1950s vintage bungalow in Eugene, Oregon

Tips for First-Time Home Buyers in Oregon

Last Updated January 3, 2024

There’s a first time for everything, and buying a home is no exception. We’ve prepared this short guide to offer first-time home buyers in Oregon some tips. Our goal is to give you a realistic view of what it will take to purchase a home in Oregon’s competitive markets.

Whether you’re thinking of buying your first home in Oregon or elsewhere, it’s important to have a clear sense of what the process will be like, what your options are, and whether the numbers line up or not.

Although interest have increased rapidly since the spring of 2022, real estate markets throughout Oregon are still extremely competitive. You’ll need to know what you’re in for. With a little bit of creativity, it’s still possible to find your dream home, but it will likely be a process.

Read on, and we’ll walk you through the ins and outs. We primarily serve the Bend and Eugene areas, so that’s where we’ll focus. Nonetheless, the tips we give will be applicable to first-time home buyers pretty much anywhere.

Tip #1 for First Time Oregon Home Buyers: Know What You’re Up Against

Buying your first home isn’t what it used to be, with wage increases failing to keep pace with the housing market. It’s even worse in hot markets like Bend, Eugene, and Portland, Oregon.

According to a recent study, median home prices adjusted for inflation have increased 121% nationwide since 1960. Meanwhile, average household income has increased a comparatively insignificant 29%.

In 2023, Bend homes sold for a median of $720,000. Keep in mind that Bend’s large portion of luxury homes skews the number upward. Eugene is significantly less expensive, with a median sale price of $450,000 in 2023. That’s still higher than the nationwide median. 

To add further insult to injury, buyers in both markets face exceptionally low inventory, especially on homes at more affordable price points.

Like most buyers, first-time or not, you’re probably looking for a relatively inexpensive move-in ready home in a desirable neighborhood. There just aren’t many of them on the market, though. When they do get listed, they go fast. You’ll most likely have to compromise in terms of location, condition, size, finishes, or all of the above.

Whether you’re thinking of buying your first home in Oregon or elsewhere, it’s important to have a clear sense of what the process will be like, what your options are, and whether the numbers line up or not.

Read on, and we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of buying your first home in Bend and Eugene, Oregon, giving you a sense of all the different factors that might lead you in one direction or the other.

Young first time homebuyer couple standing in front of new home

Tip #2 for First-Time Oregon Home Buyers: Run the Numbers on Renting vs Buying

Whatever market you’re investigating, unless you have access to free housing, the first question is almost always whether it makes more financial sense to rent or to buy. Buying your first home is nerve-wracking, but in many cases, it’s an investment that can pay off quicker than you might expect.

Still, make that leap before you’re really ready, and it’s quite possible you could end up in a financial pickle. We’re not going to beat around the bush: buying a home is an investment, and like every other investment, there’s some amount of risk involved.

With renting, there are fewer unknowns: you know that you’re going to be out x number of dollars per month, with no possibility of recouping anything but your security deposit. As a home buyer, the question is how much you will be able to recoup of your money down, closing costs, and interest payments if you need to exit stage left.

All of that depends on a few different factors. It’s important to consider those factors individually, weighing them against your life situation.

As we’ve noted, both Bend and Eugene have a lack of homes for sale, but their rental markets are even tighter. That’s especially true if you’re looking for a pet-friendly rental, an increasing rarity in an already bleak landscape for renters.

If you can beat the hordes of other applicants and land a nice pad, you might end up feeling like you’ve won the lottery and be tempted to stay there longer-term. But even if you’re happy with where you’re living and how much you’re paying, it’s worth crunching the numbers on purchasing a home. Read onward.

Tip #3 for First Time Oregon Home Buyers: Figure Out Your Down Payment

Talk to any lender or real estate agent, and you’ll learn pretty quickly that 20% down is the magic number. There’s a good reason for that: lenders require costly private mortgage insurance, a.k.a. PMI, on conventional loans if your down payment is any lower. There’s a couple of exceptions, which we’ll go into later.

Dollars and cents-wise, PMI ends up costing you an extra 0.5% to 1% of the total value of your loan per year, depending on your credit score. You can cancel it once you reach 20% equity. Needless to say, that will happen faster if you put down closer to 20%.

Apart from conventional mortgages, the Federal Housing Administration offers its own loan packages which can be especially attractive if your credit score is low. FHA rates are often lower than for conventional loans.

There’s a catch, though: FHA loans entail an additional up-front mortgage insurance premium of 1.75% of the total loan amount. That’s followed by an annual MI payment of 0.45% to 1.05% of the balance of the loan.

Unlike conventional loans, if you’re receiving an FHA loan at less than 10% down, MI payments remain the same throughout the life of the loan. In other words, if your credit score is high enough to qualify, conventional financing is probably the way to go in the long run.

Don’t forget to include closing costs when you’re calculating the amount you’ll put down. The total bill will depend upon a number of factors, including loan origination fees and your prorated property tax amount due at closing.

$10,000 is a good baseline, though it will really depend upon your financing and how much you’ll need to pay for prorated property taxes. In any case, make sure you’ve got enough for closing costs on top of your down payment amount.

Tip #4 for First Time Oregon Home Buyers: Run the Numbers for Your Monthly Payment

Figuring out how much money you have available to make a down payment a good first step when you’re determining whether or not you’re ready to buy your first home. Next, you’ll want to figure out your expected monthly payment.

The best thing to do is just talk to a lender, but if you’re just mulling over your options and want some rough numbers, there are plenty of online mortgage calculators.

Keep in mind that your run-of-the-mill mortgage calculator won’t necessarily take into account PMI, property taxes, or home insurance. To avoid sticker shock later on, make sure to use a mortgage calculator that adds those numbers to your expected monthly payment.

Once you’ve arrived at a rough number for monthly payment, you’ll have a much better sense of how the math works out as far as renting versus buying and whether you can afford to buy without saving up more for a larger down payment.

Even if the numbers look a bit grim, though, there may be a couple of other options worth investigating.

Tip #5 for First Time Oregon Home Buyers: Consider Unconventional Loan Packages and Options for Oregon Down Payment Assistance

Conventional and FHA mortgages are the two most typical examples of loan packages you might receive when you’re a first-time home buyer in Oregon. There are a few other options, however, including zero-down loans, piggyback loans, and VA loans for veterans and active service members.

If you qualify for a VA loan, then awesome–the process of buying your first home could be much simpler than it might be otherwise. VA loans can be obtained with poor credit and as little as zero money down, but without the costly mortgage insurance that other programs require.

VA loans do, however, feature an up-front fee between 1.25% and 3.3% of the total loan amount. The percentage depends on the length of your service, what branch you’re in, and other factors. Especially if you’re toward the upper end of the scale, be sure to do the math on whether other options balance out better. We can connect you with lenders who specialize in VA loans.

If you lack the spare cash for a down payment but don’t qualify for a VA loan, there may be other options as far as first time home buyer programs in Oregon. Oregon Community Credit Union and Key Bank, to name two lenders, offer so-called zero percent down programs for qualified borrowers.

Lenders actually accomplish this through some form of down payment assistance, and you can expect significantly higher interest rates and origination fees. Before considering these first-time home buyer programs as a viable option, it’s important to make sure that you, and the property that you intend to purchase, meet the requirements.

If you can make enough of a down payment to qualify for conventional financing but are wary of the extra bill for Private Mortgage Insurance, piggyback loans are worth your consideration. Basically, piggyback loans involve taking out a second mortgage on top of your first as an alternative to putting more money down.

A common example would be putting 10% down on a mortgage covering 80% of the total cost of the home and then obtaining a second mortgage covering the remaining 10%. Rates are higher on second mortgages, so you’ll want to make sure that the difference doesn’t end up costing you more than PMI would.

Last–but not least–down payment assistance is definitely worth investigating for first-time home buyers in Oregon. The National Homebuyer’s Fund offers down payment assistance of up to 5% in the form of either a gift or a zero-interest loan that’s forgiven after three years. Your lender can help you find out if you qualify.

Down payment assistance programs particular to Oregon are somewhat limited. However, you can find a list of community organizations that offer some form of down payment assistance on the Oregon Housing and Community Services website.

Tip #6 for First Time Oregon Home Buyers: Know What You’re Getting Into After Buying a Home

Let’s say you can put 20% down, have a pretty decent credit score, and can still leave money in savings for a rainy-day fund. In that case, we’ll go so far as to say that purchasing a home is a no-brainer compared to the costs of renting. But even with lower credit and less money down, if you plan to stay put in your home for at least a few years, you’re still likely to come out ahead.

Do keep in mind that the stakes are higher if you end up unable to pay your mortgage. Your lender will offer a certain grace period, but go beyond that and you can expect a significant ding to your credit score.

In strong sellers’ markets with rapid appreciation like Bend and Eugene, if you’re unable to make your payments, you can expect to put your home on the market and sell it well before there’s any risk of foreclosure. The worst-case scenario, though, is that you need to sell your home but can’t make enough money on the sale to pay off the balance of your loan.

That was the reality for many folks after the 2008 crash, and Kip helped hundreds of homeowners in Bend get out from under their mortgages by negotiating a short sale with their lenders. The risk is obviously higher with a low down payment, particularly if the market experiences a downturn.

We strongly believe that Eugene and Bend’s markets are better insulated from a recession than most due to their exceptionally low inventory. Still, it’s good to keep in mind that homeownership comes with unique risks and unique responsibilities. The decision is something that you and your family need to feel out for yourselves.

To qualify for a loan in the first place, good credit and stable employment are the main prerequisites. Technically, you can get a loan based on income from a job that you plan to quit, but we don’t recommend it unless you’re reasonably certain you can get re-hired.

For conventional loans, lenders typically require a debt-to-income ratio or DTI of 43%. That ratio includes not only your mortgage payments but also your insurance premiums, automobile lease, student loan payments, and any other recurring debt payments.

The ceiling is lower for FHA loans, at 50%. It’s up to you, though, to determine your own financial comfort zone. It’s important too–like, really important–to make sure that once you’ve applied for a loan, you don’t take on any new debt. Even if you stay well beneath the standard DTI ceiling, you’ll trigger a process that can easily throw your home purchase off the rails.

What to Know as a First-Time Home Buyer in Bend and Eugene

In both Eugene and Bend, inexpensive properties in good neighborhoods that are basically move-in-ready are hot commodities. Bidding wars can easily trigger, and these homes frequently are snapped up by all-cash buyers who can make an offer significantly above list price.

One thing your agent needs to do for you is to make sure that your offer is as attractive as it possibly can be, particularly if you’re planning to finance. It takes time to secure a loan, putting you at a disadvantage compared to all-cash buyers who can typically close much faster.

We work with lenders, however, who do all of their underwriting in-house and can secure some of the fastest turnarounds in the business.  That’s a significant advantage, and even if you can find lower rates online, working with local lenders gives you a much better assurance of a smooth transaction and often, a lot less of the fine print and hidden fees that can end up costing you.

First-time home buyers in Eugene and Bend can avoid some of the competition, and end up saving significant dough, by aiming for “diamonds in the rough.” A number of homes at the lower end of both markets have dated finishes and require a certain amount of cosmetic fixes.

Your agent, however, can connect you with professionals who can spruce things up to your specifications. You may hate the ugly, 70s-vintage carpets in the home that you’re looking at, but chances are decent that the original hardwood is still there underneath. It’s important to have an eye for the potential hiding underneath the surface and to keep in mind the dollars and cents of doing minor renovations versus buying a turnkey property at higher than list price.

Lastly, especially on older homes but even on newer ones, issues can turn up on inspection reports. Your agent needs to know how to properly leverage these issues in terms of asking the seller to perform repairs, issue a price reduction, or offer a closing credit. The latter is nice in that it reduces the amount of money you have to pay up-front at closing and gives you some extra financial breathing room.

LOHR Real Estate’s owner, Kip Lohr, worked for over a decade as a contractor, and his building experience has tended to pay significant dividends in this arena. It’s much easier to negotiate repairs when your agent has a clear sense of exactly what’s going on with a home and exactly what steps are necessary to mediate a problem.

Unfortunately, many agents do not have this knowledge. As a result, some fail to apply as much pressure as they ought to on the sellers and their agent or even recommend repairs that end up being ineffective.

All of that is part of the reason that buying your first home, whether in Oregon or elsewhere, can end up being so scary. If your rental has problems, then it’s ultimately your landlord’s responsibility. But what takes getting used to as a first-time home buyer is that ultimately, it comes down to you.

Having an agent who you can trust definitely helps take a lot of the edge off of the stress of purchasing your first home. There will be plenty of twists and turns, but getting ready to buy a home can also be a lot of fun.

We’re here to help you navigate the entire process, whether you decide that homeownership is right for you at this juncture or not. It’s a very personal decision, and we just want to provide you with the tools that you need in order to make it. Contact us using the button to the right, and we’ll get you started on the right track.

1 thought on “Tips for First-Time Home Buyers in Oregon”

  1. I like how you mentioned that having an agent you can trust can take away a lot of stress that comes with buying a home for the first time. I would imagine that an agent would be able to help you find a reliable insurance company to work with as well. You would want to find an insurance company that will make purchasing a home easier for you. https://www.roberttaylorins.com/insurance

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