By Leonard Baron, Zillow Contributor
Perhaps you've found a house, or maybe you've just started the house hunt, but regardless of where you are in the homebuying process, you need to consider some key questions before you even think about making an offer. Buying a home is a big commitment -- financial and otherwise -- so take the time to weigh pros and cons.
Here are five questions homebuyers should ask themselves:
1. Will I own it for at least five years?
The first and most important item you should ask yourself before you consider buying any property is whether you will own it for a long time. People buy property in hopes of increasing wealth and five years is about the break-even point for earning appreciation in value above the buying and selling transaction costs. Therefore, if you don't plan on holding the property for longer than five years, skip it! Renting a home is NOT necessarily throwing money away. Buying and selling quickly will usually leave you worse off financially than if you just held off on becoming a homeowner.
2. Do I love the home I want to buy?
One of the second most important items is do you love the property? Real estate should be held for the long term, and loving a property should perpetuate a happy enduring ownership. So don't buy a property if you don't love it or at least really like or want that particular property. And don't buy just "to buy" or if someone tells you it is a good idea. Buy what you want, when you are ready, and buy a home that you will proudly boast about to your friends over the years and years.
3. Can I afford it?
It is more expensive to own a home than anyone anticipates. Even if the mortgage lender qualifies you for a certain loan amount and property price, you need to make sure YOU can afford it. Lenders don't generally take into account child care expenses, health care expenses, expensive lifestyles and habits, etc. So make sure that you can comfortably afford your housing payment, still pay your other bills, and still save at least a little more for retirement. Also, if you are not sure of your continued employment situation for any reason, wait until your situation is stable so you can make those mortgage payments.
4. Is the home in good shape?
Here's another warning: Fixer-uppers rarely sell at a big enough discount to compensate for all the work that needs to be done. The cost of construction and property rehabilitation is outrageous, and unless you are a contractor, it almost undoubtedly will cost much more than you anticipate. So leave the "needs TLC" or "fixer-uppers" to the contractors. You want to buy something in decent shape and livable condition so you don't get mired in rehab disaster. (Ever seen the movie "The Money Pit"?)
5. Do I know about the neighborhood?
Did you do adequate research, look at enough properties, learn the neighborhoods, and learn about property ownership before you made an offer? If you just moved into town or if you don't know the area, rent for a while and search out the perfect community in which you would like to live within your financial means. As with any big investment, the better you educate yourself the lower your risk of something going wrong.
While there is no risk-free real estate, considering the questions above should increase your chances of having a great, long-term, property ownership experience.
Leonard Baron, MBA, CPA, is a San Diego State University lecturer, a Zillow blogger, the author of several books including "Real Estate Ownership, Investment and Due Diligence 101 – A Smarter Way to Buy Real Estate", and loves kicking the tires of a good piece of dirt! See more at ProfessorBaron.com.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.
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By Leonard Baron, Zillow Contributor