The Most Home For Your Money

STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO GETTING A MORTGAGE YOU CAN LIVE WITH

Midway through last year, Deirdre Brown-Postell discovered the house of her dreams–or so she thought.

“I was all set to buy a house,” says Brown-Postell, 38, a divorced mother who works as an interior designer for Moody/Nolan Ltd., an architectural firm, while freelancing as a historical preservationist for the city of Dayton, Ohio. As part of the city’s Nehemiah Project, which assists first-time home buyers, Brown-Postell was able to put down 3% on a home loan and pay no closing costs. Also, by supplying her financial information to her lender, Wells Fargo, in advance, she was preapproved for an $80,000 mortgage.

Her proactiveness and organization were rewarded with a smooth home-buying process, right? Wrong. “A title search revealed that the owner was in tax trouble, so the IRS had placed a lien on the house,” recalls Brown-Postell. “We kept waiting, hoping the matter would be cleared up, but the deal eventually fell through.”

Now for the good news: Brown-Postell found a house she liked even better, in Trotwood, a town adjacent to Dayton. And although interest rates went up while the first deal was pending, she had already locked in a 6.5% rate on her preapproved loan from Wells Fargo. Within a week and a half, she had an $80,000 mortgage on a beautiful home in a desirable neighborhood. “Because I was preapproved for the mortgage,” she says, “there were no problems with the financing once I found a house I wanted with a clear title.”

Brown-Postell’s experience illustrates just how complicated buying a house can be. To help you navigate it, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide that gets you in the mortgage know.

STEP ONE: KNOW YOUR CHOICES
Mortgage shopping is already different from what it was two or three years ago. Interest rates have risen sharply since late 1998-and forecasters expect them to go higher still. Fortunately, the mortgage industry has gone through a quiet revolution and introduced many types of loans and consumer services.

“Today, there’s no reason to panic,” says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH Associates in Butler, New Jersey, which compiles industry data. “Mortgages are widely available at rates that are around the average for the 1990s.”

Here are some of the selections on today’s mortgage menu:
Thirty-year fixed-rate mortgages. These mortgages carry the highest interest rates. In the spring of 2000, they averaged about 8.3%, up from a 30-year low of 6.9% in October 1998 (but still nowhere near the 18.31% rate reached in 1981). However, there is a twofold trade-off. First, because the amount of the monthly payment stays the same, fixed-rate mortgages can provide long-term security for home buyers whose income isn’t likely to increase substantially.

Second, “A fixed-rate mortgage is a form of insurance against future interest-rate increases,” says William Baldwin, an attorney and financial planner in Waltham, Massachusetts. “You’ll pay for this insurance in the form of higher interest rates, so you shouldn’t pay for it if you don’t need it.”

Fifteen-year fixed-rate mortgages. These mortgages are paid off in half the time of a 30-year loan, so

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