Pre-approval requires the lender to pull the credit information (see Step 1) and assess your financial situation. The lender will then give you a letter that states the amount they would be willing to lend you. If you get in a multiple-offer scenario, being pre-approved may give you an edge because the seller will have more confidence that you will be approved for a loan large enough to purchase their home.
Of course, most of these programs depend on factors like your income, a maximum home price, and even your profession. For example, government employees in the Washington, DC, area may be eligible for $10,000 in down payment assistance, and teachers in Los Angeles and Orange County, CA, can get up to $15,000 to help them with their home purchases. Ask your real estate agent about these types of programs that you are eligible for.
You might be surprised to find that some private mortgage programs also have low down payment requirements. Most conventional loans have guidelines set by either Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. Because these loans must conform to this set of guidelines, they are called “conforming” loans. To offset the risk of lending with smaller down payments, conventional lenders require borrowers to purchase private mortgage insurance, or PMI, when they put less than 20 percent down on a home.
Typically, purchase offers are contingent on a home inspection of the property to check for signs of structural damage or things that may need fixing. Your real estate agent usually will help you arrange to have this inspection conducted within a few days of your offer being accepted by the seller. This contingency protects you by giving you a chance to renegotiate your offer or withdraw it without penalty if the inspection reveals significant material damage.
Down payment size is a function of three overlapping factors: your desired initial loan-to-value (LTV) ratio, your time horizon (when you want to buy), and local housing market conditions. When people talk about budgeting for a future home purchase, they generally refer to list prices: “We’re willing to pay $300,000,” or “We can afford $250,000, but no more.”
However, the devil is in the details. You have to pay back your 401k loans, with interest – typically at 2% above the prime rate. On larger loans, that means several years’ worth of three-figure monthly payments and several thousand in interest charges. Plus, if you take out a 401k loan before applying for a mortgage loan, your credit utilization ratio will spike, which could raise your mortgage loan’s interest rate or cause the bank to think twice about lending to you in the first place.