Dispelling the Myths that may be keeping you from owning a home

Are you short that 20 percent down payment? Have you been in a job less than five years? Is that out-of-control college credit card frenzy years ago keeping you from even thinking about applying for a home loan? If any of these scenarios ring true for you, it doesn't mean you can't buy a home.

Although rising home prices are making it increasingly difficult for first-time homebuyers, more Americans could own a home if they were more in tune with accurate information about the homebuying process and the range of loan products available.

Indeed, The 2002 Fannie Mae National Housing Survey reveals that some Americans have erroneous beliefs about why they can't own a home.

"The demand for homes might be even greater if more Americans were knowledgeable about the home-buying process and the opportunities that exist in being a homeowner," the survey says.

For example, 14 percent of Americans said they would like to buy a home in the next few years but say it's financially out of reach. Another 10 percent say they would like to buy, can afford to, but cannot buy for other reasons.

"In particular, there is a gap between minorities and the rest of the country as to what they believe is fact or fiction going into the mortgage process," the survey states.

The survey found the myths are:

  • You need 20 percent of the cost up front. Some 44 percent of adults answered this incorrectly.
  • Housing lenders are required by law to give you the best possible loan rates. Among adults, 39 percent believed this is true.
  • Thirty nine percent also believed you need to be in the same job for five years to qualify for a mortgage.
  • You need to have perfect credit to buy a home. This was the least common myth with 31 percent of adults believing this to be true.
  • Some 36 percent of those surveyed didn't know that mortgage interest is tax deductible.

So, to set the record straight:

  • Today there are a number of innovative mortgage products offered with 5 or 3 percent down payment. Some even offer no-down payment options if credit is excellent. The informed first-time buyer will shop around and research the various mortgage programs available.
  • Each lender offers its own rate based on their set of standards and type of loan (fixed, adjustable, balloon, etc.). Rates change on an almost daily basis. Once you've determined you're ready to buy a house, you'll want to check rates with various lenders on a daily basis. Before you're checking fixed rates against fixed rates and adjustable against adjustable.
  • While job stability is important, you don't need to be working for five years in the same job to get a loan, especially if you have a larger down payment and a good credit history. There are even mortgage products for those who are self-employed and have difficulty documenting their income - if their credit is good and they have 25 percent down payment.
  • Although your credit history plays a role in whether you will obtain a loan, the good thing is that it doesn't stay with you forever. Once you can establish a pattern of managing your credit wisely, keeping credit card balances low and paying your bills on time consistently, your credit score will be positively affected. Also, those with bad credit scores may qualify for CreditWorks, a mortgage program that involves debt management counseling. After 18 months, even those with very low credit scores may qualify for a conventional mortgage.
  • And finally, when you weigh the financial costs versus the benefits of buying and owning a home, you'll want to factor in the tax deductions. Closing costs, points, and the mortgage interest you pay each month (which is a good chunk of your payment unless you've made a huge down payment) are all tax deductible.

First-time homebuyers need to educate themselves on what it takes to buy a house and all the alternatives.

"Although it's never been easy to buy your first house, the lowest interest rates since the 1960s mean opportunities exist," said Martin Edwards Jr., president of the National Association of Realtors.

The typical entry-level buyer can buy a home costing $107,900.

"In more expensive markets, this means a condo or townhouse may be a more attractive option given the typically higher cost of single-family homes," Edwards said. "In many cases buyers are willing to make a longer commute to own a home, but it's important for first-time buyers to learn about programs targeted to their needs before making any decisions."

Written by Michele Dawson