Living in a big city after graduating college and moving from apartment to apartment easily gives you the freedom every 20-something seeks. But at some point, packing up your boxes gets boring and irritating instead of exciting, and that’s usually when it hits you — the realization that you can’t keep shuffling your belongings around your beloved city forever. At some point, you might have to consider giving up your big city Carrie Bradshaw digs and buying a house.
Buying your first home is an exciting experience that can also be a bit terrifying, especially if you’re one of those people who turns down guac at Chipotle when they tell you it will be extra. If you’re buying a house on your own or with a partner for the first time, there’s a great deal to consider. The advice you receive from family and friends might be applicable, but the market changes quickly. Something that worked for someone else 10 years ago may not work for you today, but some facts remain the same.
Here are seven things to consider before buying a home.
1. Ask yourself if you actually want to buy.
There’s nothing wrong with renting a home for the rest of your adult life, and there are actually several benefits that go with it. Sure owning your own home means you can do whatever you want to it, but it also means you’re also responsible for fixing whatever is wrong with it. It can be hard to find a plumber at 3AM when your toilet starts overflowing!
People usually avoid buying a home because they can’t afford it, or because they’re in an unstable living situation. If you aren’t sure if you want to settle down in an area, or if you know for a fact you’ll be moving to a new location in the next three years, it might be better to hold off. But if you can afford it and you don’t plan on leaving, it might be time to start looking.
2. Determine your budget.
A 30-year mortgage is a long-term commitment. Plan for your current budget, not one you hope to have in the future. If you’re currently working on a PhD and making $35K, you should look for a home you can afford on that stipend. Don’t depend on the potential $100K you might make if you finish your degree and find a job.
There are different ways to calculate what you can afford. You can talk to a financial planner — which is always a good idea — or consult with a bank to receive more information specific to your situation. Most experts suggest that you can afford about 36% of your before-tax paycheck — also called gross income — for your mortgage payment. Avoid going over 40%.
Budgeting. Adulting. It’s a lot, I know.
3. Explore the area.
The area you’re considering will be your new home for at least a few years, so take some time to get to know it. Figure out what kids do for fun, even if you don’t have any. Get a feel for the neighborhood, the school district and the crime rate. Many of these factors are related, so if one doesn’t fit the bill, the others probably won’t make up for it.
4. Take your time.
Buying a home isn’t something to rush into. Trust your intuition, but be smart. Recognize that the process of finding the right home and navigating the buying process requires time and effort. It won’t happen overnight — and that’s okay. Be patient.
5. Thoroughly examine a potential home.
Take your time inspecting a home you’re interested in. If they’re having an open house, take advantage of it. Hire a thorough home inspector, because they will spot issues that might become a problem later. A good inspector will notice everything, including old equipment like water heaters and odors that might point to mold.
6. Back off if you feel pressured.
Real estate agents are trying to sell you a home for their own benefit. They may or may not care what they’re selling as they’re earning their commission. Realtors work entirely on commission, so they aren’t earning anything if you don’t buy. If you feel like your agent is trying to make a quick sale for their own profit, back off. Find another agent. There are many good agents out there who will help you, so skip anyone who doesn’t seem concerned with your genuine best interest.
7. Master your poker face.
Negotiations can be hard, especially if you aren’t used to them. You can hire someone to try to make the deal for you, but you can never be certain of how hard they’re working. Besides, negotiating is an important life skill.
If you haven’t had many opportunities to practice your negotiation skills, consider going to a flea market or yard sale to try to land a good deal. You should feel like you hold power when buying a house — because you do. Don’t buy a home if you aren’t comfortable with the negotiations. There are plenty more on the market.
There’s more to buying a home than what’s on this list, but these tips should help you get comfortable with the process, and decide whether or not you want to give up your downtown digs.