So, you’re getting ready to buy your first home, and you feel like you’re at the mercy of the market. And your mortgage lender. In some ways, it might even feel like they’re working against each other – especially if you’re in a really hot market in which you can’t qualify for the amount you’d need to buy what you want.
When it comes to providing pre-approvals for would-be homebuyers, lenders today are more careful than they were in the years leading up to the market crash, and that means your financial picture will be more rigorously scrutinized to determine your credit-worthiness and develop your max approval amount. Trust us, that’s a good thing. The last thing you want is to be house poor. Having a great place to live that you can’t enjoy or furnish or even leave because you have no money left won’t be fun.
“Just because a lender says you can afford a certain mortgage doesn’t mean you should,” said TIME: Money. “Consider your take-home pay – what actually goes into the bank after taxes, health insurance, and savings for retirement and college. Then add up all your monthly bills, not just debt but also things like utilities, phone, and groceries. You want to feel comfortable that you can cover all your household obligations while still meeting your other financial goals and keeping six months of expenses in an emergency fund.”
That’s why it’s so important to consider all of your monthly expenses related to buying a home. Beyond the principal, interest, taxes, and insurance that the lender, there are other line items to weave in that will help you determine your purchasing power and also help you to be comfortable from month to month.
Increased commuter costs
Are you moving out to the ‘burbs? That hour-long commute each way is going to add to your bottom line. Of course you’ll be using more gas. Will you also incur tolls? Then there is the wear and tear on your car, which could mean additional costs. You can estimate your commuter costs here.
Higher utility bills
A larger place could mean higher utility bills. Then again, more energy-efficient appliances, windows and doors, and HVAC could potentially result in lower bills, which could be a reason to look for a newer home over something older. It’s not out of line to inquire about utility bill costs from the existing owner (through your Realtor is probably best). This information could be critical in helping to make the best decision when buying a new home.
Your pre-approval amount is an all-in number, but that number only includes principal, interest, taxes, and insurance. If you are buying in a community that has a Homeowner’s Association, your fee will be a separate cost that needs to be considered. An HOA fee can range greatly depending on your location, the number of homes in the community, and the amenities and services included.
You’re likely going to have a mailbox full of credit card pre-approvals and offers from places like Home Depot and Lowe’s after you close escrow – and they can be tempting. Reeeaaallly tempting, especially if you need new appliances or countertops or flooring (or all of the above). Ditto for furniture stores, because, like Lowe’s and Home Depot, those offers are often zero-interest deals. It may make sense to take advantage of one (or more) of them to make some necessary or wanted updates to your home – if you can swing the payments. They obviously add to your monthly obligations, even at no interest. And keep in mind that if you miss, or are late on, a payment, that zero interest is replaced with a much larger number, and that means you’ll face a much larger balance to pay.
If you’re coming from an apartment or a rental where the outside maintenance is taken care of by someone else, get ready to either: buy a lawnmower and an edger and spend your Saturday mornings in the yard, or pay someone else to take care of it.
If you’re buying a brand-new home, you’ll typically have a warranty provided by the builder or developer, often for one year. You have the option of extending that, or buying/extending an existing warranty on an older home, and all of those options will cost you.