Housing

What Does Mint.com’s Credit Expert Think of the Housing Market? Get His First-Person Perspective

Mint.com's Credit Expert Weighs in on the Housing Market :: Mint.com/blog

Location, location, location. This is what most people will tell you drives up (or down) the value of a home.

And they’re right. I live in Atlanta and $300,000 in town will buy you a micro-house, while $300,000 in the Northern suburbs will buy you 4,000 well-appointed square feet.

I know this in part because I’m back in the market after 9 years and in part thanks to the web-based tools that make shopping for a home very easy.

Home buying in the age of the Internet.

Buying a home in 2013 is considerably different than when I bought my first home in 1993, and I’m not just talking about the price tags and mortgage interest rates.

The Internet has opened up a seemingly unlimited inventory of homes for potential buyers to preview while never leaving their office chairs.

It seems like I’m spending hours every day on sites like Redfin, Zillow and Trulia taking online tours of prospective homes that might look good wrapped around my furniture.

These sites are free and they allow you to search zip codes, community names, or even custom drawn areas of the city. You can set parameters such as minimum and maximum prices, square footage, and the number of beds and baths.

The only drawback to these sites is that they don’t seem to keep up in real time with homes that are under contract. Point being, you may find a house that you really like only to find out it has been under contract to another buyer for weeks.

Now vs. then.

I can also tell you that, for me anyway, what’s important in a home today is not what was important for me 20 years ago. I was taught that large yards, mature landscaping, and garages were “must haves”, so that’s what I use to look for in a home.

Today just thinking about mowing a large yard, dealing with large trees (which are expensive to remove when they die), and knowing when to trim and prune makes me queasy. I’ll take a small patch of green and a couple dozen rose bushes, but that’s about it.

In doing my online home shopping I’m finding my eyes gravitating primarily toward three things:

Is the kitchen logically laid out with quality appliances? Does the master bathroom look like something out of a luxury resort, or a college dorm room? Is there a home office or will I be working from an unfinished basement?

Surprisingly, I’m seeing more and more homes with custom built home offices, which I love since I work from home.

So, is now the time to buy?

Once you find your dream home the next step is getting it under contract. I’ve purchased five primary residences in my time and I never look forward to the Purchase and Sale Agreement (“PSA”) process.

This is the back and forth bargaining, which is normally done through two real estate agents; the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent. This has been made infinitely easier thanks to the ability to agree to and sign the PSAs online.

Still, you can’t write about buying a home without addressing the aspect of financing.

The abovementioned real estate sites will give you an idea of what you can expect to pay each month based on, among other things, the final purchase price, down payment and, of course, interest rate.

The interest rate for a 30-year mortgage is still incredibly low, if you’ve got good credit.

According to Informa Research Services, a company that tracks interest rates by FICO credit scores, a 30-year fixed rate mortgage can be had for a shade over 3.5%. That makes even large mortgages very affordable.

Right now it’s a great time to be on the buyer’s side of the equation, but only if you’re not stuck in a bad mortgage and you’re not saddled with poor credit scores.

John Ulzheimer is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and a contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.  He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. The opinions expressed in his articles are his and not of Mint.com or Intuit. Follow John on Twitter.