Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or a seasoned homeowner, we have the tools, articles, and expert tips you need to make informed decisions.
Home Buyer Tips
Searching for the Ideal home? Use these Mortgage Loan Resources to guide you through the process of purchasing a home.
How Much Can You Afford?
When purchasing a home, it’s common to have many questions. Use our mortgage calculators to make an informed decision and have a clearer understanding of your financial obligations when buying a home.
Home Buying Questions
Are you getting ready to buy a home? Let us help you by answering common home buying and mortgage questions below.
1. HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M READY TO BUY A HOME?
You can find out by asking yourself some questions:
- Do I have a steady source of income (usually a job)? Have I been employed on a regular basis for the last 2-3 years? Is my current income reliable?
- Do I have a good record of paying my bills?
- Do I have few outstanding long-term debts, like car payments?
- Do I have money saved for a down payment?
- Do I have the ability to pay a mortgage every month, plus additional costs?
- If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you are probably ready to buy your own home.
2. HOW DO I BEGIN THE PROCESS OF BUYING A HOME?
Start by thinking about your situation. Are you ready to buy a home? How much can you afford in a monthly mortgage payment (see Question 4 for help)? How much space do you need? What areas of town do you like? After you answer these questions, make a “To Do” list and start doing casual research. Talk to friends and family, drive through neighborhoods, and look in the “Homes” section of the newspaper.
3. HOW DOES PURCHASING A HOME COMPARE WITH RENTING?
The two don’t really compare at all. The one advantage of renting is being generally free of most maintenance responsibilities. But by renting, you lose the chance to build equity, take advantage of tax benefits, and protect yourself against rent increases. Also, you may not be free to decorate without permission and may be at the mercy of the landlord for housing.
Owning a home has many benefits. When you make a mortgage payment, you are building equity. And that’s an investment. Owning a home also qualifies you for tax breaks that assist you in dealing with your new financial responsibilities- like insurance, real estate taxes, Fairfax heating and cooling services and upkeep- which can be substantial. But given the freedom, stability, and security of owning your own home, they are worth it.
4. HOW DOES THE LENDER DECIDE THE MAXIMUM LOAN AMOUNT THAT I CAN AFFORD?
The lender considers your debt-to-income ratio, which is a comparison of your gross (pre-tax) income to housing and non-housing expenses. Non-housing expenses include such long-term debts as car or student loan payments, alimony, or child support. According to the FHA,monthly mortgage payments should be no more than 29% of gross income, while the mortgage payment, combined with non-housing expenses, 4 should total no more than 41% of income. The lender also considers cash available for down payment and closing costs, credit history, etc. when determining your maximum loan amount.
5. HOW DO I SELECT THE RIGHT REAL ESTATE AGENT?
Start by asking family and friends if they can recommend an agent. Compile a list of several agents and talk to each before choosing one. Look for an agent who listens well and understands your needs, and whose judgment you trust. The ideal agent knows the local area well and has resources and contacts to help you in your search. Overall, you want to choose an agent that makes you feel comfortable and can provide all the knowledge and services you need.
6. HOW CAN I DETERMINE MY HOUSING NEEDS BEFORE I BEGIN THE SEARCH?
Your home should fit the way you live, with spaces and features that appeal to the whole family. Before you begin looking at homes, make a list of your priorities – things like location and size. Should the house be close to certain schools? your job? to public transportation? How large should the house be? What type of lot do you prefer? What kinds of amenities are you looking for? Establish a set of minimum requirements and a ‘wish list.” Minimum requirements are things that a house must have for you to consider it, while a “wish list” covers things that you’d like to have but aren’t essential.
1. WHAT IS A MORTGAGE?
Generally speaking, a mortgage is a loan obtained to purchase real estate. The “mortgage” itself is a lien (a legal claim) on the home or property that secures the promise to pay the debt. All mortgages have two features in common: principal and interest.
2. WHAT IS A LOAN TO VALUE (LTV) HOW DOES IT DETERMINE THE SIZE OF MY LOAN?
The loan to value ratio is the amount of money you borrow compared with the price or appraised value of the home you are purchasing. Each loan has a specific LTV limit. For example: With a 95% LTV loan on a home priced at $50,000, you could borrow up to $47,500 (95% of $50,000), and would have to pay,$2,500 as a down payment.
The LTV ratio reflects the amount of equity borrowers have in their homes. The higher the LTV the less cash home buyers. are required to pay out of their own funds. So, to protect lenders against potential loss in case of default, higher LTV loans (80% or more) usually require mortgage insurance policy.
3. WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF 15- AND 30-YEAR LOAN TERMS?
30-Year: In the first 23 years of the loan, more interest is paid off than principal, meaning larger tax deductions. As inflation and costs of living increase, mortgage payments become a smaller part of overall expenses.
15-year: Loan is usually made at a lower interest rate. Equity is built faster because early payments pay more principal.
4. CAN I PAY OFF MY LOAN AHEAD OF SCHEDULE?
Yes. By sending in extra money each month or making an extra payment at the end of the year, you can accelerate the process of paying off the loan. When you send extra money, be sure to indicate that the excess payment is to be applied to the principal. Most lenders allow loan prepayment, though you may have to pay a prepayment penalty to do so. Ask your lender for details.
5. ARE THERE SPECIAL MORTGAGES FOR FIRST-TIME HOMEBUYERS?
Yes. Lenders now offer several affordable mortgage options which can help first-time home buyers. overcome obstacles that made purchasing a home difficult in the past. Lenders may now be able to help borrowers who don’t have a lot of money saved for the down payment and closing costs, have no or a poor credit history, have quite a bit of long-term debt, or have experienced income irregularities.
6. HOW LARGE OF A DOWN PAYMENT DO I NEED?
There are mortgage options now available that only require a down payment of 5% or less of the purchase price. But the larger the down payment, the less you have to borrow, and the more equity you’ll have. Mortgages with less than a 20% down payment generally require a mortgage insurance policy to secure the loan. When considering the size of your down payment, consider that you’ll also need money for closing costs, moving expenses, and – possibly -repairs and decorating.
7. WHAT IS INCLUDED IN A MONTHLY MORTGAGE PAYMENT?
The monthly mortgage payment mainly pays off principal and interest. But most lenders also include local real estate taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and mortgage insurance (if applicable).
8. WHAT FACTORS AFFECT MORTGAGE PAYMENTS?
The amount of the down payment, the size of the mortgage loan, the interest rate, the length of the repayment term and payment schedule will all affect the size of your mortgage payment.
9. HOW DOES THE INTEREST RATE FACTOR IN SECURING A MORTGAGE LOAN?
A lower interest rate allows you to borrow more money than a high rate with the some monthly payment. Interest rates can fluctuate as you shop for a loan, so ask-lenders if they offer a rate “lock-in”which guarantees a specific interest rate for a certain period of time. Remember that a lender must disclose the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) of a loan to you. The APR shows the cost of a mortgage loan by expressing it in terms of a yearly interest rate. It is generally higher than the interest rate because it also includes the cost of points, mortgage insurance, and other fees included in the loan.
10. WHAT HAPPENS IF INTEREST RATES DECREASE AND I HAVE A FIXED RATE LOAN?
If interest rates drop significantly, you may want to investigate refinancing. Most experts agree that if you plan to be in your house for at least 18 months and you can get a rate 2% less than your current one, refinancing is smart. Refinancing may, however, involve paying many of the same fees paid at the original closing, plus origination and application fees.
11. WHAT ARE DISCOUNT POINTS?
Discount points allow you to lower your interest rate. They are essentially prepaid interest, With each point equaling 1% of the total loan amount. Generally, for each point paid on a 30-year mortgage, the interest rate is reduced by 1/8 (or.125) of a percentage point. When shopping for loans, ask lenders for an interest rate with 0 points and then see how much the rate decreases With each point paid. Discount points are smart if you plan to stay in a home for some time since they can lower the monthly loan payment. Points are tax deductible when you purchase a home and you may be able to negotiate for the seller to pay for some of them.
12. WHAT IS AN ESCROW ACCOUNT? DO I NEED ONE?
Established by your lender, an escrow account is a place to set aside a portion of your monthly mortgage payment to cover annual charges for homeowner’s insurance, mortgage insurance (if applicable), and property taxes. Escrow accounts are a good idea because they assure money will always be available for these payments. If you use an escrow account to pay property tax or homeowner’s insurance, make sure you are not penalized for late payments since it is the lender’s responsibility to make those payments.
1. HOW DO I CHOOSE THE BEST LOAN – PROGRAM FOR ME?
Your personal situation will determine the best kind of loan for you. By asking yourself a few questions, you can help narrow your search among the many options available and discover which loan suits you best.
- Do you expect your finances to change over the next few years?
- Are you planning to live in this home for a long period of time?
- Are you comfortable with the idea of a changing mortgage payment amount?
- Do you wish to be free of mortgage debt as your children approach college age or as you prepare for retirement?
- Your lender can help you use your answers to questions such as these to decide which loan best fits your needs.
2. WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO COMPARE LOAN TERMS BETWEEN LENDERS?
First, devise a checklist for the information from each lending institution. You should include the company’s name and basic information, the type of mortgage, minimum down payment required, interest rate and points, closing costs, loan processing time, and whether prepayment is allowed.
Speak with companies by phone or in person. Be sure to call every lender on the list the same day, as interest rates can fluctuate daily. In addition to doing your own research, your real estate agent may have access to a database of lender and mortgage options. Though your agent may primarily be affiliated with a particular lending institution, he or she may also be able to suggest a variety of different lender options to you.
3. ARE THERE ANY COSTS OR FEES ASSOCIATED WITH THE LOAN ORIGINATION PROCESS?
Yes. When you turn in your application, you’ll be required to pay a loan application fee to cover the costs of underwriting the loan. This fee pays for the home appraisal, a copy of your credit report, and any additional charges that may be necessary. The application fee is generally non-refundable.
4. WHAT IS RESPA?
RESPA stands for Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. It requires lenders to disclose information to potential customers throughout the mortgage process, By doing so, it protects borrowers from abuses by lending institutions. RESPA mandates that lenders fully inform borrowers about all closing costs, lender servicing and escrow account practices, and business relationships between closing service providers and other parties to the transaction.
For more information on RESPA, or call 1-800-569-4287 for a local counseling referral.
5. WHAT IS A GOOD FAITH ESTIMATE, AND HOW DOES IT HELP ME?
It’s an estimate that lists all fees paid before closing, all closing costs, and any escrow costs you will encounter when purchasing a home. The lender must supply it within three days of your application so that you can make accurate judgments when shopping for a loan.
6. BESIDES RESPA, DOES THE LENDER HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES?
Lenders are not allowed to discriminate in any way against potential borrowers. If you believe a lender is refusing to provide his or her services to you on the basis of race, color, nationality, religion, sex, familial status, or disability, contact HUD’s Office of Fair Housing at 1-800-669-9777 (or 1-800-927-9275 for the hearing impaired).
7. WHAT RESPONSIBILITIES DO I HAVE DURING THE LENDING PROCESS?
To ensure you won’t fall victim to loan fraud, be sure to follow all of these steps as you apply for a loan:
- Be sure to read and understand everything before you sign.
- Refuse to sign any blank documents.
- Do not buy property for someone else.
- Do not overstate your income.
- Do not overstate how long you have been employed.
- Do not overstate your assets.
- Accurately report your debts.
- Do not change your income tax returns for any reason. Tell the whole truth about gifts. Do not list fake co-borrowers on your loan application.
- Be truthful about your credit problems, past and present.
- Be honest about your intention to occupy the house.
- Do not provide false supporting documents.
1. WHAT IS THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT?
Also known as HUD, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was established in 1965 to develop national policies and programs to address housing needs in the U.S. One of HUD’s primary missions is to create a suitable living environment for all Americans by developing and improving the country’s communities and enforcing fair housing laws.
2. HOW DOES HUD HELP HOMEBUYERS AND HOMEOWNERS?
HUD helps people by administering a variety of programs that develop and support affordable housing. Specifically, HUD plays a large role in homeownership by making loans available for lower- and moderate-income families through its FHA mortgage insurance program and its HUD Homes program. HUD owns homes in many communities throughout the U.S. and offers them for sale at attractive prices and economical terms. HUD also seeks to protect consumers through education, Fair Housing Laws, and housing rehabilitation initiatives.
3. WHAT IS THE FHA?
Now an agency within HUD, the Federal Housing Administration was established in 1934 to advance opportunities for Americans to own homes. By providing private lenders with mortgage insurance, the FHA gives them the security they need to lend to first-time buyers who might not be able to qualify for conventional loans. The FHA has helped more than 26 million Americans buy a home.
4. HOW CAN THE FHA ASSIST ME IN BUYING A HOME?
The FHA works to make homeownership a possibility for more Americans. With the FHA, you don’t need perfect credit or a high-paying job to qualify for a loan. The FHA also makes loans more accessible by requiring smaller down payments than conventional loans. In fact, an FHA down payment could be as little as a few month’s rent. And your monthly payments may not be much more than rent.
5. HOW IS THE FHA FUNDED?
Lender claims paid by the FHA mortgage insurance program are drawn from the Mutual Mortgage Insurance fund. This fund is made up of premiums paid by FHA-insured loan borrowers. No tax dollars are used to fund the program.
6. WHO CAN QUALIFY FOR FHA LOANS
Anyone who meets the credit requirements can afford the mortgage payments and cash investment, and who plans to use the mortgaged property as a primary residence may apply for an FHA-insured loan.
7. WHAT IS THE FHA LOAN LIMIT?
Because these maximums are linked to the conforming loan limit and average area home prices, FHA loan limits are periodically subject to change. Ask your lender for details and confirmation of current limits.
8. WHAT ARE THE STEPS INVOLVED IN THE FHA LOAN PROCESS?
With the exception of a few additional forms, the FHA loan application process is similar to that of a conventional loan. With new automation measures, FHA loans may be originated more quickly than before. And, if you don’t prefer a face-to-face meeting, you can apply for an FHA loan via telephone, the Internet, or video conference.
9. HOW MUCH INCOME DO I NEED TO HAVE TO QUALIFY FOR AN FHA LOAN?
There is no minimum income requirement. But you must prove steady income for at least three years, and demonstrate that you’ve consistently paid your bills on time.
10. WHAT QUALIFIES AS AN INCOME SOURCE FOR THE FHA?
Seasonal pay, child support, retirement pension payments, unemployment compensation, VA benefits, military pay, Social Security income, alimony, and rent paid by family all qualify as income sources. Part-time pay, overtime, and bonus pay also count as long as they are steady. Special savings plans-such as those set up by a church or community association – qualify, too. Income type is not as important as income steadiness with the FHA.
11. CAN I CARRY DEBT AND STILL QUALIFY FOR FHA LOANS?
Yes. Short-term debt doesn’t count as long as it can be paid off within 10 months. And some regular expenses, like child care costs, are not considered debt. Talk to your lender or real estate agent about meeting the FHA debt-to-income ratio.
12. WHAT IS THE DEBT-TO-INCOME RATIO FOR FHA LOANS?
The FHA allows you to use 29% of your income towards housing costs and 41% towards housing expenses and other long-term debt. With a conventional loan, this qualifying ratio allows only 28% toward housing and 36% towards housing and other debt.
13. CAN I EXCEED THIS RATIO?
You may qualify to exceed if you have:
- A large down payment
- A demonstrated ability to pay more toward your housing expenses
- Substantial cash reserves
- Net worth enough to repay the mortgage regardless of income
- Evidence of acceptable credit history or limited credit use
- Less-than-maximum mortgage terms
- Funds provided by an organization
- A decrease in monthly housing expenses
14. HOW LARGE A DOWN PAYMENT DO I NEED WITH AN FHA LOAN?
You must have a down payment of at least 3% of the purchase price of the home. Most affordable loan programs offered by private lenders require between a 3%-5% down payment, with a minimum of 3% coming directly from the borrower’s own funds.
15. WHAT CAN I USE TO PAY THE DOWN PAYMENT AND CLOSING COSTS OF AN FHA LOAN?
Besides your own funds, you may use cash gifts or money from a private savings club. If you can do certain repairs and improvements yourself, your labor may be used as part of a down 8 payment (called -sweat equity”). If you are doing a lease purchase, paying extra rent to the seller may also be considered the same as accumulating cash.
16. HOW DOES MY CREDIT HISTORY IMPACT MY ABILITY TO QUALIFY?
The FHA is generally more flexible than conventional lenders in its qualifying guidelines. In fact, the FHA allows you to re-establish credit if:
- Two years have passed since a bankruptcy has been discharged.
- All judgments have been paid.
- Any outstanding tax liens have been satisfied or appropriate arrangements have been made to establish a repayment plan with the IRS or state Department of Revenue.
- Three years have passed since a foreclosure or a deed-in-lieu has been resolved.
17. CAN I QUALIFY FOR AN FHA LOAN WITHOUT A CREDIT HISTORY?
Yes. If you prefer to pay debts in cash or are too young to have established credit, there are other ways to prove your eligibility. Talk to your lender for details.
18. CAN I ROLL CLOSING COSTS INTO my FHA LOAN?
No. Though you can’t roll closing costs into your FHA loan, you may be able to use the amount you pay for them to help satisfy the down payment requirement. Ask your lender for details.
19. ARE FHA LOANS ASSUMABLE?
Yes. You can assume an existing FHA-insured loan, or, if you are the one deciding to sell, allow a buyer to assume yours. Assuming a loan can be very beneficial, since the process is streamlined and less expensive compared to that for a new loan. Also, assuming a loan can often result in a lower interest rate. The application process consists basically of a credit check and no property appraisal is required. And you must demonstrate that you have enough income to support the mortgage loan. In this way, qualifying to assume a loan is similar to the qualification requirements for a new one.
20. WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I CAN’T MAKE A PAYMENT ON LOAN?
Call or, write to your lender as soon as possible. Clearly explain the situation and be prepared to provide him or her with financial information.
21. ARE THERE ANY OPTIONS IF I FALL BEHIND ON MY LOAN PAYMENTS?
Yes. Talk to your lender or a HUD-approved counseling agency for details. Listed below are a few options that may help you get back on track.
For FHA loans:
- Keep living in your home to qualify for assistance.
- Contact a HUD-approved housing counseling agency (1-800-569-4287 or TDD: 1-800-483-2209) and cooperate with the counselor/lender trying to help you.
- HUD has a number of special loss mitigation programs available to help you:
- Special Forbearance: Your lender will arrange for a revised repayment plan which may Include temporary reduction or suspension of payments; you can qualify by having an Involuntary reduction in your Income or Increase In living expenses.
- Mortgage Modification: Allows refinance debt and/or extend the term of the your mortgage loan which may reduce your monthly payments; you can qualify if you have recovered from financial problems, but net Income Is less than before.
- Partial Claim: Your lender maybe able to help you obtain an interest-free loan from HUD to bring your mortgage current.
- Pre-foreclosure Sale: Allows you to sell your property and pay off your mortgage loan ,to avoid foreclosure.
- Deed-in lieu of Foreclosure: Lets you voluntarily “give back” your property to the lender; it won’t save your house but will help you avoid the costs, time, and effort of the foreclosure process.
- If you are having difficulty with an uncooperative lender or feel your loan servicer is not providing you with the most effective loss mitigation options, call the FHA Loss Mitigation Center at 1-888-297-8685 for additional help.
For Conventional Loans:
Talk to your lender about specific loss mitigation options. Work directly with him or her to request a “workout packet.” A secondary lender, like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, may have purchased your loan. Your lender can follow the appropriate guidelines set by Fannie or Freddie to determine the best option for your situation.
Fannie Mae does not deal directly with the borrower. They work with the lender to determine the loss mitigation program that best fits your needs.
Freddie Mac, like Fannie Mae, will usually only work with the loan servicer. However, if you encounter problems with your lender during the loss mitigation process, you can coil customer service for help at 1-800-FREDDIE (1-800-373-3343).
In any loss mitigation situation, it is important to remember a few helpful hints:
- Explore every reasonable alternative to avoid losing your home, but beware of scams. For example, watch out for
- Equity skimming: a buyer offers to repay the mortgage or sell the property if you sign over the deed and move out.
- Phony counseling agencies: offer counseling for a fee when it is often given at no charge.
- Don’t sign anything you don’t understand.
1. WHAT IS MORTGAGE INSURANCE?
Mortgage insurance is a policy that protects lenders against some or most of the losses that result from defaults on home mortgages. It’s required primarily for borrowers making a down payment of less than 20%.
2. HOW DOES MORTGAGE INSURANCE WORK? IS IT LIKE HOME OR AUTO INSURANCE?
Like home or auto insurance, mortgage insurance requires payment of a premium, is for protection against loss, and is used in the event of an emergency. If a borrower can’t repay an insured mortgage loan as agreed, the lender may foreclose on the property and file a claim with the mortgage insurer for some or most of the total losses.
3. DO I NEED MORTGAGE INSURANCE? HOW DO I GET IT?
You need mortgage insurance only if you plan to make a down payment of less than 20% of the purchase price of the home. The FHA offers several loan programs that may meet your needs. Ask your lender for details.
4. HOW CAN I RECEIVE A DISCOUNT ON THE FHA INITIAL MORTGAGE INSURANCE PREMIUM?
Ask your real estate agent or lender for information on the HELP program from the FHA. HELP – Homebuyer Education Learning Program – is structured to help people like you begin the home buying process. It covers such topics as budgeting, finding a home, getting a loan, and home maintenance. In most cases, completion of this program may entitle you to a reduction in the initial FHA mortgage insurance premium from 2.25% to 1.75% of the purchase price of your new home.
5. WHAT IS PMI?
PMI stands for Private Mortgage Insurance or Insurer. These are privately-owned companies that provide mortgage insurance. They offer both standard and special affordable programs for borrowers. These companies provide guidelines to lenders that detail the types of loans they will insure. Lenders use these guidelines to determine borrower eligibility. PMI’s usually have stricter qualifying ratios and larger down payment requirements than the FHA, but their premiums are often lower and they insure loans that exceed the FHA limit.
Home Buying Resources
Buying your first home can be exciting and overwhelming – which is why we have a variety of tools and resources to help you.
> FHA Approved Condos
The Condominiums page allows users to search for FHA-approved condominium projects by location, name, or status.
> FHA Mortgage Limits by County
This page allows you to look up the FHA or GSE mortgage limits for one or more areas, and list them by state, county, or Metropolitan Statistical Area.
> FHA FAQs
Federal Housing Administration Frequently Asked Questions
> HUD Homes for Sale
Several federal agencies have properties to sell. In fact, HUD sells both single family homes and multifamily properties. Check them out- one might be just what you’re looking for!