woman on laptop in office

How Long Is a Mortgage Preapproval Letter Good For?

A mortgage preapproval letter is usually good for 30 to 90 days, and some lenders will lock the rate for that time.

Having a letter of preapproval from a financial institution can help ensure that you’re ready to snap up a home you love.

What Is Mortgage Preapproval?

Mortgage preapproval has become an essential part of the home-buying process. Real estate agents often want to see a preapproval letter before showing houses.

And a letter shows sellers that you are serious about buying their home — even if you’re a first-time homebuyer — and that a mortgage lender is likely to give you a home loan of a specific amount quickly.

The lender will review your credit history, credit score, income, debts, and assets to determine the amount you tentatively qualify for.

Preapproval will help you focus on homes that are in your price range. Knowing how much of a mortgage you can afford is important when you can’t afford to waste time reviewing homes outside your range.

Mortgage Preapproval Process

The mortgage process starts informally for many would-be homebuyers.

Some buy into the 28% rule — spend no more than 28% of gross monthly income on a mortgage payment — and play with calculators like this home affordability calculator or the one later in this article.

Seeking mortgage preapproval means you’re getting serious. First, you’ll need to understand the different types of mortgage loans — fixed rate, adjustable rate, conventional, government insured (FHA, VA, USDA), jumbo — and what you can qualify for.

Then you’ll need to apply for a loan from one to several lenders and provide a good deal of documentation. Each lender will perform a hard credit inquiry, and you’ll receive a loan estimate within three business days.

If you’re shopping for a home loan, allowing multiple mortgage companies to check your credit within 14 or 45 days, depending on the credit scoring model being used, will minimize the hit to your credit scores.

How Long Does It Take to Get Preapproved?

It usually takes seven to 10 business days to receive a preapproval letter after submitting all the requested information.

Mortgage Preapproval Letter

Other than stating the specific amount you’re preapproved for, a mortgage preapproval letter may outline stipulations to gain the loan, such as maintaining your employment or not taking on any additional debt.

How Long Does Mortgage Preapproval Last?

Some lenders will make a commitment of 60 or 90 days. That time frame tends to work, since homebuyers typically shop for a home for eight weeks, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Other lenders will issue preapproval for only 30 or 45 days.

Recommended: How Mortgage APR Works

Mortgage Prequalification vs. Mortgage Preapproval

Since they sound similar, it’s worth mapping out the difference between prequalification and preapproval.
Prequalification is a key first step, when borrowers tell lenders about their income, assets, and debts. Lenders use that unverified information, and usually a soft credit inquiry, to give a ballpark estimate of how much they might be willing to lend.

The response is quick: You can often get prequalified immediately or within a day or two. Just realize that prequalification does not mean that a lender is guaranteeing a loan.

The mortgage preapproval process is a deeper dive and requires documentation.

To gauge whether you qualify for a mortgage, lenders will scrutinize:

•   Income: Employees will need to provide pay stubs, W-2s, and tax returns from the past two years, as well as documentation of any additional income, such as work bonuses. Self-employed workers often need two years’ worth of records and a year-to-date profit and loss statement, although many lenders and loan programs are flexible.

•   Assets and liabilities: You’ll need to provide proof of savings, investment accounts, and any properties. Lenders view assets as proof that you can afford your down payment and closing costs and still have cash reserves.

Lenders also look at monthly debt obligations to calculate your debt-to-income ratio.

•   Credit score: Your credit score is a three-digit representation of your credit history.

Recommended: What Is Considered a Bad Credit Score?

Once your lender has reviewed the information, it may offer a preapproval letter. Importantly, receiving preapproval from a lender does not obligate you to use them.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

Estimate Your Mortgage Payment

Before you seek prequalification or preapproval, you might want to get an idea of how much your monthly mortgage payment could be. Use the mortgage calculator below to quickly see the difference in mortgage payments based on down payment, interest rate, and a 15- or 30-year term.

What Should I Do If My Mortgage Preapproval Expires?

Lenders put an expiration date on preapproval letters because they need to have your most up-to-date financial information on hand. The credit, income, debt, and asset items they reviewed for your preapproval typically need to be updated after the letter expires, and your credit may be checked again.

You can minimize the effect of “hard pulls” on your credit score by avoiding seeking a renewal when you’re not actively shopping for a home.

If your finances have mostly stayed the same, your lender is likely to renew your preapproval.

Finalizing Your Mortgage

If you find a house while your mortgage preapproval is still valid, you can choose a lender and move on to finalizing your mortgage application. At this point, in many cases, the lender will check again to see if there have been any changes in your financial situation.

The mortgage underwriter will review all the information, order an appraisal of the chosen property and a title report, and consider your down payment. Then comes the verdict: approved, suspended (more documentation is needed), or denied.

Your mortgage is officially approved when you receive a final commitment letter. A closing date can be scheduled. It generally takes 48 days to close on a house, but it could happen in as little as 20 days.

Buyers may want to minimize changes, like applying for other loans or credit, when a home loan is in underwriting.

The Takeaway

How long is mortgage preapproval good for? Often 30 to 90 days. Getting prequalified is a good precursor to getting preapproved for a mortgage.

If you’re ready to start house hunting, check out the fixed-rate mortgages SoFi offers and the current deals.

Get prequalified for a SoFi Mortgage in minutes.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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white kitchen

What Is the Average Cost to Remodel a Kitchen?

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, what does it say when yours is falling apart? Shabby fixtures, failing appliances, or a dysfunctional layout might have you daydreaming about a full gut reno — but how much does an average kitchen remodel cost? A minor kitchen update by DIY-savvy homeowners may come in at $4,000, while a major remodel can balloon to $50,000, or even $100,000+.

Before you begin your kitchen update, it helps to consider why you’re remodeling and whether it will add value to your home. We’ll help you scope out the average cost of a kitchen remodel — including cabinetry, countertops, appliances, and labor — and where you can save money without sacrificing function or design.

Kitchen Remodel Cost Overview

Homeowners remodel for different reasons: better functionality, entertaining, to update dated fixtures, or to prep for a home sale. It’s important to consider both what you want to get out of the remodel and what your return on investment (ROI) might be before diving into hiring contractors and purchasing appliances.

Do you plan to live in your place a few more years and enjoy your new kitchen? Or will you strategically upgrade for a home sale in the near future? The answer will influence where and how you spend money.

The truth is you probably won’t recoup the total cost of a kitchen remodel in a home sale.
According to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report 2022, the national average ROI for a minor remodel with mid-range materials is 71%. A major remodel with upscale materials, on the other hand, yields just a 52.5% ROI.

Clearly, the best bang for your buck will be less costly but visually impactful minor updates: replacing cabinets fronts, countertops, faucets, and lights, plus painting and perhaps new flooring. But if you want to change the layout or add all-new appliances, you’re looking at five figures. (You may be interested in this story on the difference between a renovation vs. remodel.)

Average Kitchen Remodeling Costs by Feature

The average kitchen remodel cost can vary a lot depending on a few key items: cabinetry, countertops, and appliances. We’ll review your options and typical costs for low-, middle-, and high-end updates.

Kitchen Cabinetry Cost

Cabinetry typically eats up 25% of a kitchen budget. There are three types of kitchen cabinet construction, each priced per linear foot:

•   Stock cabinets, the least expensive, run $60-$200 per linear foot, or $1,250-$2,500.

•   Semi-custom are $100-$650 per linear foot, or $1,875-$10,000.

•   Custom will set you back $500-$1,200 per linear foot, or $7,500-$18,750.

Custom cabinets are made to order, based on your kitchen’s precise measurements, and made of solid wood. Stock are ready-made and mostly constructed of engineered wood, and semi-custom are a hybrid of stock and custom.

Countertop Cost

The cost of countertops is determined by the material. Typical materials include granite, marble, quartz, stainless steel, and butcher block wood. Granite, stainless steel, and butcher block are good budget options, ranging from $850 to $4,000 depending on the size of your kitchen. Marble and quartz command $2,000-$10,000.

Appliances Cost

The number of different appliances in the typical kitchen sets this home reno apart from, say, a bathroom remodel. Appliances generally account for 20% of your overall budget. Replacing all your appliances at once — fridge, stove, oven, dishwasher — can be quite pricey.

Discount shoppers might be able to find a full suite of lower end appliances for as little as $1,500. Midrange appliances can run about $5,500 all in, and higher end models can come to $17,000. Double wall ovens, a favorite of serious cooks, can cost $1,800-$6,500 on their own. And some homeowners may decide to annex a closet for a mini laundry room.

Installation and Labor Costs

Labor is another major cost that can be hard to predict. But count on spending 30%-35% of your budget on contractors and installers. Your price will depend on where you live, how large your space is, and the features being installed. Read more about these factors below.

Where You Live Matters

Bargain hunters should be aware that some factors influencing budget are not within their control — like where in the U.S. you live. Homeowners on the West coast and in the Northeast generally pay more for materials and labor than in the South. Prices also run higher in and around major cities.

Midrange vs Upscale Models

It may shock you to learn that upscale materials and appliances can cost you twice as much as midrange models. If a major midrange kitchen remodel comes to $50,000, a high-end remodel of the same kitchen might be $100,000.

Many homeowners pick and choose a combination of inexpensive, midrange, and higher end options.

Personal Budgeting for Your Remodel

HGTV recommends spending between 6% and 10% of the value of your home to get the best ROI. A major reno for a $400,000 home, then, would cost between $24,000 and $40,000. If your kitchen budget goes considerably higher, you risk making the rest of the house look mediocre by comparison. Aim too low, and your kitchen might not live up to the quality of similar homes in your neighborhood. Either way, your new kitchen may raise a red flag with home buyers.

It can be tempting to throw all your kitchen purchases on a credit card, but keep in mind that high-interest rates can inflate your renovation costs. These days, many homeowners are turning to a flexible personal loan to fund home renovations and remodels.

With this type of loan, you receive a lump sum payment to cover your kitchen remodel cost. You can pay back the loan over a term of your choosing in equal monthly installments. The interest rate is determined by your credit history and credit score, but is typically lower than credit card interest. Our Home Improvement Cost Calculator can give you an idea of how much you’ll need to borrow.

What Costs the Most?

What costs the most depends in part on the design decisions you make. Semi-custom cabinets will take up a larger part of your budget than stock will. Higher end brands, as we noted above, can double your appliance costs compared to mid-range. And with large kitchens or complex remodels, labor and installation can make up a third of your overall budget.

How To Save Money

In a full-scale kitchen remodel, new kitchen cabinets are typically the biggest expense, accounting for 20%-40% percent of the project budget. If your cabinets are in good shape and fulfill your storage needs, refacing them can slash your bill. Refacing can mean either stripping and repainting or staining existing doors, adding stick-on veneers, or replacing the doors while preserving the cabinet shelves. Add new hardware for a more modern look.

The next biggest line item in your kitchen remodel budget might be labor for installation. When you’re starting the home remodel process, find a contractor you can trust. That means doing your research, speaking with and getting quotes from multiple contractors, and reaching out to their previous clients for referrals. When entertaining bids, remember that an experienced, in-demand contractor will likely charge more than less capable competitors, but will almost certainly be worth it.

Finally, you may be able to trim some installation costs by doing simple things yourself: picking up items instead of paying for delivery, painting walls instead of paying contractors for the labor, or replacing your backsplash. Learn more DIY tricks in our guide on how to remodel a kitchen.

For more ideas, check out this roundup of ways to fight inflation’s effect on your kitchen remodel.

Cushion Your Budget

For any home remodeling project, financial experts and DIYers both recommend padding your budget by 20%. That means assuming you’ll spend 20% more than your projected total for materials and labor. Not only does that cover all the little things that can add up, it also accommodates pricier issues that may be uncovered, like necessary electrical or plumbing updates.

Stick to Your Budget

Experts recommend that homeowners fully commit to a plan and budget before undertaking a major remodel. Too many last-minute changes won’t endear you to your contractors and can inflate your costs as one small change can lead to other unforeseen adjustments.

House Exterior Style Quiz

The Takeaway

The average kitchen remodel cost can vary widely from $4,000 to $50,000 or more, or between 6% and 10% of your home’s value. Your cost will depend on a number of factors such as kitchen size and whether you choose bargain, midrange, or high end materials and appliances. The major kitchen remodel cost drivers are cabinets, countertops, appliances, and labor. The good news is that the ROI for a smart, mid-range remodel is 71%.

Home improvement loans from SoFi have low-interest rates available for those who qualify and offer fixed monthly payments. These 100% no-fee unsecured loans might be just the recipe to getting your perfect kitchen.

Find out more about using a SoFi personal loan to update your kitchen.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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Conventional Loan Requirements

Conventional loans — mortgages that are not insured by the federal government — are the most popular type of mortgage and offer affordability to homebuyers.

Private mortgage lenders originate and fund conventional loans, which are then often bought by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, publicly traded companies that are run under a congressional charter.

By buying and selling conventional conforming mortgages, Fannie and Freddie help to ensure a reliable flow of mortgage funding.

Requirements for Conventional Loans

It can be confusing to know how to qualify for a mortgage.

Just realize, for one thing, that a higher credit score is usually required for a conventional loan than an FHA loan, popular among first-time buyers.

Here are factors a lender will consider when sizing you up for a conventional loan.

Your Credit Score

You’ll usually need a FICO® credit score of at least 620 for a fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgage.

The FICO score range of 300 to 850 is carved into these categories:

•   Exceptional: 800 to 850

•   Very Good: 740 to 799

•   Good: 670 to 739

•   Fair: 580 to 669

•   Poor: 300 to 579

In general, the higher your credit score, the better the interest rates you’re offered.

Down Payment

Putting 20% down is desirable because it means you can avoid paying PMI, or private mortgage insurance, which covers the lender in case of loan default.

But many buyers don’t put 20% down. The median down payment on a home is 13%, according to a recent study by the National Association of Realtors®.

Conventional loans require as little as 3% down, and the down payment can be funded by a gift from a close relative; a spouse, fiancé or domestic partner; a buyer’s employer or church; or a nonprofit or public agency. The gift may require a gift letter for the mortgage.

Just keep in mind that the smaller the down payment, the higher your monthly payments are likely to be, and PMI may come along for the ride until you reach 20% equity.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

Debt-to-Income Ratio

Your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) helps a lender understand your ongoing monthly debt obligations relative to your gross monthly income.

To calculate back-end DTI:

1.    Add up your monthly bills (but do not include groceries, utilities, cellphone bill, car insurance, and health insurance).

2.    Divide the total by your pretax monthly income.

3.    Multiply by 100 to convert the number to a percentage.

In general, lenders like to see a DTI ratio of 36% but will accept 43%.

The Fannie Mae HomeReady® loan, for lower-income borrowers, may allow a DTI ratio of up to 50%.

In any case, the lower your DTI ratio, the more likely you are to qualify for a mortgage and possibly better terms.

Loan-to-Value Ratio

The loan-to-value ratio (LTV) is the amount of the mortgage you are applying for compared with the home value. The higher the down payment, the lower the LTV ratio.

Fannie Mae typically sets LTV limits at 97% for a fixed-rate mortgage for a principal residence (think: 3% down) and 85% for a fixed or adjustable loan for a one-unit investment property.

When LTV exceeds 80% on a conforming loan, PMI will likely apply, although some borrowers employ a piggyback loan to avoid mortgage insurance.

Conventional Conforming Loan Limits

Many loans are both conventional and conforming — meaning they meet the guidelines of secondary mortgage market powerhouses Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which buy such mortgages and often package them into securities for investors.

Conventional conforming loans fall below limits set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) every year.
Staying under a conforming loan limit often equates to a lower-cost mortgage because the loan can be acquired by Fannie and Freddie.

The conforming loan limits for 2022 in many counties in the contiguous states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico rose with market prices:

•   One unit: $647,200

•   Two units: $828,700

•   Three units: $1,001,650

•   Four units: $1,244,850

In high-cost areas like Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the 2022 conforming loan limits were:

•   One unit: $970,800

•   Two units: $1,243,050

•   Three units: $1,502,475

•   Four units: $1,867,275

Nonconforming Loans

Word games, anyone? Nonconforming loans are simply mortgages that do not meet Fannie and Freddie standards for purchase. They usually take the form of jumbo loans and government-backed loans.

A homebuyer or refinancer who needs a mortgage beyond the FHFA limits can seek a jumbo mortgage loan. A jumbo loan is still a conventional loan if it’s not backed by a government agency; it’s just considered a “nonconforming” loan.

FHA, VA, and USDA mortgages — those backed by the Federal Housing Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture — are also nonconforming loans.

Nonconforming mortgage rates may be higher because the loans carry greater risk for lenders, but at times the rates might skew lower than conventional conforming rates.

The Takeaway

Conventional loan requirements are good to know when you’re looking at the most popular type of mortgage around. Then again, a jumbo loan may sound pretty good.

SoFi offers both, each with special features. Check out the advantages of SoFi mortgage loans. And then, within minutes…

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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15 Questions to Ask When Interviewing Realtors

Working with a professional real estate agent can make buying or selling a home easier. After all, they are likely to be well versed in the ins and outs of your area, how to best negotiate in the current market, and how to access any other resources (say, a home inspector) that you may need.

While there may be some agents you hit it off with personally, this isn’t a friendship you’re pursuing but an important business relationship. It’s a collaboration that could impact both your finances as well as your stress level.

No matter which side of a real estate transaction you’re on (buying or selling), it can be wise to have the right professional in your corner. Ninety-two percent of homes sold in the U.S.in 2021 involved an agent’s or a broker’s services.

If you’re in the hunt for an agent, it’s important to know what to ask to identify the right match. Read on to learn questions to ask, whether you’re buying or selling a property — or doing both at once. (This is a lengthy list of interview questions for real estate, so pick and choose the questions that resonate the most.)

How to Interview a Realtor

First, a bit about terminology: A Realtor® belongs to the National Association of Realtors® (or NAR), composed of nearly 1.6 million members. Not all real estate agents are Realtors, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll sometimes use the two terms interchangeably.

First, know that there are different options for interviewing Realtors. You could schedule an interview:

•   Over the phone

•   In person

•   Virtually via Zoom or Skype.

You might aim to interview at least three agents for comparison’s sake, though you may choose to interview more or fewer.

Create a list of interview questions beforehand to help you stay on track. And it may help to group your questions together so that by the time the interview is over, you understand:

•   What the agent’s personality and character are like: Is this person supportive and positive? Do they sound rushed and distracted?

•   What kind of services they offer and what experience they bring to the table.

•   How much you’ll pay for their help.

You’ll learn about how to do this in more depth as you read on.

Recommended: Tips When Shopping for a Mortgage

What to Ask About a Realtor’s Background

Any real estate agent you choose to work with should have the professional qualifications you’re looking for. But it’s also important to get a sense of who they are as an individual to avoid personality clashes. Here are some questions to ask as you evaluate an agent who might help you buy or sell a home.

1. How Long Have You Been a Realtor?

It helps to understand how long an agent you’re considering working with has been buying or selling homes. The median real estate experience of all Realtors is eight years, according to NAR.

Working with an agent who’s newer to the profession isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But one who’s more experienced may be more adept at handling any challenges that arise when buying or selling a home.

2. How Well Do You Know the Local Market?

A Realtor who knows a particular area or market well can offer an advantage when buying or selling. Ideally, you should work with an agent who understands the local market and what trends drive it.

The more informed they are, the better equipped they are to do things like comparative market analysis, which can give you a sense of how home prices in the area are trending. They will also likely know details like, say, which parts of town are more prone to flooding than others.

Recommended: Local Housing Market Trends: Popular neighborhoods, home prices, and demographics

3. How Many Clients Do You Work With at One Time?

The answer can give you an idea of how much time an agent will be able to dedicate to working with you. Especially if you ask the follow-up question, “And how many clients do you currently have?”

4. Do You Work Alone or as Part of a Team?

Keep in mind that you may not be working with your Realtor alone to finalize the purchase or sale of a home. Agents may have a team of individuals they work with, including office managers, personal assistants, or marketing directors, who may reach out to you during the process.

Asking who else you may be connected with can help you avoid surprises if you decide to enter into a working relationship with a particular agent.

5. How Will We Communicate and How Often?

Being able to communicate with an agent is important to keep the process moving.

As with many realms in our digital era, plenty of Realtors email and text to keep in touch with clients. If you’re the kind of person who prefers phone calls or in-person meetings, it’s good to identify communication styles up front and make sure they are in sync.

6. Do You Specialize in Buying or Selling?

Some Realtors may choose to work exclusively with buyers, while others work only with sellers. And some can act as dual agents, representing both the buyer and seller in the same transaction. Dual agency is rare, and it’s illegal in several states. A dual agent can’t take sides or give advice.

The answer to this question will help you get a better idea of whether the agent is attuned to your side of a real estate transaction. Ideally, you want someone who is passionate about your deal, whether that’s finding the perfect house with a picket fence or selling the condo you’ve outgrown.

Recommended: Preparing to Buy a House in 8 Simple Steps

7. How Many Transactions Did You Close Last Year?

Asking this question can give you an idea of an agent’s overall success rate and the volume of transactions they handle.

The median number of residential transactions Realtors took part in per year is 12. If you’re interviewing agents with closings well below that number, it could be a sign that they aren’t always successful in closing deals. If their number is much higher, it could mean they are super busy and you might not get as much attention as with another agent.

8. How Long Does It Normally Take You to Close a Deal?

Once the seller and the buyer of a property have signed their purchase agreement, closing on a home can take anywhere from a week (for an all-cash offer) to a couple of months (for those involving a mortgage) to close. The average time to close on a purchase when a home loan is needed is 50 days, according to the loan software firm ICE Mortgage Technology.

Asking a Realtor what their average closing time is can give you an idea of how efficiently and diligently they work to satisfy their clients.

If their average closing time is closer to four or six months, for example, that could be a red flag, though some deals do wind up being more complicated than others.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

9. What Are the Terms of Your Contract?

Working with a Realtor means entering into a contract, and it’s important to know what that contract says. These documents may be more common when you work with a broker to sell a home, but there are also buyer’s agreements.

These ensure that if they invest the time scanning the market for you, scheduling walk-throughs, and negotiating on your behalf, you won’t then complete the deal with, say, a relative of yours who just got their real-estate license.

When you are selling a house, you’ll sign a document agreeing that the agent will handle the sale. Once you sign a contract you’re typically locked in to working with them unless they agree to release you.

The listing agreement will last for a set period, such as three or six months. From your perspective, shorter may be better so that you’re not trapped if you don’t like the agent’s services.

10. What Fees Do You Charge?

Closely connected to contracts is the topic of money. How does it change hands? What are you liable for? Real estate agents typically work on commission, meaning they only get paid when they close a deal. What you’ll pay and when depends on whether you’re buying or selling a home.

If you’re the buyer in a transaction, the seller is usually responsible for paying commission fees to both their agent and yours. If you’re selling a home, you’d cover the agent’s fees, which would be deducted from the proceeds of the home sale.

The typical commission is 5% to 6% of the home’s sale price, split evenly between the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent. So a $250,000 home, for example, would yield $12,500 to $15,000 in commissions.

Recommended: Do You Still Need to Put a 20% Down Payment on a House?

Questions to Ask a Realtor When You Are Selling

If you’re selling your home, here are some questions to ask to help ensure that you partner with the right agent.

11. What’s Your Typical Marketing Strategy?

A Realtor should have a clear plan for listing and marketing your home in a way that produces the greatest odds of success in selling it quickly and at your desired price point. Let the agent you are interviewing tell you about their strategy and the results it yields.

For instance, does the Realtor believe in listing at a low price in the hopes of starting a bidding war? If so, what kinds of prices has this achieved? Where will your listing be posted? Will videos be created? Will there be an open house?

These kinds of questions can help you see if you are impressed by and aligned with how a Realtor likes to market homes.

12. Will You Handle Staging and Prep Work?

If you’re selling a home, staging it could help influence buyers’ perceptions of the property and potentially net you a higher sale price.

Staging is something you can do yourself, but your Realtor may have a staging company they work with to get the job done.

Asking about staging or small cosmetic updates, such as painting, can help you figure out what you’ll be responsible for to get your home ready for the market. There’s a price tag attached to all improvements, so you’ll want to know the numbers to be better prepared.

13. How Do You Handle Viewings?

The use of digital tools such as virtual tours have made properties more accessible to more buyers. One recent Zillow survey found that almost 40% of Millenials would be comfortable buying a home online vs. in person.

See if your agent plans to create a virtual tour, but you also want to be prepared for the majority of buyers who want to visit in person. Ask Realtors how many viewings they typically schedule in a day or a week, how often open houses will be scheduled, and how they’ll be marketed.

Questions to Ask a Realtor When You Are Buying

Now you’ve learned the questions to ask a Realtor when selling. How about the other side of the deal? Whether you’re shopping for a starter home or trading up, here are a couple of important questions to ask a potential real estate agent when buying a house.

14. What Happens When I’m Ready to Make an Offer?

If you’re a buyer, agents should be able to walk you through how this process works, what to do if the seller makes a counteroffer, and what you’ll need to do next if your offer is accepted. You also want to check if they have experience with successfully navigating bidding wars, which can happen in hot markets and with well-priced properties.

Also check that they can advise you on how much earnest money you might need to pay and how to find a good, affordable home inspector, as these are important aspects of the deal.

Recommended: How to Buy a House in 7 Steps

15. Will You Help Me With Getting a Mortgage?

This question will shed more light on a prospective agent’s network and experience. Agents may be able to offer recommendations for mortgage lenders. They may also be willing to communicate with your lender if there are questions about the property or the offer during underwriting.

You’re not obligated to use your Realtor’s recommended lender. In fact, it’s helpful to compare mortgage loan terms and interest rates from multiple lenders to find the option that best fits your needs.

The Takeaway

Due diligence in the search for the right real estate agent may mean interviewing a few of them and not automatically going with your mom’s or co-worker’s agent friend. It’s important to know how to interview a Realtor and which questions to ask, so you can pair up with the best possible professional as you navigate this major transaction.

If you’re a buyer, once you’ve found an agent, you can turn your attention to getting prequalified for a home loan, finding a property, and then obtaining the mortgage. At that stage, check out what SoFi’slow rate mortgage loans offer. They have competitive fixed-interest rates and are available to qualifying first-time homebuyers with as little as 3% down. And SoFi now offers loans on investment properties.

Find out your best rate with SoFi.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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Budgeting for Buying a House

Buying a house is a major step, and planning to purchase a home can be a lot of fun. You get to figure out where you’d hang your favorite artwork, plant a vegetable garden, put the PlayStation — and maybe contemplate taking on some DIY projects yourself.

But there’s another, more nuts-and-bolts aspect to your pursuit of the American Dream: how to budget for a house. Most people in the U.S. are homeowners, with the latest Census data revealing that 65.8% had attained this status in the second quarter of 2022. So that’s a good indicator that buying your own home is within reach.

Doing so will likely require you to be smart about your finances, both as you save and then take on the responsibility of owning a home. To help you be successful in this pursuit, read on for the intel you need, such as:

•   How do I know how much house I can afford?

•   What are the costs/fees to consider?

•   What will my ongoing costs be?

•   How can I budget for a house?

Up-front Expenses

First, consider how much you would have to fork over if you find that perfect center-hall Colonial or loft-style condo. Once an offer on a new home is accepted, there are certain costs the buyer needs to pay right off the bat and, in most cases, out of their own pocket. These are called up-front expenses. Here are a few to prepare for as you consider how to budget for a house:

Down Payment

You may have heard of the traditional 20% down payment guideline, which helps you avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI) on applicable loan programs. Additionally, a higher down payment can sometimes result in better loan terms (such as a lower interest rate) which may translate into lower monthly mortgage payments.

Yep, it’s a lot of money to try to save, but if you can swing it, in the long run, applying a 20% down payment will likely save you from paying thousands of dollars in additional mortgage interest over the life of the loan.
Can’t pull together that big a chunk of change? Look into your options for a mortgage lender with lower or no down payment. Some options:

•   The minimum down payment for a first-time homebuyer on a conventional loan can be as low as 3%. You may also need a certain credit score of, say, 620, to qualify for this kind of mortgage.

•   An FHA government loan that is open to everyone typically requires a down payment of at least 3.5%.

•   Veteran VA loans or government USDA loans may allow eligible borrowers to finance up to 100% of their home’s cost. In other words, no down payment is required.

It’s worth noting that, regardless of the size of your down payment, buying may still significantly reduce your overall monthly expenses, compared to your current rent and real-estate market conditions. Given the current high rates of inflation and housing market shortages, buying can be a good option, depending on your specific circumstances.

2% to 5% Closing Costs

You can likely expect to pay an estimated 2% to 5% of your home price for closing costs, and save accordingly. For example, if you buy a home that costs $300,000, you may be required to pay between $6,000 and $15,000 in closing costs.

Worth noting: Some costs are fixed and not tied to the price. In these cases, the percentage can be higher for the lower range and lower for the higher purchase price range.

What exactly comprises closing costs? This can be bank charges like origination fees and any points you may have purchased to buy down your interest rate. There are also costs like the appraisal fee, a title search, and others.

Keep in mind that there are alternatives to paying the closing costs out-of-pocket, such as requesting a seller credit, requesting a lender credit, or tapping an applicable down payment/closing costs assistance loan program. These can help you minimize this expense.

Moving Costs

Don’t forget when budgeting for buying a house that you will need funds to actually move in. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a generous pal with a van, you are probably going to have to hire a moving company when it’s time to get settled in your new home. According to the American Moving and Storage Association, the average intrastate, or local, move is $2,300, and the average move between states is $4,890.

These costs can vary widely, of course. If you are moving with just a bedroom’s worth of furniture versus a whole house, your price tag will be lower. It’s wise to comparison-shop for moving companies and factor this expense into your own budgeting for a home move.

If you are moving for work reasons, check with your company to see if they offer a relocation package to help cover some or all of the moving costs.

New Furniture and Appliances

Your new house may not have the same dimensions and style of your old house. That could mean that you need to buy new furniture and appliances. When budgeting for buying a house, you might want to talk to friends or relatives who have moved recently and inquire about unexpected expenses as well. For example, it’s not uncommon when you move to have to purchase such items as new locks, shower rods, and window treatments. These can add up quickly.

You might want to start a savings account for these types of purchases — some of them may be unexpected and costlier than you imagined.

Recommended: First-Time Homebuyer Guide

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

Ongoing Expenses

Now that you’ve figured out the details related to the actual purchase, consider the expenses that will accrue once you are a homeowner. This is a very important step when budgeting for buying a house. These recurring charges are a vital part of the calculations of how much home you can afford.

Monthly Charges

First, consider how much you’ll be spending every month on your monthly mortgage payment and related costs. PITIA (principal, interest, property taxes, homeowners insurance, and other assessments) is an acronym describing all the components of a mortgage payment. Here’s how it breaks down:

•   P: The principal is the “meat” of the monthly payment amount — paying down the principal will reduce the loan balance.

•   I: Interest is what you are charged for borrowing the money.

•   T: Taxes refer to your property taxes.

•   I: This “I” refers to insurance. This includes both your homeowners and mortgage insurance, if applicable.

•   A: The other assessments refer to things that may be applicable to the home you purchase such as Homeowner Association Dues, Flood or Earthquake Insurance, and more.

HOA Dues

HOA stands for homeowners association. These dues usually apply to a condo, co-op, or property owned in a planned community.

The charge is usually monthly (but it could also be charged quarterly or annually), and it typically goes to maintaining the community (landscaping, garbage collection, repairs, and upgrades).

Before purchasing a property with HOA dues, it can be important to ask the Homeowners Association for a complete HOA questionnaire. With this in hand, you can view how healthy the association is, whether there is any outstanding litigation due to structural or other issues, etc. These could mean increased costs down the road.

Maintenance and Lawn Care

Your budgeting probably won’t stop once you’ve moved and settled into your new home. Expenses will likely continue to knock on your door — landscaping, roof repair, and water heater replacement are just a few items that might require ongoing financial consideration.

You may want to budget for 1% to 4% of the cost of your home in maintenance each year to pay for these expenses. However, deferred maintenance costs may require more funding, depending on the age, quality of construction, where you live, and more.

Pest Control, Security, Utilities

The cost of electricity, gas, water, and phones differ from market to market. This is also true with pest control, and services that help ensure your home is secure and safe. You could find yourself paying more (or even less) for these services in your new home.

How Much House Can You Afford Quiz

Planning Ahead

So now that you understand the costs associated with homeownership, whether they are one-time or ongoing, you can get to work on how to budget for a house.

Ideally, you want to cover the homebuying costs and then be able to afford your monthly carrying costs without racking up debt. The standard advice is that your monthly housing expenses should account for up to 28% of your monthly pre-tax income. Given the inflationary times we live in and how expensive some housing markets can be, it’s not uncommon to find people spending more than that right now.

Here, some advice on figuring out what you can afford.

Target Mortgage Costs

Do your research on the different types of mortgage loan programs. Determine what your price range is given the current interest rates, which have climbed considerably over the past year. Find the programs that may best suit you, so you’ll feel confident you can bid and afford a home once you have your down payment saved. Don’t forget to factor in those other PITIA expenses mentioned above as you think about your own monthly income and cash outflow when you’re a homeowner.

Build a Budget

Once you have these costs calculated, you can then start budgeting for buying a house. You’ll want to accumulate your down payment, while taking care of current bills and other financial obligations, of course.

•   Create a line item budget. You’ll want to note how much money you have coming in and how much goes out toward your needs (housing, food, medical expenses, debt repayment). Then you’ll see what’s left for your wants (think travel, dining out, clothes, entertainment) and start saving it, whether for your future home or retirement.

   Don’t skimp, though, on establishing an emergency fund. In a pinch, these funds can keep you from using your credit card and running up even more debt.

•   Assess where you can save more. To ramp up your savings for your house, look for ways to economize. Could you drop a subscription or two to streaming channels, or perhaps eat out less often?

   Also see what you can do to avoid high-interest credit card debt, which can take a bite out of anyone’s budget. You might want to take advantage of a zero-interest balance transfer credit card offer, or investigate whether a lower-interest personal loan could help you pay off your debt and save money.

•   Use automatic transfers. Help yourself hit your savings goals by automating payday transfers from checking to savings. That way, you won’t see the cash in your account and be tempted to spend more.

•   Bring in more moolah. If the numbers aren’t adding up to bring your homebuying plans within reach fast enough, consider using windfalls (a tax refund, a bonus at work, a birthday gift of cash from a relative) to plump up your savings. Also consider ways to bring in more income, like pursuing a part-time gig in your free time. Additional money is a key benefit of a side hustle.

Ready to Buy?

Once you have your savings set, you can begin to look for different mortgage loan options. SoFi, for example, offers competitive rates, and qualifying first-time homebuyers can put as little as 3% down. It takes just minutes to start your application online.

Ready to purchase your dream home? Find your rate with SoFi.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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