Louise Lingerman's Blog
If you're renting a nice house, condo, or apartment, there's a good chance your monthly rent check is almost as much as a mortgage payment. Perhaps you've realized this and have been asking yourself why you're contributing to someone else's nest egg, instead of your own! If that sounds familiar, you may be ready to take the plunge into home ownership.
The other half of the equation is whether you're financially ready, and that would depend on a variety of things, including your credit rating, your debt-to-income ratio, and your ability to make a sufficient down payment on a new home. Although a 20% down payment is a desirable target to aim for, there's often a lot of flexibility on how much you're required to put down on a house.
One of the main reasons a 20% down payment is desirable is that it takes you "off the hook" for having to pay monthly private mortgage insurance (PMI). The second advantage of making a substantial down payment is that it reduces the principal amount of your loan, which, in turn, lowers your monthly payments even more. However, if you're ready to become a home owner, but can't afford a 20% down payment, you can often eliminate PMI payments earlier than scheduled by making extra principal payments. The bank or mortgage company you decide to work with can fully explain their policies and what your options are.
If you are interested in making the transition from renter to home owner, now's a good time to start talking to loan officers. If nothing else, you'll be educating yourself on the intricacies of buying a home. Working with an experienced real estate agent is another way to learn the ropes, so to speak, when it comes to the home buying process.
Other than the financial benefits of building equity in your own home, there are also a lot of practical advantages. If you're currently a renter, for example -- especially in an apartment building, duplex, or townhouse -- you're probably tired of the lack of privacy and the unwelcome noises you can often hear through walls, floors, and ceilings.
Becoming a home owner brings with it a pride of ownership and the ability to plant trees, bushes, and gardens on your own property. Depending on what's available in your price range, you can also enjoy your own private deck, screened in porch, or patio. Options for the kids (if you have them) include swing sets, sand boxes, and room to play backyard sports or run through a water sprinkler during the hot weather.
If you feel like you are ready to take the plunge into home ownership, the first step is to make lists of your requirements, your preferences ("wish list"), and financial resources. The next step is to find a good real estate agent to start showing you homes that fulfill your needs and check off as many items on your wish list as possible!
If you're planning on making the transition from apartment renter to homeowner in the near future, you can be sure that the experience will be both exciting and challenging!
While some first-time home buyers are fairly well prepared for the changes that accompany homeownership, others encounter a myriad of unexpected expenses, neighbor problems, and household emergencies. Keeping surprises to a minimum and knowing how to handle difficulties when they come up are two strategies for keeping your life on an even keel in your new home.
When taking your initial plunge into homeownership, here are a few things to keep in mind to avoid problems and get the most from your new home.
Budgeting for expenses: When you're a renter or living with your parents, three things you generally don't have to concern yourself with are home repairs, appliance replacement, and yard maintenance costs. The longer list of homeowner expenses that could take a bite out of your paycheck or bank account includes furnace and AC services, chimney cleaning, snow removal, landscaping, exterminator services, plumbing leaks, and lighting installation. Many first-time home buyers also need to buy items like a lawn mower, clothes washer and dryer, and furniture. Although you can delay or spread out some of these expenses, they do need to be considered when creating a household budget.
Privacy is a factor: Depending on the proximity of houses, the openness of your yard, and the extent to which you want to get to know your neighbors, you might find yourself wanting to have some fencing installed or privacy hedges planted. Ideally, these are alterations you'd want to have done shortly after you move in -- if not before. That way, next door neighbors will have less of a tendency to take it personally when you erect barriers between you and them. And speaking of privacy, curtains and blinds are often a priority that needs to be taken care of immediately. While some homes for sale may include window treatments, there's a good chance your home decorating shopping list may include curtains!
Neighbor relations matter: If you happen to have neighbors who are easy going, relatively quiet, and likable, then consider yourself very fortunate! Being a good neighbor is, of course, a two-way street, so try to keep your noise level down to a "dull roar" and be the kind of neighbor you'd like them to be! That's no guarantee, of course, that everyone's going to get along famously and be the best of friends, but mutual respect and showing a modicum of friendliness to neighbors does help establish a cordial neighborhood atmosphere.
By creating a realistic household budget, being neighborly, and factoring in your need for privacy, you can begin setting the stage for a satisfying and fulfilling homeowner experience.