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Here are the most frequently asked questions about BUYING a home

The first question you need to ask yourself is: How much house can I afford? It’s really important to have a good home budget so you don’t overspend on your house. Because dealing with a huge payment you can barely afford every month is a recipe for disaster. If that happens, your house will own you—and you need to own it!

So, how do you know how much house you can afford? Here’s our rule of thumb: Keep your mortgage payments to no more than 25% of your monthly take-home pay (including property taxes, homeowners association fees and private mortgage insurance). That way, you’ll have breathing room in your budget and enough money left over every month to put toward other important financial goals, like investing for retirement.

The next question to ask is: How much do I need for a down payment? Well, the best way to buy a house is what we call the 100%-down plan. That’s right—it’s best to pay cash for a house if you can. But if that’s not realistic for you and you’re planning to take out a mortgage, aim for a down payment of at least 5–10% when you’re buying your first home.

Why? A bigger down payment means smaller monthly payments, less debt and less risk for you! Plus, if you wait a little longer and save up a 20% down payment, you’ll avoid having to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI), which means you’ll have even more money left in your budget every month.

By the way, if you do choose to buy a house with a mortgage, the only type of mortgage you should consider is a 15-year fixed-rate loan. Avoid 30-year loans because they keep you in debt longer and force you to pay a ton of extra interest. And stay far away from adjustable-rate mortgages, FHA loans and VA loans—those are terrible financial products with lots of hidden fees.

Another money-related question you should ask is how much you’ll pay in closing costs. As a ballpark estimate, you’ll probably pay around 2–5% of your home’s purchase price in closing costs. So if you’re buying a $300,000 home, you’ll likely have to pay $6,000–15,000 in closing costs.

Make sure you save up enough money to cover closing costs on top of whatever you save for a down payment.

Unless you’re “paying” your friends with pizza to help you move, moving isn’t free! So don’t let the expenses catch you by surprise.

The cost to move changes drastically depending on whether you’re moving local or long distance, with local moves being less expensive. Do the math and make sure you have enough money saved up to pay for any expenses that may pop up.

If you’re moving for a job opportunity, you may be able to work out a relocation package with your new company to cover your costs—nearly 64% of employees received some kind of reimbursement for their relocation costs in 2022.

If you’re one of the lucky few who’s buying a home that’s already fully furnished, throw a party! But if you aren’t fortunate enough to be in that crowd, you’ll need to make a plan for getting furniture in your new home.

That may be as simple as transporting any furniture you own from your current space to your new one. But you might need to purchase some new stuff too. If that’s the case, only buy furniture you can pay cash for—whether that means buying new or used pieces.

Do not fall into the trap of using a payment plan from a furniture store or a buy now, pay later company like Klarna or Afterpay. Here’s something we’ve learned over the years: Broke people ask “How much down, and how much per month?” and rich people ask “How much does it cost?”

Seriously: Taking on consumer debt on top of a mortgage is one of the worst home-buying mistakes you can make. Keep your financial goals on track by decorating one room at a time if you need to. You might have some empty rooms for a little while, but your budget and your future self will thank you!

Asking about the location is a big one. There are several important things you’ll want to know about a neighborhood before you move into it, like:

  • Distance from work: There’s nothing wrong with a longer commute, but you do want to know what you’re getting into. Especially in bigger cities, the neighborhood you’re looking at may not be as close to your office as you think.
  • Distance from schools: Chances are, you don’t want to drive Junior an hour to school every morning.
  • Convenience of shopping: How far is the nearest grocery store? How many grocery stores do you have to choose from?
  • Distance from friends and family: Everyone needs community in their life, and that can be really tough if you’re too far away from your loved ones.
  • Property values in the area: You want to buy a home in the bottom price range of its neighborhood—those homes are much more likely to increase in value and sell faster. Also, you should avoid buying a home in an area where property values are going down—that could make it tougher to sell down the road.

Getting some clarity on these details will help you decide if a certain location or neighborhood is the right fit for your wants and needs.

If you have (or plan to have) any kiddos, asking questions about the quality of the school districts near your potential home is obviously a big deal. But even if you don’t have kids, keep in mind that a home planted near good schools could be more valuable when it’s time to sell. Cha-ching!

If you’ve never lived in an area that has hurricanes or severe weather warnings, you’ve probably never had to think about how to protect yourself. So ask if your new home is located in an area where tornadoes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes or ice storms are common. Then make sure your home insurance covers any natural disasters that your area is prone to. If it doesn’t, you may need to buy extra coverage.

The answer to this question isn’t always easy to find on your own, which is why you absolutely need to get a home inspection before you buy. Sure, your seller is required to send you a report that lists any known problems, but they could always leave something out (accidentally or intentionally).

A good home inspection will give you info on the safety and performance of things like the roof, foundation, electrical system, HVAC system and plumbing. If any red flags pop up, you can either pass on the house or see if you can negotiate for a lower price and fix the problems yourself once the home is yours.

Most roofing experts say an asphalt roof has a lifespan of around 20 years. So before you buy a house, you should ask an important question about the roof: How old is it? If the roof is approaching the end of its life expectancy, it could cost you over $12,000 to replace it.2 You don’t want a surprise roof replacement messing up your budget.

Imagine moving into your brand-spankin’-new house only to find out all the appliances are pretty much busted. Not good, huh? Well, if you know certain major appliances are on their last leg before you buy the house, you can avoid that unwanted surprise. Plus, you can probably work out a nice deal with the seller.

So, ask about the current life expectancy of all the items that come with the house and when they might need to be replaced. This includes stuff like the HVAC system, water heater, washer and dryer, refrigerator, stove and dishwasher.

You’ll definitely want to ask what’s included with the house you’re buying, especially since some states have different laws about the stuff that should be included in a home purchase. Don’t just assume you’re buying all the appliances, light fixtures and window treatments (like blinds or drapes) when you make an offer. If you do, you might find yourself upset when there’s a gaping, empty space in the kitchen where the refrigerator used to sit.

Next, you’ll want to dig into the home price. Specifically, you’ll want to know what similar homes in the area are selling for. The answer to this question can show you if the home you want to buy is set at a fair price.

Not an expert in local real estate economics? No need to worry! This is a question your real estate agent can help you answer. They’ll have insider knowledge of current home sales and home types in the area where you’re looking to buy. And just so you know the lingo, this is called a competitive market analysis (CMA).