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Is Now the Best Time to Buy a Home?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Mortgage applications increased by 7.8% in December 2017 from the previous year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. But the fact that more people are buying homes doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best time for you.

If you’re trying to decide whether now is the right time to buy a home, it’s important to understand how the housing market works and whether you’re financially and emotionally ready to take on such a large commitment.

Here are some of the most important factors to consider.

A snapshot of the current housing market

There are several market forces that influence the overall affordability of housing, and can therefore affect your personal decision.

In this section, we’ll look at the current state of three main factors: mortgage rates, home prices, and inventory levels.

Mortgage rates are rising

As with the stock market, you can’t know for sure how mortgage interest rates will change over time. You can, however, make predictions based on some underlying factors.

According to Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, mortgage rates are significantly higher than they were six months ago. Indeed, the following chart from Freddie Mac shows a steady climb starting in September, followed by a sharp climb in rates more recently:

Kapfidze points to two factors that have helped push rates higher.

“The first thing is that the Federal Reserve, since September, has been reducing its holdings of Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities,” he said.

The Federal Reserve began the program of buying up these holdings in response to the financial crisis that began a decade ago. The idea was to lower interest rates to encourage businesses to invest and help the economy grow.

Kapfidze says that this reduction in the Federal Reserve’s holdings lowers demand for Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, “If you reduce the demand, the price falls,” he added, “which in this case means that interest rates go up.”

The second factor, according to Kapfidze, is the recent behavior of Congress, which passed both the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and a sweeping budget bill recently.

“Both of those things are projected to increase the U.S. budget deficit pretty significantly,” said Kapfidze. “They’re going to be issuing a lot more Treasury bonds, and because they’re adding a lot of supply and we have a reduction in demand, that’s also pushing up the interest rates.”

Home prices are on the rise

If you thought home prices were high when the housing market bubble burst in 2007, take a look at how they’ve grown since the market recovered.

If you’re concerned that the market will see another correction soon, you might not want to risk getting caught up in it. It’s difficult to predict if and when a correction will happen, so it’s often not advisable to try to time the market.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is the correlation between interest rates and home prices.

“As mortgage rates go up, that does put some downward pressure on home prices, but it does it with a lag,” said Kapfidze. “If you were to run a correlation between mortgage rates going up this year and home prices three years from now, you’ll probably see a little slower appreciation in home prices.”

There are fewer homes available

While mortgage rates may not have an immediate impact on home prices, inventory levels can. Total housing inventory fell 11.4% in December 2017, according to the National Association of Realtors, and was 10.3% lower than the previous year.

With fewer homes on the market and growing demand, sellers have less competition and therefore more opportunity to increase prices. But Kapfidze doesn’t see that acting as a deterrent for homebuyers.

“Given the strength of demand in the housing market today, I think you’ll probably still see pretty strong growth in home sales this year,” he said.

The benefits of buying a home

Buying a home is a major financial commitment and should not be taken lightly. But it also comes with some significant benefits, both financial and otherwise, that may factor into your decision.

Tax breaks

The U.S. tax code allows homeowners to deduct the amount of mortgage interest and property taxes they pay each year from their taxable income. The catch is that you have to be able to itemize your deductions instead of taking the standard deduction.

With the new tax law in effect, the standard deduction has increased from $6,500 to $12,000 for single taxpayers and from $13,000 to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. As a result, fewer homeowners find it worthwhile to itemize their deductions and therefore take advantage of the mortgage interest and property tax deductions.

You may also receive a tax break when you selling your home down the road. The IRS allows you to up to $250,000 in tax-free gains on your sale if you are single, and up to $500,000 if you are married filing jointly, assuming certain conditions are met.

So if, for example, you buy a house for $200,000 and sell it years later for $300,000, that $100,000 gain would be completely tax-free as long as you meet the eligibility requirements.

Equity

So long as home sales remain strong, a home is an appreciable asset, which means that its value typically grows over time. And every monthly payment you make increases the amount of the home that you actually own — your equity — which means that you are building wealth along the way.

Of course, growth isn’t guaranteed. As the U.S. real estate bubble burst a decade ago, the Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price NSA Index fell for almost three years straight.

That said, the long-term upward trend is clear. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median home value grew from $30,600 in 1940 to $119,600 in 2000, adjusted for inflation.

All of which is to say that owning a home functions as a sort of forced savings program. By continually contributing money to an appreciable asset, you can build long-term wealth.

Predictable monthly costs

If you opt for a fixed-rate mortgage, your monthly payment is locked in for the length of your loan term. This is in contrast to renting, where your monthly payment can change every time you renew your lease.

That fixed cost can make budgeting and planning a lot easier. With that said, owning your house means that you’re on the hook for maintenance and repairs. These costs can be unpredictable, and sometimes quite high, which is one of the reasons why building an emergency fund can be so helpful.

More control

While homeownership can provide financial benefits, many people simply want the freedom to create a home that makes them happy.

As a homeowner, you don’t have to ask permission to paint the walls, replace the floor, add a room or get a pet. For the most part, you have complete control to do what you like.

Of course, this may mean spending more money on home improvements. But if it’s in pursuit of turning your house into a home, it may be worth the costs.

Running the numbers on buying vs. renting

The choice to buy or rent isn’t always an easy one, even if you’ve done your homework. But it’s always helpful to run the numbers to see which route is more likely to come out ahead.

You can play around with The New York Times’s Buy vs. Rent calculator to crunch the numbers.

It generally makes more sense to buy if you plan on living in the home for an extended period of time.

The less time you plan on staying in the home, and the greater the associated costs of your home are — such as interest rate, property taxes, insurance, and maintenance — the less likely it is that buying will be the better financial decision.

While there is no golden rule, there are certain variables that generally argue one way or the other in the buy vs. rent debate.

Here are some of the major considerations:

Even if you’re ready to take the next step toward buying a house, the process can be daunting, especially if you’re a first-time homebuyer.

As you begin the house-hunting process, here are some tips to help you stay on the right track.

1. Figure out how much you can afford

A mortgage is a long-term investment, so make sure your budget can handle both the monthly payment and all the other expenses that come with owning a home.

“You want to make sure to have a conservative budget, so if any curveballs are thrown at you like a lost job or big unexpected repair, you have the means to tackle them,” said Mike Schupak, CFP®, a fee-only financial planner and the founder of Schupak Financial Advisors in Jersey City, N.J.

You can use MagnifyMoney’s home affordability calculator to get a quick idea of your price range, then focus on homes within that range.

2. Research recent home sales in your area

Given that the housing market crashed not too long ago, and that average home prices have now risen above what they were before the crash, you might be worried about buying at the top of the market and suffering through another downturn.

Luckily, there are plenty of tools that allow you to research the value of recently sold homes in your area, which can help you gauge whether the home prices you see are fair.

Websites like Zillow.com and Realtor.com can be helpful places to start. Zillow allows you to search as many as three years back, and both sites allow you to filter based on a number of variables so that you can get as fair a comparison as possible.

But this is where a good realtor will really shine. Realtors have access to databases that go back even further, and a good realtor will understand how to evaluate that data, find the right comparisons and explain it all in a way that makes sense.

3. Determine how much you’ll put down

A larger down payment will reduce your monthly payment and potentially allow you to avoid PMI, but you have to weigh that against the savings you have available and your other financial needs.

Lucas Casarez, CFP®, a fee-only financial planner and the owner of Level Up Financial Planning in Fort Collins, Colo., says that a 20% down payment is preferred, but not a deal breaker. It typically allows you to avoid PMI and may allow you to secure a lower interest rate.

But putting 20% down isn’t always realistic, and there are plenty of mortgage programs that allow you to buy a home with less. You just need to weigh the pros and cons in light of your personal situation.

4. Get preapproved

You can get a pre-approval letter from a lender before even making an offer on a house. This letter says that the lender will likely loan you up to a certain amount of money, based on a set of assumptions.

And while this isn’t a loan offer or a guarantee, it both allows you to make an offer with more confidence and gives the seller more confidence that you will actually be able to follow through on your offer, increasing your odds of having it accepted.

5. Avoid applying for credit

Every time you apply for a credit card, loan or any other type of credit, the lender does a hard credit check that can temporarily knock a few points off your credit score.

It’s therefore wise to delay new credit activity until after you close on your mortgage in order to keep your credit score from dropping.

6. Get the right loan

There are many different types of mortgages, from conventional loans to non-conforming loans, to programs that allow you to put less than 20% down. You can get a fixed interest rate or an adjustable rate, and you can choose mortgage term that’s typically either 15 or 30 years.

There are many different factors to consider, and a good mortgage adviser can help you understand your options and make the right choice based on your personal needs.

7. Compare mortgage rates

Every mortgage lender has different criteria when underwriting their mortgages, so you have the opportunity to shop around to find the lowest interest rate available to you. You can use this tool from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to get a sense of the rates available in your area, and you can apply with several lenders to see what offers you qualify for.

MagnifyMoney’s parent company LendingTree also makes it easy to get quotes from lenders online, using this short online form.

And you don’t have to worry about hurting your credit score by making several applications. As long as they are all within a 45-day window, the credit bureaus will count multiple credit checks from multiple mortgage lenders as a single inquiry.

8. Make a strong but reasonable offer

Once you find the right house, you can work with your real estate agent to make a strong offer that’s within your budget.

At this point in the process, you may be confronted with competing bids, and it’s important not to get caught up in a bidding war that could put you in a difficult situation. You can potentially work with your realtor to make certainly reasonable concessions, but be prepared to walk away if the price gets too high.

The bottom line: Is it time for me to buy a house?

With so many market and financial factors to consider, it can be hard to figure out whether it truly is the right time to buy. Schupak’s advice is to focus on what you can control.

“Don’t try to time interest rates,” Schupak said. “Instead, focus on items like purchase price, expected maintenance cost, insurance, HOA fees and real estate taxes. A forecast miss on those items often turns out to be much more costly than a higher interest rate.”

Casarez encourages people to be conservative and wait until you have a solid foundation in place that can help you navigate the ups and downs of this big transition.

“Sometimes the monthly cost of owning a house can be a big jump, and it can cause a lot of stress,” said Casarez. “The best time to buy a home is when you’re financially and mentally ready to do so.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Matt Becker
Matt Becker |

Matt Becker is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Matt here

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Maine First-Time Homebuyer Programs

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Do you want to live in a state with gorgeous seaside views and fresh lobster? Maine just might be the right place. Whether you’re new to the state or already call it home, if you need help coming up with a down payment, Maine offers several programs designed to help first-time homebuyers make their homeowning dreams a reality.In January of 2019, we researched first-time homebuyer programs in Maine, which included a review of the Maine State Housing Authority website and other state resources. Here’s what first-time homebuyers in Maine need to know.

Maine first-time homebuyer programs

The Maine State Housing Authority administers several federal and statewide programs aimed at providing affordable homeownership for Maine residents.

Their programs provide fixed-rate mortgages and assistance with down payments and closing costs to help put homeownership within reach. Their mortgages also come with payment protection, in the event that buyers face unemployment.

Eligibility for Maine assistance

Homebuyers who wish to take advantage of one of the Maine assistance programs must meet income and purchase-price limitations. Income and purchase-price limits vary, depending on how many people live in your household and the county in which you buy a home. You can find a list of current income and purchase-price limits online.

Eligible properties include new and existing single-family homes, owner-occupied two- to four-unit apartment buildings and condominiums. Manufactured homes located on owned land and built within the last 20 years are also eligible. However, the purchase-price limit for single-wide and double-wide manufactured homes is $150,000.

MaineHousing First Home Loan Program

The MaineHousing First Home Loan Program provides low fixed-interest-rate mortgages with low or no down payments. It can also provide up to $3,500 in assistance with down payments and closing costs.

Features

The First Home Loan Program offers

  • Thirty-year fixed-rate mortgages
  • Low or no down payments
  • Up to $3,500 in down payment and closing cost assistance
  • Low fixed interest rates
  • Low- and no-point options
  • The option to finance between $500 and $35,000 for necessary home improvements in the same loan

Eligibility

In order to participate in the program, you must

  • Have a minimum credit score of 640.
  • Take an approved homebuyer education class before closing if you take advantage of the down payment and closing cost assistance option.
  • Contribute at least 1% of the loan toward the purchase price of your home (the cost of the homebuyer education class counts toward this 1%).
  • Be a first-time homebuyer (not have owned a home within the past three years) or a veteran, retired military or on qualified Active Duty.
  • Meet household income limits, which vary by county and household size.

How it works

The First Home Loan Program is available through a network of approved banks, credit unions and mortgage companies. You can begin the application process by contacting one of more than 40 approved lenders. The lender can help you determine how much home you can afford, decide on the right mortgage program and take you through the process of applying for and closing on the loan.

Learn more

MaineHousing Salute ME & Salute Home Again programs

The Salute ME and Salute Home Again programs help qualified active duty, veterans and retired military personnel achieve homeownership by giving them a 0.25% discount on First Home Loan mortgages.

Features

The Salute ME and Salute Home Again programs offer

  • An additional 0.25% discount on 30-year mortgages offered through the First Home Loan Program
  • Low or no down payments
  • Up to $3,500 in down payment and closing cost assistance
  • Low fixed interest rates
  • Low- and no-point options
  • Option to finance between $500 and $35,000 for necessary home improvements in the same loan

Eligibility

In order to participate in the programs, you must

  • Take an approved homebuyer education class prior to closing if you take advantage of the down payment and closing cost assistance option.
  • Have a minimum credit score of 640.
  • Be on active duty or have been honorably discharged from military service, have served on active duty for 180 days or within a war zone.
  • Use your new home as a primary residence.
  • Meet household income and purchase-price limits, which vary by county and household size.

How it works

MaineHousing programs are available through a network of approved banks, credit unions and mortgage companies. You can begin the application process by contacting one of more than 40 approved lenders. The lender can help you determine how much home you can afford, decide on the right mortgage program and take you through the process of applying for and closing on the loan.

MaineHousing Mobile Home Self-Insured Program

The MaineHousing Mobile Home Self-Insured Program allows manufactured/mobile home buyers to get higher loan-to-value (LTV) mortgages and pay a higher interest rate instead of mortgage insurance premiums (MIPs).

Features

The Mobile Home Self-Insured Program offers

  • Up to 30-year loan terms
  • Down payments as low as 5%
  • Up to $3,500 in down payment and closing cost assistance
  • The option that 3% of the purchase price may come from a seller contribution
  • The option to add up to $35,000 to the loan for repairs

Eligibility

In order to participate in the program, you must

  • Be a first-time homebuyer (not have owned a home in the past three years), have only owned an unattached manufactured/mobile home on leased land, or be a veteran.
  • Pay a maximum of 33% of your income toward housing and have a maximum total debt-to-income (DTI) ratio of 41%.
  • Have a minimum credit score of 640.
  • Meet income limits, which vary by county and household size.
  • Have a maximum purchase price of $150,000.
  • Purchase a single-wide or double-wide manufactured home that is less than 20 years of age and is permanently attached per code at the time of closing.
  • Move into the home as your main residence.
  • Not use more than 15% of the home for a trade or business.
  • Contribute a minimum of 3% toward the purchase of the home.

How it works

MaineHousing programs are available through a network of approved banks, credit unions and mortgage companies. You can begin the application process by contacting one of more than 40 approved lenders. The lender can help you determine how much home you can afford, decide on the right mortgage program, and take you through the process of applying for and closing on the loan.

National first-time homebuyer programs

If you want to buy a home in Maine, you’re not limited to first-time homebuyer programs available through the Maine State Housing Authority. There are other federal programs available to help first-time homebuyers across the country. If you’re interested in learning about national programs, start by checking out LendingTree’s guide to first-time homebuyer programs nationwide.

This article contains links to LendingTree, our parent company.  The information in this article is accurate as of the date of publishing.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Janet Berry-Johnson
Janet Berry-Johnson |

Janet Berry-Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Janet here

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Rhode Island First-Time Homebuyer Programs

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Buying a new home is a scary prospect — and not just because change can be overwhelming. Figuring out how to afford a down payment, closing costs and monthly mortgage payments can feel like an Olympic gymnastics routine. Luckily, first-time homebuyers in Rhode Island have several programs that can provide assistance.

Whether you’re looking to pay less in taxes or you need help covering a down payment, the state’s solutions may be able to help you. We reviewed the state’s offerings to help you pick the best program for you.

Rhode Island first-time homebuyer programs

Rhode Island Housing offers affordable housing programs designed to make living in the state more attractive and affordable — no matter your financial situation. Not sure how to start your homebuying journey? The organization offers first-time homebuyer education for all buyers to help you understand the ins and outs of this complicated process.

But there’s real money available, too. The programs below offer down payment assistance, tax credits and affordable mortgages. They can even help you avoid paying mortgage insurance.

Eligibility for Rhode Island assistance

All of Rhode Island Housing’s first-time homebuyer programs — except for the First Down Program — require purchasing a house that costs no more than $441,176. Your new home can be a one- to four-unit home or a condominium.

And, of course, you must be a first-time homebuyer.

FirstHomes100

What is it?

Rhode Island Housing’s FirstHomes100 program helps first-time homebuyers at any income level afford a new place. The program combines a traditional mortgage with down payment assistance funds so you can finance your home 100%.

The FirstHomes100 program offers first-time homebuyers

  • One hundred percent financing
  • Assistance with down payment or closing costs through low-interest, 15-year loans
  • The ability to forego mortgage insurance in exchange for a slightly higher interest rate.

Requirements

In order to qualify for the FirstHomes100 program, you must

  • Purchase a house that costs no more than $441,176.
  • Buy a one- to four-unit single-family home or a condominium.

How to apply

If your income is less than $93,623 for a one- or two-person household, or less than $107,667 for a household of three or more, you’ll need to work directly with Rhode Island Housing’s Loan Center. Homebuyers with higher incomes can contact any participating lender to begin the loan application process.

Learn more

FirstHomes100+

What is it?

FirstHomes100+ is the sister program of FirstHomes100. It allows first-time homebuyers to not just purchase but also renovate the home of their dreams. Once buyers are approved for a FirstHomes100 mortgage, they’ll work with a consultant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to determine what repairs are needed. Once the final costs are determined, and if they exceed $5,000, the loan will become an all-inclusive FirstHomes100+ loan.

FirstHomes100+ provides buyers with

  • One hundred percent financing to buy and renovate the home of their choice.
  • Assistance with down payment or closing costs through low-interest, 15-year loans.
  • The ability to forego mortgage insurance in exchange for a slightly higher interest rate.

Eligibility

To be eligible for FirstHomes100+, first-time buyers must

  • Purchase a house that costs no more than $441,176 and that requires a minimum of $5,000 in renovations.
  • But a one- to four-unit single-family home or a condominium.
  • Complete FHA 203(k) Homebuyer Education before closing.

How it works

Buyers with incomes of less than $93,623 for a one- or two-person household or less than $107,667 for a household with three or more people will work directly with Rhode Island Housing’s Loan Center. If your income is higher, you can contact any participating lender to apply for the program directly through them.

Learn more

FirstHomes Tax Credit

What is it?

The FirstHomes Tax Credit is a federal tax credit for part of the mortgage interest you pay in a given year. A tax credit directly reduces the tax amount you owe. You can claim the tax credit every year, making this program helpful for years to come. Reduce your taxes even further by itemizing and deducting any other mortgage interest you’ve paid.

The FirstHomes Tax Credit offers buyers

  • A mortgage credit certificate for 20% of the total mortgage interest you pay each year.
  • Maximum credit of $2,000 a year.

Requirements

To be eligible for the FirstHomes Tax Credit, buyers must

  • Purchase a house that costs no more than $441,176.
  • Be buying a one- to four-unit home or a condominium.
  • Plan to live in the home as their primary residence.
  • Have income of less than $93,623 for a one- or two-person household, or less than $107,667 for a household of three or more.
  • You don’t have to be a first-time homebuyer if you live in the federally targeted areas of Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket.

How to apply

Ready to get started? Get in touch with Rhode Island Housing’s Loan Center or reach out to any of the approved lenders.

Learn more

First Down Program

What is it?

The First Down Program helps first-time homebuyers in the counties most affected by the recent foreclosure crisis. Through this program, buyers receive down payment assistance in the form of a second mortgage. As long as you live in the house full-time for five years, the assistance is forgiven. If you sell, refinance or no longer use the property as your primary residence, you’ll need to repay part of the loan.

The First Down Program offers buyers

  • A forgivable down payment assistance loan of $7,500.

Requirements

To be eligible for this down payment assistance program, first-time buyers must

  • Treat the home as their primary residence.
  • Purchase a home that costs no more than $454,250.
  • Be buying a one-to-four-unit home or condo.
  • Live in Cranston, Pawtucket, Providence, Warwick or Woonsocket counties.
  • Have income of less than $93,623 for a one- or two-person household, or less than $107,667 for a household with three or more people.

How to apply

Funds for this program are limited. Reach out to Rhode Island Housing’s Loan Center or a participating lender to get started.

Learn more

National first-time homebuyer programs

Rhode Island offers several helpful programs for first-time homebuyers, but buyers in the state should consider looking to nationwide programs, too. These programs can help you find an affordable mortgage, down payment and closing cost assistance, and federal tax credits.

LendingTree’s guide to first-time homebuyer programs can help you find the solution that works best for you.

This article contains links to LendingTree, our parent company.  The information in this article is accurate as of the date of publishing.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jamie Wiebe
Jamie Wiebe |

Jamie Wiebe is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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