How to Get a Mortgage as a First Time Home Buyer (2024)

How to Get a Mortgage as a First Time Home Buyer (1) Mortgage Sensei

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This is a common question that I answer all the time. It’s easy to explain but may be difficult to execute. No worries! I’m going to lay it all out in the simplest and easiest way possible. At the end of this blog, you will know what financial areas you should focus your attention on as a first time home buyer

Understanding the 5 Pillars of a home loan will help you identify the financial factors that a lender evaluates to determine if you’re eligible for a home loan. In this article, we’re going to focus solely on what it takes for you to become a well-qualified borrower. If you simply focus on that and develop good financial habits, you will soon find yourself in a position to not just be able to qualify for a home loan, but to be considered a well-qualified borrower in the eyes of lenders, realtors, sellers, or anyone else involved in the home buying process. Take your time to read through this, and feel free to reach out to me here for any assistance that you may have.

What credit score do you need to buy a house for the first time?

Depending on your selected home loan program, you could qualify for a home loan with as low as a 500 FICO credit score. However, let’s not worry about “how low of a credit score can I have and still qualify for a home loan?” and focus instead on “what do I need to financially focus on daily?” With that being said, I recommend focusing on the FICO factors that impact your credit the most. Using myFICO Education as a guide:

Payment History (35%): This is simple to understand—don’t miss any minimum monthly payments for ANY of your credit accounts. A lot of people, when they read this, will say, “No duh, Sensei!”. Well, if it’s that obvious, why are so many people missing the mark here? There are many reasons, but I’ll list two:

  1. Over-extending your credit/spending capacity, and
  2. Limited amount of emergency/reserve funds.

Did you know that you only need a TOTAL of 3-4 credit accounts aged for 2+ years and properly managed to get a 700+ FICO score! Keeping your total credit accounts under 5 will help you in managing your credit accounts to ensure nothing falls through the cracks. Here’s my recommended financial habits to help you in raising your credit score:

  1. Frugal spending habits: “How much you keep is slightly more important than how much you bring in”. One of my favorite books is “The Richest Man in Babylon”. The concept is pretty simple: “Priority saving and investing over any other spending choices”.
  2. Fanatical saving: One of the main reasons people credit suffers is through some kind of financial hardship whether that’s unexpected medical expenses, job loss, or something that tends to be outside of your control. Having enough savings to weather the storm for months or even years, will give you a large enough financial safety net to make it through recessions, rapid inflation, unexpected expenses, etc.

Amounts Owed/Credit Utilization (30%): Our areas of focus are:

  1. Revolving: “how much of your credit limit is drawn and owed.”
  2. Installments: “how much of the credit debt is still owed compared to your starting amount.”

Developing frugal spending habits will greatly help you in keeping your credit utilization low. I understand that emergencies come up and you have to use your credit cards, but the truth of the matter is that FICO doesn't care about your emergencies, or why your credit cards are maxed out. They only care that your credit card is maxed out. If you cannot quickly pay down your credit card balance under 10%-30% of the credit limit within 30 days of charging it, then you probably should not charge the product/service to your credit card.

Negative Status: Collections, charge-offs, repossessions, bankruptcies, foreclosures, Late payments within 2-years, etc. You can do everything right, and getting one of these can set you back overnight. All of these derogatory events result from some negative financial event that occurred, whether unintentional or intentional, the results will be the same. For those who have been victims of identity theft, you know from experience that creditors don’t care that your identity was stolen and a criminal damaged your credit. All they’re going to tell you is “take responsibility in fixing your credit.” Working towards preventing these negative financial events from reporting on your credit or removing them from your credit is your third focus. If you need help, reach out to Kredit Kleanse for expert credit repair assistance, or schedule time to start your home loan qualification process by clicking here.

How much income do I need to buy a home?

After the 2008 housing crash, our government implemented S.A.F.E. requirements for lenders to do their due diligence to ensure that the borrower is protected from predatory lending. One of the main focuses was on DTI (Debt-to-Income ratio). For the sake of this blog, I’m only going to focus on two aspects of DTI that are more relevant to this article:

Total Income: In this case, the borrower simply doesn’t make enough to afford the home regardless of how little debt they may have. For instance, the borrower earns $100,000 per year for income and wants to purchase a $1,000,000 home. Those numbers, in most cases, won’t work. Here’s my personal calculation: whatever your “total annual income” multiplied by 3x-4x should put you in the range of a home you can afford AND still enjoy life/save/invest/etc. This is not stating what you will qualify for, but simply a measuring equation to see if you are in the ballpark. Please note that (1) your area could be more or less expensive, (2) current interest rates, and (3) the lender you choose WILL affect your final qualification. The best course of action here is to either:

  1. Increase your qualifying income: This is VERY tough conversation to have, and honestly the part of the job that never sits quite right with me. But truth is truth regardless of how I feel about it. Ways to increase your income are:
    1. Ask for a raise
    2. Go for that promotion
    3. Create passive income
    4. Start a business/side hustle (you’ll need a 2-year history of having that business)
    5. Get a 2nd job (you’ll need a 2-year history of working both jobs)
    6. Add a co-borrower/signer
    7. Obtain a higher paying job
  2. Reduce your housing price if possible: I’ve helped people that simply weren’t able to increase their income, maybe because they are retired on fixed income, can’t change jobs due to their needed benefits or family, etc. To those people I would suggest reducing they’re home buying price by adjusting their home search parameters. The more flexible you are on the type, location, etc. of your new home, the more options you will start to have. Maybe a smaller starter-type home is what you need.

Usable Income: In this case, the borrower makes enough “gross income”; however, the challenge is the borrower has too many debt obligations that are eating away at the potential income we could use for a housing payment for the home they want. This is normally when the lender will tell you “your DTI is too high to qualify”. The best course of action here is to reduce/eliminate your monthly credit debt obligation. You can use a method called “debt-snowball”. The debt snowball method is a debt payoff strategy that involves paying off debts from smallest to largest balance. Once a debt is paid off, the money that was previously allocated to that debt is then used to pay off the next smallest debt. This strategy can help build momentum and keep you motivated as you pay off your debts. As each debt is paid off, payments increase in size, similar to a snowball rolling down a hill. We are also able to help our clients quickly identify exactly which credit accounts to pay off to move the DTI ratio meter the most. Schedule time to start your home loan qualification process by clicking here.

How much cash should you have before buying a house?

Lastly, we have to address the “Where’s the money coming from?” aspect. This is the red pill of our housing market/economy. Meaning that it’s ALWAYS better to bring money to the table over not bring anything. You have to be able to invest in the purchase of your home. The ideal scenario is a borrower that can fully fund all expenses needed to purchase a home without needing any assistance. Now don’t get me wrong, we will help anyone get into a home. However, if we look at the true data, people that need financial assistance to buy a home tend to have a more difficult time becoming homeowners: (1) loan programs are too restrictive, (2) sellers don’t want to sell to someone using a loan assistance program, (3) they’re not able to qualify for as much house as a traditional loan program, etc. These are the four areas you should consider:

Down Payment: This normally ranges from a minimum of 3%-5% for primary residence loan programs. If you don’t have the funds, there may be a home down payment assistance program available for you.

Closing & Costs: Title costs, government recording fees, appraisal fee, credit report fee, setting up your prepaid/escrow account for property taxes and homeowners insurance, etc. This normally ranges from 3%-6% of the purchase price, depending on the area.

Moving Expenses: Will you need to rent a moving truck, hire movers, take time off from work, pay for deposits for utility hookups, build new furniture, throw a housewarming party, etc.? Many lenders will tap you out at closing, and you may be blinded by the excitement of buying your first home and you simply forget about these costs that are unrelated to buying a home. This is an unknown number because everyone is different. All I’m doing here is making sure you’re aware of this and plan for it the best way you can.

Once you add up everything the starting line is anywhere between 6-11% of the purchase price. If you don’t have it or simply don’t want to spend that amount, then you’ll need to work with the right people that have a strong understanding of creativity financing. schedule time to start your home loan qualification process by clicking here.

Give it to me straight and don’t sugarcoat it Sensei!

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the grittiest people I’ve ever had the pleasure meeting. Some of those people “had no hope” of buying a home as a first time home buyer. What allowed them to become homeowners was knowing how the game works. It’s like golf—if you don’t know how to (1) pick the right club, (2) examine the landscape, and (3) swing with the right technique using the right amount of force and accuracy, you’ll easily get tired of “trying” to play golf. There are a lot of people today who are trying to buy a home, instead of actually being able to buy a home.

One of the biggest misconceptions, in my opinion, is that people are trying to get a lender to qualify or approve them for a home loan, instead of just being a well-qualified buyer for a home loan before they even reach out to the lender to “verify their financial status”. Credit, repayment ability, funds needed for closing—these are your core pillars that truly make up the borrower aspect of a home loan.

I’ve been in this business since 2011, and I can tell you without a doubt that traditional loans walk, look, and act similar. Yeah, there are guideline differences, but the truth of the matter is that even with these differences, the essence of the home loan is still the same. Working with someone that has these core home loan assessment experience will put you on the right track FAST. Schedule time to start your home loan qualification process by clicking here.

What would you do Sensei?

The 5 Pillars of a home loan are made up of: Credit, Repayment Ability, Funds Needed for Closing, Subject Property, and Loan Program. For this subject of “How to get a mortgage as a first-time buyer,” you have to find out what you qualify for. My recommended sequence of focus is: (1) Credit, (2) Repayment Ability, (3) Funds Needed for Closing, (4) Loan Program, and (5) Subject Property.

Here’s the honest truth:

  1. Before you go under contract to purchase a home (i.e., subject property), you should know what you qualify for (i.e., loan terms/program),
  2. Before you know what you qualify for (i.e., loan terms/program), you will have to go through the lender’s evaluation process (pre-qualification/pre-approval),
  3. When you go through the lender’s evaluation process (pre-qualification/pre-approval), we will be verifying and evaluating your credit, repayment ability, and available funds for closing.

When you want to buy a home your credit, repayment ability, and available funds are the areas that YOU control. A lender does not control these aspects of your financial life. Your financial habits do. These three (credit, repayment ability, and funds needed for closing) are the pillars that you build up to be in a position to purchase a home. The last two (loan program and subject property) are the aspects of the home loan process that are more of an effect of the first three pillars.

We live in an instant gratification society and want everything now, fast, and easy. The truth of the matter is, that’s not how buying a home works. Now let’s be clear, your home-buying process can and should be simple and easy. If it’s not, you’re probably working with the wrong loan officer/lender. But you should not expect it to be “instant.” It takes time to buy a home, even more so to buy a home “right.”

When you first enter the housing market to purchase a home, you may have some challenges ahead. However, if you stay focused and dedicated, you will find the right home for you and your family. By following these steps and being prepared, you can increase your chances of securing a home loan and becoming a homeowner. It’s important to be patient and diligent throughout the process, as it can take time and effort to achieve your goal of homeownership. We are here to help you every step of the way. Schedule time to start your home loan qualification process by clicking here.

Happy house hunting! - Mortgage Sensei "Financing Futures, Building Dreams"

Author Bio:

Nelson C. Thompson, Jr., President of The Mortgage Sensei Company. With years of experience in the mortgage industry, Nelson specializes in helping first time home buyers navigate the complexities of obtaining a mortgage. His mission is “Financing Futures and Building Dreams”


First Time Home Buyer, FHA, Credit, DTI, Homeownership, Conventional Loan, downpayment, down payment assistance, down payment, escrow, mortgage, home loan, FTHB, How to Get a Mortgage as a First Time Home Buyer, What credit score do you need to buy a house?, How much income do I need to buy a home?, 5 Pillars of a Home Loan, Credit Utilization, Income, home loan qualification, prequalification, preapproval, VA, USDA, closing costs, Payment History

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First Time Home Buyer, FHA, Credit, DTI, Homeownership, Conventional Loan, downpayment, escrow, mortgage, home loan, FTHB, 5 Pillars of a Home Loan, Credit Utilization, Income, home loan qualification, preapproval, VA, USDA, closing costs, Payment History

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How to Get a Mortgage as a First Time Home Buyer (3) Mortgage Sensei

5 Pillars of a Home Loan

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