According to a new survey from ApartmentList.com, college-educated Millennials will need about five years to save for a down payment on a median-priced home. What’s worse, Millennials living in Denver will need 15 years (15!) to save for a home, thanks to increasing costs.

While this news is frustrating, there are things you can do now to improve your odds of buying a house sooner. Here are five surefire tips and strategies to get you on your path to home-ownership before the 15 or even five year mark. 

1. Improve Your Number

Your credit score does not define you, but it is important. To get the best rates, ultimately saving you lots of cash, you’ll need a credit score of 700+. You can check your credit report for free from sites like Credit Karma and Annualcreditreport.com to see what factors might be impacting it.

If your score isn’t great, make a concerted effort to improve it. If you owe on any loans or credit cards, pay them off or down as quickly as possible to improve your debt-to-income ratio. U.S. News & World Report also offers several easy tricks to help raise your credit score, including requesting a credit line increase, consolidating debt and disputing old, negative information.

2. Play House 

If you know how much you’re pre-approved for and what your projected mortgage payment will be — let’s say it’s $1,800 monthly and your current rent is $1,500 — put that [$300] difference into your savings. This will help for two reasons: 1. it’ll get you used to paying that mortgage amount regularly, and 2. it’ll help you save for a decent down payment.

3. Aim for 20 Percent

We know this is tough, but a smart rule of thumb is to put 20 percent down, even if it means moving in with your parents, having roommates longer, selling belongings online, cutting back on nights out, downgrading your car and picking up a side job or part-time gig. NerdWallet also offers several easy hacks to help you save for a down payment.

Why does 20 percent matter? Putting that kind of money down on a home loan puts you in a great position. You won’t have to pay private mortgage insurance, you’ll have instant equity, likely benefit from lower interest rates and make smaller monthly payments, saving you A LOT (repeat: A LOT) of money in the long haul.

4. Apply for Federal Loan Programs

If 20 percent down isn’t possible, don’t fear. You can get a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage with as little as 3.5 percent down. FHA mortgages are offered at most banks and are a little more lax in terms of what they require from borrowers, because the FHA “backs” the mortgage in case the homeowner defaults. The down side? You, the borrower, will pay a premium on private mortgage insurance (PMI) until you have 20 percent equity in your home. Still, that might be better than depleting your savings or forking over a $40-$50,000 down payment.

Additionally, if you’re buying a home in a rural area, you could qualify for a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) loan. USDA loans offer low rates and 100 percent financing. And if you’re a veteran, active service-member or a surviving spouse, you could qualify for a Veterans Administration (VA) loan, which requires no down payment or mortgage insurance.

5. Leverage Down Payment Assistance

Believe it or not, there are programs that help people buy homes. For instance, FirstBank teamed up with Trellis, an Arizona Housing Services organization, to offer qualified homebuyers up to $25,000 for a down payment towards a new home. In Colorado, CHFA offers grants up to 3 percent of your first mortgage loan to help cover some of your down payment and/or closing costs. Furthermore, the Colorado Housing Assistance Corporation (CHAC) provides low interest, flexible loans to low and moderate income first time home buyers for down payment and closing cost assistance.

The point is there are assistance programs available – you just have to do a little digging to find out which ones work for you and which ones you qualify for.

5 comments on “Five Must-Read Tips to Buying A House In Today’s Market

  • Thank you for all these great tips for buying a house! One that really stood out to me is that you say to try and get a credit score of 700+. It would be nice to show them that you have the good credit, and will pay your mortgage on the house.

  • I didn’t realize that I would have instant equity if I put 20% of the house payment down. I have been thinking about buying my first house in the next year or so. One of things I have been thinking about is how much money I can afford to put down and still pay for other things. I’ll have to start thinking of ways that I can save more so I can put more down.

  • My wife and I have been thinking about buying a house for a while now, and I was curious about how you would choose the right one. I really like that you say to make sure that your credit number is always being improved. It would be nice to know that you won’t have to worry about your credit getting in the way.

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