Buying a home can be lots of fun. It’s exciting to see all those years of dreaming come to life in a place you can finally call your own.
With so many possibilities at your fingertips, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement before asking yourself the most important question of all: How much house can I afford? It doesn’t matter if the kitchen is fabulous or the backyard is big. If you can’t pay the mortgage each month or find the cash to fix what’s broken, your home will never be a blessing.
Figuring out how much house you can afford doesn't have to be rocket science. These home affordability questions can help you buy a home in your budget.
Step 1: Start With a Solid Foundation
Too many people go broke buying a home because they think it’s the grown-up thing to do. But life events—like getting married or having a baby—aren’t reasons alone to buy a home.
The time is right when the money is right. Nothing can sour your dream of home ownership quicker than a major disaster you don’t have the cash to cover. So, before you even try to find out how much house you can afford, determine if you’re actually financially ready to buy a home. Start by asking yourself these questions:
If you answered no to any of the above questions, now may not be the right time to buy a home. It’s best to put your home purchase on hold and focus on your finances until you can answer yes to all six questions.
Just married? Wait at least a year before buying a home—even if your finances are in order. Don’t add the stress of a home purchase to a brand-new marriage, and never buy real estate with anyone you’re not married to.
New baby? Realistically, brand-new babies don’t need much room at all. It’s usually all of their stuff that’s the problem. Try to push through until you can reach your financial goals instead of purchasing a home on a tight—and emotionally-charged—deadline. Now that your kids are in the picture, it’s more important than ever to make the right choices that will affect their future.
Step 2: Get the Right Real Estate Agent
Though your search for homes may start online, it shouldn’t end there. You can do a lot of research on your own, but you need the help of an expert when it comes to actually finding and securing your perfect home.
A buyer’s agent can help you navigate through the home-buying process. In some cases, they may even be able to help you find a house before it hits the market, giving you a competitive edge. And when it comes to making an offer, your agent will negotiate on your behalf so that you don’t pay a penny more than you have to.
How does a buyer’s agent get paid? In most cases, the seller pays your real estate agent’s fees, so using a buyer’s agent is free to you.
What should you look for in a buyer’s agent? You may know a lot of real estate agents in your area. But keep in mind that not all agents bring the same knowledge and experience to the table. You want an expert who can show you how to buy a home! A true rock star will have the following:
A true pro won’t shy away from tough questions. They’ll be a mover and a shaker, ready to fight for your best interests as you search for the right house and negotiate the terms of the contract. As a home buyer, working with a rock-star agent is one of the biggest advantages you can give yourself.
Step 3: Maximize Your Down Payment
The best way to buy a home is with as much cash as possible. Keep in mind the more cash you put down, the less money you’ll need to finance. That means lower mortgage payments each month and a faster timeline to pay off your home loan.
If you can’t postpone until you can pay cash, putting 20% down will keep you from paying private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI protects the mortgage company in the event you don’t make your payments and they have to foreclose on you. It usually costs 1% of the total loan value and that cost is added to your monthly payment.
Step 4: Get Pre-approved for a Mortgage
In just a quick conversation with you about your income, assets and down payment, a lender can prequalify you to buy a house. Getting preapproved takes a little more work—a lender will need to verify your financial information and submit your loan for preliminary underwriting. Although it takes some extra time to get preapproved, it pays off when you begin your home search since a preapproval letter shows that you’re a serious buyer.
A word of caution: Your mortgage lender will most likely approve you for a bigger mortgage than you can actually afford. Do not let your lender set your home-buying budget. Ignore the bank’s numbers and stick with your own.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHICH MORTGAGE OPTION IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
Bad financing can turn your biggest asset into a liability. That’s why getting the right mortgage is so important! Setting your boundaries on the front end makes it easier to find a home you love that’s in your budget.
Here are the guidelines I recommend:
Step 5: Calculate the Costs
You can figure out how to buy a home that won’t bust your budget by simply crunching a few numbers. Once you know how much you can realistically spend on a new home, make sure you and your spouse are on the same page about your budget and what you can actually pay.
Add up any income you bring in each month. Let’s say you bring home $2,400 a month and your spouse makes $2,600 a month. Your total monthly take-home pay would be $5,000.
Multiply your monthly take-home pay by 25% to get your maximum mortgage payment. If you bring home $5,000 a month, that means your house payment should be no more than $1,250 a month, including taxes and insurance.
Be sure to factor your down payment into the equation and include a buffer in your 25% for taxes and insurance, which are typically included in your monthly mortgage payment. For example, let’s say your maximum monthly payment is $1,250, you have $25,000 for a down payment, and taxes and insurance will cost about $200 a month. That means you could afford a $172,000 house on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage at 3.5% interest.
Factor in home ownership costs. Your emergency fund should cover major home disasters. But if live in a neighborhood that has home owner association fees, or if you want to save up for a few home upgrades, you’ll need to build room in your monthly budget for those expenses. Just be sure they don’t take away from bigger financial goals, like saving for retirement.
Leave room in your monthly budget to cover other home ownership expenses. These costs may include:
Purchasing a home is a dream come true for so many people. But this dream can quickly become a nightmare if you are not financially fit to take on this hefty responsibility. Follow these steps before your home purchase and I promise you it will be worth the wait.
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