I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I bought my first house. There were so many things the mortgage lender and closing company assumed I knew that I didn't. I was 23, and used an FHA (Federal Housing Authority) loan. It took about a month to close, but I finally sealed the deal and held the keys to my first home. Even so, there are still a few things I wish I'd have known beforehand.
The Not-So-Little Details.
Getting a mortgage isn't for the faint of heart. Prepare to have your credit score, job history, bank statements and financial position scrutinized.
Closing costs. These are the fees associated with closing a real estate deal. This includes fees for signing the paperwork, pulling your credit report, setting up the mortgage and recording the transaction. The cost can vary depending on how much the mortgage is for, but is usually between 3-6 percent of the purchase price.
Ask about making a good-faith deposit. A good-faith deposit is an amount of money given to the seller from the buyer (or 3rd party) when making an offer on a house to show the offer is serious (usually around $1,000).
You don't have to use the lender's title company to close. Sometimes the seller will even pay the closing costs if you ask nicely. But, if the money is coming out of your pocket, estimate higher than you're expecting. I had to run a check to the title company three times due to unexpected costs.
Everything is negotiable. The asking price, the closing costs, the percentage rates, the down payment and the "good faith" deposit. Everything.
Don't use the same real estate agent the seller uses. Find your own from a different company, or hire a buyer's agent. Trust me on this one.
Buy down your points. If you qualify for a 30-year fixed mortgage at 4.5 percent, you can usually “buy down points,” or pay more up front and get a lower interest rate (in addition to your down payment). Most banks have a limit on how much you can pay down, but one point = 1 percent. This lowers your monthly payment and will save you thousands over the life of the loan.
Make the largest down payment you can afford. Just because the loan terms allow you buy a house with 3.5 percent down, doesn't mean you should throw down the minimum. The larger the down payment, the less you're paying in interest down the road. Also, try to pay down your mortgage as quickly as possible. A $100,000 house actually costs about $330,000 over the life of the loan. You should rarely pay more than the asking price, but never pay more than the appraised price.
Consider a 15-year mortgage instead of 30 years. This cuts the life of the loan in half, and the payments aren't that much higher. Also, make sure you get a fixed rate so your interest rate doesn't change.
Don't get emotionally attached. There are hundreds of houses in your area, any one of them could become "home."
Buying a home isn't for everyone. Maintenance on older houses can be expensive, and there's no one to call and fix the AC if it goes out. You can ask about a home warranty, which some lenders offer for free for a year or two.
Finally, before you buy, do your homework. Buying a house can be a great long-term investment, but it can become a nightmare if you're not prepared.
So you're all nice and pumped to create or update your resume to secure a job that can actually pay the bills. There's just one problem: All of your work experience to date has been, well, kind of unspectacular.
It's not your fault. You were probably stuck in that classic catch-22 situation where you wanted a more respectable job but couldn't get one because you didn't have any experience at a more respectable job. But fear not. Even if your work history is, in your mind, relatively unimpressive, all it takes is a little creativity and wordsmithing to spin your experience for the better.
Here's how to do it:
- So you spent the past six months selling soda at the movie theater -- but that doesn't mean you're just a concession stand clerk on paper. As far as your resume is concerned, you're the Beverage Distribution Coordinator.
- Did your time as a camp counselor? Youth Activities Facilitator sounds far more impressive.
- Maybe you spent the better part of last year taking orders from hungry customers. Instead of calling yourself a waiter, give yourself props for being your local's diner most beloved Food Services Liaison.
- Did you log way too many hours this past semester as a lowly photocopying intern? Sing your own praises on your resume as the ever-invaluable Materials Disbursement Director.
- Many of us spend nights and weekends on cash register duty. Hey, it pays the bills. But why call yourself a simple cashier when you could instead be a Financial Exchanges Controller?
- Worked at a clothing shop? You probably offered up a friendly opinion or two while manning the dressing rooms or helped people find what they were looking for on the shelves. Congratulations -- you can now call yourself a Fashion and Wardrobe Consultant.
But wait, there's more!
- If you spent your last few summers as a nanny or mother's helper, you can toot your own horn as a Personal Childcare Manager.
- Were you hired as a grocery bagger? Try Food Packing and Storage Administrator.
- Spent hours upon hours on your feet showing theater goers to their seats? You're more than an usher; you're a Logistics and Safety Associate.
- And of course there's the classic administrative assistant role -- you know, the one many of us have no choice but to take. Don't downplay your skills. You have every right to slap the words Executive Lifesaver all over your resume.
Okay, so maybe this is taking things to a bit of an extreme, but the point is this: Even if your work experience has been limited to low wage jobs that underutilize your skills and intellectual prowess, don't make the mistake of selling yourself short on your resume. Rather than just list what you did and when you did it, find ways to highlight your personal achievements. If, for example, you worked at a store but earned a bonus each month for stellar performance, don't be afraid to call that out on your resume.
Finally, remember this: Your resume is a summary of your work experience, but it's not the only thing that defines you. Even if you can't easily wow your would-be employers with years of dazzling expertise, you can make up for your lack of experience with your cover letters and personality. The key is to have some confidence in the lessons you've learned and skills you've acquired while working that menial job, and to sell them as enthusiastically as possible. After all, if there's one thing employers love, it's a new hire with a positive attitude.
Most of my friends spent their college graduation gift money on new apartment furniture and fancy gadgets. I spent mine on interview suits. Since I had no employment prospects and a pile of student debt, I thought it prudent to get moving on the job search. And thankfully, my efforts paid off, because I managed to snag a full-time job within two months of graduation.
But I also hit some hiccups along the way. Some of my interviews were less than stellar, and there's one that will always stick out in my mind as unquestionably disastrous. If you're looking to blow your chances of getting a job, simply do as follows, like I did:
- Make sure to schedule that interview in the midst of summer on the hottest possible day of the year. This will make you feel even better about wearing a hot, stuffy interview suit.
- Forget to set your alarm the night before, thus ensuring that you wake up at the last possible minute and wind up rushing out the door looking nice and unkempt. (Untamed hair coupled with the aforementioned humidity makes for a really professional look.) If you're a woman, make sure to slap on some eye makeup so that it can then run down your cheeks, goth style, when your face can't stop sweating.
- Fail to check the weather forecast that day and neglect to take an umbrella. Arrive at your interview in full drenched rat mode.
- At the reception desk, be sure to ask for Jennifer Smith when the person you're meeting with is, in fact, Jennifer Schmitt. There's no better way to make a solid first impression than messing up your interviewer's name.
- Bring a hard copy of your resume, but make sure it's the outdated version you used last year when you were applying for summer internships. This can especially help build your case when your interviewer asks you to describe your best attribute, and your initial response is "pays attention to detail."
Seriously though, while I had one horrifically bad day, it seems like college grads on a whole are dropping the ball on the interview front. According to York College of Pennsylvania's 2012 Professionalism in the Workplace Study:
- About 40 percent of applicants don't dress appropriately for job interviews.
- Approximately 29 percent of applicants arrive late for interviews.
- Around 26 percent of applicants fail to read up on the companies to which they're applying.
- Nearly 25 percent of applicants exhibit poor verbal skills.
Looks like we all need to get our collective act together, and here a few ways to start:
- Come prepared. Make sure to bring a copy of your current resume with you.
- Dress the part. Bust out those business suits, and men, don't skip the ties. Running a comb through your hair beforehand also doesn't hurt.
- Do your research. Read up on the company and the product(s) or service(s) it offers. Gather some industry info beforehand so you sound like you know what you're talking about.
- Be ready to explain why you'd like the job. Most interviewers will want to know what drove you to apply, so don't respond with a series of clichés.
- Be yourself. But only if "yourself" means a reasonably polished, well-spoken individual who comes across as employable. You don't want to sound rigid or overly formal during your interview, but you should sound professional.
Of course, you could also ignore this advice and turn your next interview into a categorical fiasco. You probably won't get the job, but hey, at least you'll have something funny to write about.
You've got to give yourself some credit. Literally. Fewer than half of you use a credit card, and your financial tabula rasa could mess things up when you want a house or loan. Make your life in plastic more fantastic with these tips:
Check your credit score(s). Certified credit counselor Greg Harper says that most of the credit reports he sees are wrong. Get a free report at annualcreditreport.com and check for correct addresses and bank accounts.
U.S. law entitles you to a free report every year, but because creditors report to three bureaus, Harper recommends you pull a copy from each bureau every four months.
Find alternatives. "If you don't have any credit, the hardest thing is to get about establishing that," says Kathy O'Masters, a credit union representative. If your credit application isn't approved, consider a certificate of deposit or share secured loan. You deposit money into an account, which the bank then freezes and issues you a card with credit for that amount. As you repay the loan, the bank releases the money you originally deposited.
The advantages: Interest rates are low, and you can build credit without banks checking your history.
The disadvantages: CDs report like any other loan, and if you don't pay, the bank will keep your money. Luckily, you can set up automatic payments.
Another option is to co-sign a credit card with someone who has enough income or credit to be approved. But keep Harper's advice in mind: "Co-signing is something I'd recommend nobody do, unless you go into it saying, 'I'm going to take full ownership of what I'm co-signing for.'" With cosigning, paying -- or not paying -- affects your credit scores.
Monitor your plastic. If you're living off ramen through college, you might not need a credit card yet. These cards are not for supplementing income. "You want to build credit so you can buy a house or buy a car. If you're struggling, your credit shouldn't be a priority," Harper said.
He added if you already have a credit card and want another, be discerning. "There's not a lot of people I see that have one credit card. It's 10 or 15 of them." Most of them are department store cards, too.
Pay on time. Start healthy repayment habits now to entice future lenders. Paying for rent, your cell and utilities won't build credit, but not paying on time can ruin it. Good habits will get you what you want later, according to Harper.
Budgeting can also help. Aim to spend no more than 29 percent of your income on housing and 35 to 38 percent on your whole household budget, which includes food, car insurance and health care.
Care for credit you have. Most states let you do a security freeze on your credit to prevent identity theft, which prevents people from opening new accounts without your knowledge. Do this. Such freezes typically cost $10 or less for all three agencies that track your credit, so eschew expensive companies.
Watch your credit limits. "You don't want to use more than 30 to 50 percent of your available credit. Period," Harper cautions. This means if you have a credit card with a $1,000 limit, you shouldn't use your card for more than $500 each month. If you go over, creditors see you as mismanaging your credit because you over-obligate yourself. That shiny new smart phone will have to wait until next month.
Having good credit often comes down to being friendly with your bank and finding an insider to vouch for you. "Don’t be defined by your circumstances," Harper says. "Be defined by how you handle them."
In recent years, administrative assistants have earned an average of $34,000 per year -- not a bad salary if you're a somewhat recent grad in the midst of paying your dues. But what if you find yourself doing the work of an admin assistant when that's not, in fact, what you signed up to do?
It's a trap that many junior or entry-level employees fall into easily. You're hired to do a specific job -- perhaps one that even reflects your area of study -- but because you're the low man or woman on the totem pole, you find yourself making far too many photocopies for comfort. You want to participating in meetings, not booking conference rooms for them.
Now let's be clear: There's nothing wrong or demeaning about putting in your time as an admin assistant. Even if you're the smartest person to emerge from your graduating class, without prior experience in the working world, you may have no choice but to take a job that's heavily administrative in nature. But if you were offered a completely different title with specific responsibilities that do not, by any means, fall under the admin assistant umbrella, then you have every right to stand up for yourself if your manager or superiors don't appear to be playing by the rules.
Here are three tactics for addressing the situation:
Be firm, but don't be whiny or confrontational. Yes, you should state your case, but don't just moan to your boss about how you didn't sign up to be an admin assistant. Even if you're right, you need to be diplomatic. Let's say you were hired as a junior copywriter but instead find yourself on reception desk duty for several hours a day. Try saying this: "I want to help out as much as possible, but I'm disappointed that I'm spending so much of my time answering telephones and taking down messages. Can we work something out so that there's better coverage at reception? This way I can focus on copywriting."
Remind your boss why you were hired in the first place. Let's say you were hired as a junior accountant. Try stating: "I know there's a lot of work to be done around here, and that sometimes I may be asked to pitch in on other tasks. I'm really confident that I can help get our books in order and recommend cost-saving strategies going into the next quarter. That's what I promised you back when you interviewed me, and given the time to focus on my core responsibilities, I'm certain I'll be able to deliver."
Make a case financially. If you're being paid $50,000 a year to work as a marketing professional but find yourself doing little marketing and lots of coffee-fetching, try saying the following: "I'm happy to be a team player and help out with things that may fall outside my core job responsibilities, but lately I'm doing so much admin work I feel like you're not getting great value for your money. You can hire a part-time admin assistant for $15 an hour, which is much less than I’m making. This will free up much of my time so that I can do the things I do best and add real value around here."
Remember, being the youngest or lowest-ranking employee doesn't mean you deserve to get slammed with admin duty every time the need arises. If you're tired of playing the role of admin by default, do something about it quickly -- before people get too used to the idea and increasingly take advantage.
Growing up, I always wanted a pet but couldn't because of my father's supposed allergies. So when my husband suggested we get a dog, I immediately jumped at the idea. We were really excited to have a cute little puppy to play with and also thought it would give us a taste of what it would be like to one day have a kid. (Um, wrong.) As luck would have it, my husband had a friend who was moving to an apartment where pets were prohibited, and before we knew it, we were bringing home our very own fluffy cock-a-poo.
We figured the adjustment would be easy. After all, the puppy was already trained, so it was really just a matter of getting him used to his new surroundings, right? Not so much.
During those first few weeks, our dog transformed our entire house into his personal urinal. Every time I turned around it seemed like there was yet another corner that suddenly reeked of pee.
We went back and forth on where the dog should sleep -- our room versus a crate downstairs -- and one night decided to let him share our bed. The next morning, we both woke up to wet feet. At first we figured the dog had just licked us affectionately while we were sleeping, but once we realized it was in fact urine between our toes, we had to quickly rethink our sleeping arrangements.
Leaving for work in the morning was also an ordeal. Every day I'd head out to the sound of the dog crying, and while it was great coming home to a happy, excited pup, it was not so great coming home to dog poop all over the floor.
Eventually things settled down and we got used to life with our yappy little dog. But we learned some valuable lessons along the way:
Make sure you can really afford a pet before you get one. We have a small dog but still spend $300 a year on food and treats, plus another $400 a year on pet meds and annual checkups. On top of that, we spend about $400 a year getting him shaved and groomed (which, incidentally, is way more than we spend on our own haircuts). The ASPCA has a breakdown of average pet care costs that any potential pet owner should look at.
Pet care can be time-consuming. We knew we'd have to walk the dog on a regular basis, but didn't realize how much time we'd spend brushing his teeth, bathing him and cutting his nails.
Pets take up space, and they can mess up your space. Sure, you can stick a small fish tank in the corner and call it a day, but if you get a dog or a cat, you'll need room for your pet to roam around. That also means you can't rule out the possibility of your cat scratching up your beloved couch cushions, or your dog vomiting all over your area rug.
You'll have less freedom once you get a pet. Once we adopted our dog, going away got tougher. We had to travel for several weddings that first summer and each time faced the dilemma of whether to board our dog at a kennel or beg someone to temporarily take him in. The few times we did attempt to travel with our dog, we faced major restrictions, as most hotels either don't allow pets or charge a premium to bring one.
Despite the costs involved and challenges we've faced since getting our dog, we're really happy we did. Besides, what's a little hard work in the grand scheme of unwavering loyalty and unconditional love?
By this point you’ve done the math and have decided buying a house makes fiscal sense, and you're ready to begin looking for a house. Not just any house, the house. At the very least, you're embarking on a new journey that is full of promise, but can also be full of expenses if you don't look closely before buying.
Before examining the potential house of your dreams, remember this one thing: Do not make purchasing a house an emotional experience. Do not develop an emotional attachment to any house. You may absolutely love a house, put in an offer, and someone else outbids you. It happens. The chances are, if you lived in a house two blocks over with similar features, you'll be just as happy with that one (and probably several dozen others).
If you can, bring a friend, parent, aunt or uncle with you who knows about construction and who knows what to look for. Cast your pride aside -- they may spot something that will save you thousands.
Some of the first things to check for are structural. Check the foundation for any cracks, bowing, shifting or anything outside of the normal function of concrete (or blocks, in some cases). A house with a bad foundation is something you always want to walk away from. Foundation repairs can easily begin at $2k, and can cost up to $30-40K, depending on the severity. Also, look at the joists, something many buyers forget to do.
The circuit breaker box is a good indicator of how well the home's electrical system is. Older houses will have far fewer outlets, while newer ones will have several per room (I didn't discover this until after I bought my house, built in 1887). Take a cell phone charger and test at least one outlet in each room to ensure the circuits are working. Flush the toilets and turn on the faucets for the same reason, unless the water is winterized. If the home has an unfinished basement, you should be able to see some of the plumbing and determine its status as well.
The air conditioner, furnace and hot water heater are also important to examine, and are often overlooked. If any are more than 10 years old, it's wise to upgrade and budget for it now, rather than later. It's also worth taking a close look at the deck or patio, as are gutters and windows (if they're wooden frame or single pane). While you're outside, check the shingles. It's not necessary to go on the roof for this, but check the shingles that are clearly visible and peek in the attic for any holes or wood rot. In the attic, also inspect the insulation.
Before you close the deal on any house, your lender will more than likely require an inspection. Consider buying a home warranty from the lender, or asking for it in your loan. It may pay off hundreds down the road. Additionally, you can negotiate with the seller to fix something prior to the sale. Finally, you probably won't catch everything, and that's ok. Just remember, when buying a house, you are inheriting all its problems since its construction -- but you will also reap all its rewards.
When I first moved to Manhattan I shared an apartment with a roommate who was an absolute nightmare. After surviving that ordeal, I decided that my next apartment would need to be roommate-free.
I was worried that tackling rent and bills on my own would leave me perpetually cash-strapped. To go from sharing an apartment to signing my own lease, I had to be willing to pay an extra $400 in monthly rent. I also had to furnish the place myself, which was another expensive prospect. (My former roommate may have been crazy, but at least she owned a TV and a couch.)
And, oh yeah, there was also the matter of paying the equivalent of three months' rent at move-in (first month's, last month's and a security deposit). In case that doesn't sound like a lot, let me break it down for you: This is Manhattan we're talking about--the land of the $12 sandwich and $5 half-gallon of milk. It may be the city that never sleeps, but it's also the city that sucks away your money at every turn.
Once I moved in, I created a monthly budget and stuck to it for the most part. Living without a roommate meant compromising on other things. While many of my apartment-sharing friends were busy dining out several nights a week, I was in my kitchen making homemade enchiladas or whatever quick meal I could whip up on the cheap. On the other hand, once they got home from said fabulous dinners, they had to deal with roommate drama, whereas I did not--and for that, I was perpetually grateful.
Now I'm not going to say living alone was 100 percent wonderful all the time. Aside from the financial stress of not having anyone with whom to split the bills, I experienced some other challenges as a result of living solo. For example, when I was way behind getting dressed for a friend's wedding and realized at the last possible second that I needed help zipping up my dress, there was no one around to assist. Then there was the time I had to leave my apartment for several hours after discovering a scary spider with no one there to help make it disappear. (I may be brave in certain regards, but when it comes to all things creepy crawly, I'm a self-proclaimed wuss.)
And of course there were all those times I got annoyed about the mostly empty fridge or the mess in the kitchen--it would've been nice to have had the option to blame a roommate, but instead I had no choice but to blame myself. In fact, several months after moving into my own place, I realized that as long as your roommate isn't insane, having someone around can be nice sometimes.
But that's the thing about roommates. "Sometimes" isn't a choice. When there's another name on the lease, that person is going to be there, in your apartment, all the time, and you can't say a darn thing about it. When you live on your own, you get to choose when you're in the mood to have company --and when you're not. You're absolutely allowed to throw on pajamas, order an extra-large pizza and share it with no one.
Renting my own apartment was one of the best moves I could've made. I had the freedom to host get-togethers without having to consult anyone else. I could hog the TV or stink up the kitchen with zero repercussions whatsoever. Living alone was a liberating experience, and ultimately one well worth the cost involved.
You've heard it before. Business can be cutthroat, vile and cruel. Or so it would seem. But a lot of the prevalent thinking in today's buzzing, unconventional boardrooms is that it's the people that matter most. Relationships matter. Building a strong bridge between the people you serve and the ideas that you want to bring to fruition is monumental to achieving success as a millennial entrepreneur.
It's certainly a philosophy Jay Wright has taken under his wing. The 26-year-old Queenscliff, Australia native is a man of all occasions and definitely not the typical wheeling and dealing entrepreneur type. If anything, you'd think he was an adventurer given the photo of him ascending that snowcapped mountain peak. But it seems that the real adventure is in adapting to challenges and grooming relationships within Wright's four successful businesses.
Here's a current rundown of Wright's burgeoning businesses. We're sure there will be more added to this list of movers and shakers in the future.
- Search Insights. Sydney-based Ecommerce Marketing Agency specializing in search engine optimization, paid advertising, remarketing, conversion optimization, web project management, social networking, email marketing and strategy.
- Granny Flat Finder. An Australian website that directs visitors to numerous resources for finding granny flats of all manner of design, granny flat builders, whitepapers on the subject of process and regulation, and guides for building a granny flat.
- Quality Trade. An online B2B trading portal specializing in promoting ISO-certified organizations.
- Shadow App. An innovative new application specializing in life-logging.
So for his part, Wright is no slouch when it comes to engineering a meeting of the minds nor for helping others meet their greatest potential. Business as usual for the digital entrepreneur seems to be all about life-affirming decision making, empowering bold projects and marketing strategies for clients, launching innovative appware for the forward-thinking set and nailing down niche markets to overwhelming success. TedX took notice and quickly became enamored of the digital-biz wonderkid.
Enamored enough to ask him to speak at one of their events. I had a chance to ask Jay Wright the straight-forward questions and get to the nitty gritty of what it takes to make four very different businesses thrive in today's no-holds-barred marketplace.
How did you come to Digital Marketing?
I was in finance and business consulting for a while. However, I was somewhat frustrated with the nepotistic state of play. The internet was booming - taking our market share as brokers, the tech stocks I was trading were rallying - so when offered the opportunity to create an agency with one of Sydney's best, I jumped at it.
How much of Digital Marketing is magic and how much is nuts and bolts?
Like most things, the fundamentals are still critically important. The thing with Digital Marketing is that unlike most other industries the fundamentals change every six months. We have innovation meetings every two weeks and staff have kpi's linked to identifying and acting on the movement in the sector. It's critical for our client's success that we stay on the ball and ahead of the curve.
What's harder: saying no to a client or saying yes?
Definitely saying no. It's in my nature to please and I think that's a big reason for the level of growth Search Insights has experienced. We recently had SP Jain business school conduct an independent survey of our clients and 100 percent said they would refer Search Insights. So to realise when a partnership isn't suitable or mutually beneficial, saying "no" is one of the hardest parts of the job.
What are five pieces of tech or appware you use for your business?
Built With is absolutely my favorite tool at the moment, you can instantly tell the infrastructure of a site and have a firm understanding of what they do. Couple that with Ahrefs and SEMrush and I can pretty much know where any website is at in the life-cycle in a couple of minutes.
What is one bit of advice that has stayed with you?
I have met a lot of great business people along the path. I always try and gain some insights into people's "modus operandi" when I get a chance to meet them. Relatively early on I met the head of a billion dollar UK hedge fund and asked him what he thought his success came down to. I think I have taken his answer to heart and woven it into my daily dealings. He said:
- Hard work
- Don't send anything to anybody that you wouldn't be happy receiving yourself.
What would you say is the strongest tool for working in Digital Marketing?
For me it's relationships. Relationships with clients, suppliers, industry connections, affiliates and staff. Building an ecosystem of experts in all fields and having the ability to leverage that in the direction of your choosing is invaluable.
How do you brainstorm big ideas for clients?
For the most part I am inspired and guided by results. I am in the unique position of being able to look at dozens of online businesses every month and analyze what's working and what's not. It's also such a fast moving space that having a strong network is essential to see what's new, what's working and what's hype.
What is your first morning ritual of business?
I'm lucky enough to live in Queenscliff, Sydney, so I always roll out of bed and watch the sunrise over the ocean. Followed by coffee, emails and a run through of the day's schedule while watching the surfers.
For more follow Jay Wright on twitter at @search_insights to keep abreast of what enterprising ideas are taking shape.
Photo courtesy of Jay Wright.
Unless you live in a cave you've surely heard the advertisements about the "historically low interest rates" for buying a house. And that's mostly true -- rates are quite low after the 2008 housing shenanigans. But, does that necessarily mean it's a good time to buy a house for you? There are a lot of financial factors that first-time homebuyers often forget, or were never aware of to begin with. Renting often makes financial sense, despite the higher monthly payment. So, when is it time to consider buying a house?
First, ascertain if you can even buy a house. A credit score of 660 or above can usually get a fair loan, provided you have a solid job history -- meaning you've had a stable, well-paying job for at least a year or two. Lenders also like to see a debt-to-income ratio (DTI) of around 36 percent (including the mortgage) with the mortgage taking up about 28 percent of your total income. This is somewhat flexible, but if you're in the 45 percent or more range, it's probably better to eliminate some debt first and raise your credit score in the process.
If you meet these criteria, there's still more to consider. Can you afford a down payment of ten percent? If you can't, there are programs out there that allow you to purchase a house without a down payment, provided you meet the credit criteria, but it's always best to make a down payment, as you'll pay thousands less down the road. If you don't have at least ten percent down in savings, the chances are you are not ready to buy a house -- even if you can qualify. Being able to buy a house and being financially responsible or financially sound enough to buy a house are not synonymous. Be honest with yourself here -- no one will reap the benefits or pay the price but you.
In addition to the down payment, maintenance costs can be significantly higher. Many older houses have quirks and damage that you may not notice until after it's yours -- even with a thorough inspection. If your air conditioning goes out, can you afford a $300 service call and still make your mortgage and car payments? If your hot water heater tanks (pun intended) can you swing $400 for a new one? Once you move in, you'll likely want to paint, maybe put some carpet in and buy a lawn chair or two. These obviously aren't free, and it's best practice to double what you think you'll spend on these. Most houses won't come with appliances, but most apartments and duplexes do -- so if you're a first time homeowner, it's not uncommon to spend several thousand on a refrigerator, washer and dryer -- and putting this on credit is a huge financial mistake.
Buying a house has a ton of benefits -- you can change it to what suits you and build equity in something valuable and keep it years after it's paid off. But before you buy, be sure that it makes smart financial sense. If not, calling a landlord to repair the heater is much more preferable than living without heat until you can afford a service call.