Making the decision to become a homeowner is emotionally and financially complex. Here are some key things to ask yourself if you're considering whether buying is right for you.
Do you have a good reason to buy?
Sometimes switching from renting to buying is a no-brainer. Maybe you live in a modern one-bedroom apartment in a chic part of town, but you have a baby on the way. If you want a place in a good school district, with more square footage and a yard, buying may well be your best bet.
Other times, the urge to buy is driven by emotion: You see a house you like and you “just know.” There's nothing wrong with that reaction, but take time to check out the property before you make any commitments. If it's too far from work, near a noisy road or the best house on a bad block, it may not be as good a deal as it first appears.
And remember: Houses go on the market all the time, and there are tens of millions of single-family homes and condos in the U.S. So there's no need to worry if your first choice doesn't work out; your home is out there.
Can you make the upfront investment?
Buying a home requires an initial investment that you can't ignore.
First, many lenders require a down payment of 20% of the home price. That's $40,000 for a home that costs $200,000, about the median price in America. You'll also owe closing costs, which could include loan-origination fees, discount points, appraisal fees, survey fees, underwriting fees, title search fees, and title insurance. Those could total another few thousand dollars.
The expenses don't end there. You'll want to hire an independent inspector to look for defects in a home before you buy. This will cost several hundred dollars, but could save you thousands in repairs. And then there are moving costs, state or city taxes, utilities installation and the costs of changes you might want to make to the home — such as new flooring or painting — that are easiest to do while it's empty.
This isn't meant to scare you off; buying a home is still a smart choice for many people, despite the costs. But it does take a lot of cash.
Can you afford the upkeep?
Your mortgage payment might be fixed for the next 30 years, but your property taxes and insurance rates can rise. And if you didn't make a 20% down payment, you'll have to buy private mortgage insurance, or PMI, until you have 20% equity in your home. It costs about $165 per month on a $200,000 loan.
Once you're a homeowner, you'll also have to pay certain utility bills that might have been included in your rent. And you'll be responsible for maintenance: double-pane windows one year, a new garage door the next, fixes to the roof five years up the road. It adds up.
These numbers are based on averages. Plug your specific figures into a rent-or-buy calculator to find out if you're ready for homeownership. And know that there is no one answer that's right for everybody. Whether you keep renting or buy, your decision should be right for you alone.
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