Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What should I do to prepare to buy a home in 2009?

In 2008 mortgage crisis increased the numbers of foreclosures and short sales in the U.S. Lenders responded by tightening rules for new home loans. If you want to buy a home in 2009, what do you need to know before looking for your home and home loan? What can you do to make yourself a desirable mortgage borrower so that banks will issue you a home loan? Check out these New Year's resolutions for home buyers to improve your changes of getting a great home loan and the property you want.

As we say goodbye to 2008, it's worth looking back at the year that was for home buyers, sellers and homeowners.

Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if 2008 goes down as one of the worst-ever for housing since the Great Depression.

Housing values fell by double-digits in many metropolitan areas. Housing starts virtually stopped. Inventories of new and existing homes grew dramatically. Mortgage interest rates remained relatively high, even as the short-term Federal Funds rate plunged to nearly zero by the end of December.

Foreclosures reached record numbers, and lenders found themselves literally buried under stacks of short sale proposals, foreclosure filings, and loan modifications. Late in the year, Fannie Mae announced it would stop tossing renters who paid on time out of houses that had been foreclosed upon.

Of those loans that had been modified more than 50 percent went delinquent, reflecting the increasing number of jobs lost and diminished paychecks.

The old lender's maxim holds true: If you don't have a job, you probably won't make your mortgage payment.

Lets talk about Income Affecting your Ability To Make Mortgage Payments

Sometime around the middle of the year, when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the government, lenders realized that having a real job with a real income is central to assessing someone's ability to make monthly payments of principal, interest, taxes and insurance. Having a great credit score simply isn't a good enough predictor on its own, which is why "no-doc" loans have entirely faded away.

Lenders also rediscovered the beauty of having some skin in the game. Except for the USDA's rural loan program and a VA loan, zero down payment mortgages have virtually dried up.

Sellers aren't happy. But there are plenty of deals to be had, as the economy is expected to get worse at the beginning of 2009. Higher rates of unemployment mean more foreclosures, driving down the price of homes.

As we ended 2007, I wrote that some were comparing the 2007 housing market to the Great Depression. Looking back on this year, most housing markets took a turn for the worst. The silver lining for home buyers: If you're looking to buy a house, 2009 could be a great year to close on a deal.

If you're planning to buy a house this coming year, here's my annual list of New Year's resolutions you should consider making:

Lets talk about your new years resolution to buy a home:

You can say (raise your right hand) As a buyer, I resolve to:

  1. Get my credit and finances in shape.

Put a lid on your spending, cut up the cards, and don't max out any one card (in fact, never charge more than 25 percent of your maximum credit limit) or your credit score will suffer. If you're going to cancel an account, do it in writing, but you get bonus points on your credit score the longer you maintain a credit account. So a credit card account that you opened in 1984 is worth a lot more than one you opened last month.

Don't forget that good credit also means job stability. Most lenders require that you work for the same employer for at least a year, and maybe two, before they'll approve your home loan application. If you're self-employed, they'll want to see at least two years of tax returns before you'll qualify for a conventional loan. If you're offered a better job in your field, by all means take it. But if you want to buy a home, try not to jump from job-to-job to job within a relatively short period of time, particularly if the job changes are in different industries.

If you want to buy a house next year, pull a copy of your credit history and credit score. Try to reduce the amount of personal debt you have, including credit card debt, student loans and auto loans. While having personal debt doesn't mean you can't qualify for a loan, it will lower the amount of the mortgage a lender might be willing to give you. And, given the current mortgage crisis, lenders are paying close attention to your credit history and credit score.

If you keep one resolution this year, choose to clean up your credit. One of the best things you can do to prepare for buying a home is to make your monthly debt payments on time. Even if you have a lousy credit history, lenders will be more forgiving if they see you've gotten your act together in the last 6 to 12 months.

Federal law now requires each of the three main credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax and Transunion) to give you a free copy of your credit history once a year.

To get yours, go to At the time, buy a copy of your credit score from Equifax. The cost is under $10, which is still less than other sites.

  1. Resolution for buying in 09 is Know how much I can afford to spend before shopping for a home.

You have three options when it comes to figuring out how far your down payment and income will take you: You can guess; or you can pay a visit to your local lender, who will pre-qualify or pre-approve you for a loan, or you can go online.

Your lender will look at your income, debt, assets and liabilities and come up with the maximum amount you can spend on a home. Once you know how much you can afford to spend, you'll avoid making a common, heartbreaking, home buyer error: Looking at homes you can't afford to buy.

Too busy to visit a lender? There are several websites that offer good mortgage information. Try for a state-by-state look at current interest rates from lenders who work in your area, including online lenders.

  1. Know your neighborhood, and be comfortable with it, before YOU buy a home there.

Everyone wants to live on the best block in the best neighborhood. Unfortunately, that location may not be in your budget. You might be able to afford the smallest home on the best block, but that won't do you much good if you need four bedrooms and that home only has two. Balancing affordability with location means you will have to compromise. While you may be willing to compromise on the size garden you have, you may not be willing to change your children's school districts.

Start looking at various neighborhoods and the amenities they offer. Is there a park? Shopping? Transportation? A house of worship? Do your friends and family live close by? Be careful not to limit your choice of neighborhoods too early on in the process. Explore new areas and the housing stock and amenities they offer.

Make sure you spend time during different parts of the day and night in the neighborhoods you like. Walk the streets, go into local shops. Visit the neighborhood police department and local schools. Stop by the local park district offices and see what programs and classes are available. Drive the commute from prospective neighborhoods to your job during rush hour. Get to know the neighborhood and its residents inside and out before you buy.

go to my website to look at homes for sale at