The five steps to buying: Grab those ruby slippers and say “There’s no place like home!”

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Overwhelmed at the thought of buying a home? It’s your lucky day! You’ve stumbled upon the yellow brick road. Now just follow it.

Step 1: Review your credit

Unless you have saved up enough cash to buy a home outright, you will be taking on a mortgage to buy your home. So the first thing you need to do – as in immediately, even if you’re just thinking about buying – is obtain a copy of your credit report. A good credit report is to a loan, as a heart is to a tin man or a brain to a scarecrow. In other words, your credit score is very important. There is a 100% chance that the bank will check your credit.

Everyone is entitled to one free credit report (their own, of course) a year, from each of the three major credit bureaus. (If you’re reading this before April 2021, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the credit bureaus are offering free weekly online reports through April 2021, so be sure to take advantage!) Annualcreditreport.com makes requesting a report easy peasy. Review your reports carefully, from your personal information to credit details. If you find errors, they may be negatively affecting your credit score, so follow (yellow brick road) the instructions to have them fixed, as soon as possible. You see, the credit companies (flying monkeys) are not overly concerned with your timeline – they take their time fixing issues.

In addition, be extra careful to avoid any new blemishes on your reports. That means minimizing credit checks for new loans or credit cards and making credit card and loan payments in full and on time each month. And if you’re really struggling to build good credit, consider getting help from a government-approved credit counseling organization.

Step 2: Gather your documents

Next, gather the most recent version of every document that has your name and social security number on it. Think pay stubs, W-2s, and bank statements. You are undoubtedly very organized and will find these without having to go all the way back to Kansas, right? Save them in a folder, whether online or hard copy. Your loan officer will request these when you ask for mortgage pre-approval.

Start thinking about your down payment as well. The more cash you can spend outright, the less you’ll have to spend on a mortgage later. Save, save, save!

To find a mortgage lender, you might want to start with your existing bank since they already have you as a customer. Or consider a mortgage broker, who can work with you to determine your optimal loan terms and then review the terms from several lenders to find the best loan for you. Or ask your Realtor for a recommended lender or mortgage broker.

The all-powerful loan officer (wizard) will use your credit information to determine how much money the bank will be willing to lend you. The loan amount and down payment will keep you in the real world (Kansas again) and spare you the pain of discovering that you cannot afford the house next to Keith and Nicole’s in Belle Meade. But you will be armed with a mortgage pre-approval letter, which shows sellers that you are a serious buyer and can afford the house (not Keith and Nicole’s, but one you like and can afford).

Step 3: Decide what’s important

Once you have your pre-approval letter, you know how much you can afford. Now, since it’s impossible to see every home in middle Tennessee, make a list of features that are your “must-haves,” such as the type of neighborhood and house, number of bedrooms and baths, schools and parks nearby, a basement, and a level yard. Then make a list of things you would “like” to have, but can live without, such as having the master bedroom on the main level, a wraparound porch, pool and hot tub, or cul-de-sac lot. Your agent (good witch) will tap into his or her many resources and find listings that fit these parameters.

You’ve finally reached the fun part, when you and your agent become BFFs during the many, many hours you spend together visiting potential homes.

Step 4: Find your home and make an offer

When you inevitably find your dream home, you and your agent will decide on a fair offer, which your agent and their team will write up and submit to the owner’s agent. In addition to the house and property, you may want to ask for appliances, an allowance to update the carpet, or even a specific closing date, as part of the deal. The offer will also include an expiration date, so the seller doesn’t take an eternity to respond. Make it a short period of time, like 24 hours – anything more just gives other buyers (witches) time to make offers.

Step 5: Agree, close, and celebrate

The seller will accept or reject your offer, or make a counter offer. When you reach an agreement, the house is under contract. Your agent will make sure the appraisal, inspection, and loan are taken care of before closing day. Closing will take an hour or two, and again, your agent will guide you through the process and explain the novel’s worth of documents that you are signing. If all goes well (and the wizard is not a complete fake), you will leave (in a hot air balloon, obviously) with the keys to your new tornado-proof pad! Congrats!

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