FAQs for First-Time Home Buyers
What is the difference between a real estate agent and a REALTOR?
A REALTOR is an individual who is a member of the National Association of REALTORS (NAR). This means that real estate agents, property managers, and professional appraisers may also have the title of REALTOR. A real estate agent is a general term for someone who has completed real estate school and has passed an official exam that covers real estate standards and practices. NAR reports that only half of all real estate professionals in the nation are certified as REALTORS. One difference that sets REALTORS apart is that they must abide by an enforceable set of ethical guidelines and they are sworn to uphold certain professional standards. Our REALTORs are also members of the Memphis Area Association of Realtors (MAAR), which adheres to a cooperative philosophy to best link buyers and sellers in the Greater Memphis area.
How do I select a REALTOR?
There are a couple of ways to find the right REALTOR for you. A good way to start is by asking friends and family if they have an agent they like. A lot of real estate agents find clients simply by word-of-mouth, so this is a great route to take. However, we advise that if you’re buying (or selling) a home, you pick an experienced agent who can tell you what you need to hear rather than just what you want to hear when it comes to the homebuying process.
Sometimes finding an agent can be as simple as using a quick Google search. Google is likely to provide not only a list of agents near you but also ratings and real estate firms in your area that you can call or visit.
Finally, using a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) such as Realtor.com or Zillow can help connect you with REALTORS or agents looking to help you find your next home. Sites like these usually provide a means of contacting listing agents for houses that pique your interest. However, it should be noted that in some cases agents listed on sites like these pay special fees to promote themselves. Make sure you look at their ratings just like any other REALTOR you’re considering.
SEE MORE: Our Agents →
How long does it take to buy a home?
The answer to this question varies widely and depends on many different factors. Whether it be the kind of loan you’re opting for, a fussy seller, or even lengthy negotiations, it can take time to purchase a house. A normal turnaround for buying a home is generally between 30-45 days, from the time you find a house that you like to closing. There’s a lot of paperwork involved, so take that into account if you’re working against a deadline such as a lease that’s about to expire. Once you’re under contract, there are still many tasks for both parties to complete, so don’t get caught off guard.
How much does it cost to buy a home?
This can vary greatly depending on the cost of the house, the property taxes, the interest rate on your loan, and other variables. Ultimately, the cost of your house is broken down into three items: Earnest money, the down payment, and the closing costs.
LEARN MORE: A Guide to the Home Buying Process
What kind of assistance is available for first-time home buyers?
The most popular assistance for first-time buyers is an FHA loan. This loan is insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and can be helpful to those with little to no money saved for a downpayment. There are several legal stipulations that must be met involving the condition of the house that are designed to protect the buyer.
Though rare, a Section 203(k) loan is another FHA-backed program and can also be a great option for homebuyers who aren’t afraid to pick a house that may need a little extra love after it’s been purchased. A 203(k) loan allows the buyer to borrow the money needed for home improvements to the property that would then be rolled into the cost of the primary mortgage. This loan can be difficult to acquire, especially for first time home buyers, and requires many extra steps to complete the sale.
There are several other assistance programs that have specific requirements, but these are the two most popular.
LEARN MORE: Assistance Programs In Your State →
How do I pick a mortgage lender?
There are so many lenders to choose from. So, how do you know which one is right for you? We recommend shopping around! Many people go with their own bank, but we think the best option is the one that’s going to give you the best interest rate and the best service. Be sure to focus on the interest rate and not the amount of money the bank is willing to give you. Banks want to give you money, but sometimes they may give you a note that’s a little more than you could comfortably handle. Try comparing at least three different lenders to see what might be best for you. Your real estate agent may even have suggestions. It should be noted that different lenders will have different fees, but there are great benefits to be gained from selecting a local lender who knows your market and is known to provide great customer service. These days, there are options that don’t even involve leaving your home, so be sure to do your due diligence!
How do I get pre-approved for a home loan?
This is broken into two parts. Pre-qualification is a great first step, but it doesn’t mean the bank is ready to loan you money. Going through a pre-qualification process is a good way to determine how much home you can actually afford. A pre-approval, on the other hand, means that the lender is ready to offer you a loan (under terms, of course). The lifetime of pre-approval can vary but generally lasts for 30-60 days at the specified rate, which means that the interest rate that the lender offers you at the time of pre-approval will be a close estimate as to what you can expect at closing.
Both of these processes are going to put your budget under serious scrutiny, so be prepared to provide a full rundown of your finances. That includes bank statements, credit cards, credit score, income, and assets. All of these items give the bank a pretty clear idea of what they’ll be willing to loan you.
What kind of credit score do I need to buy a home?
Your credit score is a critical element when it comes to getting a loan. It determines your interest rate, and in most cases, whether or not you can get a loan altogether. A conventional mortgage and an FHA loan require different credit scores (that can vary). Be aware that getting pre-qualified or pre-approved will require a “hard” credit check, and will drop your credit score by a few points. There are a number of ways to check your credit before subjecting it to the lending process, and we recommend it. An experienced loan officer can review your credit score and help you find ways to improve it if needed!
Tips For Raising Your Credit Score →
What is underwriting?
Underwriting is the process that leads to your loan getting either approved or denied. It happens after you put in an offer and are under contract. This is where all of the I’s are dotted and all of the T’s are crossed. Be prepared to answer any and all questions regarding your finances when your loan goes to underwriting. Why did you close that credit card last year? Why weren’t you employed during x-y time? While pre-approval is a good promise that you’ll get a loan, the underwriting is the guarantee. The underwriter is the lender’s “gatekeeper.” The loan isn’t approved until the underwriter is satisfied. Some lenders are even offering pre-underwriting, just to give their clients that extra measure of security and confidence.
Who pays for the appraisal?
Appraisers are trained and licensed to provide substantiated opinions of the current market value of a property. In most cases, the buyer will be responsible for paying for the appraisal. Depending on the lender and type of loan, it can either be paid upfront, or rolled into the cost of your mortgage, and will run between $300 and $600 dollars depending on the size of the house and the city in which you live. An appraisal will determine the current market value of the house you’re interested in purchasing and is ordered by the lender to give them a basis of how much they are willing to loan you.
It’s important to note that a lender will not give you more money than the house is worth, which can sometimes mean some renegotiating of terms between the buyer and the seller. If a house appraises far lower than the listed price, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get it for that price. And if a house appraises higher than the listed price, it doesn’t mean that the bank will give you more money. This is another time when a good REALTOR provides value. They can advise you on how to proceed if you run into an issue like this.
What is an inspection?
A home inspection is a process that every homebuyer, new or experienced, should employ. A licensed home inspector will look at your home with a trained eye from top to bottom. That means everything from the attic to the basement including all major systems and structural issues. A general home inspection is most common, but other inspections may be required such to check for termites, look at pool irrigation, septic systems, and other areas of concern. It’s important to get (and attend if possible) your home inspection because it will give you a good idea of what the area rugs, paint, and staged furniture may be covering up. Knowing the details of a home inspection can help you negotiate better with a seller, or help you prepare for repair costs should you decide to take on any projects yourself down the road.
LEARN MORE: Home Inspectors In Your Area →
Who pays for the inspection?
Paying for a home inspection is the responsibility of the buyer because the inspection is being done for the buyer’s benefit. It costs around $300-$500 depending on the location and size of the house. An inspection will generally happen after the house is under contract, so the buyer and seller are both committed to working together.