Buying Your First Home?

10 things you need to know before you make the biggest purchase of your life

Like many young people, Pamela Jowers dreamed of one day getting married and buying a home with her future husband. But the 31-year-old, who lives in Moody, Alabama, decided that she didn’t need a ceremony to make her dream come true. She obtained a master’s degree, a new job, and, about a year later, realized her dream of homeownership.

“At this point in my life, I feel like I’m really grown,” says Jowers with sincerity. “I think I’ve reached a different stage in my life spiritually, and once my accountant told me that I had only two options to get a tax break–buy a house or have a baby–I told her I only had one option.”

Although about 40% of first-time home buyers are single, single women purchase a whopping 22% of all homes, while single men account for 9%, according to the National Association of Realtors. Single or married, African Americans are keeping pace with their minority counterparts on the home-buying front: The homeownership rate for African American households during the fourth quarter of 2006 was 48.2%, while Hispanic households were at 49.5%.

The benefits to homeownership are tremendous. “Homeownership is important for two reasons: The equity in our home is the single, largest asset, so we champion homeownership as the foundation of wealth for African Americans,” says Alfred A. Edmond Jr., editor-in-chief of BLACK ENTERPRISE. “The second reason is that having an ownership stake encourages homeowners to make sound financial decisions in other areas such as investing, credit management, and retirement planning.” That’s why the No. 1 Declaration of Financial Empowerment principle is: I will use homeownership as a foundation for building wealth.

For Jowers and others who entered the BLACK ENTERPRISE Own Your First Home Contest last year, the benefits, such as building equity and having a place to call your own, far outweigh the bumps and bruises along the way. “When I encountered some problems, people would tell me, ‘Oh, I had my husband take care of that.” Since that wasn’t an option, she researched, and researched some more. “Even with doing lots of research, there were still things I didn’t know,” she says.

With the 2007 homeownership contest fast approaching (see sidebar, “Stop Dreaming and Start Owning”), here are 10 things you need to know before you start to buy a home.

1. Double-check your credit. Get a free credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com. If you find erroneous data, contact the three major credit bureaus: Experian (www.experian.com), Equifax (www.equifax.com), and TransUnion (www.transunion.com) to file a dispute. By law, these agencies have 30 days to dispute inaccurate or incomplete information and respond or it must be removed from your credit report. If there are past bills owed, try to negotiate a settlement amount starting at 50% of the total. Kina Lane, a licensed real estate salesperson and owner of Sunflower Development Partners, a boutique commercial real estate development company in New York, says to position yourself to qualify for a mortgage by having strong credit, a stable income, and a good debt-to-income

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