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Why Lying On Your Mortgage Application Just Isn’t Worth the Risk

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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It’s been more than a decade since the housing meltdown when “liar loans” were frighteningly common, and unfortunately the number of borrowers who lie on their mortgage applications is on the rise yet again.Leading up to the housing crisis, unethical housing professionals took advantage of loan programs that didn’t require income or asset documents, and encouraged borrowers to lie on their applications to meet the approval guidelines. That often meant pushing homeowners and homebuyers to borrow more than they could afford.

The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 all but eliminated liar loans in the aftermath of the housing bust, but that hasn’t stopped lying on applications from making a comeback. The crime committed when lying on a home loan application is called mortgage fraud, and with new laws making it punishable with jail time and million dollar fines, it just isn’t worth the risk.

Why people lie on mortgage applications

There are a number of reasons someone might lie on a mortgage application. The two most common are fraud for housing and fraud for profit. We’ll discuss what each is and provide some examples of how they might work.

Fraud for housing

This type of fraud is related to consumers that make up or inflate information on some part of their loan application to get a home, or keep the home they have. Examples might include convincing an employer to write a “new job letter” with a salary made up to qualify, or trying to persuade an appraiser to come in at a particular value to support a cash-out refinance.

The primary motivation for this type of fraud is to either buy a home, or access some of the equity that has been built up on a home. Home equity is the difference between what your home is worth, and the balance of any mortgage financing.

Fraud for profit

Industry insiders such as real estate agents, loan officers, attorneys, appraisers and even title companies are usually the perpetrators of fraud for profit. They use the entire loan process to steal cash and equity from both lenders and homeowners. Because of the sheer magnitude of economic damage fraud for profit schemes do to local housing markets, the FBI focuses most of its resources on them.

In some cases, home buyers may be part of a real estate fraud scheme involving real estate agents, mortgage loan officers or appraisers to acquire multiple properties in a short period of time, with the intent to immediately flip them for sale at a profit. In more sophisticated fraud rings, sellers may buy and sell houses within a certain area to artificially drive up values.

Unethical loan officers or real estate agents may try to convince inexperienced real estate investors to participate in these schemes, and in many cases they may indicate that there is no harm in a little white lie. But mortgage fraud is mortgage fraud, and you don’t want to be on the other side of the law if the FBI begins scrutinizing an application.

We’ll explore the most common types of mortgage fraud, based on recent reports and studies by Fannie Mae and Corelogic.

Seven common lies on mortgage applications

Lies on a mortgage application don’t just include things like stating you make more money than you actually do, or that you received a gift from someone who isn’t really related to you. You can also commit fraud by leaving off information like properties you own with no loans on them.

Corelogic issued a Mortgage Fraud Report in 2018 listing the most common types of fraud being found on loan applications. Although they are ranked based on how frequently they occur, any type of mortgage fraud is considered a federal crime, and will put the applicant at risk of prosecution.

Lies about your income

If you’re misrepresenting how much income you make or embellishing your employment history to try to get approved for a mortgage, you’re committing income fraud. Your income carries a lot of weight when a lender is determining whether you’ll be able to repay a mortgage loan. In fact, your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, a measure of how much debt you have compared to your pre-tax income, is just as important as your credit history.

Your employment history is also important, and lenders prefer that you have at least a two-year history of earnings at your current job, with steady pay and no gaps in employment. However, you can get a mortgage if you’ve just started a job, or have recently received a large raise.

Dishonest borrowers and their employers may generate job letters with inflated starting salaries, or showing a large raise with manufactured paystubs. The income allows them to meet the DTI requirements on houses they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

The number of applications with evidence of income fraud rose more than another type of mortgage fraud according to Corelogic’s mortgage fraud report in 2018.

Lies about living or not living the home you’re buying

Occupancy fraud is when the applicant lies about how they plan to occupy the property to take advantage of lower interest rates or down payment requirements. When you fill out an application you indicate how you will occupy the property you are buying or refinancing. You may choose to live in the property as a primary residence; on occasion as a second home (commonly called a vacation home); or as an investment property that you intend to rent out to tenants to earn income.

Interests rates and down payment requirements are the lowest on primary residences, which may motivate an applicant to lie about living in a property, even if they are really going to rent it out.

Another example of occupancy fraud involves buying an investment property, but indicating it is a second home to get better rates and make a lower down payment. This is most common with out-of-state buyers who may eventually plan to retire in the location they are buying, but rent the property out until they reach retirement age.

Lying about an investment property you actually plan to live in is called reverse occupancy fraud. Current lending guidelines allow you to qualify for a mortgage using the market rent on a property you are buying as an investment property.

Buyers with a lot of liquid assets, but very little income, may commit reverse occupancy fraud so they can get the benefit of the rental income on the property they are buying to qualify.

Lies about who is benefiting from the transaction

Transaction fraud arises when one or more parties to a purchase or refinance transaction lie about why they are getting a mortgage, or try to influence people with cash or profit incentives to buy a property on their behalf.

When you buy a home, you typically sign a purchase contract agreeing to a sales price, and costs associated with the sale of the property. Everyone involved in the transaction has to agree to how much they will be paid, and disclose whether they are related to anyone who is buying, selling or representing a buyer or seller. If the parties agree to terms they believe are fair, and there is no relation either by business or family, that would be considered an “arms-length” transaction.

Lenders do allow financing on non-arm’s length transactions, but scrutinize them to make sure all the parties are working in each other’s best interests.

Reverse mortgages fraud is a type of transaction fraud that has been on the rise as reverse mortgages have risen in popularity. A reverse mortgage allows a senior citizen to access equity in their home in a lump sum, or to create monthly income and does not require a monthly payment.

A child or unscrupulous loan officer might convince an aging parent to take out a reverse mortgage with promises of investing the money, or offer them a large commission or bonus for buying a house with a reverse mortgage. The predators in these schemes are usually trying to earn large commissions, or take the cash from the reverse mortgage proceeds, and the seniors may not even be of sound mind to understand they are being taken advantage of.

Lenders perform thorough checks of contracts and parties involved, and may require higher down payments, or flat out deny a loan if they believe a non-arm’s length party is trying to coerce the borrower to take out a mortgage.

Trying to convince an appraiser to lie about a home’s value

When a home is placed for sale, the seller provides certain disclosures about the condition of the property and real estate agents agree on a fair market value. An appraiser is hired to inspect the property and determine if the agreed upon price is fair based on the recent sales of similar homes nearby.

Before the housing meltdown, lenders, borrowers or real estate agents could pick any appraiser they wanted. Unfortunately, as the housing market heated up during the boom years, appraisers were chosen based on their ability to “hit a value,” which lead to sales at inflated prices.

When the housing market collapsed in 2008, many of these homes dropped in value rapidly, resulting in loan balances being higher than their market value. This phenomenon was called “being underwater,” and resulted in a high rate of foreclosures, as homeowners found themselves with homes that were worth thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, less than their loan balances.

To prevent this problem in the future, the government passed appraisal independence requirement laws that require lenders use a random rotation of appraisers. Many lenders now employ appraisal management companies with a roster of dozens of appraisers in different housing markets, and lenders, borrowers and real estate agents risk regulatory and legal action for attempting to influence an appraiser’s opinion of value.

Not disclosing other real estate you own

Many borrowers mistakenly assume if they own real estate with no mortgage they don’t have to disclose it on the application. In other cases, they may intentionally leave the property off of their application so they are eligible for first time homebuyer programs.

Whatever the reason, this is a form of fraud, and could result in a loan denial, even if the loan is initially approved. Lenders perform a series of quality control measures, which include checking national public records databases to be sure your name or social security number are not tied to ownership of a real estate anywhere else.

Even if you don’t have a mortgage on a property, you are responsible for paying property taxes, and in most cases maintaining homeowner’s insurance. Lenders will take the annual amounts and divide them by twelve, and count the monthly payment against you when you are qualifying for a new loan.

Many of these quality control tests are done right before closing, so it’s just not worth lying on your application by omitting real estate you own, because you could end up with an 11th hour closing crisis, or worse a declined loan.

Stealing someone else’s identity to get a mortgage

According to a study by Javelin Strategy in 2017, a research based advisory firm, 16.7 million people in the U.S. were affected by some form of identity theft in 2017. Examples of identity fraud include manufacturing a social security number, or using someone’s — such as an elderly parent’s — identity to obtain a home loan.

Given how long the average loan process takes and how intensive the identity checks are, it’s the rarest form of mortgage fraud. However, if you have an elderly parent, and they indicate that they are receiving notices about past due credit that they never opened, you may want to take action immediately to determine if someone is testing the waters with their identity information.

Lying about the source of down payment funds

One of the first red flags a lender will look for on your bank statements is large deposits. Lenders want to know where the funds for your down payment came from for a few reasons.

The first is, they want to make sure a third party is not providing funds as part of a straw-buyer scheme. A straw-buyer is usually someone with good credit and stable income, and is paid a fee to take out a mortgage on a home they don’t intend to live in, or make payments on.

The buyer may be given the down payment in cash, or as a gift by fraudulently filling out a gift letter indicating a family relationship with the buyer. Because lenders don’t generally request proof of relationship with gift funds, this type of asset fraud is hard to track, and may not be discovered unless there is a fraud investigation later.

To avoid having to document a large cash deposits, more sophisticated straw buyers schemes may involve mortgage lenders producing forged bank statements. The straw buyer may also be given small amounts of cash by a real estate agent or investor to deposit over time, making it look like they are saving up for the down payment themselves.

The other red flag with large deposits has to do with money laundering. According to a report from Accuity, a global risk insurance company, real estate money laundering schemes reached $1.6 trillion a year across the globe.

Crime syndicates and drug cartels try to make their businesses look legitimate by using the funds derived from illegal activities to make “normal” purchases, such as buying real estate. Anti-money laundering measures are designed to scrutinize any funds used to buy and sell real estate, and watch for patterns of deposits that would indicate an individual is trying to stay just under the threshold for cash deposits that might trigger a money laundering investigation.

Why it’s not worth it to lie on a mortgage application

There are a number of reasons you should avoid lying on an application. The consequences are severe, and laws passed since the housing crisis deal more harshly with incidences of mortgage fraud than in past years.

You could go to jail and be fined

Under current U.S. federal and state laws, a conviction for mortgage fraud could result in a 30-year federal jail sentence, and up to $1 million in fines.

Your loan could be called due

If a lender finds that you committed fraud, they have the right to call the entire loan balance due. If you are unable to sell the home, you could end up with a foreclosure, and the lender could sue you for any losses they incur on the resale.

Your employment options could also be severely limited in the future. Businesses take financial fraud very seriously, especially when they are making hiring decisions. If you have a conviction on your record for any type of mortgage-related fraud, your ability to get a job could be severely limited.

Financial service employment will be virtually impossible, and employers may not consider you for any position that puts you close to a source of money, even if it’s just running a cash register at a convenience store or using a computer system to input food orders at a restaurant as a waiter.

What to do if you spot fraud in your neighborhood

If someone has asked you to lie on a loan application, or you know someone in your neighborhood who has indicated that a “little lie” won’t hurt anyone, you should be aware of the proper authorities to contact. The cost of mortgage defaults due to fraud is often paid by homeowners in the neighborhood when the loans inevitably default once the scheme is discovered by authorities. In large scale mortgage fraud rings, like the ones that occurred during the housing meltdown, taxpayers can end up on the hook for bank bailouts.

You can take action by contacting the following agencies to prevent or investigate mortgage fraud:

U.S. Department of the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network: Provides information and resources on mortgage fraud.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): Besides providing information about homeownership, you can contact a HUD counselor. They are trained to spot mortgage fraud, and may have resources for contacting the appropriate authorities in your area.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): The FBI does investigate financial crimes involving mortgage fraud, so you can contact them if you feel there is a major fraud scheme going on in your neighborhood or town.

Final thoughts: Lying on a loan application is not worth it

Lenders have a great deal of responsibility for making sure loan applicants can repay their mortgages. Besides making sure you have the income, assets and credit to support your loan request, lenders need to verify the documentation provided is valid and verifiable.

There are a number of different reports lenders run to protect themselves from making fraudulent loans, because they can be asked to buy back a loan if an audit by a regulatory agency discovers they didn’t take proper fraud prevention measures. If any housing professional suggests that you omit or lie about something on your application, notify the proper authorities. It’s not worth risking jail time, million dollar fines or becoming unemployable because you lied on a mortgage application.

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.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

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Life Events, Mortgage

The Hidden Costs of Selling A Home

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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When you decide to sell your home, you may dream of receiving an offer well above your asking price. But putting your home on the market requires you to open your wallet, which could cut into your potential profit.

While some line items probably won’t come as a surprise, you may find that there are a handful of hidden costs.

Below, we highlight those unexpected expenses and everything else you need to know about the cost of selling a house.

The hidden costs of selling a home

It’s easy to fixate on the money you expect to make as a home seller, but don’t forget the money you’ll need to cover the cost to sell your home.

A joint analysis by Thumbtack, a marketplace that connects consumers with local professional services, and real estate marketplace Zillow, found that homeowners spend nearly $21,000 on average for extra or hidden costs associated with a home sale.

Many of these expenses come before homeowners see any returns on their home sale. Money is spent in three main categories: location, home preparation and location.

Location

Your ZIP code can influence how much you pay to sell your home. Many extra costs are influenced by regional differences — like whether sellers are required to pay state or transfer taxes.

For example, if you’re in a major California metropolitan area like Los Angeles, you may pay more than double the national average in hidden costs when selling your home.

Below, we highlight 10 of the metros analyzed in the Thumbtack/Zillow study, their median home price and their average total hidden costs.

Metro Area

Median Home Price*

Average Total Hidden Costs of Selling

New York, NY

$438,900

$33,510

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA

$652,700

$46,060

Chicago, IL

$224,800

$18,625

Dallas-Fort Worth, TX

$243,000

$19,350

Philadelphia, PA

$232,800

$21,496

Houston, TX

$205,700

$17,477

Washington, D.C.

$405,900

$34,640

Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL

$283,900

$24,241

Atlanta, GA

$217,800

$18,056

Boston, MA

$ 466,000

$35,580

Source: Thumbtack and Zillow analysis, April 2019.


*As of February 2019.

Generally, selling costs correlate with the home price, so expect to pay a little more if you live in an area with a higher-than-average cost of living or one that has a lot of land to groom for sale.

Home preparation

Thumbtack’s analysis shows home sellers may spend $6,570 on average to prepare for their home sale. These costs can include staging, repairs and cleaning.

Buyers are generally expected to pay their own inspection costs; however, if you’ve lived in the home for a number of years and want to avoid any surprises, you might also consider paying for a home inspection before listing the property for sale. Inspection fees typically range from $300 to $500.

Staging is often another unavoidable expense for sellers and can cost about $1,000 on average, according to HomeAdvisor. Staging, which involves giving your home’s interior design a face-lift and removing clutter and personal items from the home, is often encouraged because it can help make the property more appealing to interested buyers.

It also helps to have great photos and vivid descriptions of the property online to help maximize exposure of the property to potential buyers. If your agent is handling the staging and online listing, keep an eye on the “wow” factors they include. Yes, a virtual tour of your house looks really cool, but it might place extra pressure on your budget.

You could potentially save hundreds on home preparation costs if you take the do-it-yourself route (DYI), but expect a bill if you outsource.

Closing costs

Closing costs are the single largest added expense of the home selling process, coming in at a median cost of $14,,281, according to Thumbtack. Closing costs include real estate agent commissions and local transfer taxes. There may be other closing costs, such as title insurance and attorney fees.

Real estate agent commissions range from 5-6% of the home price, according to Redfin. That amount is further broken down by 2.5-3% being paid to the seller’s agent and the other 2.5-3% being paid to the buyer’s agent.

The taxes you’ll pay to transfer ownership of your home to the buyer vary by state.

Other closing costs include title search and title insurance to verify that you currently own the home free and clear and there are no claims against it that can derail the sale. The cost of title insurance varies by loan amount, location and title company, but can go as high as $2,000.

If you live in a state that requires an attorney to be present at the mortgage closing, the fee for their services can range from $100 to $1,500.

There are also escrow fees to factor in if you’re in a state that doesn’t require an attorney. The cost varies and is usually split the homebuyer and seller.

If you have time to invest, you could try listing the home for sale by owner to eliminate commission fees. One caveat: Selling your home on your own is a more complicated approach to home selling and can be more difficult for those with little or no experience.

Other home selling costs to consider

Now that you have an understanding of the costs that may get overlooked, remember to budget for the below expenses as you prepare to sell your home.

Utilities

It’s important that you make room in your budget to keep the utilities — electricity and water — on until the property is sold. (This is in addition to budgeting for utilities in your new home.) Keeping these services active can help you sell your home since potential buyers won’t bother fumbling through a cold, dark property to look around. It may also prevent your home from facing other issues like mold during the humid summertime or trespassers.

Be sure to have all of your utilities running on the buyer’s final walk-through of the home, then turn everything off on closing day and pay any remaining account balances.

Homeowners insurance

Budget to pay for homeowners insurance on the home you’re selling as well as your new home. You’ll still need to ensure coverage of your old property until the sale is finalized. Check the terms first, as your homeowners insurance policy might not apply to a vacant home. If that’s the case, you can ask to pay for a rider — an add-on to your insurance policy — for the vacancy period.

Capital gains tax

If you could make more than $250,000 on the home’s sale (or $500,000 if you’re married and filing jointly), take a look at the rules on capital gains tax. If your proceeds are less than the applicable amount after subtracting selling costs, you’ll avoid the tax. However, if you don’t qualify for any of the exceptions, the gains above those thresholds could be subject to a 15% capital gains tax, or higher. Consult your tax professional for more information.

How to save money when selling your home

Keep the following tips in mind when you decide to put your home on the market:

  • Shop around and negotiate. Don’t settle on the first companies and professionals you come across. Comparison shop for your real estate agent, home inspector, closing attorney, photographer, etc. It could also work in your favor to try negotiating on the fees they charge to save even more.
  • Choose your selling time carefully. The best time to sell your home is during the spring and summer months. If you wait until the colder months to sell, there may not be as much competition for your home.
  • DIY as much as possible. Anything you can do on your own to spruce up your home — landscaping, painting, minor repairs, staging — can help you cut back on the money you’ll need to spend to get your home sold.

The bottom line

There are several upfront costs to consider when selling your home, but planning ahead can help you possibly reduce some of those costs and not feel as financially strained.

List each cost you’re expecting to pay and calculate how they might affect the profit you’d make on the home sale and your household’s overall financial picture. If you’re unsure of your costs, try using a sale proceeds calculator to get a ballpark estimate of your potential selling costs. Be sure to also consult a real estate agent.

If you’re starting from scratch on your next home, here’s what you need to know about the cost to build a house.

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.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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Mortgage

When Is the Best Time to Buy a House?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Fall may be the best time to look for a house
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Timing a new home purchase can be tricky. Should you start looking in the spring or in the summer? Should you wait for lower interest rates, or make an offer on a house you love even though the price is higher than what you budgeted? These are a few questions you may be pondering if you’re considering buying a house.

It’s common to look for cues about the best time to buy from the local housing economy or from what friends and real estate agents say, but the answer often lies closer to home — with an honest look at your personal finances. We’ll delve into some facts and figures to help you answer the question: When is the best time to buy a house?

The best time to buy a house is when you’re financially ready

Your kitchen table may be covered with listings of all the homes you’re interested in, detailed analyses of mortgage interest rate trends, historic home price appreciation and a plethora of other technical financial data about the timing of a home purchase. None of that information will matter if you aren’t financially ready to buy a home.

So how do know when you’re financially ready to buy your home? We’ve come up with five sings to help you determine if your homebuying timing is right.

1. You know your payment comfort zone

Before you ever speak to a loan officer, do some soul searching about your payment comfort zone — that is, how much you can comfortably afford to spend on a monthly mortgage payment alongside other regular expenses. This might be an unfamiliar concept, but taking the time to seriously consider your payment comfort zone may result in a different monthly payment target than the “maximum qualifying” number you’ll receive from a lender.

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau considers 43% to be the maximum debt-to-income ratio (DTI) to meet the definition of a “qualified mortgage” — the stamp of approval from the regulatory powers that you’ll be able to afford your mortgage. Just multiply your monthly income by .43 and you’ll arrive at the government recommended total debt number. For example, if you earn $6,000 per month, your total debt including your monthly mortgage payment shouldn’t be more than $2,580. But is that really your payment comfort zone?

Start by asking yourself questions like how much do you take home every month after health insurance, retirement savings, local and federal taxes and Social Security deductions? What about your gym membership, the kids’ karate classes and the new organic food regimen that just pushed your grocery budget from $400 per month to $600?

When you start subtracting the realities of your month-to-month budget from your take-home pay, $2,580 of mortgage and other debt may not leave you much breathing room for a sudden pipe burst in a bathroom, or an air conditioner that takes its last breath on the hottest day of the summer.

Once you’ve worked the numbers backward from all of your monthly expenses — not just the ones the lender uses to get you preapproved for a mortgage — you’ll have an honest idea of what you can comfortably afford.

Here’s a side-by-side review of the money left over from a $6,000 monthly income when considering your organic fruit diet, martial artist kids and your monthly commitment to fitness, assuming you take home about 75% of your before-tax income.

Money left over just looking at 43% DTIMoney leftover after expense reality check
$6,000 before tax income$4,500 take-home pay
($2,580) suggested expenses for 43% DTI($600) (gym membership/karate/organic grocery markup)
($2,580) suggested by 43% DTI
$3,420 extra income suggested by lending guidelines$1,320 actual leftover real-life income

If your monthly income before taxes is $6,000 and you buy a house using the 43% rule based on your real life take home pay and additional expenses, you’ll have $1320 left over every month for gas, groceries, utility and all other bills.

Make sure that’s enough cushion for your month-to-month expenses, and if it’s not, start scaling back your monthly payment cushion until you’ve got more breathing room in your monthly budget to comfortably cover your day-to-day spending and other obligations.

2. You know your credit score and it’s as high as possible

Besides your DTI ratio, your credit score is the most important factor in getting you approved for and snagging the best rate on a mortgage. You’ll want to get your credit in good shape before you start shopping for a mortgage.

Start by checking your credit reports for errors because mistakes could be dragging your score down. You’ll want to initiate any disputes to correct errors at least six months before you shop for a mortgage, because lenders will require you to pause any disputes in order to get your mortgage approved.

Next, review your credit scores and the factors that may be bringing them down. (Find them at https://my.lendingtree.com.) While it does take time to improve your score, one way to boost it quickly is to pay down your credit balances. This will improve your utilization ratio, or the amount of credit you’re using compared to the amount of credit available to you. Try to do this at least three to four months before you apply for a mortgage so the credit bureaus have time to reflect any payments you’ve made. And focus on making all your credit payments on time.

3. You have your down payment and emergency fund saved

When you were in the process of determining your payment comfort zone, you probably spent some time crunching down payment numbers. Generally, the more you put down, the lower your overall payment will be.

A 20% down payment will help you avoid mortgage insurance on a conventional loan, but even if you don’t have that much saved, every extra 5% down will save you money. Mortgage insurance (also called private mortgage insurance or PMI) protects lenders against losses if you default on your loan. The less you put down, the more PMI you pay monthly on a conventional mortgage.

The table below illustrates the impact every additional 5% down makes on a $200,000 house if you have a 760 credit score and take out a 30-year fixed rate of 4.25% on a conventional loan in Arizona.

Down paymentLoan amountMonthly mortgage insuranceTotal monthly PIMI (Principal/interest/mortgage insurance)
5%$190,000$193.17$1,127.86
10%$180,000$130.50$1,015.99
15%$170,000$66.58$902.88
20%$160,000$0$787.10

In addition to your down payment, financial planners often recommend having three to six months’ worth of basic expenses in an emergency fund. Lenders also like to see extra money in the bank so they know you have the funds on hand to make extra payments or cover unexpected home repair expenses.

4. Your job is stable

It’s easiest to qualify for a mortgage if you have a salaried job or a full-time hourly position. If you have a position that only has a temporary base pay that will end in the near future, you may have a hard time getting approved. If you’ve been in a commissioned or self-employed position for at least two years and show enough income to qualify on your tax returns, then this is a good time to buy.

5. You plan to stay in your current location for 5-7 years

You may hear the expression buying a home is one of the biggest investments you’ll make. The most disciplined investors also talk about looking at the long term versus the short term.

When it comes to real estate, the “5-year home sale rule” refers to the fact that you have a better chance of recouping the cost of buying a home if you stay in the home for at least five years. By that time, you’ll have made 60 mortgage payments, and in most cases, you’ll see home values in your area gradually rise.

The combination of these factors usually results in a sweet spot for reselling after five years. This is important because as a home seller, you’ll be paying all of the real estate commissions for the services agents provide to sell your home. Those fees can be as high as 6% or more, and that’s money that comes off the top of the profit you make.

The example below shows how the 5-year rule works. It assumes you put down 5% on a $250,000 home with mortgage rate of 4.25%, the market appreciates 6% per year for the next five years (it has averaged 7-8% per year since 2007-08), and selling costs total 8%.

Year since purchaseHome value at 6% annual appreciation*Principal balanceTotal equitySelling costs 8%Net profit at sale
1$265,000$233,496.07$31,503.93$21,200$10,303.93
2$280,900$229,318.61$51,581.39$22,472$29,109.39
3$297,754$224,960.12$72,793.88$23,820.32$48,973.56
4$315,619$220,412.74$95,206.26$25,249.52$69,956.74
5$334,556$215,668.28$118,887.72$26,764.48$92,123.24
*Average appreciation rate since the 2007-08 financial crisis

It’s best to buy when rates are heading down

It’s impossible to know exactly what interest rates are doing, but if you see a lot of news about rates dropping, it’s worth it to get a payment quote. From December 2018 to August 2019, mortgage rates offered for many mortgage programs dropped nearly one percentage point, which has a huge impact not only on your monthly payment, but on how much interest you pay over the life of the loan.

We’ll look at how a one percentage point reduction in the interest rate can make a monthly payment difference for a $150,000, $250,000 and $350,000 loan. Using the 5-year rule, we’ll also look at how much extra equity and interest savings you realize by the time you make your 60th payment (12 months of payments x 5 years = 60 payments).

Loan amountMonthly payment at 4.75%Monthly payment at 3.75%Monthly payment savingsInterest savings over 5 years at 3.75%Extra equity at 5 years
$150,000$782.47$694.67$87.80$7,399.24$2,131.38
$250,000$1,304.12$1,157.79$146.35$12,331.08$3,552.30
$350,000$1,825.77$1,620.90$204.87$17,264.88$4,973.22

The bigger the loan amount, the more the impact on your monthly payment savings, total interest costs and equity build up. This makes shopping around for a mortgage and locking in a rate when you find the best deal even more important.

It’s best to buy when home prices are leveling off

The price you pay is just as important as the interest rate when it comes to buying. When home prices level off or rise at a slower pace, sellers tend to put their houses on the market at a more rapid pace, as they worry they may miss out on getting top dollar if prices stall out.

That’s good news if you’re a buyer, because more houses for sales may mean lower prices. Sellers may also consider contributing toward your closing costs or help you buy discount points to get a lower rate. This is also known as a “buyer’s market,” because it tends to be more advantageous to buyers than sellers.

Sales price also affects how much money you need to put down, so getting the best price will help you leave some of that down payment money in the bank to build up your emergency fund even further. Here’s an example of the effects of a 5% difference in price on your down payment, and assuming the seller is willing to pay 3% of your closing costs.

Sales price5% down payment10% down payment3% seller paid costs
$200,000$10,000$20,000$6,000
$210,000$10,500$21,000$6,300
$220,000$11,000$22,000$6,600

If you can buy a home for $200,000 versus $220,000, you’ll save $1,000 in down payment (assuming you’re putting 5% down), and the seller can potentially pay $6,000 in closing costs. The most common signs that the market is turning in your favor are “For Sale” signs. If you start seeing more of them popping up in your area or in a neighborhood you’ve had your eye on for a while, chances are you’re entering a buyer’s market.

The best times of the year to buy a home

Spring and summer are the most popular times to buy. Summer can be especially expensive for families to buy because sellers know there is pressure to find something and get settled before the start of the school year. Conversely, fall and winter are slower seasons for home sales. As a buyer, there are some months and even days when you might be able to save a bundle of cash if you’re able to make an offer and close during unpopular selling months.

The October homebuying advantage

October consistently ranks in the top three months for buyers, according to an analysis by ATTOM Data Solutions that examines dates from 2011 to 2018 during which sellers were least likely to charge a premium for single-family homes and condos. During this time, sellers are likely to accept premiums that are one-half to two-thirds lower than the highest premium months of the year (March to July).

With kids back in the full swing of school, sellers lose a big pool of prospective buyers, giving you an advantage as a prospective homebuyer.

December is the next best month for buying power

While many people are in the thick of holiday events and get togethers, homebuying may be the furthest thing from their minds. Sellers who need to sell in December will often give buyers extra motivation to consider their homes during the holiday season, and buyers prepared to forgo a cocktail party or two may be rewarded with substantial benefits.

Ringing in the new year with a cheaper home in January

If your New Year’s resolution includes home ownership, January may be a great month to look as well, according to ATTOM’s data. While most people are signing up for gym memberships, focusing on house hunting may save thousands of dollars in home costs instead of inches off your waistline.

Final thoughts about timing a home purchase

The good thing about home prices and interest rates is that they tend to move slowly, giving you time to prepare yourself for the homebuying journey. In order to take advantage of deals to buy a house, you need to have your financial house in the best shape possible.

Not only will you potentially save money with a lower rate or price on the home you buy, but the loan approval process will be much easier if you buy within your means and are able to demonstrate strong credit scores, solid income and plenty of money in the bank.

This article contains links to LendingTree, our parent company.

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Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

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