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50 Things First Time Home Buyers Should Know in Wisconsin

1. Save for your down payment - In most cases you will need at least a 3% down payment for a loan. If you can accumulate 20% savings for your down payment you can eliminate PMI, which we will discuss later.

2. Don't always go with the first mortgage company - Lenders often will charge different interest rates. They will also have different loan origination charges. Make sure you check with a few different lenders to get the best price.

3. Get Pre-Approved - This will be something you want to do before writing an offer. It will also give you an idea of how much house you can afford. It is always a good idea not to max out how much you can afford in a home.

4. What is PMI? - Stands for Private Mortgage Insurance. If you don't have a 20% down payment on a home you will have to pay PMI. This can range from about $50-$100 per month, which doesn't sound like a lot, but having a 20% down payment can save you thousands of dollars.

5. What are your loan options? - Conventional and FHA are the most common, but these are certainly not the only options. If you are a veteran, a VA loan is a good option. A USDA loan is also a common option. Make sure you talk with your lender on the best options for you.

6. Loan Origination Fees - This is what a lender will charge to put the mortgage in place. These can be quite a range depending on the lender. This fee can be around $1,000.00. Check with your lender to see if they can give you a better rate on this fee.

7. How much house can you afford? - This is a common question when you start your home search. Ultimately, there are a number of factors that can play a role in this number. Depending on your situation, it is most common to stay around 1/3 of your monthly income for your mortgage payment. To find this number you can refer to a mortgage calculator, which can be found all over the internet, and your monthly budget.

8. How good is your credit? - Your credit is a major factor in getting a good interest rate. Start building your credit a few years in advance, and make sure you keep on-time payments.

9. What documents do you need for a mortgage? - Typically, W-2's and tax returns will take you most of the way. This is, however, on a person to person basis. It isn't uncommon to be asked why you made certain large purchases that are outside of your monthly expenses. If you have student loans you will most likely have to provide documents for this as well.

10. What are your mortgage term options? - The most common is a 30 year fixed rate. 15 year fixed, 5/1 ARM, and 7/1 ARM are also common. ARM is adjustable rate mortgage which means the rate will adjust after so many years depending on the type of loan. It is common for ARM's to be amortized over 30 years as well. 

11. Don't overuse your credit - A large portion of what you can borrow is based on your debt-to-income ratio. If you are on the borderline for qualifying for a loan and you make a big purchase your debt-to-income ratio may go above the qualifying number which would mean that you would not get the loan. It is best to wait on the large purchases until after you close on the home.

12. Don't make any major career changes - Changing your career while you are getting your loan in place could mean no longer qualifying for the loan. Lenders like to see steady income from a career for at least 2 years.

13. If you are self-employed you will need 2 years of work history - Lenders want to make sure you have an established business before lending you money.

14. Homeowners insurance - This covers your home in case of fire, theft, or natural disaster. It is always a good idea to plan ahead and get good homeowners insurance. If you have a mortgage you will have to escrow for your insurance.

15. Property Taxes - These can vary greatly state to state, but are typically determined by a mill rate and the assessed value of your home. If you have a mortgage you will have to escrow for you property taxes.

16. Closing Costs - Loan fees, taxes, deed recording fees, and utility prorations make up the closing costs for the buyer.

17. Determine your must-haves and wants - This is important and varies based on your income level and the market. 

18. Start your home search online - This is a good way to see what you can afford and if it fits into your must-haves category. When searching online usually the more local a search is the better it will be with accurate information, which leads us into the next thing.

19. What are the best ways to search for a home - Finding a Realtor® to set you up on a search directly from the MLS is going to have the most accurate information. Searching local real estate company websites will be the second best. National companies will often times have wrong or false information.

20. Find a real estate agent - Your real estate agent will be there to help you through the whole process, so make sure you choose one that is responsive and has experience.

21. Sign a buyer's agency agreement - This allow you to become your real estate agent's client. In Wisconsin, once you sign a buyers agency agreement your agent will owe more duties to you than if you were just a customer. Before you become the agent's client they represent the seller. You will want an agent on your side representing you in a transaction.

22. Find what you are looking for - Find a home or homes that fit within your must-haves and schedule showings with your agent. It is important to look at homes in person. There are often times things you find out about a home when you are looking in person that you didn't know from the pictures.

23. Adjust your expectations - For first time buyers that can't find any homes that meet their criteria, you may need to adjust your must-have list to reflect your price range.

24. The offer to purchase - Your agent should go over this with you. Make sure you give a fair price for the home you put in an offer on. Also, get your contingencies in writing, which should be spelled out in the offer to purchase.

25. Counter offers - If you are trying to get somewhat of a deal on a home then expect a counter from the seller in most cases. Depending on the current market conditions there may be some back and forth. 

26. Contingencies - Common contingencies would be inspection, financing, and appraisal, which we will talk more about below. Make sure you get these in writing and follow the due dates in the offer to purchase.

27. Inspection - The inspection period typically starts once the offer is accepted. Hiring an inspector is highly recommended. Once the inspection is through you will have a chance to negotiate any significant repairs needed.

28. Expect maintenance - Your inspector will come up with a list of items that are maintenance items as well. Every house is going to have some maintenance needed unless it is brand new. Just understand that it will be your home and you will be responsible for the upkeep. It is a good idea to have an emergency fund for house repairs and keep up with them as they come up.

29. Appraisal - The appraiser is hired through your lender. They do an analysis on the property to and give a property value. The lender uses that value to make sure the property is worth what they are lending you.

30. Deadlines in the offer - The deadlines in the offer are very important. If you miss a deadline the seller has the chance to put the house back on the market. 

31. How long does a roof last? - 25 years is about average for a roof. Although, with technology, in the past 10 years or so, you may be able to get up to 50 years with certain shingles.

32. How long does a furnace last? - 25 years is about average for a furnace. Your inspector should be able to tell you the age of your furnace when you purchase.

33. How long does the air conditioner last? - This one is about 25 years as well. 

34. How long does a water heater last? - Usually, you can get about 10-15 years out of a water heater. Your inspector will be able to tell you how old this is as well.

35. How long does siding last? - This has a lot of factors. There are several different kinds of siding. Some require more maintenance than others. Some of the options include wood, vinyl, stone/brick, aluminum, and LP smart siding. 

36. How long do windows last? - Vinyl windows will last between 20 and 40 years. Wood windows will be slightly less. Window maintenance is important to extending the life of your windows.

37. How long do appliances last? - This depends on the appliance and how often it is used. You should expect to replace them every 10-15 years.

38. Municipal water or well - There are pros and cons to both. Well water has more maintenance, but you won't have a water bill.

39. Municipal sewer or septic system - This mostly depends on your location. If you are more rural you might have a septic system. Septic systems will require maintenance every 2-3 years. 

40. Water softener - There are a lot of benefits to having a water softener. When you write an offer on a home make sure you know whether the water softener is rented or owned if there is one. If you like soft water it may be worth having one installed. This can cost about $500-$1000.

41. What is radon? - Radon is a gas that is produced by decaying uranium. If the house you are buying has a basement it might be a good idea to test for it. There is a risk of lung cancer with high levels of exposure.

42. Home warranty - A home warranty will usually cover the mechanicals and appliances of a home. They are worth having if something breaks down in the first year of home ownership.

43. Closing cost credit - A closing cost credit is something that will have to be negotiated with the sellers. It can cover a portion or all of your closing costs.

44. Closing - This is where you sign the mortgage paperwork and get the right to occupy your new home.

45. Your new home - Once you are through closing you will now own a home. You will now be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep. You will also reap the rewards of home ownership with appreciation and equity.

46. Lawn Care - Now that you own a home it might be a good idea to have a lawn mower and a trimmer. Taking good care of your lawn will help you when you decide to sell your home someday.

47. Landscaping - Trimming trees and bushes, adding mulch, and taking care of around the outside of your home will increase you home's curb appeal. This will help when you decide to sell you home someday as well.

48. Common maintenance - Some common maintenance items include: lawn care, landscaping, cleaning gutters, painting, and replacing furnace filters.

49. Moving in - This is one of the most exciting times of your life. Enjoy owning a home.

50. Mortgage payment - Mortgage payments are usually due on the 1st of the month with a 15 day grace period. Don't miss any payments and your lender will stay happy.

That is the list. Please feel free to comment and share.