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4th step to buying a home: searching & making an offer

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Have you:

Good! Then it’s time to start house hunting. As a mortgage loan officer for the last 10 years, I certainly have a lot of knowledge in real estate, but still always refer to experienced realtors for this next step. Their knowledge of the housing market, along with expertise in real estate contracts, are the key to making the best selection of the property in which you could spend at least 5 years (but for some of you, potentially the rest of your life). I referred to Anita Trozzolo, a Kansas City realtor to give us some guidance for this next step.


Create a priority list

You are making perhaps the biggest purchase of your life, and you deserve to have that purchase fit both your wants and needs.

Your priority list should include the basics, such as:

  • neighborhood and size
  • number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • basement (finished or unfinished)
  • a kitchen that comes with appliances

If you can’t get a home at your price with all the features you want, then what features are most important?  Start prioritizing.  For instance, would you trade fewer bedrooms for a finished basement?  A longer commute for a larger home and lower cost?

What type of home best suits your needs?

You have several options when purchasing a home from a traditional single-family home, duplex, townhouse or condo.  Each option has its pros and cons, depending on your wants and needs, so you need to decide which type of property is best for you. You can also save on the purchase price in any category by choosing a fixer-upper. Keep in mind, though, the amount of time and money involved to turn a fixer-upper into your dream home might be much more than you expected.

Regardless of your choice, it’s important to target your search. By using options such as general location and affordability, you can refine your search and focus on homes that offer the most desirable features. However, based on my experience with the hundreds of first time home buyers for whom I successfully found and negotiated their first home, it is imperative to nail down location first.  The majority of buyers purchase homes from their choices in their most desired location.

Here are some more tips for your search:

  • Make sure your realtor understands your wants and needs.
  • Your agent must be patient, and show you as many homes as you would like to see. This is most likely the largest purchase of your life!
  • Have your agent set you up on an automatic home search program. This is an efficient way to guide you in your search.
  • Drive through neighborhoods on your off time to check out the area.
  • Choose your favorites before submitting an offer, and tour as many times as you feel comfortable.  Oh, and don’t forget to bring parents and friends. The more eyes the better!

Submit an offer, and most importantly understand the sales contract.  Your agent will assist you with the following:

  • To determine how much to offer, your realtor will show you a market analysis of all the recent sold properties comparable to the home or homes you’re interested in.
  • Obtain all material defects known from the seller through the seller’s agent.  
  • Discuss types of insurance that is required.
  • Counsel you on what price to offer the seller.
  • Make sure closing costs are explained and negotiated.
  • Make sure home warranty is explained and negotiated.
  • Explain the sales contract and all other forms associated with the contract.
  • Present your offer to the seller.
  • Negotiate your offer and counteroffers.
  • Set up inspections.
  • Provide the contract to the lender and closing company.
  • Stay in constant communication with the lender.
  • Arrange and attend the closing.
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2nd step to buying a home—choosing the right loan for you

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So you’re ready to buy a home, and have finished the first step of pre-approval. Did you know that nearly half* of home purchases are from your fellow first-timers? It can be a daunting process, so we’re continuing the step-by-step approach to help you navigate this important financial decision.

There are many home loan choices. Finding the right lender will be the key to obtaining the information you need to make the right decision. The pre-approval process should have uncovered many of the factors that determine which loan will work best for you and let you know what interest rate you might be paying. Remember, to get a good interest rate, you’ll need as high a credit score and down payment as possible. The right lender will be able to guide you and explain the differences in each of the loans you qualify for.

Here is a general discussion of some of the mortgage loans available, to help prep you for your first meeting with a potential lender. The main differences are the size of the down payment and whether the interest rates can change.

Types of mortgage loans:

Conventional vs.Non-Conventional– One of the first decisions you will discuss with your lender is whether you want a conventional or non-conventional loan, which often depends on the size of your down payment.

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Conventional - A conventional loan typically requires a minimum down payment of 5 percent.  If you put down 5 to 19 percent, private mortgage insurance (PMI) may be required. This insurance protects the lender if you do not repay your mortgage.  Typically, you’ll have to pay this insurance until 78-80 percent of your mortgage is left, and then you may be able to remove PMIfrom your payments.  To avoid that extra insurance from the beginning, you’ll typically have to put down 20 percent or more.

Most first-time buyers choose homes with a median value of $147,000*, but in case you’re wondering, the conventional loan limit in most areas is $417,000. These loans can be fixed or adjustable (more on that in a minute). Conventional loans also allow you to have the seller pay up to 3 percent of your home’s closing costs and prepaid taxes and insurance.

FHA (non-conventional) – FHA loans typically require lower down payments than conventional mortgages, but there are also drawbacks to them. For example, FHA loans require mortgage insurance up front and it is usually more than private mortgage insurance with a conventional loan. Here’s how this type of loan works: The Federal Housing Authority does not actually lend the money but insures 100 percent of what the lender funds. FHA loans tend to be the most flexible in their credit guidelines. They usually allow for lower credit scores, higher debt-to-income ratios and as little as 3.5 percent as a down payment. These loans allow for up to 6 percent seller-paid closing costs and prepaid taxes and insurance.

Veterans Affairs (VA) – The VA loan was designed to offer long-term financing to eligible American veterans or their surviving spouses (provided they do not remarry). The VA loan does not require a down payment and does not require monthly private mortgage insurance.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – This loan is intended to help people purchase homes in rural areas. The property must be located within the USDA Rural Development Home Loan footprint. USDA loans offer 100 percent financing to qualified buyers and allow for all closing costs to be either paid for by the seller or financed into the loan.

Fixed vs. Adjustable Rate Mortgages – After choosing a conventional vs. non-conventional loan, it’s time for another decision: do you want a fixed or adjustable rate?

Fixed-Rate Mortgages – Fixed-rate loans are just that, loans that have interest rates that are locked-in for the term of the loan. This means that your rate will not change during the entire time that you have the loan. Keep in mind that even with a fixed interest rate your payment could vary based on changes in taxes or insurance. The repayment of the loan is also spread out, or amortized, over that same fixed period. You can choose from 10-, 15-, 20-, 25- and 30-year fixed rates. Generally, the shorter the term of the loan, the lower the rate, but also the higher the payment. For example, a 15-year loan will usually have a better interest rate than a 30-year loan, but you’ll have to pay more per month in order to get the mortgage paid off sooner. Therefore, choosing the fixed-rate period will be a large part of determining the amount of your monthly payment.

Adjustable Rate MortgagesThese loans typically allow you to have lower payments at the very beginning, but take on higher risk than fixed-rate loans. There is usually an initial time period (1 to 10 years) where the interest rate is fixed. However, the rate can change after the initial fixed period causing the monthly payment to go up. Be sure to talk to your lender about what type of loan is best for your situation. If any of these factors apply to you, your lender can explain in more detail how an adjustable rate mortgage would work for you. However, an adjustable rate may be a good option if:

  • you plan to sell in a few years,
  • you will pay off the loan early, within the next few years, or
  • interest rates are high right now and are anticipated to decrease in the coming years. (not the case today)

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, remember, your lender is there to walk you through everything. Instead, focus on what your needs are. Then, you can outline with your lender what you’re looking for so he or she can provide your best options.

Arrive at your first lender meeting with answers to the following questions:

  • How much will you have for a down payment?
  • What are your preferred neighborhoods?
  • Do you want to get your loan paid off as soon as possible even if it means higher payments, or do you need lower payments with more time to pay it off?

Choosing the right lender is just one part of your home-buying team. Adding an experienced realtor will save you time and money and will be discussed in step three of buying a home.

*statistic source:

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