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The 5 golden rules of first-time home buying

Posted November 6, 2019 5:00 a.m. EST

It is important to select a realtor who works in real estate full-time and has several years of tenure in the profession. (fizkes/Spotlight)

This story was written for our sponsor, Coldwell Banker Howard Perry and Walston.

In "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy said it best, "There's no place like home!"

If you are a first-time buyer who is navigating the yellow brick road of homeownership, use these five tips for home buying to make your journey toward home smooth sailing:

1. Work with a lender to secure loan pre-approval status.

Connie Batten, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Howard Perry and Walston, advises her clients to begin the home buying process by scheduling a visit with a lender.

"In today's competitive market, securing loan pre-approval is crucial. It helps buyers to determine their maximum loan amount and to receive a monthly mortgage payment estimate," Batten said.

Batten added that buyers can then choose to shop for the most expensive home they can afford, or to economize by shopping for a less expensive home.

Jason Kogok, also a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Howard Perry and Walston, said lenders typically pre-approve buyers for home loans that are 28 to 30 percent of their total annual income. He added that some lenders prefer to base pre-approvals on an income-to-total living expenses ratio of 40 to43 percent.

"Total living expenses" are inclusive of the buyer's monthly mortgage payment, food, utilities, transportation, clothing, insurance, medical and other credit-related expenses.

2. Partner with a realtor to guide and to advise.

"As a realtor, I'm here to guide my clients through the home buying process – everything from start to finish. I also serve as a liaison between my client and their lender. That's why we discuss down payments, closing costs and the best loan type for their financial situation," Kogok said.

Jennifer Lange, Kogok's business partner and a fellow broker, said it's important to select a realtor who works in real estate full-time and has several years of tenure in the profession.

"Buyers need an agent who is trustworthy and is well experienced with negotiations," Lange said. "The negotiation skill alone can either save them or cost them thousands of dollars."

3. Squirrel away down payment and closing costs funds.

Batten said an important part of her job is pulling back the curtain on the mysteries of down payments and closing costs.

"While some home buyers choose to put 20 percent down, a handful qualify for 0 percent down loans. Yet, the majority of first-time home buyers pay 3 to 5 percent down. That's the norm," Batten said.

Kogok advises his clients to expect to pay 2 to 4 percent in closing costs.

"For a home that's valued at $150,000, plan to pay $3,000 to $6,000 in closing costs," he said.

Kogok cautioned that the down payment and closing costs do not include the costs for moving, homeowners' insurance or housing association fees. Yet, he shared that experienced agents can often negotiate savings from lenders through closing cost credits or from sellers through repair credits.

4. Safeguard your credit.

Need a new car or sofa at the same time that you're house hunting?

As an insider's tip, Lange advised, "Don't make any large purchases before closing your mortgage. Doing so can impact your ability to qualify for the loan. After your loan has closed, then make those big purchases."

5. Brave the winter elements and score a better deal.

For first-time home buyers who are looking to score a deal, consider shopping off season.

"Most folks buy new homes in May and June, when their kids are out of school," Lange said. "But, if your schedule allows, consider shopping for a home in January when there's a lot less competition. That lack of competition often translates into great deals for buyers who are willing to bundle up and to brave the winter elements."

As you stroll down the yellow brick road of homeownership, keep these tips in mind; doing so will help you to find your home sweet home in record time.

This story was written for our sponsor, Coldwell Banker Howard Perry and Walston.