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Strategic Tips for Buying Your First Home

Strategic Tips for Buying Your First Home.

Buying your first home is a big, exciting step and a major milestone that has the power to improve your life. As a first-time homebuyer, it’s a dream you can make come true, but there are some hurdles you’ll need to overcome in today’s housing market – specifically the limited supply of homes for sale and ongoing affordability challenges.

So, if you’re ready, willing, and able to buy your first home, here are three tips to help you turn your dream into a reality.

Save Money with First-Time Homebuyer Programs                                       

Paying the initial costs of homeownership, like your down payment and closing costs, can feel a bit daunting. But there are many assistance programs for first-time homebuyers that can help you get a loan with little or no money upfront. According to Bankrate:

“. . . you might qualify for a first-time homebuyer loan or assistance. First-time buyer loans typically have more flexible requirements, such as a lower down payment and credit score. Many help buyers with closing costs and the down payment through grants and low-interest loans.

To find out more, talk to your state’s housing authority or check out websites like Down Payment Resource.

Expand Your Options by Looking at Condos and Townhomes

Right now, there aren’t enough homes for sale for everyone who wants to buy one. That’s pushing home prices up and making affordability tight for buyers. One way to deal with that issue and find a home right now is to consider condos and townhomes. Realtor.com explains:

For many newbies, it might just be a matter of making a shift toward something they can better afford—like a condo or townhome. These lower-cost homes have historically been a stepping stone for buyers looking for a less expensive alternative to a single-family home.”

One reason why they may be more affordable is because they’re often smaller. But they still give you the chance to get your foot in the door and achieve your goal of owning a home and building equity. And that equity can help fuel your move into a larger home later on if you decide you need something bigger in the future. Hannah Jones, Senior Economic Analyst at Realtor.com, says:

Condos can help prospective homebuyers who perhaps have a smaller budget, but who are really determined to get a foothold in the market and start to accumulate some equity. It can be a really great entry point.”

Consider Pooling Your Resources To Buy a Multi-Generational Home

Another way to break into the market is by purchasing a home with friends or loved ones. That way you can split the cost of things like the mortgage and bills, to make it easier to afford a home. According to Money.com:

“Buying a home with another person has some obvious advantages in the mortgage department. With two incomes in the mix, buyers can likely qualify for a larger mortgage — a big help in today’s high-cost market.

Bottom Line

By exploring first-time homebuyer assistance, condos, townhomes, and multi-generational living, it can be easier to find and buy your first home. When you’re ready, connect with a local real estate agent.

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Achieve Your Dream of Homeownership with Condos and Townhomes [INFOGRAPHIC]

Achieve Your Dream of Homeownership with Condos and Townhomes [INFOGRAPHIC].

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Some Highlights

  • If you’re trying to buy a home but are having a hard time finding something in your budget, here’s something that can help: consider condos and townhomes.
  • They may better fit your budget, can help you start building equity, and tend to require minimal upkeep and less maintenance.
  • Looking at condos and townhomes can make it easier to find and buy a home. When you’re ready, connect with a local real estate agent.
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Bridging the Gaps on the Road to Homeownership

Bridging the Gaps on the Road to Homeownership.

Homeownership is a major part of the American Dream. But, the path to achieving this dream can be quite difficult. While progress has been made to improve fair housing access, households of color still face unique challenges on the road to owning a home. Working with the right real estate experts can make all the difference for diverse buyers.

It’s clear that achieving homeownership is more challenging for certain groups because there’s still a measurable gap between the overall average U.S. homeownership rate and that of non-white groups. Today, Black households continue to have the lowest homeownership rate nationally (see graph below):

Homeownership is an important part of building household wealth that can be passed down to future generations. According to a report by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), almost half of Black homebuyers in 2023 were first-time buyers. That means many didn’t have home equity they could use toward their home purchase.

That financial hurdle alone makes buying a home more challenging, especially at a time when affordability is a major concern for first-time buyers. Jessica Lautz, Deputy Chief Economist at NAR says:

“It’s an incredibly difficult market for all home buyers right now, especially first-time home buyers and especially first-time home buyers of color.”

Because of these challenges, there are several down payment assistance programs specifically aimed at helping minority buyers fulfill their homeownership dreams:

  • The 3By30 program offers valuable resources for Black buyers, making it easier for them to secure a down payment and buy a home.
  • For Native Americans, Down Payment Resource highlights 42 U.S. homebuyer assistance programs across 14 states that make homeownership more attainable by providing support with down payments and other costs.
  • Fannie Mae provides down payment assistance to eligible first-time homebuyers living in Latino communities.

Even if you don’t qualify for these programs, there are many other federal, state, and local options available to look into. And a real estate professional can help you find the ones that best meet your needs.

For minority homebuyers, the challenges that remain can be a point of pain and frustration. That’s why it’s so important for members of diverse groups to have the right team of experts on their sides throughout the homebuying process. These professionals aren’t only experienced advisors who understand the market and give the best advice, they’re also compassionate educators who will advocate for your best interests every step of the way.

Bottom Line

Connect with a real estate professional to make sure you have to make sure you have the information and support you need as you walk the path to homeownership.

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Why Pre-Approval Is Even More Important This Year

Why Pre-Approval Is Even More Important This Year.

On the road to becoming a homeowner? If so, you may have heard the term pre-approval get tossed around. Let’s break down what it is and why it’s important if you’re looking to buy a home in 2024.

What Pre-Approval Is

As part of the homebuying process, your lender will look at your finances to figure out what they’re willing to loan you. According to Investopedia, this includes things like your W-2, tax returns, credit score, bank statements, and more.

From there, they’ll give you a pre-approval letter to help you understand how much money you can borrow. Freddie Mac explains it like this:

A pre-approval is an indication from your lender that they are willing to lend you a certain amount of money to buy your future home. . . . Keep in mind that the loan amount in the pre-approval letter is the lender’s maximum offer. Ultimately, you should only borrow an amount you are comfortable repaying.”

Now, that last piece is especially important. While home affordability is getting better, it’s still tight. So, getting a good idea of what you can borrow can help you really wrap your head around the financial side of things. It doesn’t mean you should borrow the full amount. It just tells you what you can borrow from that lender.

This sets you up to make an informed decision about your numbers. That way you’re able to tailor your home search to what you’re actually comfortable with budget-wise and can act fast when you find a home you love.

Why Pre-Approval Is So Important in 2024

If you want to buy a home this year, there’s another reason you’re going to want to be sure you’re working with a trusted lender to make this a priority.

While more homes are being listed for sale, the overall number of available homes is still below the norm. At the same time, the recent downward trend in mortgage rates compared to last year is bringing more buyers back into the market. That imbalance of more demand than supply creates a bit of a tug-of-war for you.

It means you’ll likely find you have more competition from other buyers as more and more people who were sitting on the sidelines when mortgage rates were higher decide to jump back in. But pre-approval can help with that too.

Pre-approval shows sellers you mean business because you’ve already undergone a credit and financial check. As Greg McBride, Chief Financial Analyst at Bankrate, says:

“Preapproval carries more weight because it means lenders have actually done more than a cursory review of your credit and your finances, but have instead reviewed your pay stubs, tax returns and bank statements. A preapproval means you’ve cleared the hurdles necessary to be approved for a mortgage up to a certain dollar amount.”

Sellers love that because that makes it more likely the sale will move forward without unexpected delays or issues. And if you may be competing with another buyer to land your dream home, why wouldn’t you do this to help stack the deck in your favor?

Bottom Line

If you’re looking to buy a home in 2024, know that getting pre-approved is going to be a key piece of the puzzle. With lower mortgage rates bringing more buyers back into the market, this can help you make a strong offer that stands out from the crowd.

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Why Having Your Own Agent Matters When Buying a New Construction Home

Why Having Your Own Agent Matters When Buying a New Construction Home.

Finding the right home is one of the biggest challenges for potential buyers today. Right now, the supply of homes for sale is still low. But there is a bright spot. Newly built homes make up a larger percent of the total homes available for sale than normal. That’s why, if you’re craving more options, it makes sense to see if a newly built home is right for you.

But it’s important to remember the process of working with a builder is different than buying from a homeowner. And, while builders typically have sales agents on-site, having your own agent helps make sure you have proper representation throughout your homebuying journey. As Realtor.com says:

“Keep in mind that the on-site agent you meet at a new-construction office works for the builder. So, as the homebuyer, it’s a smart idea to bring in your own agent, as well, to help you negotiate and stay protected in the transaction.”

Here’s how having your own agent is key when you build or buy a new construction home.

Agents Know the Local Area and Market

It’s important to consider how the neighborhood and surrounding area may evolve before making your home purchase. Your agent is well-versed in the upcoming communities and developments that could influence your decision. One way a real estate agent can help is by reviewing the builder’s site plan. For example, you’ll want to know if there are any plans to construct a highway or add a drainage ditch behind your prospective backyard.

Knowledge of Construction Quality and Builder Reputation

An agent also has expertise in the construction quality and reputation of different builders. They can give you insights into each one’s track record, customer satisfaction, and construction practices. Armed with this information, you can choose a builder known for consistently delivering top-notch homes.

Assistance with Customization and Upgrades

The most obvious benefit of opting for new home construction is the opportunity to customize your home. Your agent will guide you through that process and share advice on the upgrades that are most likely to add long-term value to your home. Their expertise helps make sure you focus your budget on areas that will give you the greatest return on your investment later.

Understanding Builder Negotiations and Contracts

When it comes to working with builders, having a skilled negotiator on your side can make all the difference. Builder contracts can be complex. Your agent can help you navigate these contracts to make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions. Plus, agents are skilled negotiators who can advocate for you, potentially securing better deals, upgrades, or incentives throughout the process. As Realtor.com says:

“A good buyer’s agent will be able to review any contracts before you sign on the dotted line, ensuring you aren’t unwittingly agreeing to terms that only benefit the builder.” 

Bottom Line

If you are interested in buying or building a new construction home, having a trusted agent by your side can make a big difference. If you’d like to start that conversation, connect with a local real estate agent.

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Why It’s More Affordable To Buy a Home This Year [INFOGRAPHIC]

Why It’s More Affordable To Buy a Home This Year [INFOGRAPHIC].

Some Highlights

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The Top Benefits of Buying a Multi-Generational Home

The Top Benefits of Buying a Multi-Generational Home.

Has the idea of sharing a home with loved ones like your grandparents, parents, or other relatives crossed your mind? If so, you’re not alone. More buyers are choosing to go this route and buy a multi-generational home. Here’s a look at some of the top reasons why, to see if a home like this may be right for you too.

Why Buyers Are Opting for Multi-Generational Living

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), two of the top reasons buyers are opting for multi-generational homes today have to do with affordability (see graph below):

First-time buyers are focused most on cost savings – with 28% saying this was a key reason for them. By pooling their resources with others, they can share financial responsibilities like mortgage payments, utilities, and more to make homeownership more affordable. This is especially helpful for those first-time homebuyers who may be finding it tough to afford a home on their own in today’s market.

Buyers are also turning to multi-generational homes so they can more easily afford their dream home. Both first-time (28%) and repeat buyers (18%) chose to live with others so they could buy a larger home. When everyone chips in and combines their incomes, that big dream home with more space could be more within reach.

But multi-generational living isn’t just about the financial side of things. According to the same study from NAR, 23% of repeat buyers chose to buy a multi-generational home to make it easier to care for an aging parent. Many older adults want to age in place and a multi-generational home can help make that possible. For those older adults, it gives them an opportunity to maintain their quality of life while being surrounded by their loved ones. As Axios explains:

“Financial concerns and caregiving needs are two of the major reasons people live with their parents (and parents’ parents).”

Lean on an Expert

Finding the perfect multi-generational home isn’t as simple as shopping for a regular house. That’s because there are more people with even more opinions and needs to be considered. It’s like solving a puzzle, and the pieces need to fit just right.

So if you’re interested in the many benefits multi-generational living offers, partner with a local real estate agent who has the expertise to help.

Bottom Line

Whether your motives are financial or focused on the people you’ll share your home with, buying a multi-generational home may make sense for you. If you’re interested in learning more, connect with a local real estate agent.

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Are More Homeowners Selling as Mortgage Rates Come Down?

Are More Homeowners Selling as Mortgage Rates Come Down?.

If you’re looking to buy a home, the recent downward trend in mortgage rates is good news because it helps with affordability. But there’s another way this benefits you – it may inspire more homeowners to put their houses up for sale.

The Mortgage Rate Lock-In Effect

Over the past year, one factor that’s really limited the options for your move is how few homes were on the market. That’s because many homeowners chose to delay their plans to sell once mortgage rates went up. An article from Freddie Mac explains:

The lack of housing supply was partly driven by the rate lock-in effect. . . . With higher rates, the incentive for existing homeowners to list their property and move to a new house has greatly diminished, leaving them rate locked.”

These homeowners decided to stay put and keep their current lower mortgage rate, rather than move and take on a higher one on their next home.

Early Signs Show Those Homeowners Are Ready To Move Again

According to the latest data from Realtor.com, there were more homeowners putting their houses up for sale, known in the industry as new listings, in December 2023 compared to December 2022 (see graph below):

 

Here’s why this is so significant. Typically, activity in the housing market cools down in the later months of the year as some sellers choose to delay their moves until January rolls around.

This is the first time since 2020 that we’re seen an uptick in new listings this time of year. This could be a signal that the rate lock-in effect is easing a bit in response to lower rates.

What This Means for You

While there isn’t going to suddenly be an influx of options for your home search, it does mean more sellers may be deciding to list. According to a recent article from the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS):

A reduction in interest rates could alleviate the lock-in effect and help lift homeowner mobility. Indeed, interest rates have recently declined, falling by a full percentage point from October to November 2023 . . . Further decreases would reduce the barrier to moving and give homeowners looking to sell a newfound sense of urgency . . .”

And that means you may see more homes come onto the market to give you more fresh options to choose from.

Bottom Line

As mortgage rates come down, more sellers may re-enter the market – that gives you an opportunity to find the home you’re looking for. Connect with a real estate agent so you’ve got a local expert on your side who’ll help you stay on top of the latest listings in our area.

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3 Key Factors Affecting Home Affordability

3 Key Factors Affecting Home Affordability.

Over the past year, a lot of people have been talking about housing affordability and how tight it’s gotten. But just recently, there’s been a little bit of relief on that front. Mortgage rates have gone down since their most recent peak in October. But there’s more to being able to afford a home than just mortgage rates.

To really understand home affordability, you need to look at the combination of three important factors: mortgage rates, home prices, and wages. Let’s dive into the latest data on each one to see why affordability is improving.

1. Mortgage Rates

Mortgage rates have come down in recent months. And looking forward, most experts expect them to decline further over the course of the year. Jiayi Xu, an economist at Realtor.com, explains:

“While there could be some fluctuations in the path forward … the general expectation is that mortgage rates will continue to trend downward, as long as the economy continues to see progress on inflation.”

And even a small change in mortgage rates can have a big impact on your purchasing power, making it easier for you to afford the home you want by reducing your monthly mortgage payment.

2. Home Prices

The second important factor is home prices. After going up at a relatively normal pace last year, they’re expected to continue rising moderately in 2024. That’s because even with inventory projected to grow slightly this year, there still aren’t enough homes for sale for all the people who want to buy them. According to Lisa Sturtevant, Chief Economist at Bright MLS:

“More inventory will be generally offset by more buyers in the market. As a result, it is expected that, overall, the median home price in the U.S. will grow modestly . . .”

That’s great news for you because it means prices aren’t likely to skyrocket like they did during the pandemic. But it also means it’ll probably cost you more to wait. So, if you’re ready, willing, and able to buy, and you can find the right home, purchasing before more buyers enter the market and prices rise further might be in your best interest.

3. Wages

Another positive factor in affordability right now is rising income. The graph below uses data from the Federal Reserve to show how wages have grown over time: 

If you look at the blue dotted trendline, you can see the rate at which wages typically rise. But on the right side of the graph, wages are above the trend line today, meaning they’re going up at a higher rate than normal.

Higher wages improve affordability because they reduce the percentage of your income it takes to pay your mortgage. That’s because you don’t have to put as much of your paycheck toward your monthly housing cost.

What This Means for You

Home affordability depends on three things: mortgage rates, home prices, and wages. The good news is, they’re moving in a positive direction for buyers overall.

Bottom Line

If you’re thinking about buying a home, it’s important to know the main factors impacting affordability are improving. To get the latest updates on each, connect with a trusted real estate agent.

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Homeownership Is Still at the Heart of the American Dream

Homeownership Is Still at the Heart of the American Dream.

Buying a home is a powerful decision, and it remains at the heart of the American Dream. Unlike renting, owning a home means more than just having a place to live – it offers a sense of belonging, stability, and freedom. According to Nicole Bachaud, Senior Economist at Zillow:

The American Dream is still owning a home. There’s a lot of pent-up demand for ownership; that isn’t going to go away.”

Let’s explore just a few of the reasons why so many Americans continue to value homeownership. 

The Financial Benefits of Owning a Home

One possible reason homeownership is viewed so highly is because owning a home is a significant wealth-building tool. That may be why Jessica Lautz, Deputy Chief and VP of Research at the National Association of Realtors (NAR), says:

“Homeownership is the number one way to build wealth in America.”

Over time, owning a home not only helps boost your own net worth, but it also sets future generations up for success as you pass that wealth down. Habitat for Humanity explains:

“Overall, homeownership promotes wealth building by acting as a forced savings mechanism and through home value appreciation. Homeowners make monthly payments that increase their equity in their homes by paying down the principal balance of their mortgage. . . . In addition, owning a home promotes intergenerational homeownership and wealth building. Children of homeowners transition to homeownership earlier — lengthening the period over which they can accumulate wealth . . .”

It can also provide meaningful financial stability compared to renting. When you buy with a fixed-rate mortgage, you can lock in your monthly housing payments for the length of your home loan.

The Non-Financial Benefits of Homeownership

But, owning a home offers more than just financial benefits—it benefits you socially and emotionally too. Your home provides feelings of achievement, responsibility, and more. In a recent survey, Fannie Mae outlines just a few of these more emotionally-driven benefits, including:

“The top three were having control over what you do with your living space (94%) to having a sense of privacy and security (91%) and having a good place for your family or to raise your children (90%) . . .”

What Does That Mean for You?

If your idea of the American Dream involves greater freedom, security, and prosperity, homeownership could be a key player in bringing that dream to life. And with mortgage rates now on a downward trend, it might be a good time for you to consider making a move.

If you’re ready and able to buy, know that there are incredible benefits waiting at the end of your journey. You’ll gain more than just a home – it’s a place to grow your wealth and call your very own. Like Ksenia Potapov, Economist at First American says:

“…homeownership remains an important driver of wealth accumulation and the largest source of total wealth among most households.”

Bottom Line

Buying a home is a powerful decision and the cornerstone of the American Dream. If finding a place to call your own is part of your dream for this year, connect with a local real estate advisor to start the process today.

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