Home / Learn / What Do You Need To Buy a House? Your Journey to Homeownership

What Do You Need To Buy a House? Your Journey to Homeownership

If you’ve ever wondered if homeownership is possible for you, you’re not alone. It’s a process, but homeownership is possible — and it’s more accessible than ever. 

So, what do you need to buy a house? Probably less than you think. Follow these steps, gather all your documents, and mortgage pre-approval is a breeze. 

Here’s how you can leave renting behind and start building your own wealth through homeownership.  

 

What Do I Need To Buy a House?

Credit Score Qualifications To Buy a House

Many first-time home buyers worry their credit score may be too low to qualify for a mortgage. Most of the time, though, you can qualify with a below-average score. 

Credit requirements vary by loan type and lender, but buyers can qualify with a score as low as 580.

FICO scores fall on a scale between 300-850, and the national average is 710.  But some mortgage programs don’t have a credit score requirement at all. 

Having a lower credit score doesn’t automatically disqualify you from getting a loan. Since lower credit scores represent risk to lenders, you may be able to qualify by offsetting risk in other ways, like adding a co-signer or providing a higher down payment.  

Not sure how your credit looks? Consumers are entitled to a free credit report annually. Check yours at AnnualCreditReport.com

Income Requirements To Buy a House

There are no set income requirements to buy a house, and your monthly income isn’t the only determining factor. To buy a home, you will need to provide lenders the following:

  • Proof of employment
  • Financial history 
  • Monthly income
  • Debts

If you’re a salaried employee, proof of income means showing pay stubs and a year-end W-2 statement. If you’re self-employed, you’ll need to show tax returns and evidence of your business. If you have a job offer letter but haven’t started work yet, you’ll need proof of the job offer signed by all parties. 

When it comes to your financial history, lenders are simply looking for a pattern of paying bills mostly on time.

Your monthly income and debt will be viewed together to establish your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), which compares how much you make with how much you spend. If you spend $30 of every $100 you make on your housing payment and credit debts, your DTI would be 30 percent.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recommends a ratio under 43 percent. Some lenders may still approve borrowers with a DTI up to 50 percent, and sometimes more, depending on  compensating factors. For example, having more money in savings, adding a co-signer, or providing a larger down payment will improve your chances. 

Bottom Line: Low income or student loan debt won’t prevent your approval. You will need a history of paying bills mostly on time and job-related income that gets reported to the IRS. 

Cash Needed to Close On Your Home

Many people think you need a 20 percent down payment to close on a home, but that’s not true. The typical down payment for first-time home buyers is about 7 percent, but some programs can help you buy a home with as little as 3 percent or no down payment at all. 

USDA and VA loans have no down payment minimums. Low- and no-down payment mortgages are available to homeowners with all credit scores. These loans are best for home buyers with a reliable income and not much money saved up.

Down payment assistance (DPA) programs can also help you cover closing costs. Most first-time home buyers spend around 1-2 percent of the home’s purchase price in closing costs. 

So, how much money do you need to buy a home? Assuming a home sale price of $350,000 with a down payment of 3 percent and closing costs of 1.5 percent, you could purchase your first home with as little as $15,750. If you utilize a down payment assistance program, you could buy this home with $0 out of pocket.

Build a Budget Before You Buy

Home buyer competition can be fierce. The buyers who win are the buyers who prepare. Knowing how much you want to spend on housing each month puts you in a powerful position — you’ll know when to push and when to move on to another home.  

Budget for all steps of the home-buying process, including: 

  • How much you want to contribute to a down payment
  • Expected closing costs
  • Your preferred monthly mortgage payments

Once you’ve estimated your budget, set or adjust savings goals as necessary. Remember that your monthly mortgage payment includes five factors, commonly referred to as PITIA: 

  1. Principal — your mortgage payment
  2. Interest — your borrowing rate
  3. Tax — state property taxes 
  4. Insurance — homeowners insurance   
  5. Association Dues — fee paid to homeowners association (when applicable)

Only you know how much home you can afford. Banks will approve you for the maximum amount possible, even if it’s outside the amount you feel comfortable borrowing. Only spend what fits in your budget. 

 

Learn About Mortgage Loans

Almost 9 out of 10 home buyers use a mortgage to purchase their home. You probably will too. That’s why it’s important to understand the different mortgage options available to you. 

There are five primary mortgage loan types, each with its own set of rules: 

  1. Conventional mortgages: These loans require a 3 percent down payment and are usually best for those with steady income, some money saved up, and a credit score of 620 or higher.
  2. FHA mortgages: These loans require a 3.5 percent down payment and are available to those with lower credit scores. 
  3. USDA mortgages: Designed to promote homeownership in rural areas, these mortgages are backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 
  4. VA mortgages: Available to current and past U.S. military members, VA loans allow buyers to purchase a home with no down payment. 
  5. Portfolio mortgages: These loans are privately held by lenders, so rules will vary from firm to firm. They typically require better-than-average income and credit. 

Conventional loans are the most popular — 82 percent of first-time home buyers use them. 

 

Get Mortgage Pre-Approved

Mortgage pre-approval is a dress rehearsal for your final approval. Savvy home buyers always get pre-approved before house shopping because pre-approvals: 

  • Help you determine how much house you can afford
  • Provide an itemized estimate of all costs involved
  • Allow you to make a serious offer on a home
  • Reveal potential improvements in your application to get you a better mortgage rate and terms 

During the pre-approval process, lenders review your income, assets, and credit report to determine how much you can borrow and at what rate. 

Typically, pre-approvals are good for 90 days because your situation may change between the time you get pre-approved and when you make an offer. If you’re coming up on the 90 day expiration date, contact your lender to have it refreshed. 

Hire a Real Estate Agent

In the United States, a home buyer’s real estate agent is paid for by the seller. It doesn’t cost you to have an agent. Because you aren’t the one footing the bill, you should get the best agent you can find. 

An experienced real estate agent helps you: 

  • Find homes in your preferred price range and location 
  • Negotiate with the seller and seller’s agent
  • Draft and submit your offer

An agent can make or break your deal, so we recommend spending some time to find the right person. Meet with and interview several agents until you find someone you feel confident can help you find your dream home. 

Be sure to get your own representation. When one agent represents both the buyer and seller, it’s called dual agency. Dual agency results in worse service for both buyer and seller and tends to favor the seller, so avoid this at all costs. 

 

Find Your Dream Home

You have your pre-approval, a stellar agent, and you know your budget. Now comes the fun part: It’s time to start touring open houses and do some serious house hunting. 

Home-buying isn’t like car shopping. When you’re shopping for a car, you can find a model you like and request a different color or leather seats. When you’re shopping for a home, it comes the way you see it. 

That’s why it’s important to know your must-haves, nice-to-haves, and deal breakers before viewing homes. Understanding what you can and can’t compromise on will help you know when to jump on a listing and when to walk away. 

Location is also a key consideration. Scope out the neighborhoods and communities you’re interested in to find a home you’ll love for years to come!   

You don’t need 20 percent down and a credit score in the high 700s to buy a home. By getting pre-approved, avoiding dual agency, and sticking to your budget, you can make yourself a competitive buyer. 

Want to learn more? Check out our Homebuyer Curriculum or ask your questions in the chat box! We’re here to help. 

Happy homebuying! 

Dan Green

Dan Green

Dan Green is a former mortgage loan officer and an industry expert. He's appeared on NPR and CNBC, and in The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and dozens of local newspapers. Dan has helped millions of first-time home buyers get educated on mortgages, real estate, and personal finance. Have mortgage questions? Ask Dan in the chat.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Receive real estate and mortgage news by email weekly. Personalized for you & your specific homebuying goals.