10 Crucial Steps for Every First-time Homebuyer

Owning a home of your own is part of the American Dream. But a first-time homebuyer must take diligent steps to be in a position to make what may be their single largest investment. If you are getting organized to secure a mortgage, these are essential things every first-time homebuyer needs to know.

Who Qualifies as a First-time homebuyer?

First-time homebuyer programs can be somewhat misleading. Mortgage programs are often designed to help people purchase their first-ever home, as well as another after a set period. Depending on the lender, you may qualify as a first-time homebuyer if you haven’t owned a property in several years.

That being said, getting approved for a mortgage typically requires potential buyers to possess a reasonably sound credit history, reliable income, and enough money to put down. Those who qualify as a first-time homebuyer garner perks other borrowers may not.  

Benefits First-time homebuyers Enjoy

There are plenty of incentives available to help first-time homebuyers get across the finish line. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) supports first-time mortgages with less than a 20 percent downpayment. Beyond that flexibility, a first-time homebuyer gains access to tax incentives, financial education courses, and lenders may be more inclined to work with less-than-perfect credit scores.

Key Steps for the First-time homebuyer

It’s not unusual for people to get excited about purchasing a home and allow their emotions to carry the day. Yes, it’s a wonderful life experience. But staying grounded as you make this major financial decision is crucial. These are 10 steps that can serve as your GPS to successfully buy a home of your own.

1: Make Sure You are Financially and Mentally Ready

In all likelihood, you’ve run the numbers on how large a mortgage you can afford. This involves estimating household income, monthly mortgage payments, taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance, and peripheral expenses. But are you emotionally prepared for homeownership?

Ask yourself if you are ready to take on commitments such as mowing the lawn, repainting rooms, making home improvements, and possibly cutting back on leisure spending. Being a homeowner comes with increased responsibility and lifestyle changes.

2: Save For Your Downpayment

Although there are first-time homebuyer programs that allow people to put less than 20 percent down, there may be a catch. It’s not uncommon for lenders to require private mortgage insurance or PMI. Buyers who put down less than 20 percent may incur this additional monthly cost. So, cutting back on discretionary spending and hitting the 20-percent mark can save you money in the long run. A sizeable downpayment also helps establish home equity.

3: Check Your Credit Score

The three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — are required to provide you with a free credit history report once every 12 months. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com and make a request. You’ll have an opportunity to review the information and ask the agencies to fix any mistakes. Curing any issues can also help bump up your score and help you qualify for a lower mortgage rate.  

4: Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage is an excellent way to discover your borrowing limit without significantly impacting your credit score. The information will also allow you to explore a Fixed Mortgage versus an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM).

A fixed mortgage locks in your interest rate and monthly installments for the life of the mortgage. By contrast, an ARM usually offers a lower initial interest rate that may vary annually. A first-time homebuyer may opt for an ARM to lower initial costs and refinance later if rates tick up. If they dip, an ARM could result in homeowners paying lower monthly installments.

5: Find a Real Estate Agent

With your financial and emotional ducks in a row, connect with a reputable real estate agent. Having a professional to look after your best interests can help avoid some of the pitfalls a first-time homebuyer may experience. If your agent is zoned into your likes, dislikes and financial situation, they will be able to search out multiple options that will fit your specific needs. Make sure you work with an agent who understands that first time homebuyer may understandably need more guidance than someone who has gone through the process before.  The one caveat is to never rely on an agent who is working for the seller. They are obligated to further their client’s interests first and foremost.

6: Start Shopping Around

Searching for a home has never been easier. You can run searches on platforms such as Realtor.com and Zillow, using filters to create a list in your price range, home parameters, and locations. Consider narrowing a list to a few homes that stand out and contact the real estate agent to schedule a walk-thru. Your agent will be a great resource during this time since they will be more familiar with certain neighborhoods as well as builders. Tap into their expertise and insight as you hunt for your first home.

7: Make An Offer

Once you find your dream home, work with your real estate agent to put forward a reasonable offer. The housing market has been hot in recent years, and sellers are fielding offers close to their asking price. Making a fair offer can be complicated. Don’t hesitate to ask experienced professionals for advice. Depending on the market conditions, you may have to offer a purchase price that is over the initial asking price of the home. When you are determining your budget, this is a key factor that you should also consider. The last thing any home buyer wants to experience is the disappointment of losing multiple homes due to being outbid.

8: Get a Home Inspection and Home Appraisal

During the home inspection, you may learn the house and property have certain imperfections. Cosmetic issues are to be expected, to some extent. But structural problems or pest infestations are good reasons to request the seller fix the issues or renegotiate the deal.

The home appraisal will determine whether your mortgage gets approved. Lenders generally do not approve home loans for more than a property’s value. If you still feel strongly about purchasing the home, increasing the downpayment may be an option.

9: Shop Around for Home Owners Insurance

Conduct due diligence when purchasing homeowners insurance. Policies are a mortgage requirement and can differ significantly in cost and coverage. One of the items to consider when purchasing insurance is total loss coverage. It’s essential the policy will pay for a total rebuild at today’s prices, and not just cover the value of the home.

10: Close On Your Home

You will likely enjoy a final walkthrough before meeting with the various parties to sign off on the legal documents. A real estate lawyer and your agent should be present in case you have any questions. Once everything is signed and notarized, you will officially be a homeowner.

Turn Your Home-Owning Dreams into Reality with Members Plus

With all the excitement that comes with owning your own home, there are a lot of questions that also arise. If you have questions about any of the steps mentioned or if you’re ready to begin the process of buying your first home, reach out to our mortgage department.

Return to Blog

Third Party Site Disclaimer

You are now leaving Members Plus Credit Union’s web site and are going to a web site that is not operated by the credit union. Members Plus Credit Union is not responsible for the content or availability of linked sites.
Please be advised that Members Plus Credit Union does not represent either the third party or you, the member, if you enter into a transaction. Further, the privacy and security policies of the linked site may differ from those practiced by the credit union.

You will be redirected to

Click the link above to continue or CANCEL