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Buying a house is no small undertaking, and neither is compiling the mountain of paperwork necessary to complete the transaction. For example, if you need a mortgage to purchase your home, your lender will want to look over a wide variety of personal and financial documents to assess your credit-worthiness — and that’s before you even get to the offer and the closing. Knowing upfront what paperwork is needed to buy a house will make the process both speedier and less stressful.
What documents do I need to buy a house?
You will need a slew of documentation throughout the entire homebuying process, with access to different documents at various stages of the transaction. In short, be ready to prove your employment status and income, and to provide detailed documentation of your debts, savings and assets. Lining up the paperwork needed to buy a house before you actually start the process will help you remain calm and organized throughout. The documents you need are likely to include the following (and possibly more):
- Recent tax returns
- W-2 forms
- A letter from your employer stating your employment status
- If self-employed, business tax returns and profit and loss records
- Bank statements
- Retirement and brokerage account statements
- Student loan or car loan statements
- Credit card statements
- Asset titles, including your current home(s) and vehicle(s).
- History of residence (an informal list of your addresses for the past several years)
- Proof of any additional income aside from your annual earnings, such as alimony, Social Security, bonuses, etc.
- A gift letter, if applicable
- Photo ID
Documents needed as you start the buying process
A great first step to get started in the homebuying process is to get a sense of what your credit report looks like. A minimum credit score of 620 is typically needed to qualify for a mortgage loan, though some loans have lower minimums. The higher your credit score, the better mortgage rate you’re likely to be eligible for. If your credit is sub-optimum, it’s good to know that in advance — give yourself a bit of time to raise that number before applying for the loan.
Similarly, if you’ve been less-than-punctual in filing your taxes over the years, now is the time to fix that. “You’ll need to have filed your taxes,” says Trenesha Simpkins, broker/owner and Realtor at Oklahoma’s iLove Realty. “If you haven’t been filing your taxes, that’s number one — start there.” To secure home financing, you’ll need to provide at least a couple of years worth of tax returns, or possibly more. Make sure you have them before starting the process.
Documents needed for preapproval
Proof of identity
- A driver’s license, Social Security card or passport
- A list of all residential addresses over the past several years
Proof of employment
- Pay stubs for at least the past 30 days
- W-2 or self-employment tax returns for the past two years
- A list of employers over the past several years
Proof of income
- Bank statements dating back a minimum of 60 to 90 days for all accounts (checking, savings, etc.)
- Business banking and related records, if self-employed
- Documentation supporting any income other than your employment earnings
- Statements for investment, trust, retirement and other financial accounts
- Proof of ownership for any vehicles or other real estate holdings
- If a third-party gift is serving as part of your down payment, a copy of the gift letter
- Statements dating back 60 to 90 days for any credit card, auto loan, personal loan and/or student loan accounts
- A copy of your credit report
- Your rental history, if applicable: proof of payment on any leased apartment, house or car
Mortgage preapproval will give you an idea of how much you can borrow, and it also helps show home sellers that you are a serious and qualified buyer. Keep in mind, though, that you may not want to spend the full amount you are preapproved for — there are plenty of other costs associated with buying a home, and you need enough cash to cover it all.
Documents needed in the offer process
Once you’ve found a home and you’re ready to make an offer, you’ll need — you guessed it — more paperwork. Specifically, proof of earnest money. This deposit, which a buyer puts down to prove their intent to buy the home, is typically paid when the purchase agreement is signed and held in escrow until closing. The amount is usually 1 percent of the home’s purchase price (for example, $3,500 for a $350,000 home). You will need to have this money ready to go prior to signing your contract, so be sure it is liquid and easy to access.
Documents needed to close
There are many documents involved at closing, both legal and financial. If you are working with an agent and/or a real estate attorney, they will likely gather together the paperwork needed on your end of the transaction. Closing documents include, but are not limited to:
- Proof of homeowner’s insurance
- Closing disclosure
- Loan application
- Copy of purchase contract
- Certificate of occupancy, in the case of a new-construction home
Documents needed after closing
If you are not working with a real estate agent or attorney, be sure these documents also make it to the closing table. You’ll want to ensure they are accounted for once closing paperwork is signed.
- Home title (often held by a title company until your mortgage is paid off)
- Deed of trust or mortgage
- Title insurance policy
- Affidavit of title
- Initial escrow statement
- Transfer tax declaration
Find a trusted real estate agent
Working with an experienced real estate agent can take a lot of the pressure off you when it comes to ensuring you have all the paperwork needed to buy a house. Having a seasoned professional on your side is invaluable, especially during and after closing. Your agent will know which documents to prepare and at what stages of the process, and can guide you along the journey every step of the way.