1. Figure out how much you can afford
Since this is a six-figure purchase, you’re probably already wondering if it’s really within your financial reach. A calculator can help you determine how much house you can afford.
If you have a decent credit score, lenders will likely be more optimistic about how much house you can buy than you are. Keep in mind, their job is selling a loan — your job is to pay it back. So leave some room in your budget for living life.
2. Set a savings goal for the upfront costs
Lenders not only want you to qualify for a large loan, they want you to have some money in the bank for the down payment and a long list of closing costs, too.
The down payment always seems like a big ask, but it’s to your advantage to cushion your purchase with a little instant home equity by putting down as much as you comfortably can. With a too-small down payment — and with just a little downturn in the real estate market — you could have a big loan and a home that’s worth less than you owe. Not a good place to be if you’re forced to make a move.
3. Consider the length of the mortgage loan
The first time you heard the phrase “30-year mortgage,” you probably choked a little bit, right? That’s a long-term commitment. But there are also 10- and 15-year loans — some lenders even offer varying loan lengths with “write your own mortgage” programs in any length inside of 10 to 30 years, says John Pataky, an executive vice president at TIAA Bank.
If your budget allows for the bigger payment of a shorter-length loan, Pataky says you’re likely to see two benefits: a significant reduction in total interest expense over the life of the mortgage and a better mortgage rate.
4. Choose the right type of mortgage
This is where most articles dive into a bunch of mind-numbing mortgage terms. Just know that there are special types of loans for borrowers:
- With a military connection. (See VA loans.)
- Who would like to live in a rural or suburban area. (See USDA loans.)
- Who have a lower credit score. (See FHA loans.)
- Who are buying a house that’s a little — or a lot — more expensive than standard loan guidelines allow. (See jumbo loans.)
If you don’t exactly fit any of the descriptions above, you’re probably a good candidate for the conventional loans most lenders like best.
5. Know how mortgage interest rates work
The price you’ll pay to borrow the money for your home, the interest rate, is another key to choosing the best mortgage loan. Mortgage rates move a lot — in fact all day, every day that the bond market is open. Without going all Wall Street on you, here’s what you’ll want to know: You can lock in your loan’s interest rate over the long term, or let it move with the market and adjust once a year.
A guaranteed-for-the-life-of-the-loan fixed-rate mortgage may start out a little higher than the go-with-the-market adjustable-rate mortgage, or ARM. But the lower ARM rate that resets once a year after an initial term of three, five, seven or 10 years, can go anywhere — up, down or sideways.