The minimum down payment on an FHA loan is 3.5 percent, which makes it a popular choice among those who don't have the funds for a large down payment (and also those who don't meet the higher credit score requirements for other types of loans). And that's not even the lowest you can go. Loans like this one require only three percent down, and if you're a veteran or are buying a home in a rural area, you may be able to buy a home for nothing down. But should you go that low just because you can, or are you better off making a larger down payment? We're breaking it down.
The case for 20 percent
There are several advantages to putting down 20 percent when buying a home, like:
- Since the bank will generally consider you a lower risk because you have "more skin in the game," you may be able to get a lower interest rate than you would with other types of loans—as long as you have the credit score to support it.
- You'll have built-in equity as soon as you move in. You can avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI).
- It's that last part that drives a number of people to strive for that 20 percent down payment since PMI can add several hundred dollars to a new homeowner's monthly payment, and it can be hard to get rid of it. "If you can put 20% down and avoid PMI, that is ideal, said certified financial planner Sophia Bera on Business Insider.
The biggest roadblock to homeownership for many people is coming up with the down payment, so minimizing that expense sounds great, right? "The good news is a first-time buyer can purchase a home for a little as three percent down - and even no money down in some cases," said U.S. News.
But is that a smart move?
"The less you put down, the higher the mortgage insurance is," Casey Fleming, author of "The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage" and a mortgage professional in the San Francisco Bay Area, told them. "With five percent down, the mortgage insurance is quite high."
Yep, there's that pesky PMI again, which, for many first-time buyers, pushes their monthly payment to a level they're not comfortable with. Another bummer about PMI: "If you need to pay PMI, the size loan you can get will be slightly smaller, to allow for the bigger payment," they said.
You may also have trouble qualifying for a loan even if you have a high enough credit score because you don't have enough cash reserves; if you are using all your savings for the down payment and the lender questions where the funds for your closing costs, taxes and insurance, and any needed repairs are coming from, you could have a problem.
But, on the flip side, a smaller down payment will up your rate of return, said The Mortgage Reports. "Consider a home which appreciates at the national average of near five percent. Today, your home is worth $400,000. In a year, it's worth $420,000.
Irrespective of your down payment, the home is worth twenty-thousand dollars more. That down payment affected your rate of return. With 20 percent down on the home - $80,000 - your rate of return is 25 percent. With three percent down on the home - $12,000 - your rate of return is 167 percent."
Even when you add in the PMI and a higher interest rate, the equation comes out in favor of the lower down payment. "With three percent down, and making adjustments for rate and PMI, the rate of return on a low-down-payment loan is still 106 percent - much higher than if you made a large down payment. The less you put down, then, the larger your potential return on investment."
The case for somewhere in between
Finding that balance between down payment and savings is a challenge for many homebuyers, and the sweet spot will be different for everyone depending on their unique circumstances and financial situation. Most financial experts will say that saving and scrounging to get together 20 percent at the risk of depleted savings and zero emergency funds is a shaky strategy, at best.
"If putting 20 percent down means that you use all of your savings, then don't do it! I would much rather see people put five percent down, wipe out all their other debt with cash, and still have three months of emergency savings versus putting 20 percent down on a house," said Bera.
Especially when you consider all the added costs you may be facing once you buy: "yard work, home repairs, renovation costs, property taxes, insurance, etc. It's important to consider all of the costs and not just compare the monthly mortgage payment to your current rent amount," she said.
Another thing to consider when evaluating how much you should put down is what would happen if you had an emergency. It's easy to lose sight of real-life issues that can arise when you are so driven to buy a home and focused on saving the money to get there.
"A financial event can leave you wishing you had access to the money without selling," said The Mortgage Reports. "Say you lose a job for three months. An extra $20,000 would be a nice safety cushion. And, if you lose your source of income, you can't take home equity out via a cash-out refinance or home equity line of credit (HELOC). Lenders won't approve a new loan to someone between jobs. In short, the more you need to get at the money, the less access you have to it."
Written by Jaymi Naciri
So you've decided to list your home this winter. Perhaps you've had a job change, need to relocate out of the area, or have financial or family reasons for moving. No matter what is driving the move, you may be concerned about selling at this time of year. But just because you missed the boat on the spring selling season doesn't mean you can't get your home sold quickly, and for a profit. A few tips can help get it moving.
Take photos early... or late
If you can take photos before the trees become barren and the grass goes dormant, do so! The last thing you want is for your home to look blah and depressing in photos. If you can capture a snowy day (with perfectly scraped walkways, of course), that works, too. It never hurts to have your home looking like a winter wonderland.
Go easy on the holiday décor
"Deck the halls, but don't go overboard," said HGTV. "Homes often look their best during the holidays, but sellers should be careful not to overdo it on the decor. Adornments that are too large or too many can crowd your home and distract buyers. Also, avoid offending buyers by opting for general fall and winter decorations rather than items with religious themes."
Always mind your curb appeal
Just because it's winter doesn't mean you can let things slide out front. Potential buyers won't give you a pass on chipping paint, a fence that needs repair, or a front door that's seen better days just because it's frigid outside.
Shoveling the walk from the street to your home is necessary to make it reachable, make it inviting, and also make it safe. The last thing you want is a slip and fall that could result in an injury, and a lawsuit. "Continually shovel a path through the snow, especially if snowflakes are still falling," said the balance. "Footprints on freshly fallen snow will turn to ice if the temperature is low enough, so scrape the walk. Sprinkle a layer of sand over the sidewalk and steps to ensure your buyers' stable footing. Remember to open a path from the street to the sidewalk so visitors aren't forced to crawl over snowdrifts."
Get a good indoor mat
Perhaps you never use a mat for indoors or yours is grubby or tattered from 10 straight years of winter wear. This one super easy move may not be noticed by visitors - but it sure will if it's missing or not in good shape. Little things like a $10 mat can give buyers the impression that your whole house is well cared for, or just the opposite.
Clear the front door clutter
If you live in a climate where there is likely to be snow or rain, there are a few more steps you'll probably have to take in order to keep your house looking great inside. How does your coat closet look? If it's stuffed with jackets, scarves, boots, and gloves, relocating some to make room for potential buyers to put their stuff away while touring your home is a good idea - plus, a tidy coat closet gives the impression that there is plenty of storage space in the home. It goes without saying that winter wear and shoes that tend to stack up in the entry should be banished while your house is on the market.
Make sure everything is functional
Imagine you live in a climate that stays relatively temperate year-round, and then you have a cold spell. You turn on the heater for the first time the night before your first showing, and…nothing. Same for the fireplace in the living room. Your freezing cold house is probably not going to make a great impression on buyers. As soon as you decide you're going to sell your home, go through it room by room, checking all major appliances and home functions and looking for little things that may escape notice on an everyday basis - cracked light switches, chipped baseboards, light bulbs that need to be replaced - so your home is perfect for showings.
Light it up
Shorter days with earlier sunsets limit the amount of natural light in your home. Turning on all the lights before showings is more important than ever. Think about the exterior when it comes to lights, too. If you only have a porch light, you might want to consider adding some landscaping lighting, which will help accentuate your outdoor space.
Listen to your REALTOR® when it comes to price
Will you be able to command top dollar for your home and get the same price you would have had you listed in spring or summer? That depends on so many things, including your neighborhood, the available inventory, the condition of the home, and, of course, your listing price. A trusted real estate agent will take all mitigating factors into consideration and use comparables in your area to develop a pricing strategy.
When it comes to offers, remember this tidbit from Realtor.com: "Just because your home's on the market during the slow, chilly months doesn't mean you have to accept a lowball offer. If you make your home attractive in all the right ways, qualified buyers will come."
Written by Jaymi Naciri