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Who wouldn’t want to come home to this?  Image Via: Markay Johnson Construction

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of putting your keys in the door at the end of the long day and knowing that the property belongs to you. Homeownership affords you the ability to completely customize a home to fit your needs and personal style, all while building equity. Who could blame you for wanting to buy as soon as possible?

But while the idea of buying a property is a very attractive proposition, it’s also sizable commitment. When done at the right time and for the right reasons, the benefits of owning a home far outweigh the risks. But, if you’re not ready, that purchase could have serous consequences for your lifestyle and finances. No one likes to think about bankruptcy and foreclosure, but they are an unfortunate reality for many.

How do you know if you’re ready? While nothing is ever a guarantee there are a few simple characteristics that qualified buyers share. Here are 10 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Starting In The Home Buying Process. Think long and hard about these questions. Do a little research and, if you feel comfortable with your answers, take the next step in reaching out to a real estate professional. You’ll be holding the keys to a property in no time at all.

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Look at your finances before checking out listings. Image Via: Laurie Carron Architect, AIA I LEED GA

How Do Your Finances Look? – Be Honest.

There’s no hiding your finances once you start the home buying process. As soon as you sign contracts, banks, mortgage companies, title companies, and realtors will be going through your finances with a fine-tooth comb to ensure that you really do have the ability to purchase the property. You don’t want any surprises at that point, so it’s best to take a long, hard look now before you find your dream home. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, here  are some factors that financial institutions look at when they approve a purchase:

  • Your Income: Do you make the same amount every month or does it vary? A consistent income is preferable since it is indicative of your ability to pay the mortgage each month.
  • Your Employment History: Have you had a stable job for a while or are you always jumping from gig to gig? Banks prefer that buyers have at least two years with the same company.
  • Your Debt: Do you have student loans, a car payment, multiple credit card balances? While most places expect that you will have some amount of debt, too much is a red flag.
  • Your Credit History: Are there any late payments or delinquencies? Are you working on paying down your debt? Essentially, when banks give you a mortgage they are taking a gamble that you’ll pay them back. If you can’t pay off smaller loans, it’s unlikely that they will take that chance.
  • Your Savings: The ability to make a down payment is essential to buying a home. Ideally, you’ll want to put down 20% of the purchase price. Plus, have a bit of money left over to cover any supplemental costs like inspections.

If you’re finances aren’t perfect right now, don’t worry. You can always work towards making them better. Do your best to find a stable job and stay there for a few years. Make your credit card and loan payments on time each month and pay as much above the minimum payment as possible. Take a small portion of each paycheck and set it aside to start growing your savings. It may take a bit to see drastic results, but these habits will help your finances grow. 

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How much you can pay versus how much you feel comfortable paying is an important decision. Image Via: Sheffield Construction Company, Inc.

How Much Are You Comfortable Paying Per Month?

When you go to a mortgage company, they will take a look at your financial history, do some calculations, and give you a pre-approval for a certain amount of money. This amount is the maximum that they would feel comfortable loaning to you.That number may look attractive now since it affords you the ability to look at homes in a higher price range.

But remember: That higher price range also comes with a high monthly payment. A high monthly payment is a trade off. In order to make that payment you may have to cut back on incidental spending like going on vacations, going out to eat, and buying the latest tech gadgets. If you don’t want to give up those luxuries, it may be worth it to look in lower your price range to give yourself a little breathing room.

Sit down and take a look at how much you spend each month. Create a home budget that you are comfortable with and play around with the amounts of money allocated for payments versus pleasure. When you find a number that feels comfortable, keep it in mind as a goal when discussing mortgage payments.

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Be patient when discussing whose names will go on the deed. Image Via: Rethink Design Studio

Whose Names Will Go On The Deed?

At settlement, you will be asked to signed the deed for your new home. It’s a document that transfers the ownership of and financial responsibility for the property from the seller to the buyer. If you are considering buying a property with another person – whether they are a parent, spouse, or friend – you should have a discussion about whose name(s) will go on the deed before starting your search.

There are many reasons for an unconventional deed. If your income is lower, you may want to ask a parent to be your cosigner, so that you can look in higher price range. In cases where one partner is self-employed, it may be beneficial to have the other person be the sole name on the deed in order to protect your assets if there is ever a lawsuit.

This is unquestionably an emotionally charged and often difficult discussion. Handle it with care and respect the other person’s thoughts and feelings. But, it’s better to get it out of the way now. When mortgage representatives look at how much to pre-approve a buyer for, they only consider the income of the person or persons going on the deed. So, if you are considering an outside-of-the-box signing arrangement, you need to be clear on what it is before you start looking at homes that you may not be able to afford.

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Your ideal location is important to consider when thinking of buying. Image Via: Fredendall Building Company

Do You Prefer The Country or City?

The phrase “Location, location, location” is a cliché for a reason. While you can always remodel an older kitchen, decide to finish a basement, or add on a deck, your home’s location is the one feature that you can’t really change. Keeping that in mind, it’s important to have a solid idea of where you’d like to be before you start looking at listings. Some people may know exactly, but if you don’t, start with this question: Would you be happiest in the city, country, or in the suburbs?

Each area has its pros and cons. City living is great for those looking to enjoy close proximity to shops and restaurants, but price tags tend to be high for comparatively little space. A house in the country will give you room to spread out, but you have to be okay with the idea of a long commute to work. The suburbs offer a middle ground, but your surroundings may be less unique.

You don’t necessarily have to limit yourself to one area. Do some googling and research different areas. If you find a couple you like, don’t hesitate to explore them on your day off. Try to picture yourself living there on a day-to-day basis: think about things running errands and how you’d spend your weekends.

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Make a list of the home features that are absolutely essential. Image Via: Cornerstone Architects

What Are Your Absolute Must-Haves In A Home?

Brace yourself: We are about to share the most controversial truth in the home buying process. No home will ever be 100% perfect for you. At least not from the moment you sign the deed. Every property is going to come with a certain amount of compromise.

Once you start actively looking at listings, you’ll likely find some homes in your price range and desired location, but that require a little fixing up. Other homes will have all the features you desire, but come with a higher monthly payment. With this in mind, before you even looking at potential properties, it’s important to take stock of the things that are your must-haves. Do you require a certain number of bedrooms? Is it critical to keep your kids in their current school district? Are you absolutely, positively unable to go above a certain monthly payment?

When you sit down with a real estate agent, these factors will give them a good idea of where to start your search. Using these criteria, he or she will be able to weed through all of the available properties on the market and handpick the listings that work for you, which will save you both time and energy.

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Use a list of must-have features to determine what you need in a home. Image Via: Neumann Mendro Andrulaitis Architects LLP

Use a list of must-have features to determine what you need in a home. Image Via: Neumann Mendro Andrulaitis Architects LLP

What Features Are On Your Wish List?

Now that you know what you truly need in a home, you can move on to the fun part: your wish list. These are the things that, while they wouldn’t make or break your decision to buy a property, may help you pick one listing over another once you start looking.

Would you like an updated kitchen since you do a lot of cooking and baking? Would it be nice to have a fenced-in yard for your pets? Are you a fan of older homes with tons of charm? When it comes to the items on this list, be flexible.

Keep in mind that while these features would be nice to have from the get-go, since you’re planning on staying in the property for the foreseeable future, you can always add them later on.

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Any features that you’d like to avoid are also worth noting. Image Via: Arc Design Group

Are There Any Characteristics You’d Like To Stay Away From?

As important as it is to know what you want in a home, having an idea of what you don’t want can be just as defining. But, as with the features on your must-have list, try to focus on things about the property that cannot be easily altered.

Are you opposed to living on a highly-trafficked road? Do you have reservations about maintaining a pool? Is there a particular neighborhood that you’d prefer to stay away from?

Again, consider these when deciding if you’re ready to buy, but don’t be afraid to be open. It’s okay to have one or two of these characteristics, but if you rack up too many, you may be limiting yourself in terms of possibilities.

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Be honest about how much work you’re willing to put into a property. Image Via: SURROUNDS Landscape Architecture + Construction

How Much Maintenance Can You Handle?

It’s easy to picture yourself embracing the fun aspects of owning a home: shopping for furniture, hosting parties in your backyard, and enjoying the peace and quiet that comes with having your own space. But, in addition to all those positive qualities, there is also a lot of upkeep. 

Be honest with yourself about how much maintenance you’re able (and willing) to do. That fix-upper may have a lower price initially, but make sure you factor in the cost of repairs. A big lawn sounds like a nice feature, but it also comes along with lots of grass that needs to be cared for. Massive rooms look nice, but rack up even larger heating bills during the colder months.

If enjoy the idea of working on weekend projects, don’t hesitate to scope out an investor special. But, if the idea of dealing with maintenance without calling a landlord scares you, look into buying a condo or town home. 

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Before buying, take a few minutes to envision the future. Image Via: Giulietti Schouten Architects

Before buying, take a few minutes to envision the future. Image Via: Giulietti Schouten Architects

Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?

It seems obvious, but bears repeating that home ownership is much more permanent than renting. You can’t just wait for a lease to run out if there are aspects of the property that you don’t like.

With that in mind, you have to focus not only on features that work for you in the present moment, but will also make sense later on down the road. Real estate expert, Michael Corbett, recommends looking at a five-year span of time. Where do you see yourself in five years? Do you think you’ll still be working at the same company? Are you looking towards getting married or growing a family?

You may find that your prospective changes as you answer these questions. While a bustling urban lifestyle might seem ideal right now, that ultra-modern loft will be a lot smaller with a new baby sharing the space. If you’re not sure what your career path will look like in a few years, consider waiting for a while before you put down such permanent roots.

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Are you looking for an investment property or your forever home? Image Via: Nicholson Builders

What Do You Intend To Do With The Property?

The short answer to this question is, of course, to live in it. But, allow yourself to think a little deeper. Are you looking for a starter home that will enable you to build equity? Could you see yourself investing in the property, fixing it up, and then renting it out for a secondary income? Or, do you intend for this home to be the place where you and your spouse grow old together?

Knowing how you want to use the property will help to focus your eventual home search. If you’re looking for a property that will eventually serve as an investment, aim for a busier area that will appeal to lots of renters. Whereas, you’re aiming for a home that will grow old with you, stick to a size, layout, and location that you can see yourself being happy with for years to come.

The decision to buy a home is not one that should be made lightly. If you’re ready to make the commitment, owning a home has many benefits. But, if you jump into the market too soon, the purchase can leave you with personal and financial heartbreak. As yourself these questions to get a better picture of whether or not you’re ready to take the plunge.

Potential buyers, are there any questions that you want answered? Homeowners, are there any questions you’d like to add?