House Hunting can be challenging. It is even tougher if you haven’t started from a few basic questions.
If you’re looking for a home just based off your wish list, a rough monthly payment estimate and a few weekends watching the HGTV show ‘Fixer Upper’… You might be setting yourself up for serious trouble.
Save yourself the heartache. There are several decisions you should begin to make before you even start your home search.
By asking yourself the right questions, you can quickly pinpoint what you want, what you NEED – and can afford – in your next home.
What’s Your Budget?
See how your finances stand up to the 28/36 rule, which lenders use to see what you can afford to pay each month.
The 28/36 Rule states that a household should spend a maximum of 28% of its gross monthly income on total housing expenses and no more than 36% on total debt service, including housing and other debt such as car loans.
A financial adviser or your loan officer can help you crunch the numbers. Going through the mortgage pre-approval process lets you know how much lenders will allow you to borrow – plus it helps you show sellers that you have the funds to backup your offer.
But getting your budget isn’t just about how much you can afford. It’s about how much you are comfortable paying every month. Just because you are qualified for $400,000 doesn’t mean that you want to pay that much every month. A budget helps keep you numbers and sanity in check.
What Do You NEED in your New Home?
How many bedrooms or bathrooms do you need? What about a large kitchen, a home office or a playroom for the kids? How many cars need covered parking?
It’s critically important to ensure the home you select meets your family and lifestyle needs.
Look closer than simply checking off needs boxes. For example, a couple we know had to have a garage to park their car in. The home they ended up buying did have a garage.
But 6 months after settlement it was clear that the home needed more storage space. The garage that was so important is now being used as a storage space and not to park their beloved car.
Dig deeper and really try to anticipate your space and functional needs.
What Home Type are You House Hunting For?
There are Condos, semi-detached and detached. Condos come with much less maintenance. You typically won’t be shoveling snow in the winter or replacing the roof, but you’ll likely pay monthly association fees to cover services and repairs in the community.
Houses, on the other hand, come with more privacy and freedom to customize. They also come with full responsibility for maintenance. If you have a duplex or a semi-detached there may be specific rules that state what your obligations are.
You need to ask yourself what kind of space makes you feel at your best.
Your type of home is a personal a decision. What works for some will not work for others. If you travel a lot, you might need a condo. But if you have pets or kids, you may need a yard.
These are all discussions to have with your real estate agent. Central Maryland offers many different options for prospective homeowners.
How Do You Feel About Living Under Covenants?
Depending on where you buy, you may have to pay homeowner association (HOA) fees in addition to your mortgage. There are benefits to HOAs, such as maintenance, community centers, and maybe even a pool or gym.
But you also could be faced with more restrictive rules about the look of the outside of your home, down to the color of your front door, types of window coverings, and whether you can plant flowers in your yard.
In Howard County, the Columbia Association is notorious for having one of the most restrictive covenants for homeowners. You can’t so much as dig up a big shrub without permission.
That sounds harsh, but on the flip side you know that your neighbor won’t be able to park a boat or a “Cousin Eddie tenement on wheels” on your street.
Covenants protect the value of your home and your neighborhood.
What School District Do You Want To Be In?
Even if you don’t have children in the house, local schools will affect your property value. Prospective homebuyers tend to search with education in mind.
This can be tough in areas potentially going through redistricting. Your agent can recommend some resources to do your diligence at. Do your research on the schools and the school system in the areas you’d like to live in.
Should The Home Be Move-in Ready?
Ask yourself how much elbow grease you’re willing to put into a home – or how much you’ll pay someone else to do the work.
Fixer-upper homes can be great after the work is done, but you’ll want to figure out your renovation budget before you start your home search. A 203k home-renovation loan might be the right resource for you. If you’re not ready for the extra financial commitment of rehabbing a home, or you can’t or don’t want to wait for remodeling projects to finish up, then a home that’s move-in ready might be right for you.
And as a last note, be honest with yourself. I can’t tell you how many times we hear from someone who thought they were a handyman and bought a fixer upper.
They learned the hard way that home improvement can be challenging and costly – even when doing it yourself. Make sure your home team is stocked with experienced individuals that will ask the tough questions and advise you best.
The professionals at Wissel Homes know the Central Maryland market because it’s our home too. We live and breathe the local neighborhoods in Howard County, Carroll County, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County and more. We understand what it takes to get the job done right. Contact us today to set up an appointment to list your home or to start the home buying process. Let our experience help move you into your dream home.