First things first, take a deep breath and then lay out what’s most important to you, so you can find the house that fits your dreams. Here are some things to consider:
How Much Space Do I Need?
Are you looking to purchase that bachelor pad or downtown loft, or do you plan to get married and start a family in the burbs? The square footage you’re looking for can be the most significant factor affecting the cost of your home, and is one that takes careful consideration.
In a sense, it can be a tradeoff between location and size. A condo in a highly-desirable area can cost as much as a large family house in many suburbs, so it’s up to you to decide if size or location is your top priority.
With a larger house, you stand to face more maintenance and energy costs, and cleaning will be more of a pain. In addition, if your locale charges property tax based on square footage, it can add up each month. That said, if you plan on having kids and want the extra space, and suburban schools, it could make a lot of sense for you to look for a house with storage space and room to play in.
How Much Maintenance Can I Handle?
Sure, nobody likes paying money into their landlord’s wallet on rent every month, but in a rental property you know that if something breaks, it’s probably not your responsibility to fix it.
Maintenance is a major cost of home-owning, and it should be a central consideration when deciding what type of house to buy. You may have fallen in love at first sight with that brownstone or mid-century modern, but with age often comes wear and tear. Pipes wear down and need replacing, roofs spring leaks, and foundations start to show their age. Older houses tend to have more character, but with a new house, you can spare yourself some maintenance headaches.
If you’ve got a knack for fixer-uppers and can handle small renovations on your own, this may be less of a concern. For many of us though, small repairs can really add up.
New houses (and condos and townhomes) are also built to be more energy efficient, with an eye toward conservation and green living that wasn’t nearly as popular in decades past. This can affect your monthly costs as a homeowner as well.
What Kind of Outdoor Property Do I Want?
Having a nice yard or a well-kept garden can be a real source of happiness and tranquility as a homeowner - and can give you some headaches as well.
Depending on the climate where you live, keeping a yard green - and alive - can be a serious cost on your monthly water bill, and if you need a professional landscaper to come by regularly, you may start seeing the wisdom of condo living after all.
The costs of maintenance can also affect whether or not you spring for a house with a pool, space for a swingset, or a wooden deck that will need to withstand the elements year after year.
When weighing what type of outdoor space you want, consider the costs of upkeep and whether or not you can afford the expense or time to maintain it yourself. Think about the climate where you live, and how much it’ll cost to keep things looking green and well-kept. In addition, you can also join the growing trend of xeriscaping - landscaping that doesn’t require heavy watering and is centered on succulents, rocks, and other plants and materials that won’t drive up your water bill. In general, it’s a good idea to look for a property that has been landscaped with an eye towards sustainability.
What Are the Main Types of Homes I Should Look At?
There are four main types of homes you are likely to consider when purchasing a place to live: a single family home, condo, or townhouse. They differ in terms of size and your responsibilities as an owner, but let’s take a closer look.
A single-family home is a detached property, which gives you more privacy and land than condos or townhomes. With a single family house you also get to call all the shots when it comes to renovations and upkeep. That said, you’re also responsible for fixing anything that goes wrong, and maintaining the landscaping, so if you want a more worry- and hassle-free sort of home ownership, this might not be your best option.
Typically a condominium is a residence that you own within a building, though some are detached and stand on their own. Like many apartment complexes, condominiums include common areas like a lobby, pool, gym, game room, or a barbecue area, which residences share. You’ll also be required to pay maintenance and/or membership fees, though at the same time, you won’t be on the hook for taking care of the yard or making repairs in the property. That said, you won’t have as much freedom to renovate like you would with a single family home.
A townhome is a multi-floor private residence that is connected to another private residence through a common wall. Typically these provide less space and privacy than a private family house, but you also won’t have to worry as much about upkeep and maintenance and you can make use of common areas. Think of it as somewhere between a condo and a single-family house.
People often get co-ops and condominiums mixed-up, but there are some differences. When you buy into a co-op, you don’t actually own the housing unit, rather, you buy shares of the corporation that owns the building. With these sharers comes a lease for a unit in the building. You will also have to pay monthly maintenance fees for the building, as well as real estate taxes. In addition, in order to live in a co-op you have to win the approval of the co-op board, which is made up of residents of the building.
What Type Of Home Can I Afford?
When it comes to home ownership, focus on what you can afford, and make sure your eyes aren’t bigger than your bank account.
A larger house will be more expensive, not only in closing price but also in terms of utilities, maintenance, and property tax. Take a look at your needs and how much you expect your family to grow in the coming years. Are you single? Married? Do you plan on having kids? All of these questions can help you decide whether or not more room is a necessity, then you can decide what you can afford and what you can’t.
When looking at your monthly income and what you can afford, a general rule of thumb says that anything up to 36% of your income should not be too much of a burden. You should also take a look at the closing costs and other expenses that the purchase will entail right off the bat.
It’s also wise to make sure to keep a significant amount of money liquid in your savings, so that if something unexpected happens - such as sudden repairs or a loss of employment - you can still keep up with your payments for a few months.
Another thing to look at is the property tax in your area. Depending on how high it is, the cost of getting a bigger property may be even higher than you think. If you’re looking at a condominium or townhome, you should also weigh the burden of the homeowner’s association fee.
So What Now?
The good news is that owning a house can ensure your financial standing and acquire an asset that will accrue value and which you can pass on some day to your loved ones.
On the other hand, there is a lot to consider and some paperwork to go through before you can move in. One thing to keep in mind is that this is not only one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make, it’s also one of the most personal. Only you can truly decide what size home you want and need, and what you can afford. Once you’ve weighed all of your options, you’ll be even closer to that place of your own.
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