Smart Strategies For First-Time Homebuyers
Hey, Millennials. Come on into the real estate market! We really need you to buy some homes so we can keep chugging along. Oh, wait. Prices are rising and so are interest rates, plus inventory is scary low. Hmmm. Well, come on in anyway, wontcha? It's not easy to buy a home in a hot market where inventory remains at historic lows - and that covers a lot of areas across the country at a wide range of different price points. But it's especially hard right now for Millennials, who aren't exactly getting a warm welcome from the market that has been begging them to participate.
"I think it's fair to say this is the most competitive housing market we've seen in recorded history," Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com, told Curbed. "There's record low inventory and strong interest from buyers in getting into the housing market. Millennials are reaching prime homebuying age - in 2020, the greatest proportion of that generation will be turning 30 - just as baby boomers are looking to downsize. This has created especially fierce competition for smaller homes, the type of starter homes that most first-time buyers desire. This dynamic can be especially frustrating for young adults because they may be bidding for the same smaller home as someone from an older generation who can lean on the accumulated wealth of decades of homeownership."
But that doesn't make buying impossible - just a bit more challenging. Get a leg up by following a few smart strategies.
Work with the right REALTOR®
This is not the right time to give your brother-in-law's cousin's neighbor who just got his license a shot. Having a competitive edge is more important than ever, and you need a savvy, experienced, and well-connected real estate agent to help you buy a home.
Work on your down payment
You may be competing against buyers who are coming in with an all-cash offer, which you're going to have a hard time standing up to. But, there are ways you can make your offer look better. Remember that if it comes down to a multiple-offer situation for your home, sellers won't just compare the offer prices. They'll look at your down payment and the terms, and you need to have better terms than the next guy. You may only have 3.5% down, and that may be all you need to qualify for your FHA loan, but that doesn't mean the seller will embrace you.
"Your down payment is a key part of the offer you present to the seller," said Money Crashers. "The general rule of thumb is simple: the larger the down payment, the stronger the offer. More precisely: the greater the down payment's share of the total purchase price, the more likely the seller is to accept."
If you're ready to buy and there's no time to get a second job or go into hyper-savings mode, you can always take advantage of down payment assistance programs like the National Homebuyers Fund or hit up a relative. "If you're struggling to pool enough cash for your down payment, a generous relative or friend can help by giving you money," said NerdWallet." But the money must be a true gift, not a disguised loan, and it must be documented properly through financial statements and a gift letter. If the gift is really a loan that you have to pay back, lenders won't accept it."
Be flexible on the closing
If another potential buyer is insistent on a 30-day close, but you could close earlier, later, and even rent back to the seller if need be, you just might end up with the house you want. Flexibility is key to submitting a winning offer, so make sure you have a Plan B - a place to stay for a few days or longer if you're going to be between houses, and a mover/storage option squared away.
Look in adjacent neighborhoods
Yeah, you have your heart set on a specific neighborhood. But if it's just not happening, consider the next neighborhood over. Experts say they have great potential upside.
Consider the worst house on the block
Buying the ugly duckling is a top strategy for investors, and one that can get buyers in the door (literally!) if they're having trouble purchasing move-in-ready homes. "When your budget as a first-time buyer doesn't stretch to a house in perfect condition in a neighborhood you adore, you might consider buying a home that needs work. Or maybe you've watched fixer-upper TV shows and think you could handle sweat equity. Either way, real estate experts say buying a house that needs renovating can make sense as long as you are realistic about the process," said the Washington Post. "A fixer-upper can be a smart investment, particularly if you can buy a property under market value and then increase its value with the right projects. While some home buyers prefer move-in-ready homes, they are stuck with the choices the previous homeowner or builder picked for their countertops, fixtures and floors. Not only do buyers of fixer-uppers get to select their finishes, they also can make sure the work is done the way they want."
If you're worried about how you're going to pay for all those renovations, ask your real estate agent or lender about a 203(k) loan, which rolls renovation funds into your mortgage. "An FHA 203k loan, (sometimes called a Rehab Loan or FHA Construction loan) allows you to finance not one, but two major items 1) the house itself, and; 2) needed/wanted repairs," said The Mortgage Reports. "Because the lender tracks and verifies repairs, it is willing to approve a loan on a home it wouldn't otherwise consider."
The loan addresses a common problem when buying a fixer home: lenders often don't approve loans for homes in need of major repairs."
Waive contingencies before you submit your offer?
Note the question mark. Your real estate professional may caution you against this strategy. But, lenders are making it work with a program that "allows buyers in select markets to not only underwrite their finances, but also get the appraised value of their home before they submit an offer. That means they have the option to waive both financing and appraisal contingencies to make their offer as competitive as cash."