8 Steps to Buying a House in Maryland

Make buying a house in Maryland as simple as possible. Follow these 8 steps to find the right home and get a great deal, despite the current seller’s market in Maryland.

Buying a house is exciting, but it’s by no means easy. Everything from the local economy to your financials to the housing market in Maryland will impact what home you buy and how much it costs.

The more you know about the steps to buying a house and the current real estate trends in Maryland, the better you’ll be able to navigate your choices.

Read on to get all of the information you need to make it through the home buying process. Then, you can confidently put in an offer on your dream home and know you’re getting the best deal.

Don’t navigate the home buying process alone.

Clever can match you with the perfect realtor to get the best deal.

» LEARN: 12 Steps to Buy a Rental Property

Step 1: Evaluate your financial situation

If you’re planning to take out a mortgage to pay for your home, you need to understand how your financial situation impacts your buying options.

We’ll go into more detail below, but here are the financial factors you need to have in good shape before buying a house:

» LEARN: The True Cost of Homeownership

Future mortgage payment

The first step to getting your finances in order is determining how much you can afford to spend on your mortgage each month.

When deciding whether to approve your mortgage, most lenders follow the 28/36 rule:

  • Total housing costs (including your future mortgage) shouldn’t exceed 28% of your monthly income
  • Total monthly debt payments shouldn’t be more than 36% of your monthly income (this number is called your debt-to-income ratio)

So, let’s use the median monthly income in Maryland, which is $6,937 (based on Census data), as an example to calculate a potential mortgage payment.

$6,937 x 28% = $1,942

Debt-to-income ratio

Mortgage lenders want to know you’ll be able to afford monthly payments. To do this, they look at what your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) would be after taking on a mortgage.

The higher your debt-to-income ratio, the less likely you are to be approved for a mortgage; however, most lenders are more forgiving if you have a high credit score. While some lenders will approve mortgages for borrowers with a DTI as high as 43%, in
most cases, it’s best to keep your DTI under 36%.

To calculate your DTI, add up all of your recurring monthly debt payments, plus your estimated mortgage payment, and divide it by your gross monthly income (before taxes).

When figuring out how much you pay each month in debt, don’t forget to include:

  • Minimum credit card payments
  • Student loans
  • Auto loans
  • Alimony or child support
  • Personal loans
  • An estimate of your mortgage payment

Let’s look at a few examples, using the average amount of debt in Maryland, to see how to calculate debt-to-income ratio.

How to calculate your debt-to-income ratio

Type of Debt Monthly Payment
Credit Cards $180
Student Loans $216
Auto Loans $330
Mortgage $1,942
Total Monthly Debt $2,668

Monthly payments based on data from Chamber of Commerce, LendEDU, and AutoWise (average car payment for a used car)

Given that the median monthly income in Maryland is $6,937, a typical DTI in the state is 38%.

$2,668 ÷ $6,937 = 38%

Keep in mind your DTI will impact what type of mortgage you can apply for. In most cases, a conventional loan requires an after-mortgage DTI under 36%, a VA loan under 41%, and an FHA loan under 43%. While these rules aren’t set in stone, if your
DTI is higher than these benchmarks, you will face more scrutiny during the underwriting process.

Down payment

Down payments are a way for lenders to offset their risk. By making a down payment, you put “skin in the game.”

For example, if you put $20,000 down to purchase a home, you have a strong incentive to not default on your mortgage since you’d be giving up that $20,000 if the bank foreclosed on your home!

For a conventional loan, you’ll need a down payment of around 20%.

Government-backed loans, like VA and FHA loans, have lower down payment amounts because they use other means to offset potential risk.

For instance, veterans can qualify for a VA loan with no down payment but must pay a one-time VA funding fee. FHA loans require down payments as low as 3.5%, but the borrower must also pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI) throughout the term of the loan.

In Maryland, the median home value is $320,640. Using that as an example, here’s how much you’ll need to save for a down payment:

Mortgage Type Down Payment Down Payment
VA Loan 0% $0
FHA Loan 3.5% $11,222
Conventional Loan 20% $64,128

Based on home value data from Zillow

Closing costs

Legally closing a real estate transaction involves many services (title searches, document recording, etc.) that cost money.

The seller is responsible for some closing costs, but typically, the buyer pays the majority of these expenses out of pocket. A buyer’s closing costs usually run between 2-5% of the loan amount and include costs like:

  • Appraisal fees
  • Inspections
  • Loan application fees
  • Property taxes
  • Title insurance policies and fees
  • Homeowner’s insurance

» LEARN Maryland Closing Costs for Buyers

Step 2: Choose the right neighborhood

A house’s neighborhood is just as important as its layout and features. In general, you’ll need to consider the following factors to decide which area is best for you:

Home values

After Step No. 1, you should have a good idea of your home buying budget. Do some research on current sale prices in different neighborhoods to start narrowing down your options so you don’t end up looking at houses that are out of your price range.

Also, look at past home value trends; this will give you an idea of how much your home’s value can appreciate over the years. You want a neighborhood that’s in your budget, but can also lead to a big return when you decide to sell.

To give you an idea of how appreciation could impact what your house is worth in the future, let’s look at some examples of how homes in three neighborhoods in Baltimore have appreciated over the years.

Home value appreciation in Baltimore

Neighborhood 2010 Home Value 2020 Home Value Appreciation Rate
Frankford $144,387 $150,757 4.4%
Belair-Edison $83,437 $98,154 17.6%
Canton $289,226 $285,973 -1.1%

Based on home value data from Zillow

Local lifestyle

Once you have a list of neighborhoods you can afford and that are a good investment, you’ll need to evaluate how well each area meets your personal needs and preferences.

To finalize your list of target areas, look into neighborhood features like:

  • School districts
  • Restaurants and amenities
  • Crime rates
  • Walkability
  • Transportation options

Step 3: Find a great real estate agent in Maryland

Your real estate agent will be your main ally during the home buying process. Aside from finding and showing you houses, they can also make recommendations for other services like lawyers, lenders, and escrow companies. And once you find a house, it’s
your realtor who will make sure you get a great deal.

Take the time to research different agents who are experienced in your desired part of town and price range. Pay attention to realtors’:

  • Years of experience
  • Number of transactions in the last year (the more the better)
  • Experience in your price range and chosen neighborhood
  • Overall review score
  • Individual reviews and complaints

Once you have a list of 3-5 potential agents, schedule times to interview them to see if they’d be a good fit. Ask them questions about the neighborhood you’re looking at (school system, trends in property values, any planned developments) to
see if they have the knowledge and experience to help you make an educated decision.

Also, know that you can go to showings with an agent (or more than one) before signing a buyer’s agency agreement. This is common and lets you go for a “test drive” with a realtor to see how well they meet your needs before committing to
working with them.

Compare interest rates

While there’s a wide range of mortgage terms, most conventional mortgages are for 15, 20, or 30 years. With a shorter term mortgage, you’ll have a lower interest rate, but a higher monthly payment.

Let’s see how the numbers break down for loans of different terms for a home worth Maryland’s median home value of $320,640 (assuming a 20% down payment).

15-Year Mortgage vs. 30-Year Mortgage

15-Year Mortgage 30-Year Mortgage
Loan Amount $256,512 $256,512
Interest Rate 2.70% 3.06%
Monthly Payment $1,735 $1,090

Based on home value data from Zillow and interest rates from Bankrate.com (Aug. 5, 2020)

Choose a Lender

Aside from interest rates and mortgage terms, you’ll also want to find a lender who actively works with you to ensure the deal closes.

If the lender’s underwriting process is slow, or if they take forever to give you all the necessary paperwork, it can derail your entire transaction.

If you’re not sure which lenders have the best reputations in your area, ask your realtor. They have years of experience seeing buyers go through the home loan process and can tell you which lenders are the easiest and best to work with.

Maintain your credit

Once you’re pre-approved for a mortgage, it’s imperative that your financial situation doesn’t change. If your credit drops, it can derail the process and keep you from closing on your house.

Here are some easy ways to ensure your credit doesn’t change after you receive your pre-approval letter:

  • Avoid opening new credit accounts
  • Don’t close any accounts that have been open for a long time
  • Make all of your credit card payments on time

Step 5: Start house hunting in Maryland

Viewing homes is the fun part of buying a house! But don’t forget, eventually you’ll have to make the big decision about which one is right for you.

Here are some of the most important factors to remember when looking at different homes:

How long you have to make an offer

Currently, in Maryland, homes typically stay on the market for 47 days. But every market goes through seasonal changes. During some months, homes get snatched up more quickly than in others.

Depending on when you’re house hunting, you might have to make an offer sooner than you’d expect — especially if homes spend fewer days on market than the annual average.

Looking at the table below, historically, you’ll need to move fastest in April when homes only stay on the market for 43.5 days. But if you’re looking to buy in January,
you have more time to make your decision since houses typically spend 22.4 days longer on market than the annual average.

When in doubt, talk to your agent. They can let you know how quickly you need to put in an offer for your dream house.

Average time homes spend on market in Maryland

Annual Average 59.1 days
January 81.5 days
February 77.5 days
March 54 days
April 43.5 days
May 43.5 days
June 49 days
July 53.5 days
August 57 days
September 57.5 days
October 56 days
November 62 days
December 74 days

Based on 2019 data from Realtor.com

Writing the perfect offer

Price isn’t the only thing that can influence a seller to accept your offer. You can make other compromises, based on the state of your market, to sweeten the deal for you and the seller.

Here are some common negotiating opportunities to work out a win-win deal with the seller:

  • Seller concessions: As the buyer, you’ll have to pay for most of your closing costs out of pocket. To save on these upfront costs, you can ask for seller concessions. Instead of lowering your offer price to have more money on
    hand, the seller pays for your closing cost and the expenses are essentially rolled into your mortgage.
  • Repair credits: If the home is in need of repair, you could ask for credits instead of having the seller make and pay for the repairs. The seller avoids the hassle of waiting for contractors to complete the job, and you get to oversee
    the repairs in the future to make sure they meet your expectations.
  • Inspection contingencies: Most purchase agreements have inspection contingencies that allow you to change your offer (or back out all together) if the inspection turns up major problems. If you have a high degree of certainty about
    the house’s condition (like if the seller can show you a recent inspection report), you can forgo this contingency to give the seller a higher sense of confidence.
  • Letter to the seller: Many sellers have a personal attachment to the home. They’ve lived there for years and want to know the next owner will take care of the property. Writing a letter to the seller can show them how you picture
    your life in the house and appeal to their sentimental side.

Step 7: Inspections and appraisals

Once a seller accepts your offer, there are a series of due diligence steps that ensure the home you’re buying is exactly what you signed up for. After inspections and appraisals, you’ll have a chance to go back to the negotiating table if something
unexpected pops up.

Inspections

Inspections give you peace of mind about the condition of the property. You should always hire a licensed inspector and make sure they check out the following parts of the property:

  • Roof
  • Foundation
  • Electrical system
  • HVAC system
  • Plumbing

If the home has a septic system, it’s also a good idea to pay for a septic inspection that scopes out the system with cameras to look for any potential issues.

Maryland Specific Inspections

Appraisals

Unlike an inspection, an appraisal isn’t strictly about the condition of the home; it’s about its value. If you’re taking out a mortgage, your lender will require an appraisal to ensure the house is worth the amount of money they’re giving
you.

Buying a house is an involved and time-consuming process, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you know what steps to prepare for and have the right agent by your side, you’ll find the perfect home in your price range.

Find the right agent for you.

Clever can match you with a local agent who has the experience you need.

Additional resources for home buyers in Maryland

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