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Mortgage rates are very low and home prices are stable or rising in most communities across the United States, and a recent poll by NeighborWorks America found that nearly nine-of-ten consumers say that homeownership is at least somewhat important. In order to get a leg up on the home buying competition, NeighborWorks recommends consumers follow three simple rules to help make home buying go smoothly.

1. Consult a housing counselor for a homebuyer check-up

Knowing the numbers that matter when buying a home is extremely important. More than two-thirds of consumers in a NeighborWorks America survey said that the home buying process is complicated. The best way to get a thorough understanding of the process is to consult with a nonprofit housing counselor. Look for a housing counselor who is a certified professional who could walk a homebuyer through the different types of mortgages and interest rates; the effect credit scores have on being approved for a loan; and how much down payment is needed for purchase.

“The housing market is tough right now, with fewer homes for sale on the market than usual, and new mortgage rules and many mortgage products from which to choose,” says Marietta Rodriguez, vice president for homeownership and lending at NeighborWorks America. “To be in the strongest position to make an offer that is accepted, consumers have to be prepared. That’s where initial consultation with a housing counselor is a great first-step.”

2. Build a budget

There’s no better way to accurately know how much money is coming and going than with a budget, and pursing homeownership without a clear budget could be a recipe for disaster. National surveys have shown that less than one-third of consumers have a budget. Going into this home buying season with a budget that includes potential changes in commuting costs after purchase, home maintenance expenses, and even estimates for changes in life circumstances, such as becoming a parent or paying for college, will give a consumer a leg-up on the competition and provide peace of mind.

“Once all the numbers are on the table, it’s easier to see what type of home suits a family’s budget and needs, what might be necessary financial trade-offs, and what could be a direct line to trouble,” says Rodriguez.

3. Be determined and informed

While the supply of homes on the market is anticipated to be tight this season, making a bid and winning one on a home that isn’t right could lead to trouble. Getting into a bidding war could weaken a consumer’s determination to get the right home at the right time, and push a consumer to the edge of their budget and even beyond.

The mortgage process is very complicated and it could be frustratingly slow. Pressing ahead without all of the facts and costs understood could be disastrous, especially when it comes to home inspection decisions.

“Forgoing a home inspection to move up a place in the bidding process could be costly down the road if problems and defects with the home arise. NeighborWorks recommends that homebuyers have a home inspection and know as much as possible about the inside of a home as the outside,” adds Rodriguez.

Following these three tips will help ensure homeownership success this season and for the long run.

Source: Neighborworks.org.

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