What Are Real Estate Purchase Agreements?

Real Estate Purchase Contract Need-to-Knows

A real estate contract is one agreement you do not want to sign without reading and understanding fully. Get it right, and you’ll likely have a smooth transaction. Miss something, and you’ll face delays, lost money, or even cancellation of the contract.

What Are Real Estate Purchase Agreements?

When buying a home, you’ll make your offer on a form standardized by your state known as a real estate purchase agreement (also commonly referred to as a real estate purchase contract, a real estate contract, a real estate sales contract, a home purchase contract, or a home contract). This legally binding agreement, in general, says the buyer will pay an agreed-on amount for the purchase of the property, and the seller will convey the title in exchange.

The purchase agreement, or contract, details the terms and conditions of the sale. The fundamentals include the parties in the transaction, a description of the property, the sales price, the closing date, and the date of the title transfer and possession.

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


Who Prepares the Contract?

The initial offer is most often filled out by the buyer’s real estate agent and sent to the seller for review. Sellers can ask for adjustments to dates, reject or accept contingencies, negotiate the price and repairs, or even reject the offer altogether. The contract is considered a working document until both parties reach an agreement on terms. When signed by both parties, the terms are set and the contract becomes binding.


💡 Quick Tip: You deserve a more zen mortgage. Look for a mortgage lender who’s dedicated to closing your loan on time.

Key Components of a Home Contract

There’s a lot of legal language in a home contract, but the core details are actually quite clear. These are essential details that both buyer and seller need to know so they can complete the transaction in a timely, legal manner.

1. Identity of the Parties

For a legal contract, full identification of the parties in the contract is required, and the parties to the contract must have the capacity to enter into the contract.

2. Property Details

The property must be described with certainty. This is a legal description of the property filed with the county recorder’s office.

3. Details, Rights, and Obligations

Buyers and sellers agree to certain responsibilities and obligations in entering into a real estate contract with each other.

•   Good faith. Parties should act in good faith with each other, meaning neither party should act to destroy or injure the right of the other party to receive the benefits of the contract.

•   Time is of the essence. Parties should understand that deadlines are absolute and must be met. If deadlines need to be adjusted, an addendum with the new dates can be submitted by one party to the other for consideration. A signature validates the change.

•   Legal and tax counsel. All parties should understand the legal and tax ramifications of entering into a contract and may want to consult with appropriate experts.

4. Purchase Price and Financing

Sales price, amount of down payment, and payment method are outlined in the real estate contract. An amount of earnest money is also listed on the contract. Earnest money is a deposit held in escrow by a third party that signals to the seller that the buyer is putting forth a good-faith effort to complete the purchase of the home. Earnest money may be forfeitable to the seller if the buyer does not meet the conditions of the sale. It is also refundable to the buyer under the contingencies outlined in the contract.

5. Contingencies

A real estate sales contract usually includes contingencies, which are terms the buyer or seller sets that must be satisfactorily met for the contract to become binding. One of the most common contingencies is a home inspection. If something on the checklist for a home inspection is not to the buyer’s standards, they are able to cancel the contract and have their escrow money returned to them.

Some other common contingencies are:

•   Financing

•   Sale of the buyer’s home

•   Title review

•   Appraisal

•   Survey

•   Homeowners association document review

When competing against multiple offers in a hot market, buyers have been known to waive some or all contingencies.

6. Closing Date

The closing date is the day the transaction will be finalized. Buyers often wonder how long it takes to close on a house, and the answer can vary widely depending on the property and circumstances of the buyer and seller. If you’re looking for a definitive number, national statistics show an average of 45 days to close.

On the contract, parties will agree to a closing date, identify the title company, and disclose any other terms for the final transfer of the property. At the closing, final signing and transfer of the deed occurs, the transfer of title is recorded, and the buyer often receives the keys to the house (though possession can occur in subsequent days, as per the agreement between the buyer and seller).

7. Possession Date

The possession date is the first day the buyer can occupy the home. Possession can occur immediately after closing, at an earlier date, or at a later date that is agreed on by both parties. It is most often listed as the closing date or the day after closing.

8. What Is Included in the Sale

Buyers can negotiate what is included in the sale of the property. Common items listed are the washer and dryer, refrigerator, and other heavy items that are not easily moved.

9. Closing Costs

Though exact closing costs won’t be listed in the real estate purchase agreement, the contract can be written to name who will pay for closing costs. It’s common, for example, for a buyer to offer an amount over the list price of the property and then ask the seller to help cover the buyer’s closing costs with the overage amount. Wondering how much typical closing costs are? They average 2% to 5% of the loan principal.

10. Addendums

An addendum is an additional document to the real estate purchase agreement that includes more information or buyer requests that were not included in the original contract. It has the power to override the terms of the original contract.


💡 Quick Tip: Generally, the lower your debt-to-income ratio, the better loan terms you’ll be offered. One way to improve your ratio is to increase your income (hello, side hustle!). Another way is to consolidate your debt and lower your monthly debt payments.

Can Purchase Agreements Be Canceled?

Canceling a contract is different for buyers and sellers. Buyers usually have contingency clauses built into the purchase agreements. If certain conditions of the sale are not met, the buyer can back out of the contract and have their earnest money returned. Some common reasons rest on:

•   Financing

•   Sale of their home

•   A satisfactory home inspection

•   An appraisal

•   Title work

It’s common, for example, for a buyer to cancel the real estate contract if the home has serious issues found during a home inspection. Foundation, electrical, pest, mold, or any other issue found during the home inspection will allow the buyer to cancel the contract if an inspection contingency is in place.

Buyers can also walk away from the purchase agreement for any reason, but they risk losing their earnest money or face court action if the reason and timing for breaking the contract do not fall within the contingencies outlined in the contract.

A seller, on the other hand, has fewer options for canceling the purchase agreement. Sellers can cancel the contract if the buyer fails to meet the conditions and deadlines outlined in the contract. Sellers who default on the contract for other reasons may be forced to pay the buyer an amount equal to the earnest money deposit. They could also face a lawsuit from the buyer to enforce the contract.

The Takeaway

A real estate purchase contract can be lengthy but it’s important to read and understand what you are signing, whether you are buying or selling a property, and to keep on top of the deadline imposed by the closing date in the agreement. Being smart about the contract can protect you as a home changes hands.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.


SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.


Photo credit: iStock/fizkes

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.


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


*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.

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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A Guide to Townhouses: Key Characteristics, Pros and Cons

What is a Townhouse House: Pros and Cons

Looking for a relatively affordable property? Let’s hit the town. For many buyers, a townhouse is the sweet spot in real estate. But what is a townhouse? It’s not a detached single-family home, but it isn’t a condo, either. Let’s see how townhomes stack up.

What is a Townhouse?

A townhouse, or townhome, is distinct among the different types of homes. It is defined as a single-family unit that has:

•   Two or more floors

•   A shared wall with at least one other home

•   Ownership that differs from a condo: You own the inside and outside of your unit and the land it sits on, whereas a condo owner owns the interior of the condo

The meaning of the word townhouse can be traced back to 19th century England. The rich and royalty would have a large manor in the country but also a home “in town.” The definition has evolved over the years. A townhome doesn’t need to be a second home, and it doesn’t even need to be in the city. In some parts of the U.S., townhouses with a similar design and facade are also called row houses.


💡 Quick Tip: When house hunting, don’t forget to lock in your home mortgage loan rate so there are no surprises if your offer is accepted.

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


Pros and Cons of a Townhouse

Townhouses come with a fair share of benefits, but like any home, it’s not one size fits all. Consider these pros and cons of buying a townhouse.

Pros

•   Makes the most of space. As townhomes share a wall or two with neighbors, and are often in densely populated areas, they use space efficiently.

•   Affordability. Because of their shared walls and space-saving layout, townhomes are often more affordable than single-family homes in the area.

•   Independence, with less maintenance. Townhouses usually have less upkeep than single-family homes. There might be a small yard, and your own roof, to maintain.

•   Lower property taxes. A townhome owner may pay less in property taxes than the owner of a standalone home.

•   HOA perks. Some townhomes are part of homeowners associations. If amenities like a pool, gym, and maintenance of common areas and possibly your own little yard are a priority, a townhome with an HOA could be a good fit.

•   Looser rules. The HOA rules may not be as strict as those for a condo.

Cons

•   Limited landscape options. Townhouse lots are small. If you want space for landscaping, it’s unlikely you’ll find much with a townhouse.

•   Uncreative exteriors. If the townhome is part of an HOA, the ability to decorate the exterior of the unit could be limited. Townhomes typically look very similar to their neighboring units as well, so standing out could be a no-no.

•   Stairs, stairs, and more stairs. Townhomes have an efficient build for spaces where land is at a premium. That means building up, not out. A townhome may have three (or more) floors, meaning climbing stairs repeatedly.

•   Less privacy. Townhouses have at least one “party wall,” or wall shared with another property. That could be a problem for buyers who prioritize peace and quiet if the neighbors are loud.

•   Less appreciation. As a rule of thumb, townhomes don’t gain as much value as single-family homes do.

•   HOA fees. If the community has an HOA, it will charge a monthly or quarterly fee to cover communal perks. The fees usually rise over time, and can be high at a complex full of amenities.

Finding a Townhouse

Finding a townhouse will depend on where a buyer is looking. Most commonly, they’re encountered in densely populated areas where land might be pricey and scarce. The search may be more restricted if a buyer wants to purchase a townhome in an HOA community. One place buyers typically won’t find townhomes is in rural or secluded areas. Land may be more affordable and plentiful, which means properties don’t need to be condensed.


💡 Quick Tip: Generally, the lower your debt-to-income ratio, the better loan terms you’ll be offered. One way to improve your ratio is to increase your income (hello, side hustle!). Another way is to consolidate your debt and lower your monthly debt payments.

Who Should Get a Townhouse?

A townhome might be the right option if the buyer:

•   Isn’t interested in much maintenance. Maintaining your unit and your parcel of land will almost always be less intensive than maintaining a detached single-family home and yard. If there are HOA fees, they might include landscaping services.

•   Is a first-time buyer. The lower cost and maintenance of a townhouse might be the right fit as a first-time homebuyer learns the ropes of homeownership and looks into homeowner resources.

•   Is an investor or buyer of a second home: Both may see the benefits of a townhouse.

•   Is on a budget. Generally, a townhouse will cost less than a single-family home in the same area. Buyers could live in a desirable area without paying top dollar. (A calculator for mortgage payments helps buyers see the effect of different down payments.)

•   Wants to live in an urban or suburban area. Because townhomes are built in areas where space is at a premium and the cost of living is high, a townhouse could be the right fit.

The Takeaway

With less maintenance (and potentially a lower price tag) than a detached single-family home, a townhome can be a great opportunity for buyers. Townhomes qualify for the same kind of mortgages that detached single-family homes do, and they require less exterior maintenance than a detached home. So there’s a lot to love about living in a townhouse.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.


SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.

FAQ

How is a townhouse different from a house?

The biggest difference between a townhouse and a detached single-family house is the shared walls. A townhome may have one or more “party walls” with the properties adjacent to it.

Do townhouses have backyards?

Some townhomes may have a small backyard or patio, but that’s not a requirement for a home to be considered a townhouse.

Can you get a loan to buy a townhouse?

Yes. Similar to purchasing a traditional single-family home, townhouse buyers can use a home loan to purchase the property.


Photo credit: iStock/JARAMA

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.


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


*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.

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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Real Estate Whisper Listings: The New Secret to Home Buying?

Real Estate Whisper Listings: The New Secret to Home Buying?

Open houses, mortgage paperwork, bidding wars: Buying a home can take a lot of effort these days. Some in-the-know prospective buyers, though, may have a special perk: access to properties before they even hit the market.

The practice, known as pocket listings or whisper listings, has become more common in real estate recently, as the market hit full boil during the pandemic.

While this insider access may sound enticing, you may wonder if these listings are legal and have financial implications. Read on to learn the scoop and see whether these listings might help you land your dream home.

What Are Whisper Listings?

Whisper listings are properties that are promoted by a real estate broker to an exclusive group of trusted agents to find a buyer who can pay the desired asking price. In other words, agents utilize their professional networks to sell a property rather than putting it on the market. Prospective buyers outside an agent’s inner circle will likely never know the property was for sale.

A little more detail may help clarify the whisper listings definition:

•   Whisper or pocket listings are not listed on a multiple listing service (MLS) — the databases real estate professionals use to help clients buy and sell property — even though they’re technically for sale. Popular listing websites like Zillow and Realtor.com source many of their listings from MLS feeds.

•   You also won’t find a “For Sale” sign in the front yard of a secret real estate listing.

Overall, whisper listings tend to make up a small percentage of real estate sales, but when focusing on top-tier properties, the numbers can rise significantly. Those who are selling their high-priced homes often don’t want to do open houses or otherwise have a lot of people walking through their property. Estimates run as high as 50% to 75% of homes in the highest-price bracket never hitting the market.


💡 Quick Tip: You deserve a more zen mortgage loan. When you buy a home, SoFi offers a guarantee that your loan will close on time. Backed by a $5,000 credit.‡

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


Are Pocket Listings Legal?

Yes, although there are consumer rights and laws that offer some protection to prospective homebuyers. For example, the Fair Housing Act gives buyers the right to be free from housing discrimination during the sale, financing, or rental of a property.

Because of their exclusivity, whisper listings have been criticized as discriminatory. In fact, the National Association of Realtors® established a clear cooperation policy in 2019 with the goal of reinforcing consumer benefits and competition in the housing market.

The new policy requires Realtors to list any property they are marketing to buyers on association-owned MLSs. New listings must be submitted within one business day of any public marketing, meaning other agents should be aware of and able to see the property the following day.

There are some loopholes in the policy that allow whisper listings to continue in specific circumstances. Namely, Realtors can still take advantage of “office exclusives,” which are listings shielded from the public and marketed to their internal agency network. The agents in those offices can then share the property information with their clients.

Listing agents can also take advantage of the one-business-day grace period to promote the property to a select clientele. The policy is that “within one business day of marketing a property to the public,” which can include yard signs and flyers displayed in windows, “the listing broker must submit the listing to the MLS for cooperation with other MLS participants.” Since business days exclude weekends and holidays, the exclusive group of buyers can get a jump on the competition for putting in an offer.

How to Find Whisper Listings

By definition, pocket listings are about connections and insider knowledge. A useful place to start is by finding a real estate agent with a strong professional network and familiarity with the neighborhood you’re hoping to buy in.

Experienced agents may be more prepared to figure out how to find pocket listings thanks to a larger client base, too. Having handled numerous real estate transactions in the community, they could have insight into when former clients want to put their homes back on the market.

They may also know the prices and terms that prior clients would be willing to part with their homes for. Essentially any property can be treated as a whisper listing if you’re able to make an offer on a house that is attractive to the owners — even if they weren’t considering selling.

Is It a Smart Approach to Home Buying?

Real estate whisper listings may be advantageous for buyers for several reasons.

•   First, there is generally less competition for off-market homes than those listed widely on an MLS, helping buyers purchase a home at or below asking price. This can be especially valuable in a tight or hot housing market.

•   Given the word-of-mouth nature of pocket listings, potential buyers are generally hand-picked by listing agents based on both their qualifications and the type of property they’re looking for. This approach can cut down on the number of showings in the home buying process, which may be important for some buyers due to privacy and time.

Before committing to this strategy, there are some additional benefits and drawbacks to consider.

Pros of Secret Real Estate Listings

A secret real estate listing can offer advantages to sellers and buyers alike.

•   For sellers, a pocket listing affords considerable privacy — both in terms of keeping the sale status under wraps and reducing foot traffic at a property. By focusing on qualified buyers in the listing agent’s network, the sale process could be expedited without the hassle of negotiations and contract contingencies.

•   Sellers may opt for a pocket listing to test out an asking price and gauge interest. If the whisper listing doesn’t secure a full-price offer, sellers can reconsider the price before putting the property on the open market to attract new buyers without any record of a price change. This is helpful since prospective buyers may view a price cut as an opportunity to make an offer under the asking price.

•   The primary benefit for buyers is reduced competition on a property. Since the listing has only been shared with a select group, it’s less likely that a listing will go into the realm of counter offers and bidding wars.

Recommended: Mortgage Prequalification vs. Preapproval

Cons of Secret Real Estate Listings

Now, consider the downsides of pocket listings:

•   Whisper listings are often pursued in the hope of fetching top dollar from buyers. From a buyer’s perspective, the perk of first dibs on a property may come at the expense of an accurate assessment of its value and the ability to negotiate a house price. Putting aside the allure of exclusive access is important to ensure that the property fits your needs and makes financial sense.

•   For sellers, a secret real estate listing limits the potential pool of buyers instead of promoting the property on any of the hundreds of multiple listing services and across major real estate sites. Opening a property to the market can increase your chances of a multiple-offer situation and getting bids over the asking price.

•   While a pocket listing may reduce the hassle of multiple showings, the approach could extend how long it takes to find a buyer for the price you want.

The Takeaway

A whisper listing, also known as a pocket listing, is shared only with an exclusive group of an agent’s inner circles. Secret real estate listings can offer advantages to both sellers and buyers: The seller has privacy and perhaps a better-qualified pool of prospects, while buyers may face less competition. There are also drawbacks, however, as these listings may present pricing and timing challenges.

Here’s something that isn’t a secret: If you’re house hunting and need financing, getting prequalified is a useful first step to show you’re a serious buyer and can afford the property.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.

SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.

Photo credit: iStock/archigram


*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.

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.


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


SoFi On-Time Close Guarantee: If all conditions of the Guarantee are met, and your loan does not close on or before the closing date on your purchase contract accepted by SoFi, and the delay is due to SoFi, SoFi will give you a credit toward closing costs or additional expenses caused by the delay in closing of up to $10,000.^ The following terms and conditions apply. This Guarantee is available only for loan applications submitted after 04/01/2024. Please discuss terms of this Guarantee with your loan officer. The mortgage must be a purchase transaction that is approved and funded by SoFi. This Guarantee does not apply to loans to purchase bank-owned properties or short-sale transactions. To qualify for the Guarantee, you must: (1) Sign up for access to SoFi’s online portal and upload all requested documents, (2) Submit documents requested by SoFi within 5 business days of the initial request and all additional doc requests within 2 business days (3) Submit an executed purchase contract on an eligible property with the closing date at least 25 calendar days from the receipt of executed Intent to Proceed and receipt of credit card deposit for an appraisal (30 days for VA loans; 40 days for Jumbo loans), (4) Lock your loan rate and satisfy all loan requirements and conditions at least 5 business days prior to your closing date as confirmed with your loan officer, and (5) Pay for and schedule an appraisal within 48 hours of the appraiser first contacting you by phone or email. This Guarantee will not be paid if any delays to closing are attributable to: a) the borrower(s), a third party, the seller or any other factors outside of SoFi control; b) if the information provided by the borrower(s) on the loan application could not be verified or was inaccurate or insufficient; c) attempting to fulfill federal/state regulatory requirements and/or agency guidelines; d) or the closing date is missed due to acts of God outside the control of SoFi. SoFi may change or terminate this offer at any time without notice to you. *To redeem the Guarantee if conditions met, see documentation provided by loan officer.
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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Home Equity: What It Is, How It Works, and What It Can Be Used For

Home Equity: What It Is, How It Works, and What It Can Be Used For

There are many reasons to pursue homeownership, from obtaining a yard for your dog to painting the bathroom whatever darn color you want. But one of the biggest financial reasons to own your own home is to start building home equity.

Home equity is considered one of the most common and accessible ways to build wealth over time, thanks in large part to the appreciation of real estate over time. You can even leverage your home equity to take out loans and fund your retirement. But what, exactly, is home equity, and how does it work?

What Is Home Equity?

Home equity is the amount of your home value that you actually own. It’s calculated by subtracting your mortgage balance from the market value of your property.For example, if your home is worth $350,000, and you’ve paid enough toward your down payment and home loan that your mortgage balance is $250,000, you have $100,000 in home equity. (Keep in mind that the $350,000 value might not be what you initially purchase your home for — that figure may have increased over time, which is part of how equity is built!) Once you have home equity, you can borrow against it. If you sell the home, your equity is the amount of cash you will walk away with (minus any costs associated with the sale).

In short, home equity is pretty great to have. But how is it built?

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


Building Home Equity

Home equity is primarily built in two ways: paying down your mortgage and seeing the value of your home appreciate over time. Both of these can be nudged a bit to help you build equity faster. Here’s how.

Putting Down a Larger Down Payment

Many buyers, especially first-time homebuyers, take advantage of programs that allow small down payments — sometimes as little as 3% of the home purchase price. But when it comes to building equity, a higher down payment could help. The more you put down when you’re first purchasing your house, the more equity you have right out of the gate — and if you put down more than 20%, you’ll be able to avoid the additional cost of private mortgage insurance, commonly called PMI.

When calculating mortgages, you’ll also see that the higher the down payment you can afford, the lower your monthly mortgage bill. That said, substantial down payments can be prohibitive for many buyers, and it may make more sense to get in with a lower down payment and start building equity rather than waiting a long time to save up tens of thousands of dollars.

Paying Off Your Mortgage

If making a larger down payment isn’t possible, you might also be able to speed up your equity earnings — and save money on interest over time — by paying off a mortgage early. Of course, you’ll need to consult your mortgage documentation to ensure that your lender doesn’t charge a prepayment penalty, or if it does, that it would still be a cost-efficient decision to make. Only some lenders charge a prepayment penalty, and of those that do, only within the first few years (usually three to five).

Paying More Than the Minimum on Your Mortgage

If you can’t afford to pay off your mortgage early in its entirety all at once, you can chip away at the loan over time by making more than the minimum monthly payment. It’s a good idea to ensure that the additional funding is going directly toward your principal balance (the amount of money you borrowed in the first place). That way, you’re dialing down the amount of interest you’ll pay before it can even accrue.

Staying in Your Home for Five or More Years

Along with chipping away at the amount you owe, the other function that increases equity is allowing your home to appreciate. Although that rise in value isn’t guaranteed, if it’s going to happen, it takes time. Thus, staying in your home for a longer amount of time (at least five years) gives you a better chance at building enough equity for all the other costs of homeownership to be worth it.

Renovating

Allowing your home to naturally increase in value over time is one thing, but you can also take matters into your own hands and help drive up the value by renovating or remodeling. (Not sure about renovations vs. remodels? Essentially, remodels are more extensive — and expensive.)

While even lower-cost renovations, like painting, can increase the home value a little, major repairs may have major costs associated with them. Sometimes, though, the equity increase you’d gain makes it worth going to the expense in the short term; home improvement loans can help make these efforts more accessible (but again, always look ahead to ensure that debt won’t eclipse the equity you’d stand to build).


💡 Quick Tip: A reverse mortgages, don’t require repayment until the borrower moves out or dies.

That said, it’s important to think through the pros and cons of reverse mortgages, as borrowing against your home equity comes with risk. (For example, if the loan total ends up being more than the value of the home, heirs might lose the house, or need to refinance, if they can’t pay off the reverse mortgage in full.)

Home Equity to Purchase a New Home

Even if you end up moving, your home equity value can be borrowed against to help purchase a new home. In fact, some people end up taking out home equity loans to purchase a second or investment home.

Borrowing Against Home Equity

Along with the above-mentioned ways to use home equity, there are many other equity home loan types that can be used to liquify the cash wrapped up in your home and make it spendable. Just be aware that these loans come with costs and risks. For example, if the housing market suddenly shifts and your home’s value decreases substantially, you may find yourself in a hole. In fact, if you can’t make the payments, you could even lose your home. Your home, after all, is the collateral for these loans.

Here are a few of the most common ways to borrow against your home equity:

•   A home equity loan offers a borrower a lump sum of cash up front in return for fixed payments on a regular basis throughout the life of the loan.

•   A home equity line of credit (HELOC), on the other hand, works kind of like a credit card: Those who take out HELOCs have the opportunity to tap into their equity and convert it to spendable cash as needed, up to a certain limit. Neither interest rates nor payments are usually fixed. Closing costs may be lower than those for a home equity loan, and sometimes waived entirely if you keep the credit line open for a number of years.

   💡 For more info on HELOCs, check out our Guide to Home Equity Lines of Credit.

•   With a cash-out refinance, a borrower takes out an entirely new mortgage while borrowing a portion of their existing home equity in cash. Closing costs are involved. (Deciding between different loan types can be dizzying. Look carefully at differences between home equity loans, HELOCs, and cash-out refinance options.)


💡 Quick Tip: If you refinance your mortgage and shorten your loan term, you could save a substantial amount in interest over the lifetime of the loan.

Calculating Home Equity

Phew! That’s a lot of information. To recap, here’s how to calculate your home equity:

Total home value – remaining mortgage balance = home equity

Keep in mind, again, that “home value” isn’t the same as “purchase price.” To know for sure what your home value is in the current market, you’d need an up-to-date appraisal, but you can use estimates from your favorite real estate site or agent.

The Takeaway

While nothing is a surefire ticket to wealth, building home equity is one of the most historically reliable ways to grow your net worth. And down the line, home equity can be leveraged for a variety of loans.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.

SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.


Photo credit: iStock/PC Photography

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.


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


*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.

²To obtain a home equity loan, SoFi Bank (NMLS #696891) may assist you obtaining a loan from Spring EQ (NMLS #1464945).

All loan terms, fees, and rates may vary based upon individual financial and personal circumstances and state.

You may discuss with your loan officer whether a SoFi Mortgage or a home equity loan from Spring EQ is appropriate. Please note that the SoFi member discount does not apply to Home Equity Loans or Lines of Credit brokered through SoFi. Terms and conditions will apply. Before you apply for a SoFi Mortgage, please note that not all products are offered in all states, and all loans are subject to eligibility restrictions and limitations, including requirements related to loan applicant’s credit, income, property, and loan amount. Minimum loan amount is $75,000. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. Products, rates, benefits, terms, and conditions are subject to change without notice. Learn more at SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria.

SoFi Mortgages originated through SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org). Equal Housing Lender. SoFi Bank, N.A. is currently NOT able to accept applications for refinance loans in NY.

In the event SoFi serves as broker to Spring EQ for your loan, SoFi will be paid a fee.


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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man signing mortgage paperwork

How to Get a Mortgage in 2024

Getting a mortgage can be one of the biggest financial undertakings a person can make. What’s more, it also unlocks the path to what is typically the biggest asset and wealth builder out there: a home of your own.

Whether you’re dreaming of a center hall Colonial or a cool, loft-style condo, the odds are, you will need a mortgage to make home ownership happen. But these days, with mortgage rates rising, snagging that home loan can require a little more knowledge and preparation.

This guide will help you get up to speed and ready your application. Read on to learn:

•   How to get a mortgage right now

•   What matters most to lenders

•   What are the typical mortgage requirements

•   What steps are needed to get a mortgage

What Mortgage Lenders Look At

A good first step to getting a mortgage is to understand how you will be evaluated by lenders so you can put your best foot (or financial profile) forward. Consider the following:

Your Credit Score

Your credit score is an important number: It tells lenders how well you have managed debt in the past. Ideally, you have a good history of paying your bills on time. If, however, you have been late with payments or have defaulted in the past, your credit score may be a red flag as you apply for a mortgage.

•   Typically, you will need a credit score of 620 or higher to qualify for a conventional home loan.

•   However, those with scores of 740 or higher may snag the best (meaning lower) rates.

•   If your score is at least 580, you may qualify for a government-backed loan (more on those below). Even those with a credit score of 500 to 579 may be eligible in some cases.
If you’d like to build your credit score, try these steps:

•   Get a free credit report (one per year) from www.annualcreditreport.com. It will include bill payment history, current debt, and other information lenders typically check on. If you see any errors, report them.

•   Be impeccable with payment deadlines. The timeliness of your payments is the largest contributing factor to your credit score, so optimizing this area can have a positive impact.

•   Manage any situations where you owe money. Unpaid bills that linger and go from 30 to 60 to 90 days (or more) late can bog down your credit score. Prioritize paying overdue bills.

Your credit score is important: The higher your score, the more reliable and creditworthy you appear.

Debt-to-Income Ratio

Another number that lenders will be interested in is your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. This shows how the amount of debt you are carrying relates to your income. Here’s how DTI is calculated:

•   Total your monthly minimum debt payments, such as student loans, car loans, credit-card bills, current rent or mortgage and property taxes, and the like.

•   Divide that total debt number by your gross monthly income (that is, before taxes and other deductions are siphoned off).

•   The resulting number is your DTI.

The DTI figure that lenders look for may vary. Some lenders want to see 36%; others will be comfortable with up to 43%. Government-backed loans are likely to accept higher DTI’s than other lenders.

Why does DTI matter? Lenders want to see that you can handle the financial burden of a mortgage without struggling.

Income History

Lenders want to see signs of a positive, stable income. Ideally, you have been employed for at least two years and your income is steady, if not trending upward.

This tells lenders that you are a person they can count on to pay back the funds you borrow. If you have been out of work or have job-hopped recently, it might be wise to wait a bit before applying for a mortgage until you can show the income history that lenders want to see.

Assets

Lenders will likely want to see that you have some assets available, such as cash in the bank or other fairly accessible funds. This is where a healthy emergency fund and money saved for a down payment can be a real boost.

These kinds of savings can reassure a lender that you are ready to buy and, even if you were hit with a major expense or were laid off, you could still pay your monthly mortgage and stay current on your home loan.

Property Type

The kind of property you are planning to buy may make a difference to lenders as well. For instance, if you are seeking to buy a single-family home that will be your primary residence, you may look more attractive to lenders than someone who already has a primary home and is buying a ski condo they will rent out on Airbnb. The former could seem more motivated to stay current on their mortgage payments than the latter.


💡 Quick Tip: Don’t overpay for your mortgage. Get your dream home or investment property and a competitive rate with SoFi Mortgage Loans.

Get Familiar With the Required Mortgage Documents

Now that you know how lenders size you up for a loan, consider the documents that you will likely need to apply for a mortgage:

•   Proof of income: Get ready to break out those W-2s, 1099s, and tax returns. The lender will need solid proof of your recent income.

•   Credit documentation: You will likely sign a release allowing the lender to review your credit report to assess your history on that front.

•   Proof of assets and liabilities: You will probably need to share bank statements, investment account statements, and other documents to verify what assets you have. Your lender may want to see paperwork regarding any student or auto loans and other debts as well.

These forms allow a lender to consider your level of financial security and whether you are a good risk to offer a mortgage loan.

How to Get a Mortgage: 9 Steps

Now that you understand the paperwork you need and how lenders will look at your qualifications for a mortgage, consider the steps required to actually get the loan you need to buy a home.

1. Checking Your Credit

As mentioned above, it’s wise to check your credit score and review your credit report. If your number and record aren’t optimal, take the necessary steps to improve the situation, such as diligently paying bills on time, clearing up any errors on your record, and taking care of any debt that’s past due.

2. Figuring Out Your Home-Buying Budget

As you contemplate buying a home, develop a budget. You want to be sure that you have an adequate down payment and can afford your monthly mortgage payment. But don’t overlook these costs that need to be part of your budget:

•   Closing costs and related expenses

•   Funds to make any repairs/renovations required

•   Moving expenses

•   Home insurance premium

•   Property taxes

•   Utilities (especially important if you are moving from a rental where your landlord paid some of these costs to your own home)

•   Maintenance and upkeep costs (landscaping, HVAC service, etc.)

These expenses should be tallied and accounted for; you don’t want to wind up with your heating bill becoming a reason to use your emergency fund.

3. Saving for the Down Payment and Closing Costs

One important element of your home-buying budget is the down payment plus closing costs. Here’s how much you are probably going to need to set aside:

•   Down payments for a conventional loan have traditionally been 20% of a home’s cost, but there is some flexibility. A recent survey by the National Association of Realtors found that first-time homebuyers typically put down 8% on a home purchase.

•   Keep in mind that if you put down less than 20%, you will likely have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), since your lender may want extra protection in case you default on your loan.

•   Some loans are available with as little as 3% down or even (for government-backed ones) zero money down.

•   Closing costs will likely amount to 3% to 6% of the loan amount. They include fees for processing your loan, home appraisal, title search, and other activities.

4. Choosing the Right Mortgage Option

It’s worth reviewing some of the different loans that you may qualify for.

•   Conventional vs. government-backed loans. Conventional loans typically have stricter income, credit score, and other qualifying factors, while government-backed loans may be easier to obtain. Government-backed loans may have lower (or even no) down payment requirements. Examples of these government loans are FHA, VA, and USDA loans.

•   Type of rate: For some borrowers, a fixed-rate loan, with its never-varying monthly payment, may be best. For others, an adjustable-rate one that fluctuates may be more appealing. The payments tend to start out low, which can be attractive for those who may sell their home within a few years’ time. You may also look into mortgage points, which involve paying more upfront to shave down your rate over the life of the loan.

•   Mortgage loan term: Many loans last 30 years, but there are other options, such as 10, 15, or 20 years. The shorter the term, the higher your payment is likely to be.


💡 Quick Tip: Backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), FHA loans provide those with a fair credit score the opportunity to buy a home. They’re a great option for first-time homebuyers.1

5. Comparing Mortgage Lenders

Next, it’s wise to review different mortgage lenders and see what kind of rates and terms are quoted. For example, your own bank may offer mortgages and could give you a good rate in an effort to keep your business with them. Or you might look into online lenders, where the process can be more streamlined and the rates possibly better than traditional options.

You might also decide to work with a mortgage broker to get help learning about your alternatives.

6. Getting Pre-Approved for a Mortgage

For this stage, you will begin your actual interaction with a lender. The goal is a preapproval letter, which can help you as you go home shopping and bid on properties. While not a guarantee of a mortgage, it shows you are serious about buying and are on the path to securing your funding, and it reflects that the lender found you qualified for a mortgage.

You can expect the lender to do a credit check, verify your income and assets, and consider your DTI. If all goes well, the lender will provide you with a preapproval letter, and you can shop for a home in the designated price range.

It can be wise to get preapproved by more than one lender. This can help you evaluate different offers and broaden your options when it’s time to apply for a loan.

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


7. Making an Offer on a Home

With your pre-approval letter done, you are ready to go home shopping. As you tour properties and make offers, you are on your way to getting to an accepted offer. When that happens (a big moment!), you will hopefully be on the path to home ownership. If contract negotiations and the inspection goes well, you will likely move along to the next step.

8. Applying for a Mortgage

Next, it’s time for the full-fledged mortgage application. Expect to submit the following, and possibly more:

•   Two years’ worth of W-2 forms or other income verification

•   A month’s worth of pay stubs

•   Two years’ worth of federal tax returns

•   Proof of other income sources

•   Recent bank statements and documentation of possibly recent sources of deposits

•   Documentation of funds/gifts of money to be used as your down payment

•   ID and Social Security number

•   Details on debt such as student loans and car payments

9. Closing on a Home

As you wait for your closing date, a home appraisal, loan underwriting, title searches, and more are happening. If things progress smoothly, you will be ready to close on your home. You also may wish to bring your real estate agent and/or attorney with you to this meeting. They can help explain everything — especially valuable if you are a first-time homebuyer.

You will gather to sign all your forms, submit your down payment and closing costs (or provide proof of wire transfer), and become a homeowner. Congratulations!

The Takeaway

The path to home ownership can be a long and winding road but worth it as you gain what could be your biggest financial asset. By preparing to present a credit-worthy file and following the steps needed to apply for a home mortgage, you can be on your way to owning your dream house.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.

SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.

FAQ

How do you improve your chances of getting approved for a mortgage loan?

You can improve your chances of getting approved for a mortgage by checking on your credit score (and improving it, if necessary), showing a debt-to-income ratio of ideally 36% or lower, and having two years’ of a steady job history.

How do I begin a mortgage?

The first step in getting ready to apply for a mortgage can involve checking up on your financial profile to see how it will look to potential lenders and optimizing it. You can then research different kinds of loans and their requirements and get pre-approved by one or more lenders to see what you qualify for. When you have found a home and are ready to apply for your mortgage, you’ll gather the credentials you’ll need (such as proof of income and assets, tax returns, and ID) and fill out your application.

What is the lowest income to qualify for a mortgage?

There is no one set income required to qualify for a mortgage. Much will depend on how much you want to borrow versus your income, how much debt you are carrying, and your credit score. For those who have a lower income, there are government-backed loans that may be suitable; it can be worthwhile to look into FHA, USDA, and VA loans to see what you might qualify for.

What credit score is needed to get a mortgage?

Typically, a credit score of at least 620 is required for a conventional loan, and the higher your score (say, in the 700s or higher still), the more loan options and lower rates you may find. For those with a credit score of at least 580, there are government-backed loan products available.


¹FHA loans are subject to unique terms and conditions established by FHA and SoFi. Ask your SoFi loan officer for details about eligibility, documentation, and other requirements. FHA loans require an Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium (UFMIP), which may be financed or paid at closing, in addition to monthly Mortgage Insurance Premiums (MIP). Maximum loan amounts vary by county. The minimum FHA mortgage down payment is 3.5% for those who qualify financially for a primary purchase. SoFi is not affiliated with any government agency.
*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.

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.


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


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.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

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.

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.

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