Part of the blame for the real estate crash has been placed on consumers looking to get more “bang for their buck” by using creative mortgage financing methods to afford bigger houses.
While there is plenty of blame to go around for the financial crisis of 2008, the fact of the matter is that before buying a house, it’s a good idea to ask yourself the following two questions:
- How big of a house do I need?
- How much mortgage can I comfortably afford to pay for a home?
The answers to these questions are very personal, and they vary by family. If you are honest about the way you answer, though, you will be less likely to fall into the trap of buying a bigger house than you need—or that you can afford.
How big should your home be?
This is a sticky question to answer. Think about your family and your preferences. My family consists of three people, and, technically, a smaller home than what we currently have would probably suffice. However, we nearly always have someone staying with us. Whether it’s a brother who needs a place to park for a month or two to get back on his feet or a cousin who wants a weekend to unwind, our visitors make a dedicated guest room a necessity for our lifestyle.
Consider, too, the way you spend your time. The three of us spend a lot of time together as a family in the common areas of our home, playing together, eating regular meals, and watching ballgames on TV. As a result, we prefer to have the space in our home taken up by a larger kitchen and family room rather than by bedrooms.
Be honest about your needs when buying a home. Can some of the kids share a room? Do you really need a great room and a family room? Is it necessary to have an entire room dedicated to a home office or can you do just as well with a nook? Re-evaluate your true needs as a family and consider ways you can use space more efficiently. You might be surprised at what you can do in a smaller home—and the savings to your budget from property taxes, utilities, and maintenance can increase your comfort.
How big of a mortgage can you afford?
Of course, you also need to look at what you can comfortably afford when buying a home. When we first began looking at homes, there were lenders willing to approve us for two and three times the size of our current mortgage. We talked about it, though, and decided that we wanted to be comfortable with our payments; we didn’t want to have stretch each month to make our mortgage payment.
Besides, it wasn’t only about the monthly mortgage payment. With the money we would have to spend in higher utility costs, HOA fees, and other expenses, we wouldn’t be able to live our current lifestyle, which includes the ability to do the things we enjoy, such as going out to eat, traveling, and (in my husband’s case) purchasing collectibles.
Another consideration is this: What would you do if you lost your current job? Before you decide to go for a bigger home, think about what would happen if your hours were cut or your income changed for some reason. Would you still be able to make your mortgage payment? How painful would paying the mortgage be if you were living off a lower-paying job or your emergency fund? Right now, my mortgage is less than 1/6 of my monthly income. If my husband or I suffered an income setback, we’d still be able to handle the mortgage payment.
Our home may be modest by some standards, but it is a good size for us, and the mortgage is one we can afford. Before you get the biggest house possible, stop and consider your situation. You might not need a huge house after all.
Miranda Marquit is a freelance journalist specializing in financial topics. Read more of her writing on Huffington Post, Wise Bread, AllBusiness, and at her website, Planting Money Seeds. Follow her on Twitter: @MMarquit