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I love that you are planning ahead. Having 20% down with a conventional loan will eliminate the high FHA MIP costs and monthly payments. To become pre-qualified, I recommend going to either a bank or direct lender with your income documentation (W-2, paystub, 1040 taxes) and a current bank statement. If you don't have a current credit report, one will usually be ran for you. It should take no more than 20 minutes and you should be able to obtain a written pre-qualification letter subject to your 20% down. Most banks can save you time and effort by scanning and emailing, but I find that face to face applications get better personalized results. The road to homeownership sometimes has a couple of curves, but always worth the journey.
As you begin the preapproval process keep in mind that you are technically preapproved for a monthly payment that includes principal, interest, taxes, insurance and any HOA fees if applicable. This will roughly get translated into a purchase price but if any HOA fees are involved could be a huge factor. A loose rule of thumb is that for every $1,000 change in purchase price (up or down) the monthly payment increases or decreases by $5. If you were looking at a condo with a $200 monthly HOA fee this equates to about $40,000 of the purchase price. Translation: assuming taxes were the same you could, for example, buy a condo with a monthly $200 HOA fee for $200,000 or buy a single family home for $240,000 and have the same monthly payment.
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For Sale: $29,900
For Sale: $36,000
For Sale: $42,000