For Americans living and working in the nation’s most expensive real estate markets, homeownership can seem like the impossible dream. Prices are high and options can be limited. It may feel like home values rise faster than your ability to save up for a down payment. Although the process may look different than in other parts of the country, becoming a first-time homebuyer in a pricey area is possible. Here are some suggestions for making that dream a reality:
Determine Your Budget
First, you need to figure out how much home you can afford. That number needs to be determined by your income and assets, not by the price of the homes you want. There are plenty of online mortgage calculators that can help you determine the size of mortgage payment you can comfortably handle. Lenders recommend that housing costs not total more than 28% of your income. That percentage may have to stretch higher in expensive areas but it’s a good rule of thumb. And be careful: some lenders will qualify you for more than you can reasonably afford. You must know your own limits and stick to them.
Save for a Down Payment
Even though a traditional down payment is 20%, in most cases first-time homebuyers can pay way less than that, even in expensive cities. FHA and loans can require as little as 3% while VA loans offer 0% down for those with military service. There are also plenty of local and state programs designed to help first-time home buyers with their down payments. Down payments can also be gifted to borrowers by family. In some cases, though, prospective buyers must take a little more time to save up. Mortgage loans require closing costs and fees in addition to down payments. It is also important that borrowers have cash reserves saved for two months’ worth of mortgage payments after the home sale closes.
Adjust Your Expectations
If everything seems to far out of reach, try reexamining your must-have list. While it may be hard to let go of some features, that first house does not have to be your last. And just breaking into a pricey area can be enough to help you build equity fast in order to move up to a home you really want. Even if you are not interested in a serious fixer-upper, being willing to at least look at homes with some flaws may help you achieve first-time homeownership.
Plan to Stay
Buying a home only makes sense when you can plan to stay for at least a few years. Otherwise you may not break even on your initial investment. In that case you would have been better off, renting for that time period. It’s never a good idea to count on quick home price appreciation to make your purchase worthwhile. The last decade has shown that anything can happen to slow the housing market when you least expect it.
With some hard work and an open mind, becoming a first-time buyer in an expensive area can definitely be attainable.