Sky-high home prices on the Palouse are forcing some first-time homebuyers out of the housing market, but the small steps of getting paperwork in order, maintaining a quality credit score and understanding home loan options are keys to fulfilling the homeownership dream, said Tim Kirkland, mortgage loan officer at Zions Bank in Moscow.

The median home value in Moscow is $305,100; in Pullman it’s $291,200, according to data from Zillow.

Kirkland said historically, low interest rates have been a “saving grace” because they compensate for expensive home prices, but the first step for those looking to purchase their first home is not to disqualify themselves.

He said many people think a large down payment is necessary, they do not make enough money or their credit score is not adequate.

“They shouldn’t assume those things,” he said.

Kirkland said sometimes clients are pleasantly surprised after speaking with him because they may find they’re more qualified than they thought.

Organizing paperwork, such as recent tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements and job history, is a great step to reduce stress and make the mortgage application smoother, he said.

Before applying for a home loan, Kirkland recommended paying credit card balances, addressing any collections and making sure bills are paid on time.

“Credit scores are very susceptible when people have little credit,” Kirkland said. “Maybe they only have a few accounts and they haven’t had them for very long. Any late payment at that point in the game is very costly.”

However, someone with several years of credit history who misses a credit card payment will not be impacted as greatly.

“Their credit doesn’t tank because of that,” Kirkland said. “People who are building credit have to be very mindful that they are paying on time, that nothing goes to collection.”

He said a few of his clients in the past refused to make a payment because they believed they did not owe the balance.

“If they are looking at getting a home loan, don’t lose your credit history over a $200 payment,” Kirkland said. “ ‘Make the payment’ is what I would always say. They might have everything else in order but if their credit score is too low, we’re going to end up saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’d love to help you but you don’t qualify.’ ”

He said keeping money in only a couple accounts without constantly transferring it among the accounts helps underwriters, or those who assess the creditworthiness of a potential customer, track a customer’s finances easily.

If money is continuously moving among accounts, Kirkland said underwriters will ask for a great deal of documentation, which can be frustrating.

He said learning different down payment options is critical because some home loan programs reduce down payment options to 3 percent or even eliminate down payments.

Getting prequalified for a home loan early in the process is also important because of the shortage of single-family homes on the Palouse, Kirkland said.

“If they wait until they see that house that they want and then start toward the bank, chances are there is somebody else in front of them already, so timing is important,” Kirkland said.

Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to

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