Buying your first place can be an exciting but often overwhelming experience. From finding "the one" to figuring out how you'll pay for it, you'll face many choices along the road to home ownership. Before you box up your belongings and prepare to put your new welcome mat in place, you'll have to do some serious soul searching. Let's explore the most common decisions first-time homebuyers face.
1. Location vs. square footage?
When it comes to real estate, the first thought that flashes through most minds is the old "Location, location, location!" But if you want a home in a coveted spot, you may have to make certain sacrifices in order to afford it. For example, if you're seeking waterfront property, a swanky pad in the city, or a colonial in a top school district, you'll quickly realize that you'll get a lot less room than you would in an area that's off the beaten path. It's a tough decision to make, so put together a list of priorities and choose accordingly.
2. Turn-key vs. fixer-upper?
Buying a place that needs a little TLC can save you a bundle — if you're handy and capable of working a little DIY magic, that is. Taking care of renovations yourself also gives you a chance to redecorate to your own specifications and taste. On the flip side, if you select a home that's in turn-key condition, all you have to do is put your feet up and enjoy. Of course, you'll probably pay more for that, but you can entertain right away rather than waiting for the paint to dry and the new carpeting to arrive. Both sides have their pros and cons.
3. Big loan vs. big down payment?
Having a nest egg saved for a down payment is a blessing, but figuring out how to divvy it up can feel like a curse. While putting 20 percent down typically saves you from springing for mortgage insurance, it can feel like a heavy hit. Throwing as much toward a mortgage as possible also means you'll pay less interest over the life of your loan, but it leaves you with less in your pockets to put toward any emergencies that may pop up. Still, deciding how to spend your money is never a bad problem to have.
4. Starter home vs. forever home?
Moving typically ranks high up there among the most stressful life changes a person can experience, so it makes sense that someone might not want to do it more than once. Choosing between a starter home and forever home can be a real conundrum. If you're hoping to live out the rest of your days in the same space, chances are you may have to save up a little (or a lot) longer to afford it, delaying your purchase by a few months or years. Once you've got that down payment ready, you'll probably put a lot more time into your search. Starter homes can offer an affordable way to stop paying rent, just be sure to choose one you won't outgrow too soon.
5. Condo vs. free-standing home?
If you love the idea of owning a home but dread the thought of doing all the not-so-little things that go with it, such as landscaping, snow removal, and other routine headaches, er, maintenance, you may be better off in a condo or townhome where, for a fee, those issues are handled for you. Of course, there are times when you may see -— and hear — your neighbors more than you'd wish, making you feel like you're back in your college dorm. Also, if you want to make significant changes to your place, you'll probably have to run everything past a condo board first.
6. Single family vs. duplex?
Do you treasure your privacy or would you rather play the role of landlord to defray the cost of your mortgage? This is a tough choice. Rents go up over time while your mortgage stays the same, making the thought of buying a duplex an attractive one. But remember, if you live right next door and anything goes wrong, your tenant knows exactly where to find you the split second there's an issue. But, there is good news for owner-occupants in that they often have more options when it comes to mortgage loans.
7. Urban vs. suburban?
If you love easy access to mass transit, cultural happenings, and a bustling world just beyond your doorstep, city living may be for you. If you prefer a quiet, residential area where you can hear crickets as opposed to blaring horns, you might want to put down roots in a suburb. Consider how you feel about your commute and what you value most. The cost in living in a city is typically higher than it would be in a suburb because of additional amenities and a superior infrastructure. So you'll have less space, but if you find that you're rather be out and about exploring, that may suit you. If you're more of a homebody who cherishes peace and quiet, a suburb could be the right move.