First-home buyers' checklist

Interest rates are at an all-time low and the banks are out in force wooing first-home buyers with competitive home loan packages. If you’re in the market for your first home, you may feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of property speculation being played out in the media and the seemingly herculean task of getting onto the property ladder.

Buying your first home is daunting no matter what. “Buying your first home is one of the most significant events that’ll happen in your life,” says St George head of retail Robert Allan.

The following checklist should help simplify the task.

Prepare your finances and set a budget
“The first thing first-home buyers are interested in is how much they can borrow,” says Allan. “They can seek professional advice to determine their borrowing limit.”

While a lender will look at your your income, assets and outgoings to assess how much you can borrow, you should also set your own budget to ensure you don’t over-extend yourself on your first mortgage. Try using a home loans calculator to determine the approximate cost of repayments on various loan sizes.

Choose the right area
Most of us have clear idea about where we’d like to buy our first home – usually close to family and friends, and work and schools – but if your budget won’t allow you to buy in the area of choice, make a list of everything you like about that area and look for a suitable alternative. Also consider a trade-off that would allow you to buy a cheaper home in your preferred area – for example, living next to a train line or on a main road.

Choose the right home loan
This is just as important as choosing the right home and there are many options to consider. From bank or non-bank lender, fixed or variable interest rate, offset account, redraw facility, fees, the ability to make one-off payments, the list of considerations is long.

The secret to choosing a suitable home loan is to do a lot of research, and you can begin on a free financial comparison website such as RateCity.co.au, which allows you to compare and apply for more than 2000 home loans.

As St George’s Allan advises: “There is no one size fits all when it comes to home loans. Our professional advisers can help first-home buyers assess the different options available to them.”

Budget for additional expenses
In addition to saving enough money for the deposit on your first home, there are other associated costs you should be ready to cover, including legal fees, inspection fees, loan application fees (charged by most lenders to cover loan application documentation, legal fees and one standard valuation) and lenders’ mortgage insurance (charged if you are borrowing over 80 percent of your home’s value).

Stamp duty varies from state to state, so once again do your homework and be prepared for the eventual cost. It is also wise to budget for the cost of connecting utilities, as well as council rates, water rates and strata fees if you buy an apartment.

Consider insurance
“For a lot of people, especially young families, buying a first home is also a time when they are thinking about their future,” Allan says. “Now is the time to think about your potential circumstances, such as illness or loss of job.”

Income protection and content insurance can give you peace of mind and ensure you are not caught out in unexpected circumstances.

Prepare for the move
Once you’ve found the perfect home, start planning your move to coincide with the settlement date. If you are planning to use a removalist, do some research and get several quotes.

And don’t forget to take some time to enjoy the process. You only buy your first home once.

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Learn more about home loans

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 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.

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 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

What fees are there when buying a house?

Buying a home comes with ‘hidden fees’ that should be factored in when considering how much the total cost of your new home will be. These can include stamp duty, title registration costs, building inspection fees, loan establishment fee, lenders mortgage insurance (LMI), legal fees and bank valuation costs.

Tip: you can calculate your stamp duty costs as well as LMI in Rate City mortgage repayments calculator

Some of these fees can be taken out of the mix, such as LMI, if you have a big enough deposit or by asking your lender to waive establishment fees for your loan. Even so, fees can run into the thousands of dollars on top of the purchase price.

Keep this in mind when deciding if you are ready to make the move in to the property market.

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.

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.

Can I change jobs while I am applying for a home loan?

Whether you’re a new borrower or you’re refinancing your home loan, many lenders require you to be in a permanent job with the same employer for at least 6 months before applying for a home loan. Different lenders have different requirements. 

If your work situation changes for any reason while you’re applying for a mortgage, this could reduce your chances of successfully completing the process. Contacting the lender as soon as you know your employment situation is changing may allow you to work something out. 

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.

What is an ongoing fee?

Ongoing fees are any regular payments charged by your lender in addition to the interest they apply including annual fees, monthly account keeping fees and offset fees. The average annual fee is close to $200 however there are almost 2,000 home loan products that don’t charge an annual fee at all. There’s plenty of extra costs when you’re buying a home, such as conveyancing, stamp duty, moving costs, so the more fees you can avoid on your home loan, the better. While $200 might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, it adds up to $6,000 over the life of a 30 year loan – money which would be much better off either reinvested into your home loan or in your back pocket for the next rainy day.

Example: Anna is tossing up between two different mortgage products. Both have the same variable interest rate, but one has a monthly account keeping fee of $20. By picking the loan with no fees, and investing an extra $20 a month into her loan, Josie will end up shaving 6 months off her 30 year loan and saving over $9,000* in interest repayments.

What is a guarantor?

A guarantor is someone who provides a legally binding promise that they will pay off a mortgage if the principal borrower fails to do so.

Often, guarantors are parents in a solid financial position, while the principal borrower is a child in a weaker financial position who is struggling to enter the property market.

Lenders usually regard borrowers as less risky when they have a guarantor – and therefore may charge lower interest rates or even approve mortgages they would have otherwise rejected.

However, if the borrower falls behind on their repayments, the lender might chase the guarantor for payment. In some circumstances, the lender might even seize and sell the guarantor’s property to recoup their money.

What is breach of contract?

A failure to follow all or part of a contract or breaking the conditions of a contract without any legal excuse. A breach of contract can be material, minor, actual or anticipatory, depending on the severity of the breaches and their material impact.

What happens when you default on your mortgage?

A mortgage default occurs when you are 90 days or more behind on your mortgage repayments. Late repayments will often incur a late fee on top of the amount owed which will continue to gather interest along with the remaining principal amount.

If you do default on a mortgage repayment you should try and catch up in next month’s payment. If this isn’t possible, and missing payments is going to become a regular issue, you need to contact your lender as soon as possible to organise an alternative payment schedule and discuss further options.

You may also want to talk to a financial counsellor. 

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