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  • Mayra Mardon, REALTOR®

Things to do when you're getting ready to buy your first home.

1. Strengthen your credit score. Improve your chances by pulling your credit reports and ensuring you're not being unfairly penalized for old, paid or settled debts. Get your credit report and score, free and with no obligation,at . Stop applying for new credit a year before you apply for financing. And keep the moratorium in place until after you close on your home.

2. Before you home shop, calculate the mortgage payment for the home in your intended price range, along with the increased expenses (such as taxes, insurance and utilities). Then bank the difference between that and what you're paying now. Now that you know how much you can afford you can also narrow down your search for properties you can afford, saving your time and helping you find your dream home faster. A mortgage rate comparison table can help you analyze rates offered by different banks.

3. Depending on your credit and financing, you'll typically need to save enough money for a down payment; somewhere between 3 percent and 20 percent of the home value if you are a US citizen or resident. Improve your chances by banking your own money and seeking down payment assistance usually location-based or tagged to a certain type of buyer, like first-timers. Search online with the city name, then the county name, along with word combinations such as "down payment assistance," "first-time home-buyers" and "homebuyer's assistance." If eligible, apply for those programs.

4. If you have 3 to 5 months' worth of mortgage payments set aside, that makes you a much better loan candidate. That money will also help cover maintenance and repair issues that come up when you own a home. While repairs are sporadic, items such as a new roof, water heater or other big-ticket items can hit suddenly and hard.

5. For serious home shoppers, #1 thing is have everything in order. Before the real home shopping begins, you want to get financing in place. The pre-approval process is more extensive than it was a few years ago. Documentation around income and assets is very essential, more so than in the last 5 years. Improve your chances by getting financing in place before you walk through the first house.

6. Never Buy or Sell a Home Without an Agent. They have turbocharged searching power. They have bullish negotiating chops. They’re connected to everyone. They adhere to a strict code of ethics to help protect you and have the expertise and support to help you prepare a killer deal while avoiding delays or costly mistakes.

Happy house hunting!

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