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Your home-buying plan starts with your credit report. Mortgage lenders rely heavily upon your FICO score, a numerical "grade" that reflects your credit history, to determine if they'll lend you money and at what interest rate.
Not so long ago, if you wanted to buy a $200,000 house you'd need at least $40,000 for the down payment. While 20 percent is still the "gold standard," these days it's not uncommon for homebuyers to put down 5 percent or less.
You wouldn't hire someone to work in your office without interviewing them and checking their references, yet you might very well consider using a real estate agent you met briefly at an open house or called in response to an ad.
Don't let the fine print in the purchase offer, or sales contract, keep you out of your dream home. But do make sure you understand exactly what you're agreeing to and use the contract to protect yourself.
Escrow is the arrangement under which all documents and funds for your purchase go to a neutral third party, usually an escrow or title company, which coordinates and completes the paperwork, making sure that all conditions of the sale are met before the transaction is final.