By Karin Beuerlein, FrontDoor.com | Published: 1/28/2008
Here’s a list of potential monthly fees and expenses you’ll encounter:
- Insurance. They won’t let you complete the home-buying deal without it, so shop wisely. Homeowner’s insurance, also referred to sometimes as “hazard insurance” on mortgage documents, provides basic protection against fire and theft. It does not generally cover flood damage; flood insurance is an entirely separate entity that you will be required to purchase if you live in a flood-prone area. HINT: Consider bundling your homeowner’s insurance with your auto insurance to get a bargain price.
- Property taxes. You can’t avoid these either, but consider them a good thing: pay them, and the fire department will come when you call. Depending on where you live, you may be responsible for both city and county property taxes; call your county property assessor’s office to be sure. Local tax rates vary, but your home is typically taxed on its assessed value, an amount equal to a fraction of its appraised value, which is the number you’re probably familiar with from the loan-securing process. Taxes can add hundreds of dollars to your monthly payment, and the figures on your good faith estimate may not be accurate, so find out the final number before you sign the dotted line.
- Private mortgage insurance (PMI). If your down payment is less than 20 percent of the mortgage value, you may have to foot the bill for PMI, which protects the lender against your defaulting on the loan. This can tack on as much as a couple hundred dollars per month, depending on the size of your loan.
- Homeowner’s association fees. If you’re buying into a subdivision or a condominium community, you may have to pay for the monthly upkeep of common areas and other shared expenses. Some HOA fees are paid yearly and are quite inexpensive; on the other hand, some Manhattan co-op fees run to four figures per month. Some states allow associations to foreclose on homes with unpaid fees, so don’t treat them as optional. Find out if your state imposes limits on HOA power, including how much fees can increase per year.
- Utilities. If you’re moving from an apartment to a home for the first time, know that the increase in square footage (not to mention water for a newly sodded yard) can pack a real punch in the form of a huge utility bill. Plan to implement some energy conservation measures, like light-blocking blinds and compact fluorescent light bulbs, to offset the tab.
- Maintenance. This won’t show up in your mortgage payment, but it’s no less real an expense. Be sure you have some monthly budget set aside for repairs and upkeep, whether for small do-it-yourself things like replacing floodlight bulbs or the inevitably serious issues that crop up from time to time (sure, the fridge looks fine today, but all appliances have life spans).
Remember, forewarned is forearmed!
Part 1: Evaluate Your Life and Finances
Owning a home is like any major commitment. You need to be mentally and financially ready for it. What stage of life are you in? Are you financially stable? Do you move around a lot?
Before you even look at homes, take a good look at your situation and crunch the numbers to see if this is the right time for you to buy. Just because it’s a buyer’s market doesn’t mean you should buy now. These steps will help you figure out whether you’re ready to own a home.
Part 2: Shop for a Loan
Once you determine you’re ready for the responsibilities of owning a home, it’s time to find financing. You’ll likely be borrowing thousands of dollars, so shop around for the best interest rates and loan terms to negotiate the best deal. Buying a home involves more than just the sales price. There are fees for every part of the process. Make sure you understand everything you’re paying for.
Part 3: Find a House
Now comes the fun part! You have your home wish list and pre-approval letter, so it’s time to go house hunting. Save the gas money and do some research online first. Read about different neighborhoods and home styles, and browse listings online. Consider getting a buyer’s agent to set up home tours and guide you through the process.
Part 4: Close the Deal
Unless you made a low-ball offer that offended the seller, expect to negotiate. The key is to find terms you both can agree on. Put them in writing, sign the contract and the closing process begins. During this period, you’ll get an appraisal, title search and exam, home inspection and homeowners insurance. If all goes well, you’ll sign the paperwork and the keys are yours!