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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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Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I access my Listerhill accounts without a nearby branch?

    If you live in Alabama or in south central Tennessee but don't have a Listerhill branch location nearby, there are still plenty of ways to access your accounts. You can use our online banking, mobile banking app, and cards app to access your accounts from your devices. You can also take advantage of our CO-OP Shared Branches for easy access to your money wherever you are. If you need to get in touch, we're always one call away.

  • Can I open a Listerhill account online?

    You can open your Listerhill account from the comfort of your home with our easy online application. Or, if you want to apply for a mortgage, you can learn more about our offerings and start your application here.

  • Am I eligible for membership at Listerhill?

    If you live, work, attend school, or own property anywhere in Alabama or Maury County, TN, you're in luck! You're eligible to become a Listerhill member.

  • The Great Giveback Official Rules

    1. Eligibility: No purchase or obligation necessary to participate and win. All participants must be 19 years of age or older at time of contest participation. Employees of Listerhill Credit Union are not eligible to register for the contest.

    2. How To Enter the Contest: All Listerhill members who have consumer loans in good standing, (subject to limitations below) are automatically entered. Anyone who takes out a new loan with Listerhill Credit Union, or refinances a loan from another lender with Listerhill Credit Union (subject to limitations below) will automatically be entered to win. Limit of one entry per loan.

    NO PURCHASE NECESSARY: To enter the contest without a loan, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Listerhill Credit Union, P.O. Box 566, Sheffield, AL 35660, Attn: Great Giveback Contest Entry. Limit one entry per person. Written entries must be received no later than July 3, 2021.

    Listerhill Credit Union will not be responsible for incomplete, lost, late, misdirected or illegible entries or for failure to receive entries. All entries become property of Listerhill Credit Union and none will be returned. Any questions regarding the number of entries submitted shall be determined by Listerhill Credit Union in its sole discretion, and Listerhill Credit Union reserves the right to disqualify any entries by persons determined to be tampering with, violating, or abusing any aspect of the contest.

    3. Contest Entry Requirements: In the event the Credit Union, in its sole discretion, determines that any Entry contains content that does not comply with these Official Rules or does not otherwise comply with regulatory guidelines, Credit Union reserves the right to disqualify the entry.

    4. Determining the Winner: A Credit Union employee will select at random four (4) $500 winners (one per day July 12-15) and one Grand Prize Winner from all entries received on July 16, 2021. You do not have to be present to win.

    5. Prizes: $500 Cash Prize: the Credit Union will award four (4) members with $500 cash each. Grand Prize: The Credit Union will pay up to $25,000 toward your loan with Listerhill Credit Union, or combination of loans. No loan payments will be made to loans with any other lender. No cash equivalent provided, and the total prize amount may be less depending on the outstanding amount of loan balance(s) with Listerhill Credit Union. In no event will the prize awarded exceed the total amount of the winner’s outstanding balance of qualifying loans with Listerhill Credit Union. Federal, state and local taxes are the sole responsibility of the winner. IRS regulations require the Credit Union file a 1099 on behalf of the winner.

    A Credit Union employee will call the prize winners and the prize winners will be called up to five times during regular business hours at number provided on entry form and will leave no messages. Failure to reach winner during these calls may result in disqualification of winner, forfeiture of his or her interest in all prizes, and selection of a substitute winner drawn from the drum. Winner will be required to schedule a time, at least 48 hours in advance, to visit Listerhill Credit Union, located at 4790 2nd Street, Muscle Shoals AL, 35661 in person, during regular business hours within seven (7) days of being notified to claim prizes by providing proof of eligibility for prize won and completing and signing an affidavit of eligibility and a liability and publicity release. Failure of any Winner to timely contact the Credit Union, visit the above Credit Union office in person and sign and return any required affidavit and release, or to claim a prize or comply with any term or condition of these Official Rules, will result in drawing Winner's disqualification and the forfeiture of his or her interest in the prize. Winners may waive their right to receive prizes. Prizes are non-assignable and nontransferable. No substitutions allowed by winner.

    6. To be eligible to win, all loans must be in good standing (not more than 30 days past due at the time of drawing. Eligible loans are limited to auto loans (no indirect dealer loans), personal loans (no loans secured by real property, such as mortgages, 2nd mortgages, and Home Equity Lines of Credit) and recreation loans made to consumer borrowers (not business or commercial loans).

    6. Participation. By participating, entrants agree to be bound by these Official Rules and the decisions of the Contest. Except where prohibited, acceptance of any prize constitutes winner's consent to the publication of his or her name, biographical information and likeness in any media for any commercial or promotional purpose, without limitation the Internet, or further compensation. Prizes not won and claimed by eligible winners in accordance with these Official Rules will not be awarded and will remain the property of the Credit Union.

  • How do I redeem my Merchandise Rewards?

    The easiest way to redeem your Merchandise Rewards is to log into Listerhill’s Online Banking and click the “Get Info” link to the right of your credit card information. This will take you to our credit card servicing site within the same window. Select “Rewards” on the upper right side within the screen (below FICO Score) and on the next screen, click on the CURewards logo. This will automatically sign you in to be able to redeem your Merchandise Rewards points!