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The 6 Stages of Entering the Home Buyer Market

Buying a home is more than a simple transaction. It’s a journey that’s different for each homebuyer. Market fluctuations, personal circumstances, and many other factors can impact how complex or long your home buying journey will be.

Here are six stages you’ll likely experience on your home-buying journey, along with tips and actionable insights to help guide you through the process.

Stage 1: dreaming up your dream home.

Maybe you’re tired of paying rent. Or maybe you’ve noticed that house down the street with the for sale sign. Or maybe you’re a huge fan of the television show House Hunters.

Then you might start to realize that the idea of owning a home no longer seems so crazy. You’ve found a reliable job you like, and you’ve built a budget that more than covers your daily expenses. You’re either already in a position to buy a home, or you’re ready to put yourself in that position. You’re ready to start building equity and stop paying rent.

Stage 2: doing your homework.

The path to owning a home often starts with the desire to have a place to call your own, and then moves on to gathering knowledge about your options and the home market. You might research neighborhoods and look at properties on Zillow or Redfin to get a sense of what prices you might pay, or ask friends or relatives who have recently bought a home.

As you research, there are some key topics you should prioritize:

While sifting through online resources, you’ll likely encounter a variety of educational materials:

  • Articles that lay out the home buying journey step-by-step
    • Knowing what to expect and when will help you prepare required documents, down payments, and other information, as well as reducing the risk of surprise
  • Calculators to estimate what you can afford
    • You can get estimated mortgage payments, explore the impact of different down payments, see if it makes more sense to rent or buy, compare two different loans, and more. This can help you plan your budget and set realistic spending goals.
    • Be sure to consider closing costs, which cover various legal and administrative services. This can range from 2% to 5% of your home’s purchase price—or sometimes more. These are out-of-pocket expenses due at signing, separate from your down payment.
    • Narrowing your home search to focus on properties within your budget helps you move from thinking about buying a home to finding it
  • Videos explaining the current real estate market
    • Is it a buyer’s market or a seller’s market? What other current trends might impact your decisions?
  • Homebuyer’s workshops

Increasing knowledge can give you a general picture of what homeownership is like, and whether it’s right for you. However, personalized guidance and expertise is essential. This is why many people end up searching out Mortgage Loan Officers and real estate agents who can help. These professionals can offer valuable insights about what to expect and how to prepare for home ownership.

Stage 3: ready for help from real estate professionals.

When you reach this stage, you understand what your budget can comfortably afford and are ready to enlist professional services to help you find the right home for you, as well as how much of a loan you qualify for.

Finding a lender.

Couple-with-RealtorThe first step might be identifying a lender with competitive rates—and a Mortgage Loan Officer you can trust. You have several options for finding Mortgage Loan Officers, with your local bank or credit union being an easy place to start. Mortgage brokers are another type of real estate professional who, for a fee, can assist you in finding lenders with different programs. Or, if you happen to start by finding a real estate agent you want to work with, they may know someone they could recommend—however, be sure to shop around to make sure you are getting the best rate possible.

A Mortgage Loan Officer will help you with every aspect of your loan, from application to closing. They can help you understand your budget and find financial options that suit you, and help you understand what closing costs you might be looking at.

Once you’re ready to begin the house hunting process in earnest, apply for a pre-approval with your Mortgage Loan Officer. Starting here, even before you find a real estate agent, offers several advantages:

  • A pre-approval confirms your purchasing power, giving you leverage in negotiations. Keep in mind that the maximum amount you’re pre-approved for may be more than you actually want to spend on a home.
  • Pre-approvals look good to sellers, especially in a competitive market where they may receive multiple offers. They are also attractive to real estate agents with whom you would like to work.
  • You’ll be informed about the loan application process from start to finish, and know what to expect and when, which will take away some of the stress.

Your loan officer can also help you get yourself into the best financial position for buying a home, make recommendations on the advantages of different mortgage products, and they can advise you when to lock in your rate. Mortgage rates fluctuate every day, but you can lock in a set rate for peace of mind and accurate budgeting, with a requirement to close on the home purchase within a specified time frame.

In other words, the loan officer is there to help you prepare, apply, and qualify for a loan that is right for your budget and your needs.

Finding a real estate agent or Realtor.

You might hear the terms real estate agent and Realtor used interchangeably. While both are professionals who will help you buy or a sell a home, not all real estate agents are Realtors. Realtors are licensed real estate agents who are also members of the National Association of Realtors, with specific standards and training requirements.

However, all real estate agents can be expected to help you in several key ways.

  • They have access to the most current listings, some of which may not be public yet, which can be particularly helpful in times when there might be limited inventory, such as over the winter.
  • Once they know what you’re looking for as a buyer and your price range, they can be your guide to the market and help you find promising properties.
  • They have deep knowledge of properties and neighborhoods, including information on schools.
  • They know the ins and outs of real estate sales and laws.
  • They will handle communication with the seller or their agent over requests for information, such as any questions you have about the property or if the seller wants the details of your pre-approval.
  • They will also help you prepare and submit offers, and will review all contracts and documents for accuracy.
  • They will help keep your lender, the title company, insurance agents and any other involved parties in the loop so everyone is ready to close efficiently.
  • They are there to answer all your questions, especially if you’re a first-time home buyer.

Remember, your agent’s role is to represent you and your interests competently and ethically. In most states, a real estate agent is considered a fiduciary for the buyer, which means they are legally required to act in the buyer’s best interest, not their own, with some specific duties including loyalty, obedience, disclosure, confidentiality, diligence, and accounting. Real estate agents are overseen by state-level Real Estate Commissions, and, in the case of Realtors, also by their trade association.

As you begin working with a real estate agent, don’t hesitate to ask questions and ensure that you’re comfortable with their approach to finding your ideal home.  Look for professionals who have experience in the area you are interested in, as well as those who have a strong track record of successful sales and satisfied clients—you can ask for referrals from friends and family, and check reviews on sites such as Zillow, Realtor.com, Yelp, or Facebook. Your lender may also be able to recommend competent real estate agents. Ultimately, your real estate agent’s expertise will save you time, stress, and potentially money by helping you make informed decisions throughout the home-buying process.

Stage 4: shopping for a home and solidifying requirements.

When you’re ready to shop for a home, be sure of your needs and wants. Prioritizing your list will help guide your decision-making process and provide your real estate agent with the information they need to show you only properties that would work.

Everyone’s specific needs and wants will be different, of course, depending on your own circumstances, but below are some examples to help you get started:

Needs—the must-have features:

  • The number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Essential location (proximity to work, schools, etc.)
  • Home type (single-family, condo, townhouse)

Wants—desirable amenities:

  • Updated kitchen or bathrooms
  • Backyard or outdoor space
  • Flexible spaces for a home office or gym

Take your checklist with you when you view properties. Keep thorough notes on each property you visit, noting how well it meets your criteria. This will be essential when it comes time to compare homes and make a decision.

There are a few other questions to consider as you go along, which could help you refine your checklist:

  • If a property isn’t perfect, is a remodel a possibility either now or down the road, once you have the budget for it?
  • If a property is missing a need, are you able to compromise on that point?
  • How long do you plan to live in the property? Is this just a starter home, or do you intend to stay long-term?

Be ready to adapt, since you might encounter new properties that redefine your expectations, and it’s important to reassess your requirements periodically as you see what’s out there.

Stage 5: purchasing your home.

Now that you’ve gathered a team of professionals to guide you, the complexities of home buying will be considerably simpler to navigate. Your Mortgage Loan Officer and real estate agent will handle setting up the loan and negotiating the purchase respectively, and will keep you informed and involved when you need to take action.

It’s almost time to start making your dream a reality. But before you can set foot in your new abode, there are critical steps to navigate:

  • Lock in your rate. Securing your mortgage rate protects you from interest fluctuations during the closing process. This rate lock commitment ensures your budget stays on target.
  • Process your loan. Your lender will continue with the underwriting process, assessing all documentation to grant final loan approval. Your patience and cooperation will be key as they finalize your mortgage details.
  • Address last-minute issues. Occasionally, unforeseen challenges may arise. This could be a repair request from a home inspection or an appraisal discrepancy. Stay calm and flexible; your real estate agent or Mortgage Loan Officer will help navigate these hurdles.
  • Close/Sign. The closing day is when you’ll sign a mountain of legal documents. It’s important to understand what you’re signing, so don’t hesitate to ask questions.
  • Moving logistics. Plan your move with care and precision. Whether you hire movers or do it yourself, organizing logistics well in advance will make the transition smoother.

Once you’ve signed on the dotted line, the keys to your new home will be yours—or at least they will be after the deed is recorded, often the day or days after your signing. But the journey doesn’t end there. Now it’s time to make your new house a home.

Stage 6: homeownership.

Homeownership is the beginning of an entirely new journey.

  • You’ll now manage mortgage payments, homeowner’s insurance, and property taxes.
  • Connect utilities, such as electricity, gas, water, trash and recycling pickups, and more.
  • Assess any needed maintenance and repairs, and establish a budget and schedule for those purposes.
  • Find the circuit box, emergency shut-offs, and appliance manuals.
  • Change the locks and update any security codes

There’s a lot to do. However, as a homeowner, you now have the freedom to personalize your space and build equity over time. You also get the opportunity to create a space that reflects your unique personality and style.

Homeownership is a long-term investment. Taking care of your property and making wise financial decisions will benefit you in the long run. Consider periodically assessing your mortgage and possibly refinancing to ensure you are getting the best deal possible. By staying proactive and informed, you’ll both enjoy and protect this significant investment.

Journey to homeownership: from dream to reality.

Couple-with-Keys-to-New-HomeMaking your homeownership dream come true can be a complex process, with challenges including making a budget, coming up with a down payment and closing costs, finding the right home that is also affordable, and getting an offer accepted, especially in a competitive market.

The best way to get started is to talk to a Mortgage Loan Officer. Even if you’re unsure about homeownership, or are still years away from being ready, starting now will help you understand what behaviors will set you up for home ownership in the future. A loan officer can look at your situation and help you understand what you can afford now, or help create a plan to get you on the path to homeownership. You can find a local OnPoint Mortgage Loan Officer here.

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