3 signs that you’re ready to buy your first home

September 23, 2018 - 4 min read

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It’s easy to get caught up in the so-called “American dream” when your friends start to become homeowners. But not everyone is cut out for buying a home — at least not yet. Here’s how to tell if you’re ready:

  • Do you plan to stay put for a few years?
  • Is your income stable?
  • Are you prepared for the responsibilities of homeownership?

You’re ready to be a homeowner when....

There are a lot of reasons why renters choose to remain renters. For some, it’s the flexibility that comes with having a landlord and being free to move with 30 day’s notice.

For others, renting may provide less expensive access to homes in a desirable school district, or for renters living in cities such as New York, San Francisco, or Chicago, access to apartments buildings and condos which offer unique amenities.

However, as a renter looking at home ownership, it’s important that you’re not deterred by the unpredictable nature of life.

For example, for a newly-married couple beginning a family, it can be tempting to wait to purchase until a child is “old enough for school”; or, for a longtime renter, to delay a home purchase because may be on the horizon.

Life happens. It always will. And, no matter how much you plan, plans change.

Therefore, before buying a home, think past “life events” — especially the unexpected ones — and be secure in your choices and finances.

Here are three signals that you’re ready to buy a home.

1. You have a 6-month reserve fund established

As the owner of a home, you will incur unexpected costs. The heating and cooling unit will break before its time; a tree will fall in the yard; a pipe will develop a leak — the list of potential problems is endless.

Additionally, you may lose your job; or, become ill; or, add children or parents to your home.

Each of these events adds costs to your budget, but when you have a reserve fund equal to at least six months of living expenses, you can manage the unexpectedly nature of life.

Note that your 6 months of reserves should include all elements of your spending — not just . A good way to determine how much you’ll need is to average your last 18 months of credit card statements, insurance payments, and doctors’ bills, along with your mortgage costs.

Multiply that average by 6 and consider it your minimum savings in reserves.

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2. You have a reasonable idea that you won’t need to move within the next two years

Buying a home is cheap. Selling one, however, is not.

This is because it’s U.S. custom for the home seller to pay the real estate commissions due upon the sale of a home, the amount of which is split among the agents.

Real estate commissions range near five percent, but can be higher or lower depending on your home and market. This also happens to be about the same percentage that home values have climbed in the past 12 months.

Therefore, if you purchased a home last year and sold it today, the gains on your home — $5,000 per $100,000 in price — will be paid to the real estate agents who handled your transaction.

This is not a bad thing, necessarily. It can be argued that real estate agents will help you sell your home for more money than you could have sold it yourself, but it’s still something about which to be aware.

Selling your home in fewer than two years can negate your real estate profits.

There can be tax implications of selling too quickly, too.

The IRS allows up to $500,000 in profit from the sale of a home to be exempted from capital gains on a jointly-filed tax return, or $250,000 on a single-person filing.

However, in order to claim the capital gains exemption from the sale of real estate, you must show that you lived in the home as your primary residence for at least 2 of the prior five years.

If you sell your home in fewer than two years, you subject yourself to additional federal income taxes. However, be sure to consult with a tax professional before making tax-related decisions.

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3. You can forecast your household income for the next few years

Before purchasing a home, you should have a reasonable idea of what your household income will look like for the next few years.

This doesn’t mean that you should know to the dollar how much you’ll earn, but you should have a fair idea of the range into which your income will fall.

It’s part of the financial planning required for homeownership.

For example, if you know that you’re likely to take a pay cut in the coming years because you plan to switch from full-time employment to self-employment; or, if you know that your family may shift to a one-income household with the birth of a child, you’ll want to account for that in your planning.

Remember: Mortgage payments are due monthly and real estate tax bills are prone to increase. Understanding your income can help plan for that.

Now, there’s always the chance that you get lucky and current mortgage rates move lower in the future, giving you the ability to refinance your home to lower payments; or, to cash-out your home equity for personal reasons.

You can’t plan for that, however.

A good refinance can offset the effects of a reduction in household income and a mounting of consumer debt. But getting to refinance is a bonus. You do it when you can, and feel grateful for it later.

What are today’s mortgage rates?

There are a lot of considerations for renters wanting to shift into homeownership, and it goes beyond just “How much home can I afford?”.

Get today’s live mortgage rates now. Your social security number is not required to get started, and all quotes come with access to your live mortgage credit scores.

Time to make a move? Let us find the right mortgage for you

Dan Green
Authored By: Dan Green
The Mortgage Reports contributor
Dan Green is an expert on topics of money and mortgage. With over 15 years writing for a consumer audience on personal finance topics, Dan has been featured in The Washington Post, MarketWatch, Bloomberg, and others.