What Exactly do First Time Home Buyers Need?

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That's one of the questions I've been asked, and it deserves an answer. Know that there is some flexibility to the answer, as there are embedded trade offs. You don't need as much of an income, or as high of a credit score, if you have a larger down payment. A sufficiently high credit score can also mean that you can afford a more expensive property, as higher credit scores get better interest rates, and therefore, lower payments for the same property. On the flip side, if you have monthly bills that consume a large amount of your income, you cannot afford to pay as much for a property. When I originally wrote this, there was another tradeoff involved in whether you can prove sufficient income via the traditional means of w-2s or income tax forms, as the alternative loan forms do not give rates as good, and most have higher down payment requirements. However, stated income loans are gone, at least for now. Finally, most of this only applies if you want or need a loan. If you intend to pay 100% of the price with cash, you can buy anything legal that you desire with your cash, and the hurdles become much smaller. So admittedly this only applies to 99.9999% of first time home buyers.

The first thing any buyers need if they want a loan for the property is a source of income. If you want a loan, you've got to have money coming in from somewhere to make the payments. Preferably, it's a documentable, regular source of income, such as paychecks or income from a business on which you report taxable income. I suppose I should mention that tax cheats have difficulty getting good quality home loans, because I have dealt with a few people I suspect of that. Don't worry, I'm not an IRS employee and I won't turn you in. But all lenders must report loan transactions, and every real estate transaction is a matter of public record. If you make a major purchase or take out a major loan, the IRS can take an interest in you. Just saying.

You income, together with whatever amount you have for a down payment, gives you a budget for a property. The vast majority of the loan is driven off two ratios, debt to income and loan to value. These two ratios together will determine minimums for everything else about your loan. If your credit score was not horrible, a down payment was pretty much optional for several years during the Era of Make Believe Loans, although it has since become essentially mandatory as the VA loan is the only loan out there where most lenders are willing to fund loans without a down payment.

You will need at least a few thousand dollars for a good faith deposit, and probably another thousand at least for appraisal, inspections, and miscellaneous stuff. The once-upon-a-time rule of thumb about a 2% earnest money deposit has long gone by the wayside, but a good deposit is often evidence that you are serious about your ability to consummate the deal, and might get you a lower price in negotiations. I will argue against my listing clients accepting any offer, no matter how good, without a deposit, and most sane real estate agents agree with me.

The larger the down payment, the lower you can expect the needed income to be, and the better the interest rate you are likely to get at any given time. In order to make a difference on the terms of your loan, the required down payment generally goes in increments of 5%. 3.5% for an FHA loan is the absolute minimum for most people currently, but you will get a better deal from conventional loans that require a minimum of 5% down (But as few lenders as will do that, they can charge higher rates than others). 10% will get you better terms than you would get for 5% down, 15% will get you better terms than ten, and the really major differences happen if you can put 20% down. More still will get you better terms yet, but 20% is the big dividing line.

If you want to take advantage of a governmental first time buyer assistance program, either the Mortgage Credit Certificate or a locally based buyer assistance program, you need to be very careful about staying within what you can prove you can afford via tax forms. Stated Income, or documenting your income via bank statements, is not an option on any of those programs and never has been. Using creative financing options, such as negative amortization loans, with such programs is similarly forbidden. First time assistance programs are not designed to encourage irresponsibly buying a more expensive property than you can afford; they are designed to help you stretch what you can afford just a little further. Know what you can afford in terms of sales price, because agents and loan officers can too easily manipulate payment quotations. Rules of thumb based upon income (2.5 times income, four times income, whatever) are garbage, and the entire concept is a good way to get into trouble. This article will help you compute what you can afford, once you know the approximate rates for current thirty year fixed rate loans.

You will need to be able to document a two year history of housing payments. Since you have never bought before, this means rent. No fun to have had to enrich someone else for a couple of years, but there are valid reasons why lenders require a history of regular housing payments on time. If you can document that you've been paying regular rent to your parents, grandparents, or what have you, that can count, although lenders will usually demand copies of the canceled checks rather than accepting their word for it.

You will also need a history of credit payments. Mortgage lenders want to see evidence that you have the habit of paying your debts on time regularly. The usual criteria is three total lines of credit, one open for at least 24 months, the other two for at least six months. These can be revolving lines of credit such as credit cards, or installment debt such as car payments or student loans. Note that they do not necessarily have to still be open, but whatever balances and monthly payments you still have will be counted against your debt to income ratio.

Also, you generally need at least two open lines of credit in order to have credit scores reported by the major credit bureaus. Ideal is two long term credit cards with very small balances. The way I handle this is to charge one thing per month for about $20 or so that I would normally pay cash for, and pay the bill in full when it arrives. You will need an appropriate credit score for what you are trying to do. What score is sufficient will depend upon the exact characteristics of your transaction. Better scores will lower your rate, and therefore your payments, but the best thing that can be said about a 580 credit score (which some lenders will accept for FHA loans) is that it isn't putrid. Unfortunately for those who want to buy now without any cash, the lenders have now figured out that them being on the hook for 100% of the value of the property is a good way to lose money. I do anticipate 100% financing returning eventually, but "eventually" could be years, and even A paper has introduced differentials to the tradeoff between rate and cost based upon credit score, where until recently, as long as you staggered over the line into qualification, you'd get the same rates and costs as King Midas.

The last things I will mention that will stand you in good stead are also optional: An educated layperson's knowledge of the process (I would like to think being a regular reader here will help with that), a investigative attitude, and the willingness to shop effectively for services, both loan and real estate. There seems to be popular resistance to this, but getting a good buyer's agent will not only save your backside, it'll make a real difference to the quality of the property you end up with as well as to how much you pay.

Caveat Emptor

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2 Comments

Jerry said:

Great post. As a former mortgage company employee it's interesting to see how the rules have changed. It leads me to think that it will improve the outcome for buyers and lenders in the long run. Stated income loans were junk. They should have never been allowed. I feel lucky because when I was with my former company I was able to score a great low rate fixed and with taxes and insurance it's well under our monthly budget. Not everyone was so lucky.
Jerry

Dan Melson Author Profile Page said:

I must disagree when you say that stated income loans should never have been allowed. There is a real market segment that they serve: the self employed, whose taxes generally show far less income than people who are declaring the same money via W-2. Since it's the income after deductions that gets counted, many of these folks are unable to get a loan for anything like the money they really can afford. Similarly if their business has one below average year, it can kill them for two or possibly three years.

Stated income was abused, and perhaps that was inevitable. I never liked doing one and at the peak of the stated income craze they never amounted to more than 5% of my business simply because I would sit people down and go over what they could actually afford - the abusers ended up going somewhere else who wouldn't force them to face unpleasant truths. But I have to admit that for the people they were intended for, used properly, they were both beneficial and necessary.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on August 21, 2014 7:00 AM.

Prepaid Interest and Why You Never Really Skip a Mortgage Payment was the previous entry in this blog.

Protecting My Buyer Clients Good Faith Deposit is the next entry in this blog.

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