A Checklist for First-Time Homebuyers

Here are four things you'll need (and two things you won't) when you're ready to switch from renting to owning.

Sure, owning a home is the American dream. It's also the largest investment most of us will ever make, so go into it knowing what is and isn't required.

HERE'S WHAT YOU'LL NEED:

  1. Enough money to make monthly mortgage payments. Duh! If a mortgage payment will bust your budget, you can't get rid of your landlord yet. Use a mortgage calculator to estimate your monthly payment.
  2. Enough income to pay property taxes and homeowner's insurance. The mortgage isn't the only cost you'll have each month. You also have to pay taxes and insurance. If you can't make those payments, say bye-bye to the house. 
  3. The ability to maintain the property. You must keep a home in good repair or it will lose value and you'll lose money. You can do the work yourself or hire it out. Either way, you can’t ignore peeling paint and windows that won’t close, like you did when you were a tenant.
  4. A decent credit record. If you have lots of late payments, have declared bankruptcy or left old debts unpaid, it's harder to get a mortgage. And if you do get one, your bad credit record will make you pay a much higher interest rate.
HERE'S WHAT YOU WON'T NEED:

  1. A big down payment. It's best to make a big down payment so you can skip paying private mortgage insurance (PMI) and lower your monthly payments, but it is possible to buy a house for almost nothing down.
  2. Experience. In most major cities, real estate companies hold home-buyer education classes for first-timers. Go, even if you have no immediate plans to buy. The information you get can lead you to other sources of help.
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