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Helping first-time home buyers get from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’

(BPT) – Finally! The economy is improving, interest rates are low and many consumers now find themselves in a great position financially to become a first-time homeowner. There’s a small problem though for some locations around the country — the booming real estate market is resulting in rising home prices and increased competition for the most desirable properties.

The S&P/Case–Shiller national home-price index recently estimated that 2016 prices are within four percent of the peak in 2006. In some areas, low inventories around the country are making the situation even more challenging.

These conditions are introducing first-time buyers to common challenges and frustrations while searching for their dream home. “Don’t get discouraged,” says Travis Peace, executive director of mortgage at USAA Bank. “Buying a home requires some fortitude and the process intimidates many —not just those doing it for the first time.” As a result, Peace says it’s easy to concentrate too much on home buying “can’ts” rather than “can-dos,” and he offers this advice on how to overcome some common barriers.

“I Can’t” No. 1: I can’t figure out the home-buying process.

Peace notes that it’s essential to do research and to be equipped with basic information, but also be willing to ask for help when needed. For example, an experienced real estate agent can keep a buyer apprised of everything from area sales trends to the latest changes in state and federal laws that could impact a mortgage application.

“This is where experienced, licensed professionals can help,” Peace says. “Real estate agents can be an advocate for the buyer throughout the entire process.”

In addition, free tools like USAA’s Real Estate Rewards Network can connect buyers with an agent and even provide rewards based on the sale price of the home.

“I Can’t” No. 2: I can’t find the perfect home for my family.

Finding the perfect home may not be realistic, but shoppers can find the right home. Personal situations will dictate buyers’ ability to wait for a home in a particular neighborhood or design style to come on the market, but not everything has to be left to chance.

Peace says the key is to set realistic expectations and not fixate on negatives that can be changed. “Whether it’s the number of bedrooms or distance to work or school, it’s alright to have some non-negotiables. However, buyers should be willing to be flexible on things that can be relatively easy to change, like paint colors or landscaping.”

“I Can’t” No. 3: I can’t afford a 20 percent down payment.

Putting 20 percent down on a home has become more of a guideline than a rule. Today, not being able to put 20 percent down does not mean buying a home is out of reach. Peace notes that depending on a buyer’s financial situation, there may be a responsible way to get into your new home without putting 20 percent down.

Government-sponsored loan programs from the Federal Housing Authority, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provide loan options that require down payments as low as three percent. Veterans Affairs (VA) loans don’t require any down payment. While those programs are often great options for consumers who qualify, Peace notes that buyers should keep an eye on their potential total monthly payment.

“Some of these loans include fees and private mortgage insurance (PMI) that could significantly impact your overall cost,” Peace says.

Even private lenders are offering more competitive loan options. For example, USAA Bank’s Conventional 97 loan allows borrowers to acquire a mortgage with only three percent down and the bank pays the PMI costs.

Scott McEniry, a USAA member, recently moved into his new home with the help of the Conventional 97 loan. “It felt like a lifeline had been thrown to me as suddenly a house purchase was within reach again,” McEniry says.

Whether a house-hunting novice or seasoned expert, Peace underscores that being informed, getting the right help and having a healthy dose of determination are the best ways to turn a dream home into a reality.