I’m pretty sure I can afford it. Can’t I?

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Today’s interest rates have many wondering, “What can I actually afford to pay for my new home?” The good news is, if you could qualify for a home loan before the interest rates increased, then you can probably still qualify today. However, you just may not qualify for as much of a home. Most homebuyers only build one to three new homes in their entire life. Lending requirements for building a home are different than for buying an existing home. It is all based on risk. A lender takes more risk with a loan used to build a home than to buy an existing home. Why? Because if you are building a home and something happens, the lender has a half-built home to try and sell. And lenders aren’t builders, so they don’t want to finish building the house that you couldn’t complete. They want to ensure there is a low risk that you won’t finish it.

If you plan on building a home, don’t wait another minute! It’s time to get started planning how to fund the purchase of your new home in today’s homebuying climate. If you need a mortgage to achieve your new home goal, there are things you can start doing today to help make you successful. Four fundamental factors influence your home purchasing power. By starting to improve them today, you may be able to dream bigger as you plan your dream home!

What are the Four Main Factors that Influence Your Home Buying Power?

Four fundamental factors play a significant role in determining how large of a mortgage you will qualify to get, in other words, your home buying power. These are your monthly income, credit score, monthly debt ratios, and down payment. If any of these are lacking, your dream of owning or building a home can be significantly impacted. By starting today, you can make improvements in each area that can ensure you can build the home you want when the time comes!

Your Credit Score

Mortgage lenders use your credit score to decide whether to approve you and at what rate. Construction loans typically require a higher credit score because, in their mind, the lender is taking more risk. Your credit score is the key indicator to a lender about what kind of risk you are as a borrower.

As part of your credit score, they will also look at things such as foreclosures, missed or late payments, and bankruptcies. While many people will use websites like CreditKarma.com or CreditSesame.com to track their credit score, the score those sites use isn’t the one that the lender will use in determining your credit score. Those sites use the VantageScore 3.0 score. Instead, your lender will use your FICO score. More specifically, they will use a specific version of your FICO score to predict how well you will make your mortgage payments if they provide you with a loan.

Getting ready for a mortgage – You want the highest credit score when applying for a mortgage. In addition to determining if you meet the minimum credit score requirement just to qualify for the loan, it also is used to determine the interest rate you will get. A lower score means a higher interest rate. A higher interest rate can impact your debt ratios (which we will discuss later). Your FICO score should be about a 680 minimum for getting a construction loan. Some lenders may want to see a 700+ FICO score. Pay down debts and make all of your payments on time before applying for a home mortgage.

Your Monthly Debt Ratio(s)

The debt that you owe makes up half of the picture of your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. The less you owe monthly, the more income you can go toward your house payment. It doesn’t matter what you think; it matters what the lenders think you can afford to repay each month for your mortgage. There are two ratios used to determine that for you. They are typically known as your front-end ratio and your back-end ratio.

The front-end ratio is calculated by dividing your projected monthly mortgage payments by your gross monthly income (your income before taxes). Your projected mortgage payment will include the costs of the principal, taxes, insurance, and interest payments, collectively known as PITI.

For example:

You earn $60,000, which is $5,000 per month

Your PITI comes to $1,450 per month

$1,450 / $5,000 = 0.29, or a front-end ratio of 29%

Your lender will set the terms, or the limits, for conventional loans. Depending on the lender, expect a limit of 28% for the front-end ratio. Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans allow for a maximum front-end ratio of 31% as of 2018.

The back-end ratio accounts for all of your debt payments compared to your income. Your lender will calculate this ratio by adding your monthly debt payments and dividing that by your gross monthly income. These debt payments include the PITI on your mortgage, child support, car payments, credit card minimum payments, and any student loans.

Here’s an example:

You still earn $60,000, or $5,000 per month

Your PITI is still $1,450 per month

You have a credit card balance with a $75 per month minimum payment

You have a car payment of $200 per month

Let’s determine your back-end ratio:

Your monthly debt payments come to $1,725

$1,725/$5,000 = 0.345, or 34.5%

Most conventional lenders prefer to see a back-end ratio under 36%. Per FHA guidelines, lenders cap your total DTI ratio at around 43% — including your future house payment. So the lower your other minimum monthly payments (credit cards, student loans, car payments), the more house you can afford.

RELATED: Getting a Home Mortgage: The Ten Commandments

Getting Ready for a Mortgage – Make sure you add in your co-borrower’s debts that don’t show up on your report (things such as student loans or car payments). If you need co-borrower income to qualify for your home mortgage, lenders will add up the total monthly debts to get your household DTI ratio. In addition to increasing your income, make sure you hold a steady job as the source of that income.

Your Monthly Household Income

Your income is the second half of your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Lenders want to see that you’re making enough to cover your home mortgage payments and still have enough left over to pay your other bills. That’s why they cap your total monthly debt payments (including both current debt and your future house payment) at about 43% of your monthly income. Because your debt ratio is just that, a ratio, you can improve it by lowering your debit or increasing your income. Maximize your income, with as much documented history of it, before applying for a loan.

Getting Ready for a Mortgage – If you have a co-borrower, you can add their income to yours. However, you must include their debts AND their credit score. If they have large debts, it can negatively impact your ratios, you may want to determine if adding them is actually beneficial to you mortgage application. In addition, any credit blemishes on their credit report may now count against you by including them on the home mortgage application.

Check how much income you reported on your taxes last year, especially if you changed jobs or worked for yourself. The number lenders care about is how much you reported to Uncle Sam (not what you say you made). Also, changing jobs just before or during the home mortgage application process can impact your ability to qualify.

Your Down Payment

Down payment options vary across lenders and government back programs. For example, some mortgage types let you put down as little as 3% (or maybe even nothing at all, if you qualify for a VA loan). But when building a home, be aware that many programs are only available for your long term mortgage, not your construction loan. Unless you are paying cash for your home, building a custom home will typically require a construction. Because the construction loans is considered riskier by the bank they usually want some money down (What if something happens in the middle of construction and the bank has to foreclose. How hard is it for them to sell a half-built home?).

Putting down more will help you lower your monthly payment and interest rate. If you put down less than 20%, you’ll probably need to get private mortgage insurance (PMI), which tacks on extra costs to your monthly payment. If you have great income, great debt ratios, and great scores but little or no money down, you may be limiting the maximum amount the lender will provide based on the percentage down you have to provide.

Getting Ready for a Mortgage – Start saving for a down payment as soon as possible. In some cases, you may be able to take a distribution from a 401K plan to fund a down payment. Certain programs offer grants for down payment assistance. Some loan programs allow for limited gifts from relatives to help with increasing your down payment.

Don’t forget, you may also need to have some amount of reserves in savings to make sure you can cover the first payment and incidental expenses. These funds will be subtracted from what you think you have for a down payment.

Do More with Modular

When you decide it is time to build your new home and you know you will need to finance it, don’t wait. You should first go to a construction loan lender and get qualified for a loan. It is important to know if you qualify and how much you qualify for when you start the actual search for your new home plan.

A home built using modular construction is treated just like a home built on-site for conventional 30-year or 15-year mortgages. However, there are some slight differences when it comes to how the construction loan works for modular homes. Modular construction takes the big bang approach. On-site, a modular home is about 75-80% complete because it was built offsite. Because more is completed offsite, factory efficiencies mean modular homes a built at a better value, with better quality, and with the ability to build using almost any design style. Do More With Modular!


About the Author
Ken Semler

Ken Semler

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Hi, I am Ken Semler the founder of Impresa Modular. I am passionate about our company and the homes that we provide. Modern modular construction enables us to deliver healthy, safe, and energy-efficient living spaces. Impresa Modular is a licensed/registered/certified builder/contractor in almost every state. I believe that modular homes provide the best way to deliver virtually unlimited design flexibility at the greatest value.

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