Purchasing your first home is a major milestone and not a decision to be taken lightly. It’s a huge financial commitment that can take months of preparation — searching for the right home, making an offer, going through the mortgage application process and closing on the home. Then you have the actual business of home ownership, which is a whole other story.
But in order for this to go as smoothly as possible, it’s a good idea to have your affairs in order before you become a homeowner. Here are five signs you might be ready.
You Have Financial Stability
Financial stability is one of the most important contributing factors to successful homeownership. You need to have a steady source of income that can easily cover your mortgage payment — experts recommend that your home cost no more than 20 to 30% of your monthly income. You’ll also want to minimize any debt or financial obligations that can reduce your ability to afford a mortgage. Finally, you’ll need income or savings to afford home repairs, furniture and other assorted expenses.
If you’re already emptying your bank account to pay your rent, you may need to reduce your expenses or increase your income and savings before you’re ready to buy.
“You shouldn’t spend to your limit and end up with a new home and nothing in the bank,” Chris Taylor, a real estate broker with Advantage Real Estate, said. “You need to have a plan and a comfortable buffer so that if the unexpected happens, you have the money to make repairs.”
You Have Enough for a Down Payment
Almost all home sales require some sort of down payment. Depending on loan type, down payments can range from 5 to 20% of the cost of your home. The more money you can provide for a down payment, the less you will owe on your mortgage.
Down payments can increase the odds of getting approved for a loan and help you secure better interest rates, Randy Hopper, senior vice president of Mortgage Lending at Navy Federal Credit Union, said. “It is, therefore, critically important to factor into your budget the source of your down payment.”
Many lenders, agencies and nonprofits provide assistance programs and financing options that can help potential homeowners come up with their down payment. Be sure to shop around and research the available options.
You Have Strong Credit
Strong credit is essential to securing a mortgage. A good credit score can help you secure a better interest rate, which can save you thousands over the life of a loan. The better your credit score, the better your odds of landing your dream home with a reasonable interest rate.
Building or improving your credit takes time, and it’s best to start well before you begin touring houses. “Make 100% of your payments on time,” Hopper said. “You should avoid opening too many accounts at once. And always check each of your credit reports for errors.”
Not sure where your credit is at? Now is the time to find out. You can see two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com and you can see your full credit reports from the three major credit bureaus (also free) on AnnualCreditReport.com. If you find that things aren’t in the best shape, you can focus on repairing your credit yourself or turn to a professional credit repair expert for help. Either way, if you can wait to apply for a loan until your credit is in decent shape, your wallet will likely thank you.
You’re Ready for a Long-Term Commitment
House hunters are often primarily focused on the type of home they want. But consider that you’ll be making a long-term commitment to both your home and the geographic region. Pay attention to the home values in the neighborhood, the quality of schools, recreation options, and any other priorities. Building value in your home and putting down roots requires years of commitment, so make sure you’re ready.
“There are costs associated with acquiring your loan, closing on the sale and then moving in — and this is not to mention the physical items you’ll most likely end up purchasing,” Hopper said. “On average, it can take about five years to break even on these costs, so I recommend thinking ahead and asking yourself if you will still be in the home beyond five years.”
You’re Prepared for Home Maintenance
You don’t have to be an expert handyman to own a home. But if you can’t operate a plunger, you may not be ready. Homes need maintenance and TLC to retain their function and value, and if you can’t handle repairs, you’ll at least need to be able to afford someone who can.
“Calling a plumber on a Saturday night is going to be costly,” Taylor said. “If you have the ability to watch a few YouTube videos and figure out minor repairs, you’re in good shape. It’s also important to know when you’re in over your head and need to consult an expert.”