How to Navigate Stricter Home Buying Guidelines

5 tips to help you be prepared before closing

Now that credit guidelines are stricter for potential home buyers, some may be wondering how to navigate the more stringent rules. Rob Robertson, Retail Sales Manager with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, says the guidelines are now where they always should have been. “A lot of people bought prematurely,” says Robertson, alluding to the freewheeling pre-recession days of alternative documentation options. “Others bought more house than they could afford.”

But that’s not you, right?

Here are five things you need to know before you close.

You need a credit score of at least 600 to get loan approval, but 700 gets the best rates. “Lenders are looking for borrowers who are truly qualified to buy,” says Robertson. “Even after you’ve been pre-approved, don’t buy a lot of furniture or anything on credit, because if the underwriter pulls your credit report before the closing, your approval can be rescinded.”

Use a real estate professional who has your best interests at heart. “Listen to other people, but don’t react,” advises Robertson. “Other people may be buying a huge house with a media room, but you need to know your price range and stick with it. Don’t let a real estate agent talk you into more house than you can handle.”

Keep your money story straight. What you report to the Internal Revenue Service is generally what lenders will use as your income. So, if you deduct expenses for which you’re not reimbursed by your employer, the lender may also exclude that amount from your income. Make sure your tax returns, W-2 forms, pay stubs, etc. are in sync. Also, don’t move money around in your bank accounts. You must be able to prove where money comes from. That means irregular income or any income that cannot be sourced, like tips or some freelance compensation, will not be considered.

Know your debt-to-income ratio. Different lenders handle this differently, but says this number may be as important as your credit score. To calculate your debt-to-income ratio, divide your total recurring debt by your gross income. You want your number to be low, unlike with a credit score. Generally, a debt-to-income ratio of 36% or below—aim at 30%—should help you qualify for a loan.

Educate yourself. Attend home buying seminars in your community, consult reputable websites, and read widely, especially books recommended by editors at BLACK ENTERPRISE. Keep reading BLACK ENTERPRISE and frequenting our website, where you’ll find advice about debt management, smart financial moves, and savings strategies.

Tell us what you think: Have you bought a house recently? What do you know now that you wish you knew then? What other tips should be added to this list? We want to hear from you!

  • Kathy

    In 2007, we closed on a home that we bought as 1st time homebuyers, with a mortgage rate of 5.625% at a 30 year fixed rate, & got a $7K concession. All we had to pay at closing was $250 for the oil in the oil tank. We researched a year in advance before we decided to purchase, looked at 1st time homebuyer programs, addressed credit issues and also did the one thing people NEVER do that they should: HIRE AN ATTORNEY THAT SPECIALIZES IN REAL ESTATE! Do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT use the mortgage’s company’s OR the bank’s attorney!!! HIRE an INDEPENDENT attorney! And I STRONGLY SUGGEST that if your job offers prepaid legal services as a benefit, I STRONGLY SUGGEST you opt for this service. I did at the time, and did not have to pay ANY attorney fees!!!! We had an excellent attorney who looked out for our best interests. Also, MAKE SURE you get the house you want appraised & a thorough inspection done!

    • Yolanda

      That is great advise, I need to hear in the process of buying a home.

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