This time of year, many renters are almost halfway through their lease term and start fantasizing about homeownership. Before you open a Home Depot credit card or start perusing Pinterest for decorating ideas, it’s a good idea to ask yourself a few basic questions.
AM I FINANCIALLY PREPARED?
The first thing that typically pops to mind when considering whether to buy your first home is the down payment. Fortunately for today’s first-time homebuyers, gone are the days when a 20% down payment is required. There are multiple mortgage options for smaller down payments – these may increase your monthly payments but they can be good vehicles to get you into homeownership (and equity building) faster.
Although the down payment is an important factor, there are other financial considerations such as your credit score (a lower one could increase your mortgage rate), debt profile (which may impede your ability to pay your mortgage), savings (beyond a down payment you will need funds for closing costs and any work that needs to be addressed after you take possession) and percentage of income that you can devote to the mortgage (typically no more than 30%).
AM I READY TO CHANGE THE WAY I SPEND MY TIME?
Homes – even those newly constructed – require maintenance. Even if you outsource much of the labor itself (e.g., cleaning gutters, landscaping, painting) you will still need to devote time to managing these projects. If the electrician or plumber can only come by on Saturday afternoon, will you fume because you had to give up a day on the slopes, or will the happiness you get from your home overshadow it?
For those who would fume, a condo may be a good alternative. Typically maintenance for the exterior and common areas are covered under your monthly homeowners’ association (HOA) fees, theoretically leaving a smaller area to maintain. In addition, you may have access to amenities that you otherwise wouldn’t spring for in a single-family home such as a pool, an outdoor kitchen, or an on-site gym.
AM I READY TO CHANGE THE WAY I SPEND MY MONEY?
As noted above, homes require maintenance which inevitably requires an outlay of cash in addition to time. If the refrigerator breaks in your apartment your landlord will simply replace it. If that happens in a home you own, you will foot the bill. Will you bemoan the fact that you had earmarked that money for tickets to Hamilton or are you happy to forego that pleasure in order to get a side-by-side fridge with an internet connection?
At the end of the day, the decision to buy a home is a very personal one. Beyond financial readiness, first-time homebuyers should be prepared to make changes to the way they spend their time and money – to what degree those changes will impact your life is a decision that is firmly in your control. For example, you may opt to assume a smaller mortgage than what you are pre-qualified for because you want to have more discretionary spending power to fund travel, sporting events or other passions. Only you can make that decision.
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