First-Time Homebuyer? Avoid These 4 Costly Mistakes

Buying your first home is a tremendous achievement, but the journey to get there can sometimes feel like a winding road rather than a straight path. That’s why it’s important to learn as much as you can about the process and lean on the expertise of your real estate agent to help you navigate any bumps along the way.

Here are four common mistakes first-time buyers make, and what you can do to steer clear of them.


Mistake No. 1: Mismanaging Your Credit

There are many factors to help you secure competitive interest rates on a mortgage loan, including having a high credit or FICO score. Your credit score is based upon the information taken from your credit reports and a score of 740 and above can help you qualify for the best rates. But if you have average or poor credit, the interest rates you’ll be approved for will be higher, or you might not qualify for a mortgage loan at all.

What to Do: 

Before you start the home-buying process, make sure you know what your score is, review it for any inaccuracies and work to improve your score if you need to. You’re entitled to a free credit report once a year from each of the reporting agencies at The credit reports are free, but you’ll have to pay a fee to view your actual credit scores. Making on-time payments, using less than 30% of the credit available to you and not applying for too many credit cards will keep your score in top shape.

Mistake No. 2: Not Getting Preapproved for a Loan

Many people think getting prequalified for a home loan is enough. It isn’t. A prequalification simply gives you an estimate of the loan amount you may qualify for based on general financial information such as your income, debt and assets provided verbally to your lender. By verifying your finances including income, bank statements, tax returns and credit report, the loan consultant can provide your agent with a stronger qualification letter. Without a letter indicating that your information has been verified, you’re shopping blind and may fall in love with a home that you really can’t afford. And if you do find a home in your price range, the seller may not take your offer seriously without one.

What to Do:

If you just want to get a general idea of what you can afford, it’s OK to start by getting prequalified. But once you get serious about home shopping, provide your documentation to your loan consultant for analysis.1

Mistake No. 3: Underestimating the True Cost of Homeownership

While many first-time homebuyers are aware of how much they’ll owe for closing costs and what their monthly mortgage payments will be, they may be uninformed about other home expenses such as property taxes, utilities, insurance, and homeowner association fees. There’s also the maintenance costs that come with owning a home. According to, the rule of thumb is that you should plan on spending 1% to 3% of your home’s value on repairs and maintenance. So if you buy a $250,000 home, you might expect to spend at least $200 a month or more on repairs and maintenance. In addition, buyers who put less than 20% down to purchase a home will typically have to pay for Private Mortgage Insurance. PMI usually costs between 0.5% to 1% of the loan amount each year, so if you have a $250,000 mortgage loan, your PMI payment could be as high as $208 a month. SchoolsFirst FCU offers no PMI options for school employees and reduced PMI options for first-time homebuyers.

What to Do:

When you begin zeroing in on the home you want to buy, add up all these expenses to see if you can really afford it. You’ll be able to review important information with your real estate agent such as annual property taxes, monthly utilities and whether or not your home has homeowner association fees.

Mistake No. 4: Not Researching Mortgage Lenders

There are a variety of lenders on the market today including credit unions, traditional and online banks, mortgage brokers and mortgage companies. Many buyers don’t shop around for lenders to find the best mortgage loans, or focus solely on getting the lowest interest rates without comparing fees associated with the loan, including loan origination, escrow, recording, appraisals, credit report and title insurance. The amount lenders charge for these fees vary, so the impact on the total cost of the loan can be significant if you aren’t careful.

What to Do:

Shop around and get loan estimates from multiple lenders, and then compare offers to find the best deal. SchoolsFirst FCU offers a variety of home loans1, including the HomeAccessTM loan, with options that make it easier to qualify because you can use gift funds2 to help with the down payment and add a family Member as a co-signer on the mortgage.

We also offer our Home360SM Program that pairs you with an experienced SchoolsFirst FCU loan consultant and a participating real estate agent who will guide you every step of the way to help you get the best deal on your new home. Members can receive a 20% rebate from the commission of the participating agent who represents them in their home purchase — or 25% rebates from the commissions when both a home sale and purchase are completed.2


  1.  All loans are subject to approval. 2. Gift funds must be from a family member, defined as borrower’s spouse, child or other dependent, or by any other individual who is related to the borrower by blood, marriage, adoption, or legal guardianship. The donor may not be, or have any affiliation with, the builder, developer, real estate agent, or any other interested party to the transaction. 2. Rebate payment is made by First Team Real Estate or HomeSmart Evergreen Realty. Rebate is credited to your benefit at the close of transaction, and will be lowered by any reductions to the commissions paid to the participating agent in a concurrent purchase and sale of a home. Commission will vary. To be eligible for the 20% rebate, Member must complete the transaction with the agent assigned by SchoolsFirst FCU Home360℠. Using SchoolsFirst FCU for a mortgage loan is not a requirement to earn the rebate. Purchase price must be greater than $150,000 after all credit adjustments. All rebates are subject to limitations, lender guidelines, and other requirements. Certain properties may not be eligible for rebates. Rebate is 20% for purchase only of a residential property in California. Please consult a qualified tax professional for advice on tax implications from receiving a rebate. First Team Real Estate and HomeSmart Evergreen Realty are not affiliated with SchoolsFirst FCU.

Insured by NCUA. Equal Housing Lender

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Extra Credit provides general information to help improve our Member’s financial lives. Every situation is different, so please contact us for guidance on your specific needs. The advice provided in Extra Credit is not intended to serve as a substitute for speaking to a loan representative, financial advisor, or GreenPath Financial Wellness counselor who can help tailor a solution for you.

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3 thoughts on “First-Time Homebuyer? Avoid These 4 Costly Mistakes

  1. It’s great that you’ve mentioned how one’s chances of getting a residential home loan approved is better if one has a higher high credit or FICO score. My wife and I want to buy a new house but it appears that her credit score isn’t that great at the moment. I’ll mention this to her so that we can work out on our finances and credit score before we submit our loan application.

  2. Another mistake to avoid is to be self-employed. Lenders consider you to be safe if you are a full-time salaried employee. They check the consistency of income. Though it will be possible to get a mortgage when you are self-employed the process will be a bit more complicated.

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