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Learn About Buying


First-Time Homebuyer's Guide

Buying a home is one of the most important personal and financial decisions you'll ever make. That's why we want you to have this step-by-step guide to help you find and buy your first home. We're also here to answer your questions along the way. We want your first real estate experience to be both hassle-free and rewarding.

The following Guide explains the real estate process in plain English. What you're about to read is an overview of the procedures normally followed in a typical home purchase. Read on and see how finding and owning your dream home can be easier than you think with help from us.

Preparing to Find and Buy a Home

Before you start looking for a home, become an educated consumer. Knowledge is power and misinformation can get in your way. First, learn about the process and requirements for buying a home. Common misconceptions include: "renting is always cheaper than buying." and, "you have to be a Permanent Resident of the United States to buy a home," and "you have to have a huge down payment to qualify for a mortgage."

Here are the facts. You only need a work permit to buy a house. And in some cases, the starter costs of renting may be about the same as a house down payment. As you start your search to find a home, keep informed. Talk with people who've gone through the home-buying process, attend home-buying seminars, and visit with knowledgeable real estate experts like us.

Choosing Your Real Estate Professional

Deciding to find and buy a home is one of the most important decisions of your life. It combines your personal hopes and dreams with wanting what's best for you and your family. It means making changes. That's why it's in your best interest to choose an experienced real estate agent who listens to and understands your needs, and works in the area where you want to live. When you choose a Charles Rutenberg Agent, you're dealing with an experienced professional who understands your concerns and will provide you with the personalized service that makes all the difference. Charles Rutenberg is in 42 countries, 7,800 offices, 104 languages, and represented by 143,000 agents who understand the life changes that real estate decisions can bring.

Before you find a home, we can also assist you in talking with a mortgage representative about getting a "mortgage pre-approval". It's helpful to get pre-approved before you find a home so you'll know how much money you have to spend. You also can calculate how much you can afford in monthly payments. You can use our online financial calculator to help determine how much you can afford.

Have a Financial Plan Before You Find a Home

You can reduce the stress of home buying by thinking ahead. Before you find a home you want to purchase, develop a financial plan. This plan becomes your guide not only for saving money for the down payment, but also for covering other expenses such as your credit check, mortgage application and closing costs. For more details about what to expect financially, contact us.

Establishing Credit

Having an established credit history plays an important role in the home buying process. It's never too soon to start building a good credit history. Start by diversifying how you pay for things; don't pay for everything with cash. Pay your bills on time, limit your debt, reduce the number of credit cards you have, and use them responsibly. Your goal is to show that you are financially responsible and a "good credit risk."

It's also important to review your credit report. This is a record of past and current debt that states when, how and if you paid. Make sure that the information contained in your credit report is accurate. By reviewing your credit report now, you'll have the opportunity to correct any errors. We can help you get a copy of your credit report to review. Don't wait until you've found a home to do this. Do it now.

Why is this so important? Your credit history is one of the documents that give the mortgage lender confidence in you. The better your credit history, the better your credit score. And the higher your credit score, the more likely your mortgage lender will offer you more mortgage options with better terms.

You're smart to think ahead. The best approach to buying a home with few financial surprises is to learn how homes are financed, find out how and where to get financial assistance, and understand all the costs involved in addition to the cost of the house. What follows is a brief explanation of (1) Mortgage Pre-approval, (2) Down Payment, (3) Mortgage Options, and (4) Closing Costs.

(1) Mortgage Pre-approval

A pre-approval is a simple calculation done by a mortgage lender that tells you (a) the amount you'll be able to finance through a loan and (b) what your monthly payment will be. When you find a home to buy, a pre-approval also reassures the seller that you have the financial means to purchase his or her home. Contact us for help in getting a mortgage pre-approval.

Once you know the amount the bank will lend you, the next step is to determine how much to save for your down payment. This will help you define the types of homes within your budget. Keep in mind the monthly costs associated with home ownership include not only your mortgage payment, but also real estate taxes, homeowner's insurance and utilities.

You may not realize it but when it comes to getting mortgage financing, you have options. Which one's right for you? Visit our online calculator for help figuring out approximately how much you can afford. You can also call or email us so that we can help you make sense of both the financing process and your financing options.

(2) Your Down Payment

A down payment is the money you pay up front toward the purchase of your new home. Typically, the larger your down payment, the less you pay each month on the mortgage, and the lower the interest costs will be over the life of the mortgage.

How large should your down payment be? Many people make down payments of 5%, 10% or 20% of the sales prices of the homes they buy. There are also loans available for buyers with down payments of under 5%, and in some cases with no money down at all. However, the right percentage for you depends on many factors. Contact us so that we can put you in touch with a Mortgage Professional to learn more about your mortgage options and which is the right fit for you.

(3) Your Mortgage

Your options for financing the home you find depend on your personal financial situation and your unique needs. Contact us right away for guidance about contacting mortgage lenders and getting a Mortgage Pre-approval. This will help you gauge how much you can afford to spend on a home and the financing options available to you. Here's an overview of typical financing options available:

(4) Closing and Other Additional Costs

After you find a home and receive mortgage approval, the closing is when ownership of your new home officially transfers from the seller to you. In some cases, sellers pay the closing costs. If not, you need to be prepared to pay an additional "closing" cost. This can add another two to five percent to the home purchase price. For specifics, contact us. Other additional costs may include:

Finding A Home

Your Search

Where do you start when you're ready to find a home? Narrowing your home search based on how much you can afford is one factor.

You'll want to have an idea of the features you "want" versus "need" in a home to help us guide you in a successful home search. Then the fun begins! We will provide you with information on houses for sale and take you to visit the ones that interest you. You'll have the chance to discuss the pros and cons of each house with us. And don't be afraid to ask questions. Remember, one of these houses you visit could be your future home and a major financial investment.

Throughout the process, we will help you fine tune your search criteria to find the home of your dreams. With each house you tour, ask yourself these questions:

Making An Offer

When you find a home you want to buy, we'll prepare a sales contract with you and present it to the seller on your behalf. Your offer is typically the first step toward negotiating a sales contract. That's why determining how much to offer is more complex than simply determining a price. Because of the large amount of money involved, both the buyer and the seller need to protect their investments and limit their risk. This is why when you make an offer, you not only specify the price you are willing to pay, but also the other details of the purchase such as:


Contingencies generally allow you to anticipate potential problems so if something goes wrong, you can cancel the contract without penalty. If you cancel a contract without having agreed upon conditions and contingencies, you could find yourself forfeiting your good faith deposit and money spent to inspect the property, as well as other damages. For this reason, it's recommended you retain a knowledgeable agent who works on your behalf.

Before making an offer, thoroughly evaluate the property (including but not limited to the following):

Your Good Faith Deposit

Along with your offer, you'll provide a "good faith" deposit that demonstrates to the seller your serious interest in buying. This is one of the additional costs mentioned earlier. This money is deposited only once the offer has been negotiated and accepted by both parties.

The Home Inspection

After you find a home and make an offer, a house inspection is often ordered. The seller should have the property available for inspection by a professional. Typically, the cost for a home inspection is the responsibility of the Buyer.

In a typical inspection, experts examine the existing conditions of the property. Inspections may be required by law with the elements inspected varying by region, state, and/or your agreement.

The most common type is the General Home Inspection. A home inspector can provide you with a complete service that covers from the foundation to the attic, as well as the exterior of the home, walls, chimneys, and fixed appliances such as refrigerators and stoves. Other specific elements that can be included: (not a complete list)

Indispensable Insurance

Before a mortgage company will approve your lending arrangement and allow you to close on your new home, they will typically ask you to show proof of title, title insurance, and homeowner's insurance. We can explain the details.

The Final Walk-Though

Before the closing and property ownership is transferred, you will want to visit your future house. This "walk-through" is an opportunity to ensure that the house has been left in the expected condition.

You should make sure that all the items the owner agreed to leave are still there, such as kitchen appliances. This may also include furniture and accessories listed in the final sales contract. If there are problems, we can discuss them with you. In some cases, you can ask for a discount or credit at the closing to cover missing items or last-minute damages to the property.

The Closing

To be knowledgeable and prepared, we'll go over the details of the closing with you beforehand. The closing process can vary greatly from company to company.

Generally, the seller is required to provide clean title to the property at closing. We, your mortgage lender representative, and real estate attorney can help you make sure all documents are provided and steps followed.

Making Your Dream a Reality!

Finding and buying a new home should be a rewarding experience. At Charles Rutenberg, we know the search for your dream home is about more than just putting a roof over your head. It's an expression of your hopes and dreams, your lifestyle and values. It's a place to spend time with family and friends, as well as your personal retreat at the end of your day. It's about making changes for your future.

Contact us via the phone numbers below or click on the email link and we'll get started right away at helping transform your dreams into reality.