Without a doubt, spring and summer is the busiest home buying season of the year. And with housing prices still falling in most parts of the country, buyers are blessed with plenty of affordable options yet again.
The problem is that many first-time home buyers jump into home ownership too soon. Yes, there are some incredible bargains out there, and it’s been decades since home prices were this low. But, are you truly ready to buy a house? Can you afford it?
Buying a home is like getting married. You’re taking out a loan, often for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and promising to pay it back over 15-30 years. If you choose the wrong house, or the wrong neighborhood, you’re pretty much stuck there – at least until the market improves.
So how can you know if you’re prepared, financially and emotionally, to own a home? Here are some questions you should ask before you go out house hunting.
What to Ask Yourself Before Buying a House
1. Why Do I Want to Buy a House?
Before you do anything else, ask yourself why you want to buy a house so badly.
Many first-time home buyers jump into buying because family and friends push them. They convince first-time buyers that prices are so low, they’d be fools not to invest in a home right now.
While it’s true that prices are low, buying a home for the wrong reasons often spells disaster.
Most analysts agree that we’re probably not going to see double-digit gains in housing like we did in the housing boom from 2000-2006. So buying a home as an “investment” just isn’t a good idea anymore.
Instead, buy a home because you want a stable place to live, or a place to decorate and call your own. But don’t do it to use your house like an ATM machine. You’ll likely lose money this way, and you sure won’t be happy.
2. Is My Life Stable?
Do you feel safe enough in your job to commit to a 30-year mortgage? Do you have enough stashed away in savings to cover your mortgage for six months?
If you’re married, are you happy? Is your spouse or partner someone you can depend on?
Job loss and divorce are two of the most common reasons homes slip into foreclosure. Make sure you’re comfortable with where your life, and your relationship, is at before you sign on the dotted line.
3. Can I Really Afford It?
Most mortgage companies have really tightened their lending standards since the recession. These days, you pretty much have to have some kind of down payment in order to qualify for a loan. It’s worth it to take the extra time to save up a 20% down payment, if you can. This will make you more appealing to lenders, and you’ll save money because you don’t have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI).
It’s also crucial that your monthly mortgage payment is in a range that’s comfortable for you. Lenders may approve you for a whopper of a loan. But if your monthly payment is going to make things tight, then you need to buy a smaller house. Plenty of people got in trouble in years past because they used every dollar they were “approved” for by lenders.
Use a mortgage calculator to make sure you’re buying a home you can actually afford.
And don’t forget that your monthly mortgage payment is only the beginning. Home ownership costs money. You have to pay homeowners insurance, property taxes, as well as foot the bill for upkeep, repairs, and the inevitable home improvement projects you’ll want to start on.
Make sure you have money stashed away for these unexpected expenses.
4. Will I Want to Live Here 5 Years From Now?
Many experts think that the housing market is going need at least five more years to truly recover. This means that unless you want to risk losing money, you’ll need to stay in your home at least five years.
As you’re looking at homes and neighborhoods, imagine staying there for five years. Does the home, neighborhood, and city have everything you need to be happy? Is the house big enough to accommodate a growing family (if you decide to have one)?
There’s no doubt that now is a great time to buy a home. Just make sure that you’re buying for the right reasons, and that you can truly afford it, before you go out looking. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief and expense if you do!
Are you considering buying a home this year? What are some of the other questions that you asked yourself before making your decision?