is headed. Ask yourself what your budget is and if either buying or renting would require you to stretch your finances. Crunch all the numbers. A frequent mistake of first-time home buyers is comparing a month’s rent to a month’s mortgage payment. Many people don’t have all the numbers. There are many additional fees necessary to include to make a fair comparison: principal interest, property taxes, property insurance, homeowners’ association (HOA) fees, and ongoing maintenance. Are you prepared for the down payment? This is the lumpsum payment that funds your equity in the property (how much of the property you actually own). Down payments vary; 20% is preferred and gets the best rates. There are some loans that allow down payments as low as 3%. Sometimes relatives help with the down payment. If you have a choice, take a gift rather than a loan, because lenders will add that debt to other monthly obligations and potential mortgage payments to determine your debt-to-income ratio, which generally can’t top 43% to qualify for a home loan. Can you afford the monthly mortgage and its components? Generally, a mortgage includes loan principal and interest (both amortized over the life of the loan) plus homeowner’s insurance and property taxes (pro-rated). These items can affect the monthly loan-only payment by several hundred dollars. Are you emotionally ready? Can you handle the stress? A big factor to consider when buying a home is stress. The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, a landmark stress study, ranks many events that go along with buying a home in the top 43 most stressful circumstances in life. Four events are specifically home-related: change in financial state (No. 16), large mortgage or loan (No. 20), change in living conditions (No. 28), and change in residence (No. 32). If someone has recently made other life changes, such as marriage, which is No. 7, switching careers (No. 18), or having a child (No. 14), it might be wise to postpone buying a home. Stress overload can lead to missed payments, which can result in destroyed credit or even losing the home. It’s better to rent if your life is in flux, and then buy when your stress levels are lower.
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