9 Tips for Home Buyers: <span class='t-red'>From</span><span class='t-red'>Mortgages</span><span class='t-red'>to</span><span class='t-red'>Occupancy</span>

chilling tattooed girl home
chilling tattooed girl home

By Shahram Sondi


Taking the plunge into homeownership is a big deal. And let’s be real, the whole mortgage and hidden costs thing can be a bit of a maze, especially in today’s cutthroat market. Lucky for you, I’m your Florida mortgage guru, and I’ve got a guide to steer you through this journey with smarts.

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Step 1: Decide if now's the time to buy

Deciding whether it’s the right time to buy a house involves a mix of personal, financial, and housing market factors. Here are key considerations to help you determine if now is a good time for you to buy a house:

  1. Financial Stability:
    • Steady Income: Ensure you have a stable monthly income and job security. Be sure to look at how much you have left over at the end of the month, factoring all your other monthly costs. A reliable income is crucial for making mortgage payments—especially for first-time buyers.
    • Savings: Assess your savings for a down payment, closing costs, and an emergency fund. A larger down payment can often lead to better loan terms.
  2. Credit Health:
    • Credit Score: Check your credit score and credit history. A higher credit score can qualify you for better mortgage rates. If your score is lower, consider improving it before applying for a mortgage.
  3. Market Conditions:
    • Real Estate Market Trends: Research the current state of the real estate market. Look at trends in home prices, interest rates, and inventory levels. In a seller’s market, prices may be higher, while a buyer’s market may offer more favorable conditions.
  4. Interest Rates:
    • Mortgage Interest Rates: Keep an eye on mortgage interest rates. Lower rates can result in lower monthly mortgage payments and overall cost. It might be advantageous to buy when rates are relatively low.
  5. Personal Goals and Plans:
    • Long-Term Commitment: Buying a house is a significant long-term commitment. Consider your future plans, such as career stability, family growth, or potential relocations.
  6. Homeownership Costs:
    • Beyond the Mortgage: Factor in additional homeownership costs, such as property taxes, homeowners insurance, maintenance, and potential homeowners association (HOA) fees.
  7. Government Programs and Incentives:
    • First-Time Homebuyer Programs: Explore government programs and incentives for first-time homebuyers, which may offer assistance or favorable terms.
  8. Real Estate Agent Guidance:
    • Professional Advice: Consult with a real estate agent. They can provide insights into local market conditions, guide you through the home-buying process, and help you make informed decisions.
  9. Personal Readiness:
    • Emotional and Lifestyle Readiness: Assess your emotional and lifestyle readiness for homeownership. Owning a home comes with responsibilities, and it’s essential to be prepared for the associated commitments.

By carefully considering these factors and conducting thorough research, you can make an informed decision about whether it’s the right time for you to buy a house. It’s also advisable to consult with financial advisors and real estate professionals to get personalized guidance based on your specific circumstances.

Step 2: Examine your debt-to-income ratio

This crucial ratio determines how much of your income can go towards your mortgage:

  • Front-End DTI: Focuses on housing expenses compared to monthly income, usually recommended to stay under 28%.
  • Back-End DTI: Considers all debts, with a cap around 43% for most lenders.

Let’s break down a real-world example of calculating the Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI):


  • Monthly Gross Income: $5,000


  1. Housing Expenses:
    • Monthly mortgage Payment: $1,200
    • Property Taxes: $200
    • Homeowner’s Insurance: $50
    • Total Housing Expenses: $1,450
  2. Other Monthly Debts:
    • Car Loan: $300
    • Student Loan: $150
    • Credit Card Minimum Payments: $100
    • Total Other Debts: $550


  1. Front-End DTI:
    • Housing Expenses / Monthly Gross Income
    • $1,450 / $5,000 = 0.29 (or 29%)
  2. Back-End DTI:
    • (Housing Expenses + Other Monthly Payments) / Monthly Gross Income
    • ($1,450 + $550) / $5,000 = 0.40 (or 40%)


  • The front-end DTI indicates that 29% of the monthly gross income goes towards housing expenses.
  • The back-end DTI shows that a total of 40% of the monthly gross income is used for both housing expenses and other debts.

In this example, the Debt-to-Income Ratio is within a reasonable range. Lenders often have specific DTI limits for loan approval, and lower DTI ratios are generally more favorable. It’s crucial to keep your DTI in check to ensure you can comfortably manage your financial obligations.

Step 3: Explore available loan programs

Conventional Loans: The Standard Path

  • Down Payment: This loan type typically requires at least 3% down for first time homebuyers. Some mortgage lenders might offer low down payment options for those with solid credit as little as 1% assuming you are within the income limits based on the home location.
  • Credit Score: A higher credit score (around 700 or above) opens more doors to favorable terms.
  • Debt-to-Income Ratio: Keep your debt in check; lenders for this type of mortgage usually prefer a ratio below 43%. but may allow as high as 49.9%.

Who are these mortgage loans made for?

First-time homebuyers, repeat buyers, and individuals purchasing primary residences or secondary homes or investment properties such as rentals.

Closing process

With Conventional loans, I can give qualified buyers up to $15,000.00 towards closing costs. Get in touch to see if you meet the eligibility requirements for this lender credit.

FHA Loans: A Friendlier Approach

  • Down Payment: With an FHA loan, your down payment only needs to be as low as 3.5%, making homeownership more accessible.
  • Credit Score: You’ll need a minimum credit score of 580.
  • Debt-to-Income Ratio: Allows a higher ratio, up to 54.9%.

Who are these mortgage loans made for?

First-time homebuyers, those with lower credit scores, and individuals with limited down payment funds.

Closing process

For this type of mortgage, I can give qualified buyers up to $15,000.00 towards closing costs. Get in touch to see if you meet the eligibility requirements for this lender credit from rate.

VA Loans: Serving Those Who Served

  • Down Payment: This type of loan often has a zero down payment, which is a huge a perk for veterans.
  • Credit Score: Can be more forgiving, but a higher score is beneficial.
  • Debt-to-Income Ratio: Offers flexibility, with some lenders accepting ratios above 50%.

Who are these mortgage loans made for?

Military veterans, active-duty service members, and their qualifying spouses.

Closing costs

With VA loans, I can give qualified buyers up to $7,000.00 towards closing costs. Get in touch to see if you meet the eligibility requirements.

Loan term

30-yr fixed

Loan term

30-yr fixed FHA

Loan term

30-yr fixed VA

View rate assumption disclosures

Step 4: Save for the down payment

Now we’ve covered your mortgage options, let’s move on to the down payment. While the traditional wisdom says 20% down is the golden rule for down payments, it’s not set in stone. Many first-time buyers opt for lower down payments:

  • 3% Down: Common for conventional loans.
  • 3.5% Down: FHA loans often require this modest sum.
  • 0% Down: VA loans extend this privilege to eligible veterans.

Let’s consider a real-world example of a down payment:

Imagine you’ve found your dream home, and it’s priced at $200,000. The down payment is usually expressed as a percentage of the home’s purchase price.

  1. Traditional 20% Down Payment:
    • 20% of $200,000 = $40,000
    • In this scenario, you would need $40,000 upfront as a down payment.
  2. Conventional 3% Down Payment:
    • 3% of $200,000 = $6,000
    • With a conventional loan requiring a 3% down payment, you would need $6,000 upfront.
  3. FHA 3.5% Down Payment:
    • 3.5% of $200,000 = $7,000
    • An FHA loan, which allows a 3.5% down payment, would require $7,000 upfront.
  4. VA 0% Down Payment:
    • With a VA loan for eligible veterans, you might not need any down payment.
    • In this case, $0 would be required upfront for the down payment.

These examples illustrate how down payments vary based on the loan type. While 20% is a traditional benchmark, there are options that allow for significantly lower initial payments, making homeownership more accessible to a broader range of buyers.

Step 5: Consider private mortgage insurance

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is a type of insurance that protects the lender in case the borrower defaults on their mortgage payments. Typically, lenders require PMI when the borrower’s down payment is less than 20% of the home’s purchase price. The purpose of PMI is to mitigate the risk for the lender when dealing with borrowers who have a lower equity stake in the property.

Here’s a breakdown of who needs PMI and who you should talk to about getting it:

  1. Who Needs PMI:
    • Borrowers with a Down Payment Less than 20%: If you make a down payment of less than 20% on a conventional mortgage, your lender may require you to get PMI.
    • Conventional Loan Borrowers: FHA loans and VA loans have their own mortgage insurance requirements, but conventional loan borrowers often need PMI if their down payment is below the 20% threshold.
  2. Who to Talk to About Getting PMI:
    • Lender or Mortgage Broker: The lender or mortgage broker handling your home loan is the primary contact for obtaining PMI. They will explain the PMI requirements associated with your loan and provide details on the cost and how it affects your monthly payments.
    • Private Mortgage Insurance Companies: The lender may work with private mortgage insurance companies to facilitate PMI coverage. These companies issue the insurance policy and handle the claims process if necessary.

When discussing PMI with your lender, consider the following:

  • Cost: Understand the cost of PMI, whether it’s a monthly premium or a one-time upfront payment.
  • Cancellation: Inquire about the conditions under which you can cancel PMI once you’ve reached a certain level of equity in your home.
  • Alternatives: Explore alternative options, such as making a larger down payment to avoid the need for PMI or considering federal government-backed loans that have different insurance requirements.

It’s essential to have a clear understanding of the terms and conditions of PMI before finalizing your mortgage agreement, as it can significantly impact the overall cost of homeownership.

Step 6: Understand your buying options

Owner-Occupied: Your Primary Residence

This is your main dwelling, where you plan to live the majority of the time. Mortgage rates tend to be lowest for owner-occupied properties.

Second Home: Your Getaway Haven

A property you frequent but not as your primary residence. Mortgage rates might be slightly higher than for your primary residence.

Investment Property: Your Wealth Builder

Purchased with the intention of generating income, like rental properties. Interest rates are typically higher, and down payment requirements may be steeper.

Step 7: Decide who to work with

Here’s how to pick the right Mortgage Broker:

  1. Credentials and Licensing:
    • Ensure that the mortgage broker is licensed and has the necessary credentials. You can verify this information with the National Mortgage Licensing System (NMLS) or relevant state licensing authorities.
  2. Experience and Expertise:
    • Look for a broker with a solid track record and experience in the mortgage industry. An experienced broker is more likely to navigate complex situations and find suitable loan options.
  3. Reputation and Reviews:
    • Check online reviews and testimonials from previous clients. A reputable mortgage broker should have positive feedback and a good reputation within the industry.
  4. Communication Skills:
    • Effective communication is crucial. Choose a broker who is responsive, transparent, and can explain complex mortgage terms and options in a way that you can understand.
  5. Lender Network:
    • Inquire about the broker’s network of lenders. A broker with a diverse range of lenders may provide you with more options and better rates.
  6. Fees and Costs:
    • Understand the broker’s fee structure. Some brokers charge fees directly to the borrower, while others receive a commission from the lender. Clarify all costs associated with the loan process.
  7. Pre-Approval Process:
    • Evaluate how thorough the broker is during the pre-approval process. A diligent broker will assess your financial situation, guide you through documentation requirements, and provide realistic expectations.
  8. References:
    • Request references from the broker. Speaking with past clients can give you insights into their experience and the broker’s performance.

How to choose a Real Estate Agent:

  1. Local Expertise:
    • Choose a real estate agent with in-depth knowledge of the local market. They should be familiar with neighborhoods, schools, property values, and market trends in the area where you want to buy.
  2. Experience:
    • Look for an agent with relevant experience, especially in handling transactions similar to your needs. An experienced agent is better equipped to handle potential challenges.
  3. Reputation and Reviews:
    • Check online reviews and testimonials. Look for an agent with a positive reputation, good negotiation skills, and a track record of successful transactions.
  4. Communication Style:
    • Effective communication is key. Your agent should be responsive, keep you informed, and be willing to address your questions and concerns.
  5. Negotiation Skills:
    • A skilled negotiator can help you secure the best possible deal. Inquire about the agent’s negotiation strategy and success rate.
  6. Network of Professionals:
    • A well-connected agent often has a network of professionals, including mortgage brokers, inspectors, and real estate attorneys. This can streamline the buying process.
  7. Availability:
    • Ensure that the agent has the time and availability to dedicate to your search. A busy agent may have multiple clients, so it’s important to find one who can prioritize your needs.
  8. Compatibility:
    • Choose an agent with whom you feel comfortable and who understands your preferences. A good rapport can make the home-buying process more enjoyable.
  9. References:
    • Request references from the agent, and speak with past clients to gain insights into their experiences.

Step 8: Get pre-approved

  1. Gather Financial Documents:
    • Prepare necessary financial documents for your mortgage pre-approval, including:
      • Recent pay stubs
      • W-2 or 1099 forms
      • Tax returns for the past two years
      • Bank statements
      • Other proof of income or assets
  2. Contact a Mortgage Professional:
  3. Complete a Pre-Approval Application:
    • Fill out a pre-approval application provided by the lender. This application will include information about your income, assets, debts, and employment history.
  4. Provide Documentation:
    • Submit the required financial documents to the lender. This documentation helps the lender verify your financial information and get you closer to mortgage pre-approval.
  5. Wait for Pre-Approval Decision:
    • The lender will review your application and documentation to determine whether you qualify for a mortgage and, if so, the amount for which you are pre-approved.
  6. Receive Preapproval Letter:
    • If approved, you will receive a pre-approval letter. This letter outlines the loan amount for which you are pre-approved, subject to certain conditions.

Step 9: Closing time

Now comes the exciting part: closing on your home. Here’s what to expect in the closing stage.

  1. Title Search and Insurance:
    • The title company conducts a title search to ensure there are no outstanding liens or ownership disputes. Title insurance is typically purchased to protect against any unforeseen issues.
  2. Final Walkthrough:
    • The buyer conducts a final walkthrough of the property to ensure it’s in the agreed-upon condition and that any negotiated repairs have been completed.
  3. Closing Disclosure Review:
    • The lender provides a Closing Disclosure at least three days before closing. Review this document carefully to understand the final loan terms, closing costs, and other details.
  4. Closing Costs Payment:
    • The buyer must bring a cashier’s check or wire funds to cover the closing costs. These costs include items like loan origination fees, appraisal fees, and title insurance.
  5. Signing Documents:
    • Both the buyer and seller, along with their respective real estate agents, gather to sign the necessary documents. This includes the mortgage note, the deed of trust or mortgage, and various other legal and financial documents.
  6. Funding and Escrow:
    • Once all documents are signed and funds are provided, the lender disburses the loan amount to the seller, and the property’s title is transferred to the buyer.
  7. Recording the Deed:
    • The deed and other relevant documents are recorded with the county or city clerk’s office. This legal step finalizes the transfer of ownership.
  8. Possession and Key Exchange:
    • The buyer officially takes possession of the property, and keys are exchanged. The specific timing may vary based on the terms negotiated in the purchase agreement.

What You Need to Prepare:

  1. Closing Funds:
    • Prepare the necessary funds for closing costs, which may include a cashier’s check or wire transfer. Confirm the amount with your lender in advance.
  2. Identification:
    • Bring a government-issued photo ID to the closing for identification purposes.
  3. Insurance Documents:
    • Provide proof of homeowner’s insurance, as it is typically a requirement for closing.
  4. Closing Disclosure Review:
    • Thoroughly review the Closing Disclosure provided by your lender and clarify any questions or concerns before the closing day.

How I Can Help:

  1. I’ll Coordinate with Your Lender:
    • Your mortgage broker will work closely with the lender to ensure all necessary documents are prepared and delivered on time and help you lock the best rates by keeping you informed of market conditions.
  2. I’ll Explain Closing Costs:
    • A mortgage broker can help you understand the closing costs and provide clarity on each fee associated with the transaction.
  3. Coordinate with Other Professionals:
    • Mortgage brokers often have connections with other professionals involved in the closing process, such as title companies and real estate agents.
  4. Answer Questions:
    • Your mortgage broker can address any questions you may have about the mortgage terms, ensuring you have a clear understanding before the closing.
  5. Ensure Timely Process:
    • Mortgage brokers play a role in keeping the mortgage process on schedule, facilitating communication between you and the lender to ensure a timely closing.

While a mortgage broker’s primary focus is on securing your mortgage loan, their involvement can extend to supporting you through the closing process. It’s essential to maintain open communication with your mortgage broker and seek their assistance when needed. Additionally, working with an experienced real estate attorney and conducting a thorough review of all documents can further safeguard your interests during the closing stage.

Some final tips for first-time buyers

  1. Build Your Credit: A higher credit score opens doors to better mortgage terms. Review your credit report, fix errors, and pay bills on time.
  2. Save Strategically: While a 20% down payment is ideal, explore low down payment options. Save for closing costs and emergency funds.
  3. Understand Occupancy: Clarify your property’s purpose. Different occupancy types come with distinct financial implications.
  4. Get Preapproved: Know your budget by getting preapproved for a mortgage. It shows sellers you’re a serious contender.
  5. Professional Guidance: Enlist the help of real estate agents and mortgage professionals. They navigate the complexities, ensuring a smoother journey.
  6. Plan for the Future: Consider your long-term goals. Are you planning to stay in the home for years, or is it a stepping stone to a larger investment?

Buying your first home is an exciting adventure, and arming yourself with knowledge is the key to a successful journey. From mortgages to occupancy, each decision shapes your path to homeownership.

Take your time, explore options, and make choices that align with your goals and financial well-being. If you’re buying in Florida and need some free advice, give me a call.

Need more guidance or inspiration? Keep exploring mortgage content.