You've been setting aside money for a down payment for a few years and you've met your goal. Your online browsing has turned to semi-regular weekend open house hunting, and now you're thinking about getting an agent of your own. Is it time? Are you really ready to buy a house?
Am I Ready to Maintain a Home?
One of the biggest daily life differences between renting and owning is that no one is responsible for maintaining a home except for the home owners. This means when the toilet breaks, you have to fix it or hire someone to do it. When the dishwasher dies, you have to buy a new one. And the landscape maintenance? Yep, that's all on you.
Maintaining a home involves a considerable amount of time and money. It means weekends spent trimming shrubs and painting the spare room yourself and the cash flow to regularly set aside funds to replace, repair, and maintain everything from squeaky doors to HVAC units. The Balance recommends the oft touted "one percent rule" when it comes to knowing how much to set aside for home maintenance: one percent of your home's value per year.
Do I Have Money Set Aside for Hidden Expenses?
Your down payment savings (at least 10 percent, with 20 percent being ideal) is the most straight-forward chunk of cash you need to buy a home, but there are significant additional expenses that you need to be able to front when you buy a house. Namely, you should have an additional 3 percent saved for expenses like closing costs and prepaids.
In addition, have you factored in the money you'll need to pay for moving expenses and the costs of making your new house move-in ready (cleaning, painting, closet organization, furniture, etc.)?
Are You Ready to Walk Away?
When you're looking to buy a house, you should be thoroughly informed about three things: what you can afford to buy; what is important to you in terms of location, size and features; and what upgrades or repairs you're willing to deal with and can afford to pay for. Being armed with this knowledge should keep you from making any unwise emotional decisions if you "fall in love" with a house that isn't rationally right for you. Basically: If you're likely to get carried away with the fantasy of finally being homeowners, you might not be ready.
Have You Considered the Coming Decade?
It goes without saying that no one knows what the future holds, but you should have a good idea about what your plans for the next few years are before you jump into buying a house. For instance, if you or your spouse plans to apply to graduate school in the next year or so, would you move? If you plan to begin a family, have you looked into school zones? Making sure to address these questions could help you decide if now is the time to buy at all, or if maybe you should save up for a bit longer to be able to afford something in a different neighborhood. The longer you're able to stay in one home, the more your home purchase will make sense financially.