The Buy It Now Foundation
So where to start? Start by enlisting the help of somebody who knows what they're doing. Find a realtor. The best way to find someone compatible with your needs is to ask friends who have recently bought. There's always the Yellow Pages, but a recommendation from someone you trust goes a long way. Also, check for names on the realty signs in the neighborhood you want. Enlisting the help of a realtor doesn't cost you a dime -- they don't get paid until you buy, at which time they get a percentage of the selling price. This means their desire to find a house will match, if not exceed, your own.
Be upfront with the realtor about what you want and where you want it. Make sure the realtor understands your needs -- if you find yourself miles and dollars away from what you stated, find another realtor; that one obviously isn't listening.
If you feel your credit history is a little shaky it may be worth your while to enlist the services of a mortgage broker. They'll go over your history, establish your credit "grade" and find you the best possible deal. The credit ratings are given out just like report cards -- A, B, C, D, with A being the best. The mortgage broker will go over your report, and like a tutor, try to bring up your grade by clearing out erroneous reports and eliminating old but paid-off charges. They then shop this information around and find you the right type of mortgage at the lowest rate they can. They do charge a fee, but if your permanent record is at all tarnished it may be best to enlist the help than go directly to a bank. Be prepared to delve deeper into your past than you ever thought would be necessary.
If you're not sure just how much you can afford or what the current interest rates are, there are quite a number of places online that will calculate the different mortgages for you. At http://www.mortgage.quicken.com, just type in the necessary info. In a matter of minutes the rates and monthly payments will appear on the screen. There is also a site which provides daily interest rates by state (http://www.mortgagequotes.com). Heck, even some new computers, such as Apple's iMac, come equipped with software that helps you calculate just how much mortgage you can swing.
Fannie Mae, a national mortgage company, has a great information packet available for first-time homebuyers. It is available for free by dialing 800/688-HOME (4663) They also have a packet available on the different types of mortgages if you find that your brain operates better with a hard copy.
There is a local nonprofit organization called A.C.O.R.N. whose sole purpose is to help first-time homebuyers get into a house. They'll get you a credit report (for a nominal fee), and help you figure out just how much house you can afford. They also have a class available that will walk you through the necessary steps and give you information on what type of mortgages and programs are available for first-time homebuyers. You can call them at 444-1207 for information on classes or to make an appointment.
Also helpful on the local and nonprofit front is a group called Consumer Credit Counseling Services (CCCS), at 1221 W. Ben White, 447-0711, http://cccs.citysearch.com. Since 1979, they've been helping Central Texans prevent or solve credit and money management, problems. They offer classes, counseling, debt management and even have an online credit quiz so you can test your financial know-how. CCCS is a member of the National Foundation for Consumer Credit: http://www.nfcc.org.
A huge down payment is not necessarily needed to get into your first house. The Clinton Administration has just initiated a program called National Home Ownership Strategy: Partners in the American Dream, designed to make homeownership more affordable by cutting closing and financing costs and lowering down payment requirements. For free counseling on homeownership and financing call the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) at 800/569-4287.
Don't be frightened by the terms or the numbers or amount of information required in order to find and purchase a house. Take it step by step and (I can't stress this enough) don't hesitate to enlist the help of the pros. You want to own a house, the realtor wants you to own a house, the bank wants you to own a house, heck, even the leaders of our country want you to own a house....
As the old saying goes, the best time to buy real estate is now.