Buying a house is a major step, and planning to purchase a home can be a lot of fun. You get to figure out where you’d hang your favorite artwork, plant a vegetable garden, put the PlayStation — and maybe contemplate taking on some DIY projects yourself.
But there’s another, more nuts-and-bolts aspect to your pursuit of the American Dream: how to budget for a house. Most people in the U.S. are homeowners, with the latest Census data revealing that 65.8% had attained this status in the second quarter of 2022. So that’s a good indicator that buying your own home is within reach.
Doing so will likely require you to be smart about your finances, both as you save and then take on the responsibility of owning a home. To help you be successful in this pursuit, read on for the intel you need, such as:
• How do I know how much house I can afford?
• What are the costs/fees to consider?
• What will my ongoing costs be?
• How can I budget for a house?
First, consider how much you would have to fork over if you find that perfect center-hall Colonial or loft-style condo. Once an offer on a new home is accepted, there are certain costs the buyer needs to pay right off the bat and, in most cases, out of their own pocket. These are called up-front expenses. Here are a few to prepare for as you consider how to budget for a house:
You may have heard of the traditional 20% down payment guideline, which helps you avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI) on applicable loan programs. Additionally, a higher down payment can sometimes result in better loan terms (such as a lower interest rate) which may translate into lower monthly mortgage payments.
Yep, it’s a lot of money to try to save, but if you can swing it, in the long run, applying a 20% down payment will likely save you from paying thousands of dollars in additional mortgage interest over the life of the loan.
Can’t pull together that big a chunk of change? Look into your options for a mortgage lender with lower or no down payment. Some options:
• The minimum down payment for a first-time homebuyer on a conventional loan can be as low as 3%. You may also need a certain credit score of, say, 620, to qualify for this kind of mortgage.
• An FHA government loan that is open to everyone typically requires a down payment of at least 3.5%.
• Veteran VA loans or government USDA loans may allow eligible borrowers to finance up to 100% of their home’s cost. In other words, no down payment is required.
It’s worth noting that, regardless of the size of your down payment, buying may still significantly reduce your overall monthly expenses, compared to your current rent and real-estate market conditions. Given the current high rates of inflation and housing market shortages, buying can be a good option, depending on your specific circumstances.
2% to 5% Closing Costs
You can likely expect to pay an estimated 2% to 5% of your home price for closing costs, and save accordingly. For example, if you buy a home that costs $300,000, you may be required to pay between $6,000 and $15,000 in closing costs.
Worth noting: Some costs are fixed and not tied to the price. In these cases, the percentage can be higher for the lower range and lower for the higher purchase price range.
What exactly comprises closing costs? This can be bank charges like origination fees and any points you may have purchased to buy down your interest rate. There are also costs like the appraisal fee, a title search, and others.
Keep in mind that there are alternatives to paying the closing costs out-of-pocket, such as requesting a seller credit, requesting a lender credit, or tapping an applicable down payment/closing costs assistance loan program. These can help you minimize this expense.
Don’t forget when budgeting for buying a house that you will need funds to actually move in. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a generous pal with a van, you are probably going to have to hire a moving company when it’s time to get settled in your new home. According to the American Moving and Storage Association, the average intrastate, or local, move is $2,300, and the average move between states is $4,890.
These costs can vary widely, of course. If you are moving with just a bedroom’s worth of furniture versus a whole house, your price tag will be lower. It’s wise to comparison-shop for moving companies and factor this expense into your own budgeting for a home move.
If you are moving for work reasons, check with your company to see if they offer a relocation package to help cover some or all of the moving costs.
New Furniture and Appliances
Your new house may not have the same dimensions and style of your old house. That could mean that you need to buy new furniture and appliances. When budgeting for buying a house, you might want to talk to friends or relatives who have moved recently and inquire about unexpected expenses as well. For example, it’s not uncommon when you move to have to purchase such items as new locks, shower rods, and window treatments. These can add up quickly.
You might want to start a savings account for these types of purchases — some of them may be unexpected and costlier than you imagined.
Recommended: First-Time Homebuyer Guide
First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.
Now that you’ve figured out the details related to the actual purchase, consider the expenses that will accrue once you are a homeowner. This is a very important step when budgeting for buying a house. These recurring charges are a vital part of the calculations of how much home you can afford.
First, consider how much you’ll be spending every month on your monthly mortgage payment and related costs. PITIA (principal, interest, property taxes, homeowners insurance, and other assessments) is an acronym describing all the components of a mortgage payment. Here’s how it breaks down:
• P: The principal is the “meat” of the monthly payment amount — paying down the principal will reduce the loan balance.
• I: Interest is what you are charged for borrowing the money.
• T: Taxes refer to your property taxes.
• I: This “I” refers to insurance. This includes both your homeowners and mortgage insurance, if applicable.
• A: The other assessments refer to things that may be applicable to the home you purchase such as Homeowner Association Dues, Flood or Earthquake Insurance, and more.
HOA stands for homeowners association. These dues usually apply to a condo, co-op, or property owned in a planned community.
The charge is usually monthly (but it could also be charged quarterly or annually), and it typically goes to maintaining the community (landscaping, garbage collection, repairs, and upgrades).
Before purchasing a property with HOA dues, it can be important to ask the Homeowners Association for a complete HOA questionnaire. With this in hand, you can view how healthy the association is, whether there is any outstanding litigation due to structural or other issues, etc. These could mean increased costs down the road.
Maintenance and Lawn Care
Your budgeting probably won’t stop once you’ve moved and settled into your new home. Expenses will likely continue to knock on your door — landscaping, roof repair, and water heater replacement are just a few items that might require ongoing financial consideration.
You may want to budget for 1% to 4% of the cost of your home in maintenance each year to pay for these expenses. However, deferred maintenance costs may require more funding, depending on the age, quality of construction, where you live, and more.
Pest Control, Security, Utilities
The cost of electricity, gas, water, and phones differ from market to market. This is also true with pest control, and services that help ensure your home is secure and safe. You could find yourself paying more (or even less) for these services in your new home.
So now that you understand the costs associated with homeownership, whether they are one-time or ongoing, you can get to work on how to budget for a house.
Ideally, you want to cover the homebuying costs and then be able to afford your monthly carrying costs without racking up debt. The standard advice is that your monthly housing expenses should account for up to 28% of your monthly pre-tax income. Given the inflationary times we live in and how expensive some housing markets can be, it’s not uncommon to find people spending more than that right now.
Here, some advice on figuring out what you can afford.
Target Mortgage Costs
Do your research on the different types of mortgage loan programs. Determine what your price range is given the current interest rates, which have climbed considerably over the past year. Find the programs that may best suit you, so you’ll feel confident you can bid and afford a home once you have your down payment saved. Don’t forget to factor in those other PITIA expenses mentioned above as you think about your own monthly income and cash outflow when you’re a homeowner.
Build a Budget
Once you have these costs calculated, you can then start budgeting for buying a house. You’ll want to accumulate your down payment, while taking care of current bills and other financial obligations, of course.
• Create a line item budget. You’ll want to note how much money you have coming in and how much goes out toward your needs (housing, food, medical expenses, debt repayment). Then you’ll see what’s left for your wants (think travel, dining out, clothes, entertainment) and start saving it, whether for your future home or retirement.
Don’t skimp, though, on establishing an emergency fund. In a pinch, these funds can keep you from using your credit card and running up even more debt.
• Assess where you can save more. To ramp up your savings for your house, look for ways to economize. Could you drop a subscription or two to streaming channels, or perhaps eat out less often?
Also see what you can do to avoid high-interest credit card debt, which can take a bite out of anyone’s budget. You might want to take advantage of a zero-interest balance transfer credit card offer, or investigate whether a lower-interest personal loan could help you pay off your debt and save money.
• Use automatic transfers. Help yourself hit your savings goals by automating payday transfers from checking to savings. That way, you won’t see the cash in your account and be tempted to spend more.
• Bring in more moolah. If the numbers aren’t adding up to bring your homebuying plans within reach fast enough, consider using windfalls (a tax refund, a bonus at work, a birthday gift of cash from a relative) to plump up your savings. Also consider ways to bring in more income, like pursuing a part-time gig in your free time. Additional money is a key benefit of a side hustle.
Ready to Buy?
Once you have your savings set, you can begin to look for different mortgage loan options. SoFi, for example, offers competitive rates, and qualifying first-time homebuyers can put as little as 3% down. It takes just minutes to start your application online.
Ready to purchase your dream home? Find your rate with SoFi.
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