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Preparing To Buy Your First Home

Learn more about how to set your expectations and reduce stress about the home buying process.

Buying a home can be a daunting task. The challenges of being a first-time homeowner are intimidating. Let’s take a look at a few guidelines to help take some of the stress out of the decision.

The house you buy may not be forever

Because of the soundness of real estate as an investment, many first-time home buyers tend to want to get the biggest house they can. They may be trying to start families or getting more space for their existing family to grow. Whatever the motivation, buying a house is one of the few times when people try to plan their lives 30 or more years down the road.

That’s a really big gamble. Any number of unanticipated changes might happen in 30 years: Your job or your partner’s job may force you to move, your parents may have medical problems that need greater care, or you may decide to change careers or start your own business. This unavoidable uncertainty means it’s not in your best interest to plan for a future that’s so far away.

Look for a house that suits your immediate needs and understand that every place is adaptable to a degree. A den or an office can become a nursery, a shed can become a workshop, and a basement storage area can become another bedroom. Don’t think you need to plan your life out forever if you choose to buy a home. Make some reasonable, educated guesses about what your life will be like for the next 10 years or so, and buy the house you need for that time.

Don’t become “house poor”

Many first-time home buyers also fall into the trap of figuring out the most that they could afford to spend on a new home, then spending exactly that amount. The reasoning behind this decision is simple: money spent to repay a mortgage isn’t really “spent.” Homes can be refinanced or remortgaged if money gets tight, or repaid when the house is sold. That’s sound reasoning, but only to a point. People who end up spending most of their monthly income on a house payment leave little for other debt repayment, retirement savings or building an emergency fund. They find themselves unprepared for an unexpected medical bill or car repair. They also find it difficult to take vacations or make home improvements. That’s an unenviable position.

Avoid this trap with a little financial consultation. Understand that your upper limit for housing expenses should only be a worst-case scenario. Buy the house you need, not the most expensive house you can afford. You’ll be happier in your home and in your budget.

Understand the process

There are a lot of factors that go into obtaining a mortgage. First, you and the seller have to agree on a final price, which includes the money you pay for the house and a host of fees, like the inspection, appraisal and title transfer. The realtor in charge of selling the home can walk you and the seller through the process.

Next, you’ll need to arrange financing. You’ll want to shop around for the best prices, but new regulations can make that costly and time-consuming. Each financier has to appraise the value of the home, and then compare their estimate to the price you agreed on with the seller. The greater the difference between these two values, the more expensive your home loan will be, but that’s not the only factor. The financing institution also has to check your credit, verify your income and assets, and confirm your employment to follow new regulations passed after the last financial crisis that was largely fueled by bad mortgages.

These regulations can make it more difficult just to get the home loan, much less one at a good rate. This is particularly true if your employment history is short or if you’re just getting started with a new business.

You can help this process by buying a house you can afford, building your credit score by reducing the amount of credit you’re using, staying with the same employer and saving for a significant down payment. You should aim to have at least 20% of the total amount of the sale for a down payment, as this is the threshold to avoid having to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI). A larger down payment also reduces the risk of the loan to the lender and can help get you a less expensive mortgage. This, in turn, makes for a less expensive housing payment. You can also ask for help from a parent or family member; a cosigner on a mortgage may improve your credit score and lower your interest rates.

Don’t do it alone

With an overwhelming amount of mortgage lenders to choose from with different rates, terms, and fees, making a choice of who to apply with can be challenging. Given the difficulty of shopping around, make your first stop the institution that has the best chance of giving you the best rates from the start. Your credit union (ahem) is there to help your community, and that includes helping new home-buyers secure loans for the first time. Make a smart call by speaking to a credit union representative about mortgage rates. When you’re ready to get out of the basement or that one bedroom apartment, your first stop should be Listerhill.

For a limited time, get no PMI* in addition to low rates and local service for your home loan with only 3% down. Learn more here.

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  • How does a cash back credit card work?

    Our cash back credit card gives you a flat rate of 2% back on all of your purchases. It acts as a rebate that you can redeem for cash as a statement credit or direct deposit in your account.

  • How do I receive an incoming wire transfer at Listerhill?

    All incoming wires must be received using Listerhill's routing number of 262277011. The member should use the routing number along with their member number and share ID suffix or their draft number when receiving a wire.

    Wire to:

    Listerhill Credit Union

    4790 E. 2nd Street

    Muscle Shoals, AL 35661

    1-256-383-9204

    ABA No.: 262277011

    For credit to the account of:

    Member's Name:

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    Incoming Domestic Wire Charge: $20.00

    Outgoing Domestic Wire Charge: $20.00

    Incoming Foreign Wire Charge: $35.00

    We do not process outgoing foreign international wires. We can receive them only.

  • Can I conduct a wire transfer through Listerhill?

    Listerhill is capable of receiving incoming wire transfers and sending outgoing domestic wire transfers. All Branch Managers, Loan Officers, Senior Member Advocates, Member Advocates, and Tellers can provide our members with information needed to receive incoming wire transfers.

    Branch Managers, Member Advocates, and Senior Member Advocates can assist with processing outgoing domestic wires.

    We do not process outgoing foreign international wires. We can receive them only.

  • How do I qualify for membership at Listerhill?

    To qualify for membership with Listerhill, you must meet one of the following requirements:

    • If you live in the states of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, or Tennessee, you are eligible to become a member.
      • Depending on your individual eligibility requirements, we may require membership into an approved association at no cost to you.
    • You can also qualify for membership by being a family member of a current or potential Listerhill member.