The holidays are a great time to set SMART goals for achieving homeownership. Use these expert tips to put that process into motion.
We interviewed social media influencers with a combined 1 million followers. Here's what they said about homebuying in the new year.
The holiday season is in full swing, and that means 2022 is right around the corner. Now is the time to reflect on the year that’s been and set your new year’s resolutions — especially your homeownership goals.
What's in this Article?
We’ve all heard that most people fail at their new year’s resolutions. But they often fail because their goals are too vague or sweeping. The key to fulfilling your goals is to make them specific and achievable and to know exactly what success will look like.
If you’re determined to become a homeowner in 2022, here are some actionable tips for making your homeownership goals a reality in the new year.
There are lots of goal-setting frameworks out there, but one that can be quite effective for becoming a homeowner is the SMART goal methodology.
The “SMART” in SMART goals is an acronym that stands for:
Here’s what these mean in terms of homeownership goals
Rather than saying, “I want to buy a home,” define the type of home you want. Do you want a single-family home with a big backyard and plenty of space to garden? Are you in the market for a townhouse or condo with a homeowners association and community pool? Get specific about the type of property you want to buy so you can tailor your home search, and homebuying strategy, to that requirement.
Dig deeper into the type of home you need. What’s the minimum number of bedrooms and bathrooms? Minimum square footage? How much storage do you need? Break down the absolute must-haves in the home so you have something to compare prospective properties against.
"I always tell my clients that before you even start the process, write down a list of everything you would want in a home and then narrow it down to just three things and focus on those top three things,” says Sarah Ayala, a Realtor in southern California, and owner of a popular TikTok channel with over 50,000 followers. “Finding a home with every single one of your wants is impossible and what I like to call a ‘unicorn home.’ By narrowing it down in the beginning, you truly are setting yourself up for success and understanding on what you are not willing to compromise on.”
Ayala emphasized the importance of distinguishing what can be changed about a home and what can’t.
“The most important thing to compromise on is home cosmetic condition,” she says. “You can always change a home, but never its location."
In other words, don’t get so hung up on some outdated fixtures that you pass up a home in an ideal neighborhood. On the other hand, don’t become so enamored by a newly renovated space that you don’t realize how inconvenient it is for your commute or to your kids’ school.
Take stock of your finances, including your credit score and savings. Are you ready to buy a home? Do you have money available for a down payment? There are many no and low down payment mortgage options, as well as down payment assistance programs in every state, so you may be closer to buying a house than you think.
But it helps to have an idea of your credit standing, your monthly debts, and a comfortable mortgage payment before deciding whether you’re financially prepared for a home.
“Buyers should be realistic about what they can afford and in what location,” says Jarred Alexandrov, a Boston-based loan officer with Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation (Fairway owns Home.com).
The best thing you can do for yourself is to get preapproved* for a mortgage before you start looking at home listings. A preapproval will tell you how much you’ll likely be able to borrow, so you can narrow your home search to properties you can afford.
"Going through the preapproval process will help determine how much of a loan you can qualify for today based on your credit scores, income, assets, and liabilities. This will give you the information you need to plan for next year instead of waiting until next year," says Craig Tashjian, a senior mortgage consultant with Fairway in Newton, Mass. "Do you need to boost your credit scores, save for down payment, pay off a loan? An experienced mortgage professional can counsel and coach you through these questions and prepare you to buy."
Without a preapproval, you might overestimate your price range and fixate on homes that aren’t in your budget at this point. You want to be clear on how much you can borrow so you can identify homes in that range that meet all of the must-haves you’ve already laid out.
The timeline for buying a home averages 53 days, according to Ellie Mae, but it can vary based on where you’re buying and the requirements you have for the home. Still, you can set timelines for each stage of the process to stay on track.
For instance, you might commit to applying for preapproval by Jan. 31. Then, when you have your preapproval, you might set a two-week timeframe for finding a real estate agent and scheduling house showings through them.
If you’re having trouble finding houses you like, you could set a deadline for reassessing your search. So, if you haven’t found any candidates in three months, you might regroup with your agent and revise your list of non-negotiables or look at homes in another area.
Setting deadlines keeps you accountable and helps you stay focused on your homeownership goals.
Setting SMART goals can give structure to your homebuying aims, which is important because the sooner you buy a home, the more time you have to enjoy the potential financial benefits of the purchase. Homeownership is one of pillars of wealth creation and generational wealth in the U.S., so buying now can create a strong foundation for your family for decades to come.
Additionally, interest rates are likely to climb throughout 2022 and inflation will make homebuying costlier. Buying early in the year may help you lock in a competitive interest rate and stabilize your housing costs.
Expert tips for reaching your homeownership goals
Setting SMART goals is a strong first step toward homeownership. But there are other ways to increase your chances of landing a great home in the new year as well.
Below are some expert tips on how to make 2022 the year you achieve your homeownership goals.
Lenders like consistency — steady income, solid credit, a history of good money management. The more stability you demonstrate, the stronger a borrower you’ll appear to be.
“The past couple of years have been unstable to say the least,” says Joe Pessolano, a branch sales manager with Fairway in Garner, N.C. “Lenders like to see stability and responsible management of your liabilities.”
Pessolano recommends paying all of your bills on time and keeping your credit card balances at 30% of your credit line or less. “Under 10% of the limit can be even better,” he says.
He also advises making sure the money you’ll use for your down payment and closing costs are in a bank account, rather than in cash. Your lender will want to see your bank statements for proof of funds to close, and they need to be able to trace any money that is being used for your home purchase.
Reduce your debts and increase your savings
The holidays can be a tough time to focus on saving money, but sticking to your budget now will help you buy a home in the new year.
“Save as much for a down payment as possible,” Alexandrov says. Even if you plan to use a down payment assistance program or you qualify for a 0% down payment** VA or USDA loan, you will likely need money for closing costs and moving expenses.
Alexandrov also recommends reducing your monthly debts and avoiding taking on new debt. Lenders use your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) when calculating how much of a monthly mortgage payment you can afford. Reducing your debts before you apply for a home loan can increase your chances of qualifying and your approval amount.
Start before you think you’re ready
With so many variables in the homebuying process, the sooner you get started, the better.
“Enter the buying season a little earlier than you thought to give yourself time to browse, acclimate, and watch the market,” says Maryland real estate agent Lauren Matera, often better known as itsthatrealestatechick on TikTok, where she has over 350,000 followers.
She also advises being ready to move quickly once you find the right home — that’s where all the groundwork you’ve done comes in.
“You have to be quick to communicate listings you’re interested in and prepared to make fast decisions,” Matera says. “This is where a firm understanding of wants, needs, and non-negotiables is critical. You should have a comfortable and open channel of communication with your agent and lender to take fast action and be timely with submitting or relaying interest or offers.”
Matera’s top tip for first-time homebuyers is to communicate with your real estate agent and make sure they understand your homeownership goals and limitations. The clearer you are about your expectations and budget, the more efficient they can be in helping you find the right house.
Find the right real estate agent
Although bidding wars have cooled off in recent months, the housing market is still fierce. And in that environment, you need to work with a real estate agent who knows how to give you an edge.
"Work with a real estate agent who has experience crafting a competitive offer. I send my new buyers an email when we get started showing the parts of a contract that can be manipulated in order to make their offer more competitive,” says Liz Brown, a Realtor in central Virginia who is popular on Instagram and TikTok. “When we are ready to write an offer, they have a clear understanding of the contract. We then can work together to write an offer that is best for them. Not all agents know how to do this.”
Don’t just work with the first real estate agent you encounter. Ask questions about their experience and the types of homebuyers they work with most often.
“I’d recommend asking how many houses they sold last year, how long they have been actively selling, if they work with more buyers or sellers,” Brown says. “This will give you a clear idea of who you’re hiring."
Work with someone who knows the area where you want to buy as well, says Atlanta Realtor and social media influencer Glennda Baker.
"All agents are not created equal. Make sure that when looking for an agent to help you find your dream home that the agent has experience in the area and/or neighborhood that you are looking. Agents that are hyperlocal in the area,” Baker says. “They will most likely know of off-market opportunities and have intimate knowledge of things that may affect the value positively or negatively of the property.”
Tashjian recommends thinking about the other professionals you'll need to work with as well. "Form your team of professionals early," he says. "A great Realtor, mortgage lender, and real estate attorney can make all the difference when negotiating an offer in a hot real estate market."
If your new year’s resolution is to become a homeowner, start planning how you’ll achieve that now. Set your SMART goals, organize your finances, and schedule calls or introductory meetings with local real estate agents. Then you can hit the ground running on the path to finally becoming a homeowner in 2022.
*Pre-approval is based on a preliminary review of credit information provided to Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation, which has not been reviewed by underwriting. If you have submitted verifying documentation, you have done so voluntarily. Final loan approval is subject to a full underwriting review of support documentation including, but not limited to, applicants’ creditworthiness, assets, income information, and a satisfactory appraisal.
**A down payment is required if the borrower does not have full VA entitlement or when the loan amount exceeds the VA county limits. VA loans subject to individual VA Entitlement amounts and eligibility, qualifying factors such as income and credit guidelines, and property limits. Fairway is not affiliated with any government agencies. These materials are not from VA, HUD or FHA, and were not approved by VA, HUD or FHA, or any other government agency.