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Buying a home in 2023 won’t be for the faint of heart—here’s how to prepare

December 9, 2022, 5:30 PM UTC
Smiling female customers entering through front door with real estate agent
If home ownership is on your 2023 vision board, here's what to keep in mind.
The Good Brigade/Getty Images

You’d be forgiven if the thought of buying a home in 2023 gives you pause.

Mortgage rates are sky-high, inventory is low, and prices are still elevated from their pandemic spikes—making it a less than ideal time to buy.

“Homebuyers and renters hoping for some financial relief in 2023 will likely be disappointed,” writes Clare Trapasso for Realtor.com. Prices are likely to keep climbing, as are interest rates, albeit more modestly than this year.

Still, if you’re set on buying a home, that might not be enough to dissuade you. And depending on where you want to live, costs could be coming back down to earth. More sellers are dropping their asking prices and, though no one can predict exactly what will happen, it seems likely the “dramatic swings and wild gyrations in the housing market are expected to taper off,” according to Realtor.com.

If home ownership is on your 2023 vision board, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Get educated

If words like “appraisal” and “private mortgage insurance” are foreign to you, then the first thing you’ll want to do is educate yourself on the homebuying process. You can do that through online forums, like Reddit’s First Time Homebuyers sub or one-on-one counseling. Many federal, state, and local government agencies offer the classes, as do lenders.

Bonus: Attending these classes is often required in order to qualify for down-payment assistance and other home-buying programs.

2. Find an agent you trust

The right real estate agent can make or break your homebuying process. These professionals help you navigate your local market, get preapproval for a mortgage, and steer you through negotiations and closing. You should interview a few agents to find one you’re most comfortable with, and it’s okay to ask for references. See if your friends or family have recommendations as well. Some agents cater specifically to first-time buyers or certain ethnic groups—it’s good to do a little research to make sure you find a best agent for your needs.

3. Explore mortgage programs

There are a number of mortgage loan programs out there that can help in your home-buying process. For example, many cities and states offer first-time homebuyer programs for buyers who fit within certain income limits.

Buyers can also look into the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s FHA loan program, the USDA loan program, or a VA loan, which is available to U.S. service members and veterans. With an FHA loan or VA loan, for example, you can put down a lower down payment than 20% while avoiding private mortgage insurance.

“Although each loan has different requirements, knowing what loan program you plan on using can help you save accordingly,” says Danielle Miura, a CFP in California.

4. Check your credit score

A good credit score is critical for homebuying, as it can lead to more loan offers and lower interest rates. Given a home is likely the biggest purchase you’ll make (if not in your lifetime, then in the near future), you want to make sure you’re getting the very best loan terms out there.

It takes a minimum FICO score of 620 to qualify for a conventional loan; however, applicants with at least a 740 receive the best interest rates (the lower the better). And in fact, the average FICO score for first-time homebuyers is 746, according to a recent report from Fannie Mae. To qualify for a FHA or VA loan, your score can be significantly lower.

5. Temper your expectations

With prices likely to stay high and interest rates expected to hover around 6%, you should be prepared to make a higher down payment and higher monthly mortgage payments (unless you can swing paying in all cash). The median home price in the third quarter of this year was $454,900, according to the Federal Reserve, an increase of more than $40,000 in just two years.

Use an online mortgage calculator to see how much you can realistically afford. Most financial advisors recommend you stick with the 28% rule, which stipulates that you spend no more than 28% of your monthly gross income on your mortgage payment, otherwise your finances could be strained and you may need to make sacrifices in other areas. Of course, how much you can actually afford varies person to person; no single rule works for everyone.

“I do recommend to clients to stick with the threshold of total 30% debt to income ratio when assessing how much mortgage they should take on,” says Anna Sergunina, CFP at Main Street Financial Planning. “Since the rates are so much higher now, one way to help buy ‘more’ home is to save more for down payment.” 

When you are comfortable with how much you’re paying and have your sights set on a certain home, lock in your interest rate, says Patricia Maguire-Feltch, national sales executive at Chase Home Lending.

“Interest rates can rise and fall quickly,” says Maguire-Feltch. “This will give you assurance of how much you’ll pay for your home loan. ”

And remember, your mortgage costs aren’t the only consideration. You’ll want to plan for closing costs, which can range from 2% to 5% of the loan amount, as well as the home inspection, move-in expenses, and other surprise costs that always seem to arise.

6. Be patient

Last, and perhaps most important, don’t panic, says Maguire-Feltch.

“You don’t have to go through it alone,” she says. “Tap into your personal network and find emotional support and knowledge from those who have already gone through the home-buying process. Push yourself to ask questions and remain steadfast in your goals.”

A home is a huge purchase. You don’t need to rush into it. After all, you don’t want to end up one of the many homeowners with regrets.

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