Buying a home is one of the largest financial investments you can make – and we’re here to help. Here’s what you need to know to get your finances in order so that you can fulfill your goal of homeownership.

Real estate agent with couple shaking hands

4 First-Time Homebuyer Loans and Programs

Buying your first home can be a daunting task. But don’t fret, options are available to help you save money in the process! There are thousands of dollars available for first-time homebuyers through loans and programs in the Chicago area.  

Find the right one to save you money on your home purchase. 

1st Home Illinois 

First-time homeowners, veterans or those who haven’t owned a home in the past three years and are looking to purchase a home in Cook, Marion, St. Clair or Winnebago county can apply for this grant. This grant provides a 30 year, fixed rate mortgage with a $7,500 grant towards down payment or closing costs. 

City of Chicago TaxSmart Mortgage Credit Certificate

This credit is available to first-time homebuyers or those purchasing a home in an economically troubled census tract. The Mortgage Credit Certificate allows homebuyers to claim a tax credit for a portion of the mortgage interest paid per year. Currently, annual savings are 25% for a purchased home or 50% for a home improvement or rehab loan, and savings are capped at $2,000. 

IHDAccess Forgivable 

This grant offers 4% (up to $6,000) of the purchase price in assistance for a down payment and closing costs for a home being purchased in any county in Illinois. In addition, the loan is forgiven over 10 years, so it doesn’t need to be repaid with a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage. 

IHDAccess Deferred 

This grant offers 5% (up to $7,500) of the purchase price in assistance for a down payment or closing costs that is interest-free for the life of the mortgage. However, the loan must be repaid when the house is sold, refinanced or paid off.

Keep in mind that most mortgage lending companies have specific homeowner grants and loans to apply for. Make sure to talk to your lender to see what’s available! 


three people looking at documents

What to Expect During A Closing: Buyers

A closing is when you, the buyer, sign the final ownership paperwork and officially, legally become the owner of your home! You will leave your closing with the home’s keys.

Your closing date will likely be listed on the purchase and sale agreement you will sign after your offer is accepted. On average, closings are scheduled within a month or two of signing this document.


As the buyer, the days leading up to the closing will include reviewing lots and lots of paperwork. Try not to stress! Your REALTOR®, your lender and your attorney are there to assist you.

One of these documents is the Closing Disclosure (also called the CD) which lays out your final loan terms and closing costs. You will get your CD from your lender at least three days before closing for you to review.

The CD will ensure there are no surprise costs for you at the closing table. Compare this with your initial Loan Estimate when you applied for the loan, and if you see significant discrepancies, contact your lender at once.

What is the difference between closing costs and your down payment? While your down payment goes towards your home loan, closing costs are typically one-time fees that go towards all the other services that take place during the transaction such as:

  • Loan application fees
  • Appraisal fees
  • Title search fees
  • Your attorney’s fees
  • Recording fees
  • Lender costs such as underwriting, credit report and origination fees
  • Commission for both the buyer’s and the seller’s agent
  • Property taxes

If you’re nervous about how to accurately anticipate the closing costs, consult your loan estimate. It includes estimates for each of these line items. Also, Nerdwallet has a free, online calculator.

couple signing documents


You will attend the final walkthrough of your home within 24 hours or the day-of your closing. Typically, you, your REALTOR® and the seller’s agent will attend as you make sure any and all request repair work was completed.

What are you looking for? You’re ensuring everything is functioning properly and that nothing has broken or been damaged since the inspection. Ask your REALTOR® for a list of what to look for during the final walkthrough. If everything is as it should be, you’re ready to close! If you see anything amiss, you and your REALTOR® will contact your attorney and the seller’s agent to negotiate potential compensation for the problems at the closing table.

What should you bring to the closing table? A pen, a government-issued photo ID and a cashier’s check or proof of wire transfer to cover the closing costs and any remainders of the down payment. Ask your attorney how much you should pad for potential closing costs increases such as prepaid interest.

Note: bringing “cash to close” does not mean you should bring cash!

Depending on your state or personal circumstances, ask your attorney if you need to bring any other documentation such as proof of homeowner’s insurance.


Prepare yourself to sign a large stack of paperwork! Your attorney will go through each one of these documents, although you will also receive them the night before to review them in greater detail.

Depending on a number of factors, closings can last between an hour to several. You as the buyer can help prevent unnecessary delays by avoiding changes to your financial situation such as large purchases on your credit card, applying for credit or changing employers.

Who is there? At minimum, you can expect it to be you, your attorney and the lender. Depending on the circumstance, the seller may attend if they haven’t already signed their necessary documents. No matter what, you are not alone. Your attorney and your REALTOR® are available to answer questions or address concerns.

sunrise chicago


You have your keys! You have officially purchased your home! Here are a few best practices to kick off your first hours/days as a homeowner on a strong note:

  • Take your copies of the closing documents you signed and save them in a secure place.
  • If you negotiated a same-day move with the seller, keep track of each key! Confirm you’re receiving one for any and all doors, mailboxes or entries.
  • Prepare a list of authorities or organizations (like the U.S. Postal Service) you need to notify of your change of address, as it applies.

With constant communication and intentional preparation, your closing can feel like an exciting culmination of all your hard work, research and exploration. Utilize the team of professionals at your back so you can save on stress and celebrate this exciting milestone.

couple doing research on laptop

4 Ways to Improve Your Credit Score

Credit scores are a vital part of getting approved for a loan to buy a home. Although you can get a mortgage with a lower credit score, the better your credit score, the better your loan terms will be. If you’re looking for ways to improve your credit score, look no further. Here are our top tips to improving your score for a better mortgage. 

1. Make Payments on Time 

Your payment history is one of the biggest impacts on your credit score. The more frequently you pay your bills by the payment deadline, the better your score will be. If you’re behind on your payments, the first step is to get up to date on them.  

Then, make sure to continue paying your bills on time and in full, if you can. Either get notifications for when your bills are due or set up automatic payments, so you don’t miss a due date. 

2. Pay Off Debt and Keep Low Balances on Credit Cards 

Another large determining factor of your credit score is credit utilization, or how much you owe on a credit card compared to your credit limit. Lenders typically look for a ratio of 30% or less. You can positively impact your credit utilization by keeping your credit card balances down or paying off any debt you have on your cards. Calculate your credit utilization here.

3. Only Keep As Many Credit Accounts As Needed, But Don’t Close an Unused Account! 

Having a mixture of credit doesn’t necessarily lead to a better credit score. Unnecessary credit can even harm your score by creating inquiries on your account and possibly leading to overspending. 

However, if you have an unused account, don’t close it! If the account doesn’t charge you annual fees, closing it could lead to a higher credit utilization ratio. 

4. Keep An Eye On Your Credit Report 

Make sure to check on your credit reports every so often. If you notice inaccuracies, such as late payments or incorrect amounts owed, these are all factors that can drag down your score. If you notice an inaccuracy, make sure to dispute it right away! Click here for more information on receiving a free credit report.

5 Financial Questions To Ask Yourself Before Buying A Home in Chicago

Finances are typically the most intimidating part of the homebuying process. So, here are five financial questions to ask yourself so you feel as empowered as possible.

#1: How Are Your 4 C’s?

Let’s look at loan eligibility or “buying power.” Most lenders evaluate a person’s buying power based on four elements called “the four C’s.” They are capacity, capital, collateral and credit.

Before you buy a home, make sure you are well-versed on the status of or know where and how to check on these.

  • Capacity: This is your ability to take on a mortgage or pay back a loan. Income, savings and monthly debt payments are some of the factors that affect capacity.
  • Capital: This is the amount of money or savings you have readily available. Think of it as your personal reserves that are not tied to income. Closings cost funds and your down payment funds are types of capital!
  • Collateral: When you take out a loan, this is the monetary value of the property you’re securing against it.
  • Credit: This is based on your credit score and history. A lender wants to know if you have a history of paying other debts on time and in full.

#2: Who’s On Your Team?

When you’re ready to buy a home or begin planning for a purchase in the future, assemble a team of professionals who will have your back and provide expert counsel. They include:

  • A Lender
  • A Real Estate Attorney
  • An Inspector

#3: What’s Important To You In Your Home and Neighborhood?

Begin creating a list of home and neighborhood features you consider non-negotiables.

For your neighborhood, rank access to public transportation, parking, green space, retail and restaurant density and proximity to schools or hospitals. Depending on what you prefer, this will narrow down building types located in neighborhoods that include your must-haves.

For example, several neighborhoods in Chicago are known for specific architectural eras. Bungalows, two-flats, greystones and courtyard buildings all require different financial considerations when it comes to maintenance.

For your property, consider cost-associated expenses like central AC, laundry, elevators, private outdoor space like porches or backyards and parking garages. It’s easy to just think of the desired number of bedrooms or bathrooms, but these aren’t the only features that will influence the cost of the properties that will fit your needs!

Once you have your ideal neighborhood and home in mind, you can begin to get an idea of home prices in those areas.

#4: What if…?

Look at your financial ability to handle emergencies, life changes and other “what if” situations. Build an untouchable emergency fund with at least three to six months of monthly expenses shored up.

Not only will this give you a peace of mind when you buy your home, it will also boost your capital and likely positively influence your buying power.

Don’t wait to ask yourself what if! Take charge of your finances with these hypotheticals.

#5: Where Do You See Yourself Five Years From Now?

Take a zoomed out look at your professional and personal goals, then apply your housing needs to these milestones. Do you see career changes or promotions in the future?

It may be to your benefit to consider a property with more space than you presently need, because you anticipate having children or getting married. Does the neighborhood you like now sound like it will still be enjoyable to live in or fit your lifestyle growth?

It may also be to your financial benefit to wait at least five years for your home value to increase or for you to build equity or ROI on your investment. When in doubt, ask your REALTOR® what kinds of life milestones in their experience influence home purchase decisions.