What You Need to Know Before you Buy
Spring is one of the busiest seasons for retail activity as the good weather gives people lots of time for decluttering, showing the home, garage sales, packing and moving into your new space! Buying a home is an extremely exciting and fulfilling adventure, but before you get started let’s go through some of the most important things you need to know before you buy a home.
First things first, are you ready to own a home? This is likely the largest financial decision you will ever make and there are a few questions you can ask yourself to ensure you are ready:
- Are you financially stable?
- Do you have the financial management skills and discipline to handle this large of a purchase?
- Are you ready to devote the time to regular home maintenance?
- Are you aware of all the costs and responsibilities that come with being a homeowner?
If you answered ‘yes’ to the above questions, congrats! You’re on the right track. Let’s look at some of the most important things to know:
Securing Your Down Payment
A down payment is the largest, upfront cost that comes with purchasing a home. The minimum on any mortgage in Canada is 5 percent but putting down more whenever possible will lower the amount being borrowed. Note: If you are putting down less than 20 percent, default insurance will be mandatory to protect the investment.
If you have a nest egg of savings that you can apply towards the down payment, then you are ready to move on! If not, RRSPs can be a great resource towards a down payment for a first-time home buyer (up to $35,000). Another option is a gift from a family member, which requires a Gift Letter stating that the money does not have to be repaid and a snapshot showing that the gifted funds have been transferred.
If these are not options for you, then you can still work on ensuring you have a good credit score and determining your budget while saving for a down payment in the meantime.
Getting Your Credit in Order
Ensuring your finances and credit is in order will make it easier to qualify for a mortgage and can be done while you’re saving for your down payment. Ensuring good credit simply involves paying your bills on time (rent, utilities, car payments) and ensuring your credit cards are paid monthly as well as keeping the balance below 75 per cent of the available limit. If you’re new to the world of credit, consider the 2-2-2 rule. Lenders want to see two forms of resolving credit (ie: credit cards) with limits no less than $2,000 and a clean payment history for two years. Another important note is to avoid making any credit mistakes or other major purchases (such as a new car) until after you have mortgage approval and have closed the deal on your new home.
Don’t Use Your Maximum Budget
Temptation will always be to start looking at the very top of your budget, but it is important to remember that there will be fees, such as mandatory closing costs, which can range from 1 to 4% of the purchase price. Factoring these into your maximum budget can help you narrow down a home that is entirely affordable and ensure future financial stability and security.
A mortgage pre-approval determines the actual home price you can afford and is different from the pre-qualification in that it requires submission and verification of your financial history. A pre-approval can determine the maximum you can afford to spend, the monthly mortgage payment associated with your purchase price range and the mortgage rate for your first term. Getting pre-approved also guarantees the rate offered to you will be locked in from 90 to 120 days which helps if interest rates rise while you are still shopping.
Refinancing Your Mortgage
Spring is a great time for cleaning out your home and your finances. A part of this for many people includes refinancing your mortgage. There are a variety of reasons to refinance, which can range from wanting to leverage large increases in property value or get equity out of the home for renovations. In some cases it could be due to life events such as divorce, a new relationship, kids going off to college or simply consolidating debt.
Before you refinance, it is important to understand that if you do this during your term you will be breaking your mortgage agreement and there are penalties that come with that. If at all possible, it is best to wait until the end of the mortgage term before refinancing.
There are a few points to consider before refinancing:
- You can tap into 80 per cent of the value of your home
- You cannot qualify for default insurance which can limit your lender choice
- You would have to re-qualify under the current rates and rules
Talking to a mortgage broker about refinancing can provide you access to even greater rates and mortgage products to best suit your needs and what you are trying to accomplish through your refinancing strategy.
Regardless of why you are looking to refinance, it can come with a host of great benefits when done properly!
- Getting a lower interest rate:Depending on where you are in your mortgage term, you could refinance to get a better rate – especially when done through a mortgage broker. A mortgage broker has access to hundreds of lenders and is able to find you the best rate versus traditional banks which only have access to their own rate.
- Consolidating your debt: When it comes to debt, there are many different types from credit cards to lines of credit to school loans to mortgages. However, many types of consumer debt have much higher interest rates than those you would pay on a mortgage. Refinancing can free up cash to help you pay out these debts. While it may increase your mortgage, your overall payments could be far lower and would be a single payment versus multiple sources. Keep in mind, you need at least 20 percent equity in your home to qualify.
- Change your term or get a different mortgage: The beauty of life is that it is ever-changing and sometimes you need to pay off your mortgage faster or change your mortgage type. Maybe you came into some extra money and want to put it towards your mortgage or maybe you are weary of the market and want to lock in at a fixed-rate for security.
- Tap into your home equity: One of the biggest reasons to buy in the first place is to build up equity in your home. Consider your home equity as the difference between your property’s market value and the balance of your mortgage. If you need funds, you can refinance your mortgage to access up to 80% of your home’s appraised value in cash!
Always remember – it is best to refinance when your mortgage term is up to avoid penalties. Talking to a mortgage broker can help clear up any concerns and they can walk you through the process depending on your needs.
10 Spring Cleaning Tips
- Create a Playlist
Everything – including Spring cleaning – is more fun with a great playlist! Not only is music great therapy but it can make the cleaning process go by quicker and make it more enjoyable.
- Clean One Room at a Time
Most people dread Spring cleaning. Everyone likes the aftermath and seeing their home all sparkly and fresh but sometimes it can be an overwhelming process to get to that point. It is best to clean one room at a time, starting with the smaller ones or those that need the least amount of cleaning and work your way up to the larger, project rooms. Another great way to reduce stress over spring cleaning is to tackle one or two rooms each weekend for the month and by the time April comes, you’ll be ready!
- Declutter as You Go
Spring cleaning isn’t just about shining up the brass on the door and dusting. It is just as important to declutter your space as you go! Before you start cleaning the room, it is a good idea to pinpoint items that can be discarded, such as old magazines and papers, as well as to go through closets and cupboards for anything that you can donate (like that sweater you bought and never wore). This will clear up space for new clothing and items and will make you feel that much more accomplished!
- Think Green!
The idea of Spring cleaning is starting the season off on a fresh, clean note. Don’t muddy that up with harsh chemical cleaners. In today’s ecofriendly environment, there are many eco-friendly and safe alternatives to regular cleaners. Vinegar is a great substitute in the bathroom or kitchen as well as combining vinegar, baking soda and water as a deep clean alternative. You can also opt for a steam cleaner to manage tile, hardwood floors, appliances and even outdoor areas as they only use hot water and vapor. While not everything can be cleaned this way, it is best to minimize chemical cleaners as much as possible.
- Work From Top to Bottom
Starting from the ceiling and working your way down just makes sense! This will force debris downward and save you having to re-clean your space. Dusting first will prevent a headache later too!
- Save Windows for a Cloudy Day
Washing your windows after the build-up of winter grime is one of the biggest parts of Spring cleaning as you’ll want to wash them on the inside and outside. However, washing windows in direct sunlight (or using paper towel) can cause streaks. To minimize this and maximize your cleaning efforts, use a microfiber cloth and save this task for a cloudy day!
- Plump Up Those Pillows
Fresh linens is one of the most rewarding things about cleaning, period. There is nothing quite like your face hitting a fresh, plumped up pillow and settling into a freshly flipped mattress. Washing your pillows with ½ cup of baking soda added to the detergent cycle will really get them extra clean! You can fluff them up even more by putting them in the air cycle of your dryer with two tennis balls in socks.
- Most of us are guilty of hanging onto old clothes that we haven’t worn in three years or a pair of jeans that we know we will never fit again, but just can’t let go of. Now is the time to say goodbye to those worn out, ill-fitting or stained clothes! There are many opportunities to donate old clothes that are still in good shape too. Not only does that lend a helping hand to individuals who may greatly benefit from them, but it frees up space in your closet for new items that you absolutely LOVE!
- Don’t Forget The Fridge & Freezer
The best time to clean out your fridge and freezer is right before you do your grocery shop, so they will be at their most empty. Take everything out and dispose of anything that is past its expiration date and any almost-empty items you won’t use. Before you restock be sure to wipe down the interior of the fridge with disinfectant and a damp cloth. The same can be done for the freezer but you’ll have to defrost it first!
- Clean Air Reduces Allergies
Replacing furnace and HVAC filters is one of the most overlooked parts of Spring cleaning. Going as far as replacing your standard filter with a more robust one with a higher rating will help keep you even healthier (and allergy free!) this year as they catch smaller particles to ensure your home is void of allergens, chemicals and even odors.