Why should I get pre-qualified?
One of the questions I often address up-front with my Buyer clients is the importance of being pre-qualified by a local lender. While you may have an idea of what you would qualify for by using online calculators or by speaking with friends, there are several reasons to go ahead and take the hour to meet with a local lender before beginning your home shopping.
• Determine how much home (and mortgage payments) you can afford and how much you want to afford – these may be different numbers! You may find you qualify for a much larger mortgage and payment than you are willing to make or comfortable making each month. It is okay to be conservative here!
• You will also be given an estimate of your down payment and closing costs, which you will need in the form of a cashier’s check at closing. Have you saved enough? Will you need to structure an offer that requires or requests the Seller contribute toward your closing costs (for which a higher offer must be considered to cover the difference)?
• With the lending changes the last year or so, your credit score now factors in significantly as far as the program you can qualify for and the interest rate. Some programs and rates are not available unless the borrowers’ credit score is over 740. That’s not to say that if you are under 740 you cannot get a loan. However, it may affect your monthly payment and, by extension to some extent, the price range in which you decide to shop. You do not want to begin to shop only to find out that the home you just fell in love with is just beyond your payment’s reach!
• Similarly, if you find the best product for you is a Rural Development (RD) loan, this will affect the location in which you may purchase, as RD has fixed physical boundaries in which they will invest and in which the property must lie. If you determine that an IHFA loan is best for you, you will need to complete the Finally Home! borrower education class prior to the loan closing. These are typically offered only once to twice a month locally; not having it completed will delay your closing.
• Once you are pre-qualified with a local lender, as you shop with your REALTOR® you are ready to move on a home when you find one you would like to buy. And if you are competing with other Buyers, you will be better prepared to write a thoughtful offer, putting you in a stronger negotiating position (a Buyer who has already taken the time to personally pre-qualify shows to a Seller to be a serious Buyer – not one that might change their minds and try to back out). The idea of competing Buyers seems silly on the onset in this market, but consider: if the majority of Buyers looking right now are first-time homebuyers due to the tax credit, they are largely looking in the same price range and they ALL have the same deadline to be in contract to qualify, therefore they are creating competition by the laws of supply and demand. (Another way to lessen your competition is to not wait until April to get into contract, but beat the majority of the Buyers to the market.)
• You may find that REALTORS® are less willing to spend their time showing you homes if you have not shown the personal commitment to at least get pre-qualified. With all the recent lending changes and constrictions, Agents can no longer assume a Buyer will qualify for some kind of loan, and are reluctant to spend time showing homes to Buyers who, in the end, may not actually qualify. While it is a service business, Agents are finding they need to be more certain their potential clients are actually potential clients. Future clients are always welcome and advice is always free, but unless a client is actually in the market to buy, REALTORS® have a fiduciary responsibility to the Seller to not inconvenience them and show their home to people who have not been properly vetted and are not active Buyers (it’s not an open tour to the general public, which I’m sure you can appreciate).
• Lastly, but not least, getting pre-qualified will help you to determine your true costs of homeownership, including property taxes, insurance, homeowner/association fees (if applicable), etc. Do remember, as your eyes glaze over with the initial sticker shock, the financial BENEFITS of homeownership as well, which will not be shown to you by the bank – the tax deductions available to you through your mortgage interest paid, property taxes paid, etc (contact a tax advisor for details and tax advice).
NEXT: The Perfect Home?