Housing prices are down, but credit is tight. Even if you find your dream home at an affordable price, you might not be able to secure a mortgage loan. That part of the housing crisis equation is out of our hands; it’s going to be a matter of time and government intervention before the housing and credit markets recover. In the meantime, take advantage of the lull to make sure you’re really ready to buy a home. Mortgage payments are one of the biggest drains on a person’s finances. Don’t get one unless you’re sure it’s time.
Buying a house is like choosing a spouse. You want one that’s affordable, decent-looking, and able to keep you happy for years to come. But how will you know when you’re really ready to settle down and invest in what will (hopefully) be a long-term endeavor? There are a few questions you should ask yourself before you take the plunge.
Question 1: Am I Ready to Stay in One Place?
It seems like some people are never happy. When they live in an apartment, they lament the fact that they don’t own a house. When they buy a house, they regret the loss of freedom to move wherever they wish. One thing’s for certain: a house, much like a marriage, will keep you tied down. If you’re ready to settle into a permanent dwelling, this is a good thing. If you’re still undecided about where you want to put down roots, do yourself a favor and don’t buy a house until you can stay put for seven years or more. Sell the house sooner, and you might lose money on transaction costs.
When you *do* feel the urge to settle down, make sure you choose a location with a good school district — whether you have kids or not. Great schools add to the value of your home, and they’ll tempt buyers if you ever decide to sell someday.
Question 2: How’s My Credit Looking?
Before you buy a home, get pre-approved for a mortgage. The lender will take a hard look at your finances, including your debt to income ratio and your credit history. It’s getting harder to find financing, so really buckle down and pay off your credit cards and other unsecured debts. You’ll want your credit to be in top shape. Make sure to have a history of timely payments that goes back at least 12 months — preferably 24. Also, don’t apply for new credit for several months before home-shopping; too many inquiries can reflect poorly on your credit score.
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