A step-by-step guide to buying your first home

Sooner or later the time will arrive for you to wave goodbye to your parents, flatmates or landlords and venture forth into the responsible world of mortgages and home ownership.

If you’ve made the decision to buy your first home, it’s probably a safe bet that you’re more than a little confused and daunted by the whole process. After all, you are about to embark on what will likely be the biggest purchase of your life!

So to help simplify the process, RateCity has put together a simple step-by-step guide.

Step 1: How much can I borrow?

Before you go to inspect a multi-million dollar home worthy of MTV’s Cribs, you’ll first need to know how much you can borrow.

Lenders will determine how big a mortgage to lend you by assessing the amount of monthly repayments you can comfortably afford, among other factors. You will need to provide information such as recent payslips, a tax return and be able to demonstrate any ongoing savings.

Michelle Hutchison, spokeswoman for RateCity said when you’re looking at your dream home, it’s hard to stop and think about costs over the next 20 or 30 years.

“But the payoff from saving longer, and owing less, when you do buy your first home, is almost always worth the wait,” she said.

Step 2: the deposit

There are three big reasons to knuckle down and save for a big deposit before entering the property market.

The first seems obvious, but a smaller deposit means you will owe a lot more money.

Second, you’re likely to face an additional cost called lenders mortgage insurance (LMI) – an insurance policy which protects your bank (not you) if you default on the loan.

LMI isn’t cheap; LMI provider Genworth estimates that a 5 percent deposit on a $400,000 property will require LMI of over $10,000. This can be “folded” into your loan – so if payable over 30 years, it means over $14,000 of additional interest payable. If you had a larger deposit – say 20 percent – then this cost wouldn’t apply.

And finally, owing more money creates more risk. If you have a larger mortgage each rate rise affects you more than someone who had a larger deposit and borrowed less. RateCity’s home loan calculator will help you see the impact of a rate rise on different amounts owed.

“There’s nothing bad that can come from entering the housing market with a larger deposit. While a bank offering you a loan on a smaller deposit is tempting, it’s may not be the wisest course of action,” she said.

Step 3: First home buyer incentives

You may be eligible for a whole range of government incentives as a first-time buyer. To see if you are entitled or to obtain more information, visit firsthome.gov.au or moneysmart.gov.au.

Step 4: Finding a home

Now that you have a better understanding of the costs of buying property, and also how much money you can afford to borrow, it’s time for the fun part: house hunting!

Make a checklist of things you want in a home and view as many propertis as possible that meet your criteria. Don’t be afraid to have a good look around and ask the selling agent as many questions about the market and the neighbourhood. The more research you do, the better.

Free suburb and property reports can be accessed through sites such as Australian Property Monitors and RPdata.com, so take the time to do your homework because it will really pay off!

The same is true of your home loan, so be sure to compare at least three mortgage options before you sign up, said Hutchison.

“There’s a wealth of competition in the mortgage market and lenders are hungry for your business. Just a few basis points difference between rates could add up to tens of thousands of dollars over the long term, so it’s worth comparing,” she said.

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Learn more about home loans

What is a low-deposit home loan?

A low-deposit home loan is a mortgage where you need to borrow more than 80 per cent of the purchase price – in other words, your deposit is less than 20 per cent of the purchase price.

For example, if you want to buy a $500,000 property, you’ll need a low-deposit home loan if your deposit is less than $100,000 and therefore you need to borrow more than $400,000.

As a general rule, you’ll need to pay LMI (lender’s mortgage insurance) if you take out a low-deposit home loan. You can use this LMI calculator to estimate your LMI payment.

What are the pros and cons of no-deposit home loans?

It’s no longer possible to get a no-deposit home loan in Australia. In some circumstances, you might be able to take out a mortgage with a 5 per cent deposit – but before you do so, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons.

The big advantage of borrowing 95 per cent (also known as a 95 per cent home loan) is that you get to buy your property sooner. That may be particularly important if you plan to purchase in a rising market, where prices are increasing faster than you can accumulate savings.

But 95 per cent home loans also have disadvantages. First, the 95 per cent home loan market is relatively small, so you’ll have fewer options to choose from. Second, you’ll probably have to pay LMI (lender’s mortgage insurance). Third, you’ll probably be charged a higher interest rate. Fourth, the more you borrow, the more you’ll ultimately have to pay in interest. Fifth, if your property declines in value, your mortgage might end up being worth more than your home.

How do I take out a low-deposit home loan?

If you want to take out a low-deposit home loan, it might be a good idea to consult a mortgage broker who can give you professional financial advice and organise the mortgage for you.

Another way to take out a low-deposit home loan is to do your own research with a comparison website like RateCity. Once you’ve identified your preferred mortgage, you can apply through RateCity or go direct to the lender.

Will I have to pay lenders' mortgage insurance twice if I refinance?

If your deposit was less than 20 per cent of your property’s value when you took out your original loan, you may have paid lenders’ mortgage insurance (LMI) to cover the lender against the risk that you may default on your repayments. 

If you refinance to a new home loan, but still don’t have enough deposit and/or equity to provide 20 per cent security, you’ll need to pay for the lender’s LMI a second time. This could potentially add thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in upfront costs to your mortgage, so it’s important to consider whether the financial benefits of refinancing may be worth these costs.

How much deposit will I need to buy a house?

A deposit of 20 per cent or more is ideal as it’s typically the amount a lender sees as ‘safe’. Being a safe borrower is a good position to be in as you’ll have a range of lenders to pick from, with some likely to offer up a lower interest rate as a reward. Additionally, a deposit of over 20 per cent usually eliminates the need for lender’s mortgage insurance (LMI) which can add thousands to the cost of buying your home.

While you can get a loan with as little as 5 per cent deposit, it’s definitely not the most advisable way to enter the home loan market. Banks view people with low deposits as ‘high risk’ and often charge higher interest rates as a precaution. The smaller your deposit, the more you’ll also have to pay in LMI as it works on a sliding scale dependent on your deposit size.

How do I refinance my home loan?

Refinancing your home loan can involve a bit of paperwork but if you are moving on to a lower rate, it can save you thousands of dollars in the long-run. The first step is finding another loan on the market that you think will save you money over time or offer features that your current loan does not have. Once you have selected a couple of loans you are interested in, compare them with your current loan to see if you will save money in the long term on interest rates and fees. Remember to factor in any break fees and set up fees when assessing the cost of switching.

Once you have decided on a new loan it is simply a matter of contacting your existing and future lender to get the new loan set up. Beware that some lenders will revert your loan back to a 25 or 30 year term when you refinance which may mean initial lower repayments but may cost you more in the long run.

How do I save for a mortgage when renting?

Saving for a deposit to secure a mortgage when renting is challenging but it can be done with time and patience. If you’re on a single income it can be even more difficult but this shouldn’t discourage you from buying your own home.

To save for a deposit, plan out a monthly budget and put it in a prominent position so it acts as a daily reminder of your ultimate goal. In your budget, set aside an amount of money each week to go into a savings account so you can start building up the ‘0’s’ in your account.  There are a range of online savings accounts that offer reasonable interest, although some will only off you high rates for the first few months so be wary of this.

If you aren’t able to save a large deposit, you can consider ways of entering the market that require small or no deposits. This can include getting a parent to act as guarantor for your home loan or entering the market with an interest only loan.

How can I get a home loan with bad credit?

If you want to get a home loan with bad credit, you need to convince a lender that your problems are behind you and that you will, indeed, be able to repay a mortgage.

One step you might want to take is to visit a mortgage broker who specialises in bad credit home loans (also known as ‘non-conforming home loans’ or ‘sub-prime home loans’). An experienced broker will know which lenders to approach, and how to plead your case with each of them.

Two points to bear in mind are:

  • Many home loan lenders don’t provide bad credit mortgages
  • Each lender has its own policies, and therefore favours different things

If you’d prefer to directly approach the lender yourself, you’re more likely to find success with smaller non-bank lenders that specialise in bad credit home loans (as opposed to bigger banks that prefer ‘vanilla’ mortgages). That’s because these smaller lenders are more likely to treat you as a unique individual rather than judge you according to a one-size-fits-all policy.

Lenders try to minimise their risk, so if you want to get a home loan with bad credit, you need to do everything you can to convince lenders that you’re safer than your credit history might suggest. If possible, provide paperwork that shows:

  • You have a secure job
  • You have a steady income
  • You’ve been reducing your debts
  • You’ve been increasing your savings

How much money can I borrow for a home loan?

Tip: You can use RateCity how much can I borrow calculator to get a quick answer.

How much money you can borrow for a home loan will depend on a number of factors including your employment status, your income (and your partner’s income if you are taking out a joint loan), the size of your deposit, your living expenses and any other debt you might hold, including credit cards. 

A good place to start is to work out how much you can afford to make in monthly repayments, factoring in a buffer of at least 2 – 3 per cent to allow for interest rate rises along the way. You’ll also need to factor in additional costs that come with purchasing a property such as stamp duty, legal fees, building inspections, strata or council fees.

If you are planning on renting the property, you can factor in the expected rental income to help offset the mortgage, but again it’s prudent to add a significant buffer to allow for rental management fees, maintenance costs and short periods of no rental income when tenants move out. It’s also wise to factor in changes in personal circumstances – the typical home loan lasts for around 30 years and a lot can happen between now and then.

Are bad credit home loans dangerous?

Bad credit home loans can be dangerous if the borrower signs up for a loan they’ll struggle to repay. This might occur if the borrower takes out a mortgage at the limit of their financial capacity, especially if they have some combination of a low income, an insecure job and poor savings habits.

Bad credit home loans can also be dangerous if the borrower buys a home in a stagnant or falling market – because if the home has to be sold, they might be left with ‘negative equity’ (where the home is worth less than the mortgage).

That said, bad credit home loans can work out well if the borrower is able to repay the mortgage – for example, if they borrow conservatively, have a decent income, a secure job and good savings habits. Another good sign is if the borrower buys a property in a market that is likely to rise over the long term.

How much is the first home buyer's grant?

The first home buyer grant amount will vary depending on what state you’re in and the value of the property that you are purchasing. In general, they start around $10,000 but it is advisable to check your eligibility for the grant as well as how much you are entitled to with your state or territory’s revenue office.

What is equity? How can I use equity in my home loan?

Equity refers to the difference between what your property is worth and how much you owe on it. Essentially, it is the amount you have repaid on your home loan to date, although if your property has gone up in value it can sometimes be a lot more.

You can use the equity in your home loan to finance renovations on your existing property or as a deposit on an investment property. It can also be accessed for other investment opportunities or smaller purchases, such as a car or holiday, using a redraw facility.

Once you are over 65 you can even use the equity in your home loan as a source of income by taking out a reverse mortgage. This will let you access the equity in your loan in the form of regular payments which will be paid back to the bank following your death by selling your property. But like all financial products, it’s best to seek professional advice before you sign on the dotted line.

How do I know if I have to pay LMI?

Each lender has its own policies, but as a general rule you will have to pay lender’s mortgage insurance (LMI) if your loan-to-value ratio (LVR) exceeds 80 per cent. This applies whether you’re taking out a new home loan or you’re refinancing.

If you’re looking to buy a property, you can use this LMI calculator to work out how much you’re likely to be charged in LMI.

What happens to my home loan when interest rates rise?

If you are on a variable rate home loan, every so often your rate will be subject to increases and decreases. Rate changes are determined by your lender, not the Reserve Bank of Australia, however often when the RBA changes the cash rate, a number of banks will follow suit, at least to some extent. You can use RateCity cash rate to check how the latest interest rate change affected your mortgage interest rate.

When your rate rises, you will be required to pay your bank more each month in mortgage repayments. Similarly, if your interest rate is cut, then your monthly repayments will decrease. Your lender will notify you of what your new repayments will be, although you can do the calculations yourself, and compare other home loan rates using our mortgage calculator.

There is no way of conclusively predicting when interest rates will go up or down on home loans so if you prefer a more stable approach consider opting for a fixed rate loan.