When the rent check is due, does it feel like pouring money down the drain? Are you spending your free time swiping through real estate listings? Do you dream of spending Saturday mornings at the Home Depot?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, it might be time to stop renting and consider buying a home. Of course, buying a home isn’t as simple as finding a place to rent—it’s a huge investment.
That doesn’t mean it’s a purely financial decision. You may be seeking more space for your growing family or craving the community aspect of living in a suburb. Maybe you want home office space, a better school district, or dog-friendly green space. Or maybe you’re just feeling ready to achieve that major milestone of being a homeowner.
That said, it may be best to remove emotion from the equation to help you answer the question “Am I financially ready to buy?” Your heart might say, “I’m ready for my own backyard,” but your wallet might tell you, “We can’t afford it.”
Here are four signs that you may be financially prepared to be a first-time homebuyer.
1. Your Budget Is Big Enough to Cover the Expenses
Homeownership isn’t all gain, no pain. Expenses may include:
• Down payment and closing costs
• Mortgage payments, including property taxes, homeowners insurance, and, if applicable, private mortgage insurance
• Repair and maintenance costs, including HOA dues, if applicable
How can you budget for these upfront and ongoing expenses? One way is to take a look at the average amount each of these costs in the housing market where you plan to buy a home to get a sense of how home-related expenses may affect your finances in the larger picture.
You may get excited about buying a fixer-upper when watching home improvement shows. A common mortgage for such homes is an FHA 203(k), backed by the federal government, which includes money for the purchase price and some repairs and renovations.
Buyers will need to get bids for all the repairs they hope to fund with the loan. For less extensive repairs/improvements, there’s a Limited 203(k) .
If the desired renovation is on the smaller side and you acquire a traditional mortgage, cash or a personal loan are options.
You can get an idea of how much your chosen home repair or improvement costs will be with this home improvement cost calculator.
2. You Plan on Staying Put for a While
Buying a home signals more of a commitment to location than renting.
Sell a place and move out too soon? Depending on market conditions in the area, there’s a chance you’ll barely break even, when additional real estate commissions and other factors come into play. If you can see yourself staying put in your new home for a while, it might be a sign to start shopping.
You may want to check for any future changes in the area, such as corporate layoffs or zoning updates, that may affect future property values. And it’s a good idea to ask your real estate agent about the stability of prices in your chosen area.
Of course, money and home value appreciation aren’t the only reasons you might consider staying put. You may want to take your career trajectory and family planning into account when thinking about tying a chunk of change into a home. You’ll likely want to determine that there isn’t a chance you’ll have to move any time soon. The financial and emotional stress of selling a home soon after buying it probably isn’t worth it.
If you think you won’t be in the same place for a while, you may want to think twice about buying a home or explore how your finances would be affected if you had to move and/or convert the property into a rental.
Searching for other ways to possibly increase the home’s value? Check out this home improvement return on investment estimator to gauge the possible return on your next project.
3. You Have Good Credit
Your good or better credit profile may have been advantageous when applying for a place to rent.
The credit you’ve spent years building will likely pay off in a bigger way once you make the move to own, with improved lending terms such as a lower mortgage rate offered.
What credit score is needed to buy a house? The average American’s credit score remains in the range considered “good.” But applicants with “fair” and even “poor” credit scores can and do secure mortgages.
Here’s how FICO® scores are classified:
• Exceptional: 800-850
• Very good: 740-799
• Good: 670-739
• Fair: 580-669
• Very poor: 300-579
If you’ve spent years building your credit and your number reflects that, then you might be financially ready to buy a home.
Credit score requirements for loan program eligibility and pricing can vary from lender to lender, so you may want to shop around.
4. Rents in Your Area Are High
In many markets, the rising price of rent could make buying more enticing than ever, depending on the area you are interested in.
This may be reflected in a good number of major metropolitan areas in the states, and means, over time, it may be a smarter move to invest your money toward home ownership vs rent.
Two big factors to consider are:
• How long you plan to stay in your home
• The price-to-rent ratio, which compares the median home price and median annual rent in a given area.
Trulia has a rent vs. buy calculator for comparing the net costs of renting and buying. So does realtor.com.
Zillow has a similar calculator showing how many years it will take before the cost of buying equals the cost of renting—the break-even point.
Estimating your break-even point could be useful when answering the question of whether it’s a good time to buy a home.
It’s best to take the calculations with a grain of salt, though. These are general estimates, and no one can predict the future of housing prices, rents, and taxes.
Now, if the financials make sense for you, you may want to consider the emotional perspective. For example, do you crave the autonomy of owning your own place? Are you dying to have control over paint colors and tile choices? And are you willing to live without your landlords (and their midnight visits to fix your broken heater)?
Signs that you may be ready to buy a home: You have an adequate budget and good credit profile, a desire to put down stakes, and an understanding of the price-to-rent ratio in your target city.
If you’re ready to take the plunge into homeownership, consider SoFi’s fixed-rate mortgage options, from 10 to 30 years.
SoFi offers competitive rates and as little as 5% down.
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