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Are You Ready to Buy a House?

Authored By: Community Focus FCU on 3/2/2021

A couple in front of the house with the Sold sign.

Are You Ready to Buy a House?

Homeownership is a goal for many Americans, and it can be good for your financial health as an investment…but only if you go in well prepared and know under what circumstances it isn’t a good move for you and your wallet.

How much can you afford?

Answering this question as accurately as possible is crucial to moving forward in your house search. The factors that go into the answer will help you decide what “affordable” means for you and keep you from buying too much house.

The first factor to know about is your debt-to-income ratio (DTI). To calculate this, add all of your monthly debt payments (credit card, car loan, personal loans, student loans, etc.) and divide it by your monthly gross income. Including anticipated housing-related expenses—mortgage, mortgage insurance, homeowners’ association fees, property tax, homeowners insurance, etc.— your debt payments shouldn’t be above 43% of your monthly gross income.

So, to figure out how big of a monthly mortgage payment you can afford using this DTI, multiply your monthly gross income by 0.43. This gives you the total you should be spending on debt payments. Now, subtract existing debt payments (those credit card, student loan, etc. payments listed above). That final number is what, theoretically, you can afford to spend each month on a mortgage.

Of course, the lower your DTI, the better!

The 43% debt-to-income (DTI) ratio standard is generally used by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to determine if the borrower can make their payments each month. But you should also consider the front-end debt-to-income ratio, which calculates the monthly debt you would incur from housing expenses alone, such as mortgage payments and mortgage insurance. For this, lenders like the ratio to be 28% or less.

The affordability of a house for you should also include the money needed to cover closing costs, which can range from two to four percent of the purchase price, a down payment of 10 to 20% of the purchase price, and the credit score you need to secure the best interest rate.

Do you have the down payment?

The ideal for most people is to be able to put down 20% of the home price. This allows you to avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI is added to your mortgage payments and can add anywhere from $30 to more than $70 to your monthly payments for every $100,000 borrowed. And PMI is not the same as your homeowners’ insurance policy, which you’ll also need to purchase separately.

If you can’t put the full 20% down, you can still buy a home with as little as 3.5% down, for an FHA loan, for example. However, in general, it will limit your choice of lenders and increase your monthly mortgage payments in the long run.

Where do you want to put down roots?

If you’re considering tying your finances to a 15- or 30-year mortgage, you’d better be confident where you’re putting your roots down! Will your job or education likely change in the near future and require you to relocate? Are you near a support network, like family? Would you rather remain flexible about your living situation?

How much time do you have to spend on being a homeowner?

Are you ready for the time commitment of homeownership? We promise most maintenance issues, DIY projects, and rehabs aren’t as easy or as quick as the TV shows would have you believe!

If you can’t pay for someone else to clean your gutters, repair your driveway, install a new bathroom, landscape your backyard, etc., you’ll need to spend time learning how to do it yourself. And then do it.

Not everyone wants to commit the amount of time a home can take. Be sure you consider this lifestyle change before you buy a home.

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