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Ask a real estate professional in the area and they will most likely say the market is booming in Limestone County.

Athens and Limestone County single-home residential sales totaled 174 in December, up 20.8% from 144 sales in the same month a year earlier, according to ValleyMLS.com.

“The market is very, very hot in this area,” said Dianne McAlister, a mortgage loan originator with Synovus Bank. She's believes it's because new industry like Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. is coming in and creating jobs.

McAlister, who has 25 years of experience, said rates are great right now, too. They are “super low,” she said.

The only negative McAlister sees right now affects the buyer. She said there's not much at all on the market, and homes are selling quick. She said homes in $150,000 to $250,000 range are the most popular with buyers.

“Homes are selling as fast as they can build,” McAlister said.

Meanwhile, competition for homes is good news for sellers, because it drives prices up.

“Pricing is going up because of demand,” McAlister said.

In December, the median sales single-family home price was up 8.5% to $230,500, according to ValleyMLS.com. In December 2018, the median sales price was $212,510.

However, the inventory for single-family homes on the market was down 21.3% from 456 in December 2018 to 359 homes in 2019.

McAlister biggest point of advice for those looking to buy a home is “get pre-approved” for a loan.

“That way you know what you qualify for and how much you qualify for,” she said, adding there are 100% home loan financing programs available in the area.

For McAlister, pre-approval is a “golden ticket.” If a realtor has a home with several bids, for example, they tend to take an offer more seriously from someone who is already pre-approved compared to someone who still needs pre-approval, according to McAlister.

7 tips for first-time homebuyers

Synovus Bank offers the following tips for first-time homebuyers shopping for homes and mortgages:

1. Check your credit report. When considering you for a mortgage, one of the first things lenders will do is pull your credit report and your credit score. Make sure you check your credit report in advance and review it for any errors. If you find any mistakes, you can contact the credit bureau to resolve them. By law, you are entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from one of the three major credit bureaus. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to request your free credit report.

2. Find out how much you can afford for your monthly payment. Most financial experts recommend spending no more than 30% of your income on housing. That means if you bring home $5,000 each month, your mortgage payment should be no more than $1,500 each month.

3. Decide how much you're willing to pay for the down payment. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 20% of the home's purchase price is the ideal amount for a down payment. But if you don't have 20% for a down payment, don't worry — lenders offer a wide variety of loans, some requiring little or no down payment. Just remember that the more money you put down on your home, the less your monthly payment will be.

4. Pull your paperwork together. When you're ready to talk with a lender, they'll need some documentation from you, including recent pay stubs, bank account statements, W-2s, the total of your monthly debt payments (such as car loans, credit card debt, student loans, etc.), and the names and addresses of your landlords for the past two years.

5. Find lenders and get prequalified for a mortgage. Many first-time homebuyers go to their local bank or credit union, and that's the best place to start. You can also apply at two or three different lenders to compare rates and loans offered. It's best to talk with a lender and get prequalified for a mortgage before you start shopping for your first home. That way, you know how much money you'll be able to borrow.

6. Consider your mortgage options. Two of the most common options are fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages. With a fixed-rate mortgage, your interest rate is locked in for the life of the loan. That means you will pay the same amount every month and can plan accordingly. An adjustable-rate mortgage, on the other hand, has a fixed interest rate for a set period of time, then it fluctuates according to market inflation rates. Typically, this kind of mortgage offers a lower, more attractive, introductory rate. However, if the market interest rate increases, it is likely your mortgage rate will increase as well. Adjustable-rate mortgages have more variability than fixed-rates ones and are hard to predict, so they are suitable mostly for individuals not planning on holding long-term mortgages.

7. Don't forget about closing costs. After you find the right home and the seller accepts your offer, you'll go through the process of purchasing the home, which involves paying closing costs to cover various bank, legal and third-party fees. Closing costs can be paid by the buyer, the seller or a combination of both; who pays for closing costs will be stated in the contract that your real estate agent negotiates for you. According to Value Penguin, the national average for closing costs in the U.S. is $7,227. Keep this in mind if you are responsible for paying any of the closing costs.

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