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Home Buying Tips

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THE TOP TEN "TO DO'S" BEFORE BUYING YOUR HOME

1. Don't buy if you don't intent to stay.

Owning a home is probably not for you if you cannot commit to remaining in one place for at least a few years. You can end up losing money with the transaction costs of buying and selling a home.

2. Start by fixing up your credit.

Your credit history needs to be as clean as possible because more than likely, you will need to get a mortgage to buy your house. Start by getting a copy of your credit report and fix any problems you discover. This should be done a few months before you start house hunting to have time to fix any issues.

3. Only aim for a home you can really afford.

Use an online mortgage calculator to help you figure out what you can afford. The rule of thumb is that you can buy housing that runs about two-and-one-half times your annual salary.

4. Don't worry if you can't put down the usual 20 percent.

There are a variety of public and private lenders who, if you qualify, offer low-interest mortgages that require a down payment as small as 3 percent of the purchase price.

5. Buy in a district with good schools.

In most areas, this advice applies even if you don't have school-age children. Reason: When it comes time to sell, you'll learn that strong school districts are a top priority for many home buyers, thus helping to boost property values.

6. Get professional help.

Even though the Internet gives buyers unprecedented access to home listings, most new buyers (and many more experienced ones) are better off using a professional agent. Look for an exclusive buyer agent, if possible, who will have your interests at heart and can help you with strategies during the bidding process.

7. Choose carefully between points and rate.

When picking a mortgage, you usually have the option of paying additional points -- a portion of the interest that you pay at closing -- in exchange for a lower interest rate. If you stay in the house for a long time -- say five to seven years or more -- it's usually a better deal to take the points. The lower interest rate will save you more in the long run.

8. Get pre-approved before looking for a home.

Getting pre-approved will you save yourself the grief of looking at houses you can't afford and put you in a better position to make a serious offer when you do find the right house. Not to be confused with pre-qualification, which is based on a cursory review of your finances, pre-approval from a lender is based on your actual income, debt and credit history.

9. Do your homework before bidding.

Your opening bid should be based on the sales trend of similar homes in the neighborhood. So before making it, consider sales of similar homes in the last three months. If homes have recently sold at 5 percent less than the asking price, you should make a bid that's about eight to 10 percent lower than what the seller is asking.

10. Hire a home inspector.

Sure, your lender will require a home appraisal anyway. But that's just the bank's way of determining whether the house is worth the price you've agreed to pay. Separately, you should hire your own home inspector, preferably an engineer with experience in doing home surveys in the area where you are buying. His or her job will be to point out potential problems that could require costly repairs down the road.