The process of actually buying the home was actually pretty easy. Definitely tedious, but yes, easy. Everyone kept saying how hard it would be, and it wasn't, really. Not at all. I owe much of this to the great team of people who helped me.
I came out with a house worth much more than I paid, a 30-year fixed mortgage (no points, no balloon payments, no pre-payment penalties) at an insanely good interest rate, and a mortgage payment less than my current rent.
IF YOU ARE BUYING A HOME IN TALLAHASSEE
These people are pretty much awesome.
MaryAlyce Summers - Realtor - 528-9531.
MaryAlyce was diligent in helping me find exactly what I wanted, and then getting it with me. Available almost any time I needed her, and always on my job. She always had new listings and new ideas, and she was a great realtor, really knew her stuff (forms, etc) and was a good negotiator. She stood by me and worked her butt off when the sellers were being idiots. She really did an amazing job and I couldn't have asked for a more knowledgeable (where it matters) and nice realtor, ESPECIALLY when all of these unique situations came up. She really had my best interests in mind. "Ask for the world, the worst they can do is say no"
Pat Gaver / "Gaver Team" - Suntrust Mortgage - 298-1589
The Gaver Team (Pat Gaver, Sandy Gaver, and Kim Caro) were precisely perfect. I had no problems with them whatsoever. They made it clear exactly what I needed, when they needed it, got my entire file ready for each of my mortgages, etc. They also gave me some really great advice on how to raise my credit score (see below), referred me to TLC, got me 10K of downpayment & closing cost assistance, and simply did a wonderful job. On top of that they also faxed me things when I needed them outside of the loan (for instance, I wanted a copy of my credit score) and were genuinely just GOOD at their jobs. Any questions, ANSWERED. Like that. Freaking encyclopedias.
Tallahassee Lenders Consortium "TLC" - 222-6609
TLC gave me $7500 (you can get 10k if you live in the city, mine is just outside city lines in the county) for downpayment & closing cost assistance, and that wasn't even the best thing they did for me. Their (free!) Homebuyer Education class was one of the most worthy 6 hours I have ever spent. They went through the entire process, and although I was already much through the homebuying process (with a great lender and a great realtor to help me through it), the parts that I hadn't gotten to yet were very very nice to hear about. When I was signing the closing papers I knew every single document, understood every acronym, and wasn't confused at ALL. Many many many people don't know exactly what they are signing and it was really great to understand everything in front of me. They also told me about the Homestead Tax Exemption, and how to apply, and of course they also had a bunch more information that I already knew regarding finding a realtor, lender, house, home inspector, etc. In addition to the $7500 and the class/information, taking the class also reduces your mortgage insurance by about HALF.
I know that some people have some major worries about whether they will be qualified, etc. I had no idea whether I would be, as a student with a low-end full time job, and a so-so credit score, and the realtor and lender I started out with (that I ended up not using) had me prequalified for 100k within a few days.
And now for some non-locally-specific advice
- Checking your own credit score does NOT affect your credit. PrivacyGuard.com offers a great service that I use. It's $1 for the first month, and maybe that's all you need. I personally decided to keep the service, at least for a little while. It's helpful to know sometimes when you have a $63 collection account from 4 years ago that you never knew about. I recommend privacyguard over freecreditreport because you get a credit SCORE, and I recommend it above others because I got no spam-- and many of the other credit report sites are heavy on the spam.
- You can get copies of all of your tax documents from the IRS. Call 1-800-829-1040 and you can request all you like. If you haven't filed taxes for a year, it's not too late (if you are getting a refund). Just do it. I was really worried that not filing in 2004 and not knowing where my years worth of W-2s were was going to screw me over. NOT. They had it all, and it was in my hands within a week.
- You can raise your credit score. TLC offers credit counseling -- you make an appointment, and they will go over your credit report with you and talk about how to fix your credit, what the most important things to pay off are, how long it may take you, what exactly is hurting you, etc. You can either bring your report to them or have them pull all three reports and all three scores for $15. Trust me, it's probably not as bad as it seems.
However, there is a MUCH easier way to raise your credit. If you are fortunate enough to have parents who have good credit, they can add you as an authorized user on a couple of their credit cards. By the 5th of the next month, your credit score will increase significantly. Your parents names won't be on your credit report, your mortgage, or anything else. They can take you off once you get the desired score/interest rate/mortgage. If anyone was wondering, thats how I got the freaking amazing credit score that I have, and therefore AMAZING interest rate that I got. It's not cheating. Promise. Pat Gaver of The Gaver Team was the one who suggested that I do this (otherwise, I could have gotten an *okay* interest rate with my *okay* credit score)
- The money I got for downpayment assistance is a LOAN. Not a free ride. This isn't for "poor people" (although there's a cutoff around 50k/year) it's for first time home buyers. It helps you get into the house with no downpayment or closing costs, and lowers your mortgage payments. However, when you SELL the home, REFINANCE the home, or turn the home into a RENTAL, you must pay back the loan, 0% deferred interest. So, when I move (or whatever) I'll owe $17500 back to these two places (Florida Housing & Bond & TLC), to be taken out of my equity. It's fairly likely that within 2 years, all of this money will have been garnered in equity, and in MY case, my home is *already* valued at 18K more than I paid, so I pretty much lucked out, and any equity my house gains now is money towards my next down payment.
- Use a banker not a broker for your mortgage. They do the EXACT same thing, except a broker gets commission. You're paying that. A banker does it because it's their job.
- Know your documents before you sign them Your realtor can get you sample copies of pretty much everything you will eventually sign. Have him/her go over them with you. You want to know what you're signing.
And finally, a list of documents you will need have for your mortgage... because everyone wants to know THAT -- and it's easy to get them together earlier rather than later. This is probably a little bit different for different banks, but I assume it would be fairly similar: 30 days worth of pay stubs, addresses for the last three years, employment for the past three years, tax forms (W-2's and 1040's or whatever you filled out) for the past three years (again you can get all of this from the IRS, see number to call above), copy of driver's license and SS card, two months of bank statements (your bank should be able to send you these), any IRA/Roth/401K account statements, and that's it! I thought it would be much more STUFF from what I heard from other people, but I think current homeowners just try to scare their renting offspring, friends and siblings.
Now that I'm finally done with this whole thing, I'm ready to answer questions. I won't scream at you this time, promise.