4 Key Mortgage Tips for First-Time Home Buyers


Your first home purchase can be intimidating. Here are some tips to navigate the process of finding a home and scoring an affordable loan to finance it.

Buying a home for the first time can be a daunting process, especially in today’s market, where housing inventory is limited and home values are high.

If you’re looking for a new home — and a mortgage to finance it with — it’s important to know how to position yourself as a strong borrowing candidate. It’s also essential to buy a home that works for you financially. Here are some tips from Emanuel Santa-Donato, VP, Capital Markets & Lead Acquisition at Better, to help you navigate your first home search and mortgage application.

1. Set a budget and stick to it

Buying too expensive a home can leave you with a heaping mortgage payment you might struggle to keep up with. That’s why setting a budget ahead of your search is important.

As Santa-Donato explains, “At the end of the day, you’re the one left paying the bills, so you want to ensure you set yourself up for success. Many homeowners get swayed into spending above their budgets, which only leads to headaches later on.”

To guide your search, Santa-Donato recommends figuring out what amount you can afford to spend on all of your expenses of home ownership, including:

  • Property taxes
  • Homeowners insurance
  • Maintenance
  • Utilities

You can use a mortgage calculator to see what your principal and interest payments will look like based on your loan amount, down payment, and interest rate, and then factor in those other numbers to nail down your specific budget.

2. Boost your credit score

Mortgage lenders like Better tend to favor candidates who come in with strong credit. After all, your credit score speaks to how trustworthy a borrower you are, and lenders tend to reward strong borrowers with low interest rates on their home loans.

One of the best ways to raise your credit score is to pay all incoming bills on time. Additionally, make sure to check your credit report for errors, and correct mistakes that could cause a lender to deny you a loan or stick you with a higher interest rate than you want. If, for example, there’s a delinquent debt on your credit report that you never racked up, that’s the sort of thing you’ll want to address immediately.

3. Pay off some existing debt

Though lenders take credit scores into account when approving mortgage candidates, they also focus on existing debt. That’s where your debt-to-income ratio comes in. That ratio measures your existing debt relative to your income, and the higher it is, the more of a red flag it serves as. Paying off debt, on the other hand, can help bring that ratio down into more favorable territory and give a lender more confidence in your ability to keep up with your home loan payments.

4. Seek out mortgage pre-approval

In today’s housing market, getting pre-approved for a mortgage is especially important, because it sends the message to sellers that you’re a serious buyer with the means to make good on an offer. In fact, if you’re duking it out with a competing buyer over the same home and you’re the only one with a pre-approval letter, that gives you a serious edge.

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage can also help you narrow down your home search. As Santa-Donato explains, “While your budget will help you understand how much house you can afford, a pre-approval gives you a solid jumping-off point and the ability to be more agile in competing in this hot housing market.”

It’s not easy being a first-time home buyer, especially in a real estate market like the one we have today. But if you follow these tips, you’ll be more likely to not only find the right home, but snag an affordable mortgage to go along with it.

A historic opportunity to potentially save thousands on your mortgage

Chances are, interest rates won’t stay put at multi-decade lows for much longer. That’s why taking action today is crucial, whether you’re wanting to refinance and cut your mortgage payment or you’re ready to pull the trigger on a new home purchase.

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