in real estate, it’s “Let the buyer beware.” Make sure you get a good inspector to take a look at the home you are buying, a good attorney to review your documentation, and a good real estate agent to help you navigate the transaction.

Ilyce Glink is a best-selling author, real estate columnist, and web series host. She is the managing editor of the Equifax Finance Blog and CEO of Think Glink Media. Follow her on Twitter: @Glink

Read More:
Congress Doubles Funding for Troubled USDA Housing Loans
Home Repairs: Do It Yourself or Hire Help?
Can I Save My Home From Foreclosure?
What’s Going On with Foreclosures?
Foreclosure Guidelines: OCC Takes Action
Real Estate Investing: How to Handle Nightmare Tenants

The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.


  1. themortgagegalleryrockingham.com.au says:

    I completely agree with the above posting and want to give the posting party major kudos for emphasizing the need to consider the budget for increased expenses as a homeowner. I love to own a big house but with your advice I will have to think about paying larger energy bills and maintenance expenses.

    mortgage broker Perth

  2. Phil Dumouchel says:

    While a 720 score and 20% downpayment are excellent goals, these are unrealistic for many (if not most) first time buyers. This advice may also make homeownership seem like a virtually impossible goal. As a former long-time manager of non-profit housing agencies, and current mortgage banker I think potential buyers should know that it is very possible to purchase a home with a credit score as low as 600-620 for a FHA (government) insured mortgage and with as little as 3.5% downpayment. There are maximum mortgage limits for this program which may limit the house price that is possible – and in some markets there may be few options. However in most parts of the country it the limits will allow purchase of an entry priced home.

    Overall this is great advice but setting the bar too high keeps people out of the market when they don't need to be, prolonging current problems in the housing market. Potential buyers may also miss out on great opportunities to buy and incredibly low interest rates.

  3. Pingback: Home Buying: The Low Down on No Down Payment Mortgages | Equifax Finance Blog

  4. Anonymous says:

    This post and commentes were very helpful. I am a 23 year old who is doing research to become a homeowner by the time I’m 28. Some things I did know, most I did not.

    • EFX Finance Blog Editor, JF says:

      @Anonymous – So glad to hear it. Along with a strong savings plan, educating yourself on the ins and outs of the real estate market will help you be an informed buyer when you’re 28. Keep reading, and make sure to come back and let us know about your progress.

      Good luck!

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