It is no small task to buy a home. With multiple steps, fees, and people involved, the homebuying process can quickly turn from an exciting endeavor into a stressful undertaking.
“Buying a home can be extremely overwhelming for first-time buyers,” says Kevin Parker, vice president of field mortgage at Navy Federal Credit Union in Vienna, Virginia. “Between finding a lender, applying for a mortgage, hunting for a house, negotiating, and closing a deal, there are plenty of things for homebuyers to juggle.”
Fortunately, preparing for the process can help make it less stressful. Here are seven tips for minimizing the stress of homebuying.
1. Assess Your Finances Realistically
It’s important to assess your finances before you start the homebuying process. That includes understanding how much debt you have, looking up your credit score, and deciding how much money you should save.
List your debts
Mortgage lenders will calculate your debt-to-income ratio, which shows how much of your income is spoken for. First-time homebuyers should know exactly what debts they owe before applying for a mortgage. Include your credit cards, student loans, personal loans, car payments, alimony, child support, or medical bills.
Check your credit
Your credit score is a number that represents how likely you are to repay a loan on time. In general, the higher your score, the more options you’ll have in selecting a mortgage. A low credit score suggests to lenders that you’re a higher-risk borrower, which can affect your ability to get a loan and your interest rate.
Reviewing your credit can reduce the stresses of buying a house by helping you understand your loan eligibility. It also helps you avoid surprises when lenders review your finances.
You can access your score for free once a year from each of the three major credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
You might be feeling overwhelmed if you’re just beginning to save to buy a house. It helps to know how much you need, to set a realistic goal and time frame, and to find ways to maximize how much you can save.
Ways to get started include:
- Creating and following a budget based on your expenses.
- Paying down your existing debts.
- Opening a high-yield savings account.
- Asking for a raise.
- Starting a side hustle.
It’s also helpful to set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings, so you don’t have to remember to move that money manually.
If you’re unsure how much you need to save, use an online calculator to estimate how much down payment you need to afford the type of home you want to buy, in the area you want to live in. This step can give you a general idea of where to start, but keep in mind that a down payment is just one of the upfront expenses of buying a home.
2. Understand All the Costs
The costs associated with buying a home can be daunting, especially if you don’t know what to expect. Make sure to pay special attention to these expenses.
How much down payment do you need?
Buyers typically make a down payment of 5% to 20% of the purchase price, though it’s possible to put down as little as 3%. If you put down less than 20%, you’ll need to pay for private mortgage insurance until you have 20% equity in your home.
Despite having to pay for PMI, making a smaller down payment can be a good option if you want to get into a home more quickly. Saving for a 3% down payment could take as little as 5.3 years in high-cost counties, versus the 35.5 years it would take to save for a 20% down payment on the same home.
What are closing costs?
There are fees that you’ll need to pay to close a home purchase. Those fees are commonly referred to as closing costs, and they typically amount to 2% to 5% of the purchase price. Closing costs include taxes, insurance, loan fees, and more. Since closing costs can catch buyers off guard, being aware of them can reduce the stress of buying a house.
Know the cost of owning a home
Owning a home costs money, possibly more than you expect. Be prepared to pay for more than just the mortgage and utilities once you’re a homeowner. Forgotten or so-called hidden costs that can increase the stress of homebuying often include:
- Homeowners insurance.
- Property taxes.
- Homeowners association fees.
- Appliance repair or replacement.
- General home maintenance.
- Landscaping, lawn care, and snow removal.
3. Get Preapproved For a Mortgage
Obtaining mortgage preapproval is a major step toward reducing homebuying stress. When you apply for preapproval, your lender will conduct a preliminary review of your finances. Once you’re preapproved, it will give you a letter stating how much of a home loan it expects you’ll qualify for. While the letter doesn’t guarantee you the loan, it should help you feel confident about your price range, and it shows sellers that you’re ready to buy.
“(Getting preapproved) should not only alleviate stress concerning affordability, but will also give you and your lender some time to strategize if you need to make a few improvements before finding that dream home that you love,” says Donald Olhausen Jr., a real estate agent and owner of We Buy Houses in San Diego.
Finding a lender that you trust is key to easing some of the stress related to homebuying. You should feel like you can turn to your lender for advice and support during the process.
“Lenders are there for buyers to help guide them on what it takes to buy a house, the impact it will have on finances, and also how to avoid placing themselves in unhealthy financial positions,” Olhausen says.
Types of mortgages
There are multiple types of mortgages, each of which comes with advantages and disadvantages:
- Fixed-rate mortgages have interest rates that are constant for the life of the loan. Fixed-rate mortgages are the choice of 90% of buyers because they protect borrowers from increases in interest rates. They’re typically available for terms of 15 or 30 years. A longer repayment period lowers the monthly payment but costs more in overall interest.
- Adjustable-rate mortgages have interest rates that change over time. ARM payments typically remain constant for an introductory period of three, five, or seven years. After that, the rate adjusts — usually once a year — and could increase depending on market conditions. The rates often are more affordable in the short term but could increase significantly.
- Interest-only mortgages are less common, and they can come with significant risks. During the initial period, payments are smaller because borrowers only pay the cost of interest and none of the principal. The borrower will need to be prepared for their payments to increase when the interest-only period ends.
- Government-guaranteed mortgages are for buyers with income restrictions, people who are enlisted in the military, or veterans. These loans allow for a lower down payment and have more-flexible qualifying guidelines.
If you’re ready to buy, it’s best to shop around to find the type of mortgage that best suits your financial situation.
4. Find a Good Real Estate Agent
A real estate agent is a professional who has completed training and passed a written exam on federal and local real estate laws, earning them a license from the state. Choosing a real estate agent you trust is important, since you’ll rely on them for guidance. You should feel comfortable communicating with your agent, because that will help you be more confident in your decisions and reduce your stress levels.
“Stress can be alleviated by surrounding oneself with professionals who can safely guide you through the entire homebuying process,” Olhausen says.
Begin by shopping around for an agent. Read online reviews and recommendations, and research the qualifications and experience of any agent you may want to work with. You also might ask friends, colleagues, or relatives for referrals.
5. Focus On Your Goal
When you begin house hunting, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the process. Find ways to remind yourself of your ultimate goal. Shopping around may take longer than you would like, but keep in mind that maintaining a long-term vision and being persistent should eventually produce your desired result.
Know what you need in a home
In addition to deciding where you want to live, and the type of home you want to buy, it’s helpful to create a list of must-haves, or items that would be deal breakers should they be missing from a property. For example, it’s probably less important that you dislike the bathroom tiles if a home has enough bedrooms for your family and is located near good schools.
Shop within your budget
Looking at homes you can’t afford is sure to be discouraging for prospective buyers. It’s better to know your budget, and focus your efforts on homes you could reasonably buy. Setting and sticking to a budget also will ease your transition to homeownership.
“Staying within your budget will help you manage your expenses better,” says Tim Schroeder, a Realtor and owner of Agent Marketing Essentials in central Florida. “This strategy will help you to avoid future financial problems.”
Be ready to negotiate
Once you make an offer on a home, be prepared to negotiate. Making a deal with the seller can require some back-and-forth on details, such as:
- The price of the home.
- The closing date.
- Closing costs.
- Conditions of the sale, including home inspections or the appraisal.
- Including personal property, like appliances or furniture, in the sale.
While negotiating can be especially stressful, it’s important to keep your cool and be prepared to walk away if a deal doesn’t work for your finances.
6. Don’t Fall in Love With a Home
Homebuyers should know that high levels of competition often create uncertainty, and that falling in love with a home you lose out on can lead to heartache. The most common reason that prospective bids are rejected is there was a higher offer.
Try to manage your expectations so you don’t end up feeling demoralized if you’re outbid on a home you really want to buy.
“Just be cautiously optimistic,” says Tabitha Mazzara, director of operations at MBANC, a mortgage lender based in Manhattan Beach, California. “Your preparedness and your patience will pay off.”
7. Take Care of Yourself
Don’t forget to take time during the homebuying process to maintain your mental and physical well-being.
“Buyers need to take care of their health first and foremost, before going through the buying process,” says Fernando Spindola, a Realtor in Whittier, California. “Make sure all decision makers are drinking enough water, eating healthy, are mentally stable, and dedicate some time to this entire process.”
Be ready to deal with rejection
Both lenders and sellers have the option to turn you down and choose not to work with you.
If a lender rejects your application, they’re required by law to provide you with specific reasons why. Of course, a seller also may turn down your offer, and there’s a good chance that will happen in a competitive market.
As tough as it may be, rejection is normal. Don’t dwell on any denials you may receive.
Buying a home is a process that may take a while. Having patience is key. It’s recommended to consider between 10 and 20 homes before deciding on one to buy.
Ask for help when you need it
Your agent and lender can offer help if something is unclear to you. Your lender can assist you in navigating the mortgage process, while your real estate agent can answer questions about everything from local neighborhoods and schools to negotiating with sellers.
The Bottom Line on Minimizing the Stress of Buying a Home
Knowing what to expect is key to preventing potential headaches during the homebuying process. Once you’re equipped with enough knowledge — including steps you may need to take, as well as potential costs and who to work with — you should feel more confident about the process, less stressed about it, and ready to buy a home.