Before undertaking the important step of applying for a home loan and getting approval, a little upfront research can help streamline the application process:
Check your credit report
Before you start looking for your future home, check to see that your credit is in a good place. Having a good credit score not only makes the application process easier, it can also result in a better interest rate. Check your credit report three to four months before you look for a home. If you notice any errors, contact the credit bureau that issued the report and alert them to the mistake. Also, make sure that your credit score is in a good range. If you're not comfortable with your current score, take steps to improve (link to relevant article on this) it by making your credit card payments on time and whittling down your debts.
After you've made sure your credit report is accurate and in good shape, your next step should be to get prequalified for a mortgage. This can help you get the home you want more quickly because lenders – and home sellers - know you are one step closer to getting a mortgage. You will need a few financial documents - including proof of income, credit report and verification of your employment - to get prequalified.
Understand your upfront costs
Once you have gotten your finances in order, you should start researching the cost of your future home. Your mortgage will only be part of what you have to pay. Don't forget to factor in upfront costs and any other fees such as closing costs, origination fees and mortgage points. Use your annual percentage rate to help you estimate your monthly payments. A mortgage calculator can help (link to this) Your down payment can be the most expensive upfront cost when buying a home, so make sure you have enough saved up. First-time homebuyers spend an average of 2 ½ years' worth of savings on down payments.
Lock down an interest rate
Keep in mind that interest rates can fluctuate for a number of reasons, whether it's due to your personal finances or the state of the economy. Rates tend to change from week to week, so make sure to take all necessary steps to lock down a good rate.