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Most Important Factors to Getting Approved for a Mortgage

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 David Inglis and his wife decided to move to San Diego last year, they were expecting a relatively smooth process. They’d keep the house they owned in Los Angeles and rent it out as a source of passive income, then they’d buy a new house in San Diego. They even had a 20% down payment ready to go.

“The problem was that we found renters and had to get out of our current house and close on the new house within 21 days,” Inglis, 40, a yacht broker, tells MagnifyMoney. That gave them just 21 days to get a mortgage — easier said than done. As Inglis put it: “Getting approved for a mortgage is a process, to say the least.”

With what felt like a moment’s notice, the couple had to gather up and submit everything from tax returns to current income statements, and do mountains of paperwork in between to get pre-qualified for a loan. From there, their lender picked through their credit scores, debt-to-income ratio, employment history — you name it. They closed on their new house in the nick of time at the end of 2017, and it was anything but a stress-free experience.

If you’re new to the whole buying-a-house thing, locking down a mortgage loan isn’t something that happens overnight. That’s not to say it isn’t worth it though. One recent Value Insured survey found that the vast majority of younger folks—a whopping 83%, in fact—still associate buying a home with the American dream.

At the starting line? There are a number of important factors that go into determining if a lender will approve you for a home loan. Here’s everything you need to know.

Getting approved for a mortgage — 5 things lenders are looking for

Credit score

Remember: A mortgage is a type of loan. When you’re applying for any type of financing, your credit score is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle. This three-digit number essentially provides lenders with a general idea of your creditworthiness.

If you have accounts in collections or a history of making late payments, for example, you’ll have a lower-than-average score, which directly affects your loan options. That means you could get hit with higher interest rates or bigger mortgage insurance premiums, or both.

“Your credit score is really important on conventional loans,” John Moran, founder of TheHomeMortgagePro.com, tells MagnifyMoney. “Some other loan programs are less credit-sensitive.”

For conventional home loans, Moran says your credit score has to be at least 620, but for FHA or VA loans, you may be able to get away with a score in the 500s. But it’s not just about getting approved. The lower your score, the higher your mortgage rate will likely be — and that can add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of your loan over time.

FICO, America’s leading credit reporting agency, looks at several important factors when determining your score. Your payment history, amounts owed, and length of credit history are chief among them. If you’re aiming for a home in the next year or two, you’ve got time to improve your credit if you start now.

Trust us — it’ll be worth the effort. You can see below what estimated mortgage rate folks would get based on their credit score and how much it could cost them over time. For our purposes, we’ll assume they’re all getting a $250,000 30-year fixed rate loan.

Score Range

APR

Monthly Payment

Total interest paid

760-850

3.914%

$1,181

$175,224

700-759

4.136%

$1,213

$186,760

680-699

4.313%

$1,239

$196,072

660-679

4.527%

$1,271

$207,462

640-659

4.957%

$1,335

$230,777

620-639

5.503%

$1,420

$261,180

Source: Calculated using the MyFico Loan Savings Calculator
Rates current as of Feb. 2, 2018.

You can find a detailed breakdown of your credit score by pulling up your credit report for free. Your report unpacks your credit history for lenders, so it’s vital to know what’s on it. This is crucial because you could end up spotting an error that’s weighing your score down.

If your credit score could use some work, don’t fret—there are plenty of ways to give it a good boost before buying a home. Establishing credit history, keeping your credit utilization ratio below 30%, and making consistent on-time payments are all on the list.

Debt vs. income

Your credit score goes hand in hand with your current debt load. Lenders specifically zero in on how your debt relates to your income. Together, this determines what’s known as your debt-to-income ratio (DTI)..

To calculate out your DTI, it’s fairly simple: Add up all your monthly debt obligations (not including your current housing payment unless you own the home and plan on keeping it), then divide that number by your gross monthly income. So if you pay, for example, $2,000 a month toward debt and you’re grossing $4,500, your DTI comes in at about 44%.

What’s a good DTI? Strive for 36% or less.

Fannie Mae, which sets the lending standards for the vast majority of mortgage loans, generally requires a maximum total DTI of no more than 36%. However, if the borrower meets certain credit and reserve requirements, they can generally get away with 45%.

Why? A high DTI is a red flag to lenders that you may not be able to afford a new monthly loan payment. In a lot of ways, it’s more telling than your credit score.

“The only thing that really matters to lenders is how this new monthly payment and your other debts relate to your income,” said Moran. “One of the quickest ways people can turn things around is by paying down revolving debts like credit cards and lines of credit, which increases your available credit and decreases your credit utilization ratio.”

He adds that making a smaller down payment in order to pay down revolving debt might improve your chances of qualifying since doing so will boost your credit score relatively quickly. Knocking those balances down also lowers your monthly minimum payment, so you may be able to qualify for a larger loan. In other words, your DTI isn’t the end-all-be-all when applying for a mortgage loan, but it’s pretty important.

Down payment

Lenders also look at how much of a down payment you can make, which ties directly back into your debt-to-income ratio. According to Bob McLaughlin, director of residential mortgage at financial services company Bryn Mawr Trust, putting down a higher down payment makes you more likely to get approved since it essentially decreases the risk for the lender. As a result, better loan terms and interest rates will likely be on the table.

“If you have the ability to put 20% down, you also avoid having to pay private mortgage insurance, which makes it easier to qualify,” he said.

Another perk is that you’ll have more equity in your home as well as a lower monthly mortgage payment. But for many, saving for a 20% down payment is a serious barrier to homeownership. Not surprisingly, a 2016 report put out by the National Association of Realtors found that the average down payment for first-time homebuyers has fallen in the 6% range for the last few years. The good news is that according to Moran, you can still get approved with a lower down payment.

“You can put 0% down for VA loans, 3.5% for FHA loans and even as little as 3% for conventional loans,” he said.

“There are people all the time buying homes with these minimum down payments, but it really all boils down to what you’re comfortable with and the kind of monthly payment you can handle.”

FHA and VA loans are usually the first low down-payment loans that come to mind, but options like personal loans and USDA loans may also be worth considering. Just keep in mind that taking this shortcut could potentially translate to a financial burden — low down payments typically necessitate higher insurance rates and extra fees to protect the lender.

That said, lenders are really looking at your big financial picture, not just your down payment size. If you’re putting down less, but have a good score and a steady source of income, you’re much more likely to get approved for a mortgage loan than someone with a lower score and/or spotty employment status.

Employment history

Our insiders say that your income and employment history are just as important as your credit score, DTI and down payment size. Again, it all comes down to lenders feeling confident that you can indeed repay your loan.

“You have to fit the underwriting guidelines per your profession, and there is little flexibility there,” said McLaughlin.

Piggybacking on this insight, Moran says that the ideal situation is if you’ve worked for the same employer for two years and you’re salaried. The second ideal way to get the green light is if you’re an hourly worker who’s been with the same company for at least two years.

But all this begs one obvious question: What about self-employed folks? The freelance economy is growing rapidly. According to the latest Freelancing in America survey conducted by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, these folks are predicted to make up the majority of the U.S. workforce within the next decade. Moran says that for these workers to qualify for a mortgage, they’ll need to have a two-year work history.

Check out our guide on getting approved for a mortgage when you’re self-employed.

“It’s a little bit of a kiss of death to start self-employment right before applying for a home loan,” he said.

“Most lenders won’t approve you because they want to be sure you’ll be able to afford your new loan payment. The only way to really prove you have a steady income is with two years’ worth of tax returns.”

In rare cases, Moran adds, you may be able to get away with one year, but it’s not the norm. Things are different of course, for self-employed newbies who are applying with a spouse who works a steady 9-to-5, which could tip the scales in their favor. Again, it’s all about the big picture. That said, a new salaried position will typically erase doubts stemming from a spotty employment history, as long as you have about two months’ worth of pay stubs, according to McLaughlin.

Loan size

All the factors we’re highlighting here are interwoven. The size of the loan you’re applying for fits right in. The higher your loan amount, the higher your monthly payment, which impacts that all-important DTI.

This is why you may be more likely to get approved if you’re seeking a lower amount. But whether you’re looking for $100,000 or $400,000, it really boils down to how big of a monthly payment your budget can absorb. (LendingTree, which is the parent company of MagnifyMoney, has a Home Affordability Calculator that can help you figure this out.)

The general rule of thumb here is to keep your mortgage loan (including principal, interest, taxes, and insurance) at or below 28% of your total income. Moran has worked with ultra-conservative folks who like to keep that number at 25%, but he says it really varies from person to person.

“Some people like to travel and don’t want to be house poor; others are homebodies and just really want a nice house because that’s where they’re going to spend their time,” he said.

“It’s all a trade-off, but either way, lenders will only pre-qualify you for what they think you can actually afford.”

How to get preapproved for a mortgage

Pre-approval is a term you’re likely to hear in the home-buying process. This is when the lender takes into account everything from your credit score and debts to employment history and down payment size to offer you a maximum loan amount.

When you come to the table with a pre-approved offer of lending from a bank, you’re already way ahead of the competition. And this can really give you an edge. When you’re living in a metro where most people are coming with double-digit down payments and pre-approvals to boot, you’re competing with very attractive borrowers.

Pre-approvals will ding your credit score, but the hit won’t be too bad if you complete several mortgage applications over a short time period, like 30 to 45 days. Multiple inquiries should only count as one hard inquiry on your credit report.

A good rule of thumb is to get mortgage quotes before you apply for pre-approval. You can get quotes quickly from different lenders at LendingTree by filling out a short online form.

Included in a pre-approval letter will be the estimated loan amount you might qualify for and your estimated mortgage rate.

The pre-approval process is also meant to prevent you from making offers on homes you can’t afford. But this doesn’t mean you have to actually take out a loan for the full amount. Many choose to get preapproved for their top number, then dial back during negotiations.

Final word

When it comes to mortgage approval factors, there are a lot of moving parts. Far and away, your credit score and debt-to-income ratio carry the most weight for potential lenders. From there, your ability to prove that you’re steadily and reliably employed is equally important.

At the end of the day, all that really matters is that you’re applying for a loan that you’ll actually be able to repay hiccup-free. The larger your down payment, the better your odds—especially if it eliminates the need for PMI. Either way, it’s probably in your best interest to meet with lenders before you start house hunting.

“You don’t want to put the cart before the horse by going with a realtor to look at houses, only to fall in love with something you can’t afford,” added McLaughlin. “Your emotions can definitely make the mortgage application process more stressful, which is why it’s best to go through the prequalification process first.”

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.

Marianne Hayes
Marianne Hayes |

Marianne Hayes is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Marianne 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.

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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