Looking for the right home can be a daunting process for first-time buyers and seasoned vets alike. From the style of the house to the type of appliances, there are countless factors that can go into such a big purchase. The following short checklist outlines the most important things you should think about when you're on the hunt for a new home.
1. Define Your Budget
It's never fun to fall in love with a house that you can't afford. Avoid heartbreak by taking the time to analyze your financial situation before you begin the search. Start by reviewing your credit score, monitoring your debt, and choosing an appropriate down payment. Meeting with a financial professional can help you get an accurate picture of your financial situation and the loans you are eligible for.
Looking at your debt-to-income ratio is one of the ways that creditors establish how qualified you are for a mortgage loan. Your debt-to-income ratio is determined by taking your monthly debt (think current mortgage payments, student loans, car loans, etc.) and dividing them by your gross monthly income. Ideally, you want to keep that ratio at 43% or lower. According to the Federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, "studies of mortgage loans suggest that borrowers with a higher debt-to-income ratio are more likely to run into trouble making monthly payments. The 43 percent debt-to-income ratio is important because, in most cases, that is the highest ratio a borrower can have and still get a Qualified Mortgage."
Don't skip the down-payment analysis! A huge factor in getting the best mortgage rate relies on how much cash you are able to put down initially. The rule of thumb has been to put 20% down as a minimum. Anything below the 20% rule will usually require mortgage insurance and end up costing you more on the loan long term. Determining the right path for you will require you to analyze your own situation—your budget, timeframe, and any other factors involved in figuring out your financial capacity to save and put money away for your new home.
2. Your Must-have List
Always search for homes that meet your "must-have" list. A must-have list encourages you to write out exactly what you need in a new home and will significantly aid in narrowing down the scope of your search, especially when searching with another person. This list will also foster communication on critical aspects of your new home that might not have been discussed previously, and help you identify requirements that may be in conflict with each other.
Focus your list on the high-level, pricey aspects of a home. Minor changes such as painting and smaller renovation projects can be worked on down the road, but changes that add up in time and money should be avoided (think kitchen remodels or adding another bathroom). Narrowing down your search to homes that don't require major changes will help ensure you choose a home that is within your budget.
If you are struggling with where to start, think about what type of home you want to live in–Single Family or Townhome/Condo? How many bathrooms and bedrooms do you need? Do you want a fireplace or pool? What's the minimum lot size you would be comfortable with and do you require a garage? What about air conditioning?
Keep your list short and sweet–try to keep your must-haves on the shorter side by focusing on major requirements and ranking them by importance. Prioritizing your list will help when it comes to decision-making time, as selecting a home will often require some flexibility. Your list will provide you with an easy way to determine which aspects you can compromise on and which are red flags telling you to move on.
Compromise can be hard, but don't let small things completely take a home off of your shortlist. Remember, minor changes such as painting and smaller renovation projects can be worked on down the road, however, if there are a lot of these things the costs of those projects can add up. Focus on the minor modifications that you feel comfortable changing.
3. Location, Location, Location!
While the importance of location is often a no-brainer, the location of your potential new home serves multiple purposes. Location will impact your daily life and happiness as well as your home's value down the road.
When looking at location in terms of resell value, you want to look at a multitude of things: school districts, crime stats, and the neighborhood & community. A little research can answer most of these questions, and this website offers Market Insider, a tool to give you details on all these factors and more! Besides looking at the current stats and trends, take this information and think about what the value of the area might be in 5 or 10 years when you potentially could resell your home.
Along with the resale value, analyze the location of a home from the perspective of your wellbeing and happiness. Things such as your daily commute, surrounding noise, and community will greatly shape your experience in the home.
Along with this checklist, seeking guidance from a professional is always a good idea! A realtor like me can offer a wide array of skills and expertise, from the showing of a home to the endless paperwork. You can count on me to guide you through the process and assist in your home-buying decisions.
Finding the right home might not necessarily mean finding the "perfect" home, but rather, finding the right home for you to make your own. Hopefully, this checklist provides you with a guide to start your journey towards the right home. When you're ready to start looking, don't hesitate to give me a call!