The 10 Most Googled Questions About Buying a Home—Answered By Real Estate Experts

published Oct 6, 2019
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You’re thinking about buying a home. You probably want to know how much money you should bring to the table, what your credit score should look like, and how long this whole process will take. But mind readers, we are not. So we did the next best thing: Use Google to find out what people want to know about shopping for a home.

Here 10 of the most commonly searched home-buying questions*, answered by real-life real estate experts:

Is 2019 a good year to buy a house?

The short answer: Yes. Interest rates for 30-year fixed rates are at historic lows right now, coming in below 4 percent, points out Debbie Weiss, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Santa Monica.

“The rates are definitely not going to stay this low forever, so buyers should consider locking into a great rate now,” she says.

Additionally, the fourth quarter of the year brings an added bonus as many buyers pause their search until the new year, making it an opportune time for you to get better deals because the competition isn’t as fierce, she says.

What kind of credit score do you need to buy a house?

Did you know that you could have poor credit and still buy a home? For example, you can qualify for an FHA loan with 10 percent down and a credit score of 500, or a 580 credit score and a 3.5 percent downpayment. However, once you ascend to the 740 to 760 credit score range, you will qualify for the best interest rates. Weiss suggests getting a copy of your credit report (you’re entitled to a free one every year; here’s how to get it) to see what factors are negatively affecting your score. From there, try one of these 23 tips for improving your credit score.

What’s the cost to buy a house?

It’s not just the listing price of a home; you’ve also got to factor in closing costs, an umbrella term for all types of fees and costs associated with buying a home, including, for example, loan origination fees, the cost of a home inspection, attorney’s fees, and an escrow account for property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. Typically, they’re an additional two to five percent of the home’s purchase price.

How does buying a home work?

Buying a home has a lot of moving parts and it requires some patience. But a good place to start is securing a pre-qualification letter from a lender. You should also crunch your own numbers to determine how much you can afford, says Rowena Dasgupta, a real estate agent with Warburg Realty in New York City. Knowing exactly what you can afford will help keep the real estate search focused, she says. Make to sure factor in maintenance expenses, taxes, homeowners association (HOA) fees and other expenses, too.

Then, find an agent who has your best interests in mind. Pro tip: This is a big investment! So take referrals from friends and have an initial conversation with multiple potential agents.

From there, you’ll go house hunting and put in offers on homes. If you’re taking out a mortgage, you’ll need a home inspection before you get to the closing table.

What is the cheapest way to buy a house?

Dasgupta says to look at foreclosure lists, though there may not be much room to negotiate and there may be hidden fees as well. In terms of shaving off a bit of your mortgage payment, a credit score of at least 740 or 760 will get you the best interest rate, and a downpayment of 20 percent or more will help you avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI).

How can I buy a house quickly?

The short answer? Cash, baby. If you won’t be financing the purchase and are willing to waive a home inspection, the deal could close in a couple of days, says Bill Kowalczuk of Warburg Realty. Though even with an all-cash offer, there are things that could slow the deal down. For example, if you’re buying a co-cop or condo with cash in New York City, there’s still an application procedure that could take two to three weeks, Kowalczuk says.

And, for the rest of us who aren’t sitting on a stack of cash to throw at real estate, you can expect the process to be at least month. (Like a month that has 31 days, not a February kind of month).

“The fastest deal I was ever part of took 28 days, start to finish,” Kowalczuk says. “It was a condo and all the stars were aligned.”

How quickly can I buy a house and move in?

According to the most recent loan origination report from loan software company Ellie Mae, it took buyers an average of 42 days to close a home purchase loan. Again, if you’ve got all cash, the deal moves a lot quicker.

How do you qualify to buy a house?

Start gathering up your documents. You will need proof of income through W2s, tax returns, or pay stubs, says Maria Dininger, a real estate agent with Talk to Tucker Realtors in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“While it helps to have money saved for a down payment, there are several low or no down payment loan options available,” she says.

When you go through an early pre-qualification process with a lender, you’ll self-report your credit score and income information, but that financial information gets vetted during the more intensive pre-approval process.

How do I buy my first house?

Buying your first home is exciting, but it can also be a little overwhelming. A good first step is to begin saving for a down payment, says Dininger. Next, you’ll want to get pre-qualified with a lender and choose a real estate agent and begin the house-hunting process. You may have browsed homes by yourself on Zillow, but if you’re new to the home-buying process, an agent can help navigate you through each step.

“[They’ll help you] help find the right home, negotiate to get the best price and guide you through home inspection and appraisal process,” says Dininger.

Plus, if you’re the one who is buying the home, you’re probably not picking up the tab of your agent’s commission because it’s typically paid by the seller.

How much should you have saved up before buying a house?

While there are many low or no-down payment loan options today, the more you have saved for a down payment the lower your monthly mortgage will be, Dininger says.

“It’s possible to receive a loan with no money down, but saving 10 percent is a good start,” she says. “If possible, go for 20 percent. Putting 20 percent down means you’re exempt from paying Private Mortgage Insurance, which is an extra cost your lender tacks onto your monthly payment just in case you don’t make payments on your loan.”

In terms of savings, the answer is complicated but a good goal is three to five percent of the home’s value for closing costs, a set budget for furnishings, plus three months’ mortgage.

Watch our real estate editor explain exactly how to save up for a down payment.

Now, Google, where can we find free moving boxes? (Actually, we got this one, too; check with your local liquor store! The booze boxes are sturdy and have some nice built-in compartments.)

*At time of assignment, these were the full questions with the most search volume monthly.

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