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Career & Money

Think Homeownership Is Out Of Reach? Here's The Starter Guide To Buying A House

When it comes to homeownership, many of us might be holding some preconceived notions as well as valid fears that it's just out of reach. From the unstable housing market to rising prices, to challenges with employment and other financial factors, it might seem that owning a home was something only our grandmothers or mothers could enjoy. But all hope is not lost.

In fact, research points to Black women being the leaders behind a boost in homeownership in the past few years, and even during the pandemic, we continued on our plight to leaving renting for ownership.


If you've had some doubts or don't know where to start, here's a quick guide for prepping to make your homeownership dreams a reality:

1. Get your mind right.

A 2022 Bank of America survey found that while 48% of Black women "feel confident about their finances," only 28% actually "feel empowered to take action" fueled by this confidence.

This first step is often overlooked, but oftentimes, when we're starting any new journey, especially one that involves a big change both physically (i.e. moving to a whole new environment) and financially, you'll need to set your mind on positive thoughts, confidence, and boldness. You have to know that you can indeed be a homeowner, that you deserve the desires of your heart, and that you are more than capable of navigating the process.

With high rates of student loan debt, rental income disparities, and a lot of the home responsibilities falling on us, among other challenges, it can indeed seem like a tough feat to go the homeownership route, but it is certainly doable with the right mindset, strategy, and support.

Lean into affirmations, prayer, therapy, coaching, and real-life inspiration to clear your mind of doubts and fears and use that energy to progress toward your dream home purchase. Open your mind to all the options, resources, and programs that are afforded to you and the alternative ways to reach your goals.

2. Get real about your finances.

Many experts agree on this second step, as you'll need to know where you are financially in order to be sure of what type of house you want, where you want to live, and whether you can afford the mortgage. Usually, this includes having (or creating) a budget and getting to know your expenses versus your take-home pay. If you don't already have a budget, create one and start to really get focused on knowing exactly what money's coming in and what's going out.

Also, getting into a savings routine and looking into investing, even if it's as simple as signing up for your 401K with your job, opening a retirement account on your own via companies like Fidelity or JP Morgan, or starting brokerage accounts with platforms like Charles Schwab or Robinhood. This will allow you to get into the habit of building wealth and having multiple sources to tap into in terms of financial assets.

3. Stop counting yourself out due to reasons like "bad credit" or low income.

If you need assistance with budgeting or learning more about money management, there are free resources out there (try here or here). You can also tap into local resources like nonprofits, financial advisers, or the professionals you bank with, especially if it's a credit union.

There are also resources for strategizing how to improve your credit, boost your income, and develop better financial fitness habits, so tap into those as well. You can do this! Sit down, write out your goals, work with a coach, and start one small step at a time.

Bad credit and other financial challenges don't necessarily bar you from achieving your dreams of owning a home. Look into rent-to-own options or financiers who offer home loans to people with credit under 620. There are also federal lenders that are ideal for those with low or no credit.

Go into your current bank and get to know your options so that you'll know what's actually available to you and what's possible beyond the fears or negative self-talk. Take a free class via the National Urban League or other local resources through a quick Google search. You'd be surprised what options are out there when you simply make a few appointments, do a bit of research, network, and ask.

4. Figure out your plan for your first payment and the right mortgage fit.

A down payment is often required (or at least encouraged) when you're buying a home, so once you've gotten clear on your financial status, what type of house you want, where, and how much you can afford based on your income, think about how you'll save up (or pay) the first payment for the investment.

Twenty percent of the total cost of the home has often been mentioned as a place to start, but experts say you don't necessarily have to have that much. However, be aware that when you put down less than that, you'll have to get mortgage insurance, and it will likely add to your monthly mortgage payment, so keep that in mind. There are assistance programs on the state and federal levels that can help you navigate this and even assist with the cost, especially if you're a first-time homebuyer. (Start here for more great information on this.)

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When it comes to your dream home and consideration of a mortgage, think outside the box. Your dream home might be a $500,000 ranch-style home in a major metro area but if that's going to have you living above your means or struggling to pay the down payment and monthly mortgage in tough times, considering an adjacent city or county in the same state or the same type of house in an area that's more up-and-coming.

There are also different types of mortgages that might be a good fit for you based on various factors. For example, conventional loans offer low minimum down payments but have more stringent qualifications, while FHA loans are mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration and are generally easier to qualify for but have stricter requirements related to mortgage insurance. (You can research more information on types of loans and how to qualify here and here.)

5. Start the pre-approval process and ask lots of questions before agreeing to a loan.

You'll also need to get pre-approved, so once you've found the right type of loan, do your research on who to partner with on your mortgage. Be sure, for example, that if you're going for an FHA loan, the loan provider is FHA-approved. According to NerdWallet, prospective home buyers should consider how a lender’s sample rates compare with today's mortgage rates, determine the closing costs, and "compare mortgage origination fees.” Become super-aware of the terms and timing for the loans and how these might change over time or in the future. Ask lots of questions or get help via a reputable consultant or coach.

Preapproval is necessary for getting the "real numbers," because lenders have access to detailed information about your finances. The process will include a hard credit inquiry, which shows up on your credit report, however, when you apply with multiple lenders around the same time, according to Bankrate, it only counts as one hard pull. This is because credit scoring models "take mortgage rate-shopping into account" and "group multiple inquiries together" if the credit checks all happen within a 45-day period. You'll need documents including W2s, pay stubs, and others (listed here.)

You can use the pre-approved lender at the end of the process, once you're ready to buy, or you can use a new one if, by the end of the process, you've found a better deal.

6. Research and vet your real estate agent before contracting with them.

Experts recommend interviewing multiple buyer's agents to be sure you're getting someone with your best interests at heart. Ask family, friends, and coworkers for referrals, look at the agent's online reviews, and be sure they're licensed in your state. Check out their Zillow or other professional profiles online and look at their track record. Ask them questions like "How long have you been in business," "How well do you know the area," and "How will you be corresponding with me, and how often?" (Here's a full list of interview questions for getting started.)

There’s a difference between a buyer’s agent, who represents a homebuyer in a real estate transaction, and a seller’s or listing agent, who is responsible for looking out for the seller, including pricing and marketing the home. Many agents do both, but some specialize in one or the other. Some states don’t allow dual agency, and it can there are some risks associated with that. There are referral agents who provide leads to other agents for a fee.

7. When shopping around, take your time and don't make hasty decisions.

Work with your real estate agent to view properties and think along the lines of making a long-term investment. You'll more than likely be living in the house for quite some time (even if you plan to sell and move on later) so you'll want to have some forethought on your why and how you'd like to live in the long term. Think about the community, how you'll live in the home, and what will best suit your long-term needs.

Real estate agents also recommend looking for red flags when viewing a home like poor tiling, evidence of leaks, or covering of flaws (such as "strong perfumes" or gaps in tile, for example). Be aware of potential issues like bodies of water nearby (possibility of flooding) or paint bubbling around windows (possible problems with ventilation). They also recommend looking past the aesthetics, lifting carpets, or asking about recent property maintenance.

While this guide is simply a snapshot to get you started, allow it to encourage you to go boldly for your dreams of homeownership with confidence and a plan. Be sure to utilize all resources afforded to you, do your research, and walk proudly into your next elevation to owning the home of your dreams.

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Featured image by Riska/Getty Images

 

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