Real Estate FAQ’s

All Your Questions Are Answered

Mortgages are different today, so if you are a first-time buyer or this is not your first purchase, check out the articles that explain some of the newer loans out there. And today, lenders have to go by many different guidelines than even just a couple of years ago. Some frequently asked questions are here on this site to give you an overview of some of the options available.

Downpayments can be as low as 5% of the purchase price. VA loans available to some veterans can be 0% down, and FHA loans maybe 3% down. There are special loans for various communities
When we first meet, I will help you evaluate what programs might work for your situation.

Even sellers can help a buyer who is short on the total funds necessary to purchase.

Please contact me if you have specific questions. We are here to help you!

Susan Cooney

Saving for the Downpayment

Saving funds for a down payment should be part of an overall program to get your finances in order prior to shop for a home. This includes rounding up financial records, examining your spending habits, and setting a budget you can live with. Remember, too, that the down payment is not the only up-front expense. An allowance for closing costs should also be included in your savings budget.

Susan Cooney
How much is required?

The down payment is usually expressed as a percentage of the overall purchase price of the home and varies depending on the lender, the type of financing, and the amount of money being lent. In the past, the typical down payment was 20%, but in recent years lenders have been willing to offer conventional financing with as little as 3% down. U.S. Government financing programs, such as those offered by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) or the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), also require minimal down payments.

Private mortgage insurance

Typically, if your down payment is less than 20% of the purchase price, lenders will require you to carry PMI or private mortgage insurance. This insurance protects the lender in case of loan default and usually involves an up-front payment at closing, as well as a monthly premium. However, once you have paid off 20% of the loan, you can request the policy be canceled. Some lenders cancel the premium automatically, while others require you to make a request in writing.

Gifts

If you are having trouble saving enough money, many lenders will allow you to use gift funds for the down payment--as well as for related closing costs. The gift may come from family, friends, or other sources, but remember that lenders usually require a "gift letter" stating the gift doesn't have to be repaid. In addition, some lenders will also require you to pay at least a portion of the down payment with your own cash. Thus, if you plan to use gift money to purchase your house, ask your lender about their policies regarding gifts.

Earnest money

Buyers are usually required to deposit earnest money with the seller when they make an offer. If the offer is accepted, the earnest money is then credited towards the down payment. The amount varies widely depending on the seller and local custom, but be prepared from the outset to have funds earmarked for this purpose.

Don't forget closing costs

In addition to the down payment, you will also need to save for additional fees associated with the loan. Known as closing costs, these charges cover items such as title insurance, documentary stamps, loan origination fees, the survey, attorney's fees, etc. When you submit your loan application, lenders are required to supply you with a good faith estimate of your closing costs.

Some buyers are surprised by the amount of the closing costs, which can easily run into the thousands of dollars. Remember, though, that closing costs can be negotiated with the seller. For example, you may agree to pay the full asking price in exchange for the seller paying all the allowable closing costs.

Loan pre-qualification vs. preapproval

One of the best ways to determine your budget is to have your real estate agent or lender prequalify you for a loan. Prequalification is different from preapproval because it is only an estimate of what you'll be able to afford. On the other hand, preapproval is a more formal process where a lender examines your finances and agrees in advance to loan you money up to a specified amount.

What factors are important to lenders?

Banks and lending institutions will use several criteria to determine how much money they'll agree to lend. These include:

  • Your gross monthly income
  • Your credit history
  • The amount of your outstanding debts
  • Your savings--or the amount of money you have available for a down payment and closing costs
  • Your choice of mortgage (i.e., 30-year, FHA, etc.)
  • Current interest rates
Two important ratios

Lenders also use your financial information to figure out two very important ratios: the debt-to-income ratio and the housing expense ratio.

Debt-to-income ratio

Many lenders use a rule of thumb that the amount of debt you are paying each month (car payment, student loan, credit card, etc.) shouldn't exceed more than 36 percent of your gross monthly income. FHA loans are slightly more lenient.

Housing expense ratio

It is generally difficult to obtain a loan if the mortgage payment is more than 28 to 33 percent of your gross monthly income.

Down payments make a difference

If you can make a large down payment, lenders may be more lenient with their qualifying ratios. For example, a person with a 20 percent down payment may be qualified with the 33 percent housing expense ratio, while someone with a 5 percent down payment is held to the stricter 28 percent ratio.

Other ways to improve your purchasing power

Gifts
If you're having trouble saving money, many lenders will allow you to use gift funds for the down payment and closing costs. However, most lenders require a "gift letter" stating the gift doesn't have to be repaid and will also require you to pay at least a portion of the down payment with your own cash.

Negotiating Closing Costs
Through negotiation, some sellers may agree to pay all or most of your closing costs (for example, if you agree to meet their full asking price). If you choose to try this, make sure to ask your real estate agent for advice.

Loan Programs
Many local governments have special loan programs designed to help first-time home buyers. Loans may be available at reduced interest rates or with little or no down payments. Check with your local housing authority for more information.

Loan Types
Some homebuyers choose Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs) because of low initial interest rates. Others opt for 30-year loans because they have lower monthly payments than 15-year loans. There are significant differences between different loans, so make sure to discuss the pros and cons of different loans with your agent or lender before making a decision.

How Much Can You Afford

Understanding how much you can afford is one of the most important rules of home buying. Depending on your individual situation, your budget can affect everything from the neighborhoods where you look to the size of the house and even what type of financing you choose.

Bear in mind, however, that lenders will look at more than just your income to determine the size of the loan. Likewise, you may find that there are some creative financing options that can help boost your purchasing power.

Susan Cooney

Credit History

As part of the loan application process, virtually all lenders will want to see a copy of your credit report. The report will list all your long-term debts (credit cards, mortgage payments, automobile, and student loans, etc.), as well as your payment history. If you don't have a copy of your credit report, most lenders will generally require you to pay for a copy when they process your loan application.

However, most real estate experts agree that it is a good idea to obtain a copy of your credit report several months before you apply for a loan. This is, so you have a chance to resolve any problems with your credit before your bank sees it. U.S. Federal law ensures that you have access to your credit report, which maybe obtained from your local credit bureau or any of several national firms that specialize in credit reports.

Susan Cooney
Late payments

For most people, problems with their credit report are likely related to late payments on a debt. If you were late one month in paying off your credit card but otherwise have a good payment history, chances are most lenders won't be too concerned. But if you have a history of late payments, you'll need to document the reasons why. A slow payment history won't necessarily get you turned down for a loan, but you may have to pay a higher rate of interest or otherwise prove to the lender that you can repay your loan in a timely fashion.

Errors on your credit report

Many people are surprised to learn that credit reports can often contain errors or inaccurate information. If this is the case with your credit report, you'll need to contact the reporting agency or creditor to have the problem resolved. This can sometimes be a slow process, so make sure to give yourself time to clear up the mistake.

Bankruptcies and foreclosures

There's no getting around it; a bankruptcy on your credit report is not a good thing. But that doesn't mean you still can't obtain a loan. Even though a bankruptcy may stay on your credit report for seven to ten years, lenders will often consider the circumstances surrounding a bankruptcy (family illness, injury, etc.). Moreover, if you have reestablished good credit since the bankruptcy, a lender will be more inclined to approve your application.

Buyer closing costs

When a buyer applies for a loan, lenders are required to provide them with a good-faith estimate of their closing costs. The fees vary according to several factors, including the type of loan they applied for and the terms of the purchase agreement. Likewise, some of the closing costs, especially those associated with the loan application, are actually paid in advance. Some typical buyer closing costs include:

  • The down payment
  • Loan fees (points, application fee, credit report)
  • Prepaid interest
  • Inspection fees
  • Appraisal
  • Mortgage insurance (typically 1 years’ premium plus an escrow of 2 months)
  • Hazard insurance (typically 1 years’ premium plus an escrow of 2 months)
  • Title insurance
  • Documentary stamps on the note
Seller closing costs

If the seller has not yet paid for the house in full, the seller's most important closing cost is satisfying the remaining balance of their loan. Before the date of closing, the escrow officer will contact the seller's lender to verify the amount needed to close out the loan. Then, along with any other fees, the original loan will be paid for at the closing before the seller receives any proceeds from the sale. Other seller closing costs can include:

  • Broker's commission
  • Transfer taxes
  • Documentary Stamps on the Deed
  • Title insurance
  • Property taxes (prorated)
Negotiating Closing Costs

In addition to the sales price, buyers and sellers frequently include closing costs in their negotiations. This can be for both major and minor fees. For example, if a buyer is particularly nervous about the condition of the plumbing, the seller may agree to pay for the house inspection.

Likewise, a buyer may want to save on up-front expenditures and so agree to pay the seller's full asking price in return for the seller paying all the allowable closing costs. There's no right or wrong way to negotiate closing costs; just be sure all the terms are written down on the purchase agreement.

Prorations

At the closing, certain costs are often prorated (or distributed) between buyer and seller. The most common prorations are for property taxes. This is because property taxes are typically paid at the end of the year for which they were assessed.

Thus, if a house is sold in June, the sellers will have lived in the house for half the year, but the bill for the taxes won't come due until the following year! To make this situation more equitable, the taxes are prorated. In this example, the sellers will credit the buyers for half the taxes at closing.

Closing Costs

The bundle of fees associated with the buying or selling of a home is called closing costs. Certain fees are automatically assigned to either the buyer or the seller; other costs are either negotiable or dictated by local custom.

Susan Cooney

Different Types of Loans

Understanding Different Types of Loans
Today's homebuyer has more financing options than have ever been available before. From traditional mortgages to adjustable-rate and hybrid loans, there are financing packages designed to meet the needs of virtually anyone. While the different choices may seem overwhelming at first, the overall goal is really quite simple: you want to find a loan that fits both your current financial situation and your future plans. Though this article discusses some of the more common loan types, you should spend time talking with different lenders before deciding on the right loan for your situation.

General categories of loans
Most loans fall into three major categories: fixed-rate, adjustable-rate, and hybrid loans that combine features of both.

Susan Cooney
Fixed-rate mortgages

As the name implies, a fixed-rate mortgage carries the same interest rate for the life of the loan. Traditionally, fixed-rate mortgages have been the most popular choice among homeowners because the fixed monthly payment is easy to plan and budget for and can help protect against inflation.

Fixed-rate mortgages are most common in 30-year and 15-year terms, but recently more lenders have begun offering 20-year and 40-year loans.

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM)

Adjustable-rate mortgages differ from fixed-rate mortgages in that the interest rate and monthly payment can change over the life of the loan.

This is because the interest rate for an ARM is tied to an index (such as Treasury Securities) that may rise or fall over time. In order to protect against dramatic increases in the rate, ARM loans usually have caps that limit the rate from rising above a certain amount between adjustments (i.e., no more than 2 percent a year), as well as a ceiling on how much the rate can go up during the life of the loan (i.e., no more than 6 percent). With these protections and low introductory rates, ARM loans have become the most widely accepted alternative to fixed-rate mortgages.

Hybrid loans

Hybrid loans combine features of both fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages. Typically, a hybrid loan may start with a fixed-rate for a certain length of time and then later convert to an adjustable-rate mortgage. However, be sure to check with your lender and find out how much the rate may increase after the conversion, as some hybrid loans do not have interest rate caps for the first adjustment period.

Other hybrid loans may start with a fixed interest rate for several years and then later change to another (usually higher) fixed interest rate for the remainder of the loan term. Lenders frequently charge a lower introductory interest rate for hybrid loans vs. a traditional fixed-rate mortgage, which makes hybrid loans attractive to homeowners who desire the stability of a fixed-rate but only plan to stay in their properties for a short time.

Balloon payments

A balloon payment refers to a loan that has a large, final payment due at the end of the loan. For example, there are currently fixed-rate loans that allow homeowners to make payments based on a 30-year loan, even though the entire balance of the loan may be due (the balloon payment) after seven years.

As with some hybrid loans, balloon loans may be attractive to homeowners who do not plan to stay in their house for more than a short period of time.

Time as a factor in your loan choice

As has been discussed, the length of time you plan to own a property may have a strong influence on the type of loan you choose. For example, if you plan to stay in a home for ten years or longer, a traditional fixed-rate mortgage may be your best bet.

But if you plan on owning a home for a very short period (5 years or less), then the low introductory rate of an adjustable-rate mortgage may make the most financial sense. In general, ARMs have the lowest interest rates, followed by hybrid loans and then traditional fixed-rate mortgages.

FHA and VA loans

U.S. government loan programs such as those of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are designed to promote homeownership for people who might not otherwise be able to qualify for a conventional loan. Both FHA and VA loans have lower qualifying ratios than conventional loans, and often require smaller or no down payments.

Bear in mind, however, that FHA and VA loans are not issued by the government; rather, the loans are made by private lenders. FHA loans are insured to the actual lender, and VA loans are guaranteed in case the borrower defaults. Remember, too, that while any U.S. citizen may apply for an FHA loan, VA loans are only available to veterans or their spouses and certain government employees.

Conventional loans

A conventional loan is simply a loan offered by a traditional private lender. They may be a fixed-rate, adjustable, hybrid, or other types. While conventional loans may be harder to qualify for than government-backed loans, they often require less paperwork and typically do not have a maximum allowable amount.

Paycheck Stubs

Remember that lenders are most interested in your average income. Not only will they want to see this month's paycheck, but also how much you've been making for the past two years. Steady employment is also more attractive to lenders, so if you've been hopping from job to job, be prepared to discuss the reasons why.

Bank Statements

In order to qualify you for a loan, most lenders will also ask you for copies of your bank statements. Ideally, they'd like to see a steady history of savings--or at the very least, that you're not bouncing checks every month.

Tax Records

It's always a good idea to save copies of your tax returns, especially if you're self-employed. If you own your own business, it's important to note that lenders generally consider your income as the amount you paid taxes on--not the gross income of the business.

Dividends & Investments

Lenders will usually consider long-term investment dividends, as well as your investment portfolio when evaluating your income.

Alimony/Child Support

If you receive steady payments as part of a divorce settlement or for child support, you can also include this as part of your gross income. Just remember that lenders will want to see a copy of your divorce/court settlement verifying the amount of the payments.

Credit Report

Virtually every lender will want to see a copy of your credit report as part of the loan application process. The report lists all of your long-term debts, as well as your payment history. In general, they will require you to pay for the credit report (approximately $50), but if you have a recent copy, they may accept that instead.

Getting your Finances in Order

A crucial step in starting your search for a new home is having a clear idea of your financial situation. By getting a handle on your income, expenses, and debts, you'll have a much better idea of what you can afford and how much you'll need to borrow.

For lenders to verify this information, though, they're going to need to look at your financial records. It is also important to remember that you should include records for each person who will be the owner of the house. So before you even visit the bank, make sure you'll be able to provide copies of these important documents:

Susan Cooney