Develop a household budget. Instead of creating a budget of what you’d like to spend, use receipts to create a budget that reflects your actual spending habits over the last several months. This approach will factor in unexpected expenses, such as car repairs, as well as predictable costs such as rent, utility bills, and groceries.
Reduce your debt. Lenders generally look for a total debt load of no more than 36 percent of income. This figure includes your mortgage, which typically ranges between 25 and 28 percent of your net household income. So you need to get monthly payments on the rest of your installment debt — car loans, student loans, and revolving balances on credit cards — down to between 8 and 10 percent of your net monthly income.
Look for ways to save. You probably know how much you spend on rent and utilities, but little expenses add up, too. Try writing down everything you spend for one month. You’ll probably spot some great ways to save, whether it’s cutting out that morning trip to Starbucks or eating dinner at home more often.
Increase your income. Now’s the time to ask for a raise! If that’s not an option, you may want to consider taking on a second job to get your income at a level high enough to qualify for the home you want.
Save for a down payment. Designate a certain amount of money each month to put away in your savings account. Although it’s possible to get a mortgage with only 5 percent down, or even less, you can usually get a better rate if you put down a larger percentage of the total purchase. Aim for a 20 percent down payment.
Keep your job. While you don’t need to be in the same job forever to qualify for a home loan, having a job for less than two years may mean you have to pay a higher interest rate.
Establish a good credit history. Get a credit card and make payments by the due date. Do the same for all your other bills, too. Pay off the entire balance promptly.
It’s guaranteed to be hectic right before closing, but you should always make time for a final walk-through. Your goal is to make sure that your home is in the same condition you expected it would be. Ideally, the sellers already have moved out. This is your last chance to check that appliances are in working condition and that agreed-upon repairs have been made. Here’s a detailed list of what not to overlook for on your final walk-through.
Make sure that:
Repairs you’ve requested have been made. Obtain copies of paid bills and warranties.
There are no major changes to the property since you last viewed it.
All items that were included in the sale price — draperies, lighting fixtures, etc. — are still there.
Screens and storm windows are in place or stored.
All appliances are operating, such as the dishwasher, washer and dryer, oven, etc.
Intercom, doorbell, and alarm are operational.
Hot water heater is working.
No plants or shrubs have been removed from the yard.
Heating and air conditioning system is working
Garage door opener and other remotes are available.
Instruction books and warranties on appliances and fixtures are available.
All personal items of the sellers and all debris have been removed. Check the basement, attic, and every room, closet, and crawlspace.
Increase your chances of getting your dream house in a competitive housing market, and lower your chances of losing out to another buyer.
Get prequalified for a mortgage. You’ll be able to make a firm commitment to buy and your offer will be more desirable to the seller.
Stay in close contact with your real estate agent to find out about the newest listings. Be ready to see a house as soon as it goes on the market — if it’s a great home, it will go fast.
Scout out new listings yourself. Look at Web sites such as REALTOR.com, browse your local newspaper’s real estate section, and drive through the neighborhood to spot For Sale signs. If you see a home you like, write down the address and the name of the listing agent. Your real estate agent will schedule a showing.
Be ready to make a decision. Spend a lot of time in advance deciding what you must have in a home so you won’t be unsure when you have the chance to make an offer.
Bid competitively. You may not want to start out offering the absolute highest price you can afford, but don’t go too low to get a deal. In a tight market, you’ll lose out.
Keep contingencies to a minimum. Restrictions such as needing to sell your home before you move or wanting to delay the closing until a certain date can make your offer unappealing. In a tight market, you’ll probably be able to sell your house rapidly. Or talk to your lender about getting a bridge loan to cover both mortgages for a short period.
Don’t get caught in a buying frenzy. Just because there’s competition doesn’t mean you should just buy it. And even though you want to make your offer attractive, don’t neglect inspections that help ensure that your house is sound.