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Understanding Mortgages

Illustration of a suburban house

First-time home buyer loan programs: What are the options?

No matter where you are in life - a recent college grad, newlywed or just someone who is finally ready to make the leap - first-time homeownership is a big decision. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), roughly 33% of the market is composed of first-timers, a share that's remained fairly consistent over the past several years. That's a significant figure and it's understandable, given that buying a house is something that most people hope to accomplish at some point.

Regardless of your situation, you probably have lots of questions which, stacked on top of one another, might rival the height of a skyscraper: How much can I afford? Should I live in the country or the city? What is the application process like? Who are the mortgage lenders and which should I choose? What will my interest rate be? Are there any assistance programs available? You get the picture - and that's just a few of the burning questions first-time buyers may ponder. 

Here's the good news: As numerous as your questions may be, almost equally as abundant are your options, particularly when it comes to loan programs. So, which one should you choose? Here are the details on a few of them that can help guide your decision:

FHA Loans

Backed by the Federal Housing Administration, FHA loans are among the more popular options, particularly for first-time buyers. The reason for this is the qualification standards are a bit looser compared to others. Although the FHA operates the program, FHA loans are sold through private lenders.

Perhaps the most attractive aspect of FHA loans, aside from their wide availability, is the fact that many people are eligible. For example, even if your credit score is lower than what's considered ideal, that isn't always a deal breaker. Furthermore, you're not expected to come up with a sizeable down payment, as this can be as low as 3.5% of the purchase price.

USDA-RD Loans

Another government-backed mortgage option is the program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Similar to FHA loans, USDA-RD loans are sold through private lenders and are geared toward homebuyers whose incomes are considered low to moderate. You fall into this bracket if your combined household income is between 50% and 80% of the median salary in your geographic area, as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

They're a loan type ideal for first-time buyers, but USDA-RD loans are exclusively for those who live in rural parts of the U.S. What defines "rural"? There's actually no official definition, but generally speaking, according to the Census Bureau, it's any place that is not considered a metropolitan statistical area (MSA). From a geographical perspective, MSAs are the exception, not the rule, so even if you don't think you live in a rural enclave, don't discount your eligibility. Why? Because 97% of the U.S. populace resides in a location the USDA-RD loan program covers.

Here's another attractive aspect of USDA-RD loans: a down payment is optional. Surveys by the NAR show that the down payment is often the biggest obstacle for prospective buyers; USDA-RD loans help make homeownership possible. That said, there are a few prerequisites in order to be considered eligible. Your FICO® score (that's your credit score) and household income must meet a certain total, depending on the size of your family. The more there are of you, the more you're able to earn.

Keep in mind that even though you're not required to make a down payment with a USDA-RD loan, you are expected to purchase mortgage insurance. Even here, though, premiums tend to be more affordable compared to traditional loan products.

Conventional 3% Down

Otherwise referred to as a conventional 97 LTV (loan-to-value) mortgage, the 3% down loan program is aptly named, because it's custom-made for individuals who may not be able to afford a large lump sum going toward the down payment. Developed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the conventional 97 program requires an upfront expense of just 3% of the home's value, which is lower than the mandatory amount for FHA loans. As noted on Fannie Mae's website, there are a few other eligibility standards to be mindful about. It's for fixed-rate mortgages only, as opposed to adjustable rate mortgages, and the requested loan amount can't be higher than $484,350. Additionally, while repeat buyers are free to apply, it has to have been at least three years since you last were a homeowner.

VA Loans

If you're an active or retired member of the military, you may be uniquely qualified to apply for an affordable mortgage product thanks to the Veterans Administration. VA loans are backed by this government department but sold through most private lenders. As with USDA-RD loans, they do not necessitate a down payment. VA loans are available to individuals who serve or have served in any of the five military branches - Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard - or reserves, for a period of at least 90 days at wartime or 181 during peace. Closing costs and monthly payments tend to be more affordable with VA loans as well.

What type of loan is the best option for a first-time buyer?

Given that there are so many mortgage options to select from, you may wonder which is the very best. When it comes down to it, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. Everybody's situation is different and not only that, participating lenders vary. Assistance programs aren't universally available either. That's why it's so important to consult with a mortgage professional who is well-positioned to assess your specific situation and go from there.

Armed with this information, you can enter the market with a better idea of what loan to go with and what you can expect as far as qualification is concerned. Contact your local RMS loan officer for a free consultation.


Helpful Tips

Potted flowers in front of a line of shrubberyThree Landscaping Hacks

Landscaping can add curb appeal to your home, which can add to the value of your house. Additionally, outdoor living areas can help improve your quality of life. Fresh air and a natural environment can improve focus, and lower stress levels. Try these three landscaping hacks to make your outdoor living area into an oasis you can enjoy in the warmer months without breaking the bank.

Front yard with a flower bed lined with stonesAdd a flower bed border of stones:

Adding a border to your flower bed is easy, cheap, and has a large impact. It draws eyes to your garden, immediately adding curb appeal. You can use a variety of rocks that are similar sizes and colors that complement each other.

Add a walking path to connect features:

Walking paths will create focus in your outdoor space while adding charm. Consider using stone pavers as a relatively cheap and easy solution to connect focal points in your yard.

Stone path through flower bedsCreate a container garden:

Flower pot gardenContainer gardens can instantly add pops of color and create a welcoming atmosphere in your outdoor living space. Place potted plants on the ground, on a pedestal or even mount them on a windowsill.

Taking time to add landscaping to your home will increase its curb appeal, add a personal touch, and make your outdoor spaces more enjoyable. Spruce up your yard with some simple features like container gardens or walking paths and spend some time in the fresh air!


Things to Consider

Woman working on finances with a calculator and laptop

Planning for the Extra Expenses of Homeownership

When deciding how much of a home you can afford, don't forget to factor in the extra expenses of homeownership that extend beyond your monthly mortgage payment, taxes, insurance and utilities.

Home maintenance

Home maintenance helps your home run efficiently and keeps your house in good condition. There are a few popular rules of thumb used to estimate how much homeowners will spend annually on home maintenance.

  • The 1% Rule: Budget 1% of the purchase price of your home each year to go towards home maintenance.
  • The Square Foot Rule: Budget $1 per square foot of your house per year for maintenance and home repairs.

Keep in mind that these general rules for home maintenance and repair budgets DO NOT take into consideration many factors like the age of your home, the location, the weather of the area where you live and the condition of your house. All these factors can affect your yearly maintenance and repair expenses.

Household items for your new home

There are many items that first-time homebuyers may need to purchase for their new home. See below for a list of some of the popular items new homeowners buy within the first few weeks of moving in.

  • Calculator with images indicating home, groceries, car and vacationNew locks and keys
  • Garden hose
  • Lawn mower (if applicable)
  • Snow shovel (if applicable)
  • Rake
  • Garden tools
  • Curtains or blinds for the windows
  • Light bulbs
  • Tool kit
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Grill

Making sure things like maintenance, repairs, and additional household items are included in your budgeting will help you decide how much home you can comfortably afford. It pays to speak with local experts early in the home buying process so you can focus on the right price range and buy your dream home.


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Helpful Tips

Spring Interior Checklist

May 10
8:00
AM
Category | Helpful Tips

Cleaning supplies

As the weather warms up and summer approaches, our minds are on relaxing and soaking up the sun. However, there are some chores around the interior of your home that you should take care of before you run off to enjoy the outdoors. Keeping up with regular home maintenance can help your home run efficiently. Read on for a checklist of chores you should tackle this spring to make sure your home is in tip-top shape.

  • Replace your air conditioner filter. It’s important to replace the air filter in your central heating/cooling system every one to three months to keep it operating efficiently.
  • Schedule a service call to have your furnace checked.
  • Make sure you switch your ceiling fans to spin counter-clockwise. This forces air down and creates a cooling effect.
  • Clean bathroom vents. Removing dust from the covers will help them run quietly and efficiently.
  • Clean showerheads and bathroom drains to remove mineral deposits.
  • Clean out your faucet traps by unscrewing the ends of the faucets with pliers, remove the small screens and flush out all the debris and mineral deposits.
  • Clean all kitchen appliances inside and out, especially your refrigerator and its coils.
  • Clean out your garbage disposal with ice cubes and salt to remove build-up of sludge. Then pour a half cup of baking soda into the disposal and slowly pour vinegar on top to remove odor. Flush with hot or boiling water.
  • Change your water and icemaker filters.
  • Clean your range hood and filter.
  • Clean your clothes dryer vent pipe.
  • Clean your windows and window sills.
  • Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and replace batteries where necessary.
  • Oil your garage door opener and chain, and all door hinges.
  • Check your attic and basement for any signs of water leaks, mold or pests.

Taking care of to-do items around the home may not be the way you want to spend a beautiful spring weekend, but it will help keep your home running efficiently and help you maintain your investment in your home!


Understanding Mortgages

Young couple meeting with a loan officer

How first-time home buyers can secure a mortgage

First-time home buyers represent a substantial portion of the property seeking public. Accounting for roughly one-third of sales at any given point in the typical year, according to the National Association of Realtors, every first-time home buyer enters the market with the hopes of realizing the American dream - ideally at an affordable price.

But buying a home on a budget may seem easier said than done. Fortunately, there are a variety of opportunities that you can take advantage of to buy a home you've set your sights on.

What do you need when applying for a mortgage?

After you've taken a look at some of the listings in your area and seen what the prices are, you'll need a mortgage provider so you can apply for a loan. Lenders are quite plentiful, so you'll have plenty of options to choose from. Whoever you go with, they'll need to see some information to determine your financials. Some of the items to gather include your credit report, pay stubs from the last few weeks, a bank statement of available funds and a copy of your federal tax returns.

Your lender will pull a credit report. Your credit report, which you can also obtain from any of the three credit bureaus for free, offers a window into your payment history. They'll be looking to see if you take care of bills on time as well as if you have any debt. The higher your score, the more likely it is you'll be approved. Generally speaking, a FICO score of 740 or above is the ideal. Borrowers are approved with lower scores, but chances are greater that you'll get a lower mortgage rate with a strong score.

Is there a program for first-time home buyers?

Would-be buyers - regardless of whether they're first-time or not - come to the process with unique needs. Understanding this, there are many mortgage options to choose from. One of the more popular types for first-time buyers - including low-income families - are FHA loans. Backed by the Federal Housing Administration, FHA loans are often ideal if you're a new buyer because down payment requirements are lower.

For example, borrowers for other loan programs and products may need to spend 20 percent of the home's value as the down payment, as may be the case for a jumbo loan. Not so with FHA loans. Down payments as low as 3.5 percent are available. Additionally, FHA loans can be worthwhile to people with less-than-sterling credit.

Of course, conventional mortgage loans shouldn't be overlooked. There are conventional loan programs that allow for down payments as low as 3 percent.

Another option are VA mortgage loans. The Veterans Administration issues these through private lenders and as their name suggests, they're exclusively for active and former members of the armed services. Applicants don't need to come up with a down payment, nor do they need private mortgage insurance. Typically, mortgage insurance is necessary when down payments are less than 20 percent.

The path to homeownership is paved with possibilities. Getting your finances in order and understanding some of the terminology - such as loan-to-value ratio and debt-to-income ratio - can help you reach a successful destination. Your mortgage lender can help you understand this kind of terminology.

 

There are even more first-time home buyer options available than mentioned above, and great tools to help you discover what kind of mortgage program is going to work best for you. Reach out to your favorite loan officer today to ask your questions and get started!

 


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