Buying a house is one of the largest financial decisions that most of us will ever make. I have bought two houses in my life. The first, I made many, many mistakes that I’ll share here for your amusement and general edification. The second, after having more experience in adulting and all things personal finance, I did in a much more planful and intentional way.
Through these two very different experiences, here are my top three tips for buying a:
A Note on the Use of Information in this Article
Here is my disclaimer regarding the content in this article. (We all know there has to be one of these just to set the record straight.) The ideas included are for educational purposes only, and should not be construed as financial advice. Concepts covered here are overly simplified examples of basic finance related information. Please consult a qualified financial professional to learn additional details about each financial concept and to help you figure out what is right for you.
A List of Don'ts: My Life as a Clueless First Time Home Buyer
The first time I bought a house, I did things in a way that hurts my current, better financially educated self. At the time, my then husband and I, were recently married and realized that more adultier adults bought houses. Here are the highlights of the poor decisions we made during this process:
Downright Awful Decisions:
A List of Dos: My Life as a Much Smarter Home Buyer
Years later, after having worked in the financial services industry for a bit, my soon-to-be fancy new husband and I decided to consider buying a place together. This time around, being 10 years older and a ton smarter, we had a more methodical process.
We talked about how we wanted to live our lives and bought a house that would support those wants and needs. We also worked with a realtor, who helped us through the details of being a smart homebuyer. Finally, we had a greater understanding of the financial aspects and what we were getting ourselves into.
Tip 1: Assessing Housing Wants and Needs
Before looking at houses, we talked about what we each wanted, and what was important to us collectively. We took our lifestyle into consideration and turned those abstractions into our list of must haves and nice to haves. Our list of requirements included the following:
Housing: Must Haves
Housing: Nice to Haves
Once we assessed our needs, we knew what we were looking for. We could also then assess if we were in a financial position to purchase a house that met our needs, or if we needed to wait longer.
Tip 2: Working with a Buyer's Realtor
When buying a house, there is no earthly good reason not to work with a realtor. Realtors get paid a percentage of the cost of the house being bought, which is paid by the seller. In short, it costs you no more money to work with a realtor than to work by yourself.
Realtors will also help you save time, money and frustration because this is what they do for a living. They will help you find possible houses that meet your needs. They arrange house showings so you can privately view a given house. They may also know about houses that are going on the market before they are listed to give you a head start on other potential buyers. They also typically have relationships with people who do financing and home repairs, so they can help with recommendations throughout the whole process. They can walk you through the paperwork from start to finish.
Typical realtors represent people who are buying and selling houses. We worked with one who only helps people buy houses—a buyer’s realtor. Part of the reason why we chose a buyer’s realtor is that their only job was to help us buy a house, not to also sell other people’s houses. This means that they do not have a possible conflict of interest (unlike realtors who both buy and sell houses) since there would be no temptation to try to sell us a house that they had listed.
Tip 3: Learn About the Financial Implications
Some people, mostly homeowners, tout the financial benefits of owning a home—and believe me, there are many. However, buying a home is also a multi-pronged financial commitment that goes beyond the desire to stop "throwing money away" on rent. Here are a few financial factors to consider when considering buying a house.
Figure Out How Much House You Can Afford
There are several calculators available online to help you figure out how much house you might be able to afford. If you look at guidelines for how much of your income should be spend on any given thing, typically they recommend spending 25-35% of your income on housing.
Personally, I think a lot of calculators suggest an amount that is higher than it makes sense to spend. (A calculator I ran recently suggested that I could afford to spend more than twice what I currently spend on my house—which is not something I would ever do on purpose). One more conservative recommendation is that you plan to spend 25% of your net income. (As a reminder, your gross income is the amount that your employer says they pay you, and your net income is the amount of money that actually shows up in your paycheck on payday). In the end, you need to figure out what makes sense for you.
Housing Costs: More Than a Mortgage
Financing Your Home Purchase
It’s not just the purchase price of your house, but how that translates into monthly payments for you. Most people obtain a loan to buy a home, which is called a mortgage. The amount you pay on a monthly basis depends on the interest rate, the term (how long you plan to pay it back) and the amount that you borrow.
There are several loan options, but here are two common ones:
House Buying Expenses
Ongoing Housing Costs
So Now What?
After you have a big long cry after realizing there is more to this than you thought there might be, realize that looking at houses is a part of adulting. Get thee a good buyers realtor, who has been through this a bunch of times, and then can help talk you through what you need to do. The more you know about the processes, the better off you’ll be.
What Do You Think?
What advice do you have for people considering buying a home? What missteps did you make that you’d like to help others avoid?
Many people think of retirement as the magical day when they no longer have to work. The reality is that retirement is not just a one-time event. Instead, retirement is a phase of your life that could last decades. Part of the challenge of planning is making sure that you have enough saved in your retirement account so you can enjoy yourself without outliving your money.
My Experience with Retirement Planning
In a previous life, I worked as a corporate trainer supporting a group of Financial Coaches in one organization’s Retirement Planning Group. The goal of this team was to help people prepare to retire. This included financial coaching conversations about topics including saving, investment options, health care, and the million factors to be considered when figuring out the logistics of retiring. In addition, we also focused on helping people envision the lives they want to lead, and figuring out what financial resources would be necessary to make those retirement dreams a reality.
A Note on the Use of The Information in this Article
Here is my disclaimer regarding the content in this article. (We all know there has to be one of these just to set the record straight.) The ideas included are for educational purposes only, and should not be construed as financial advice. Concepts covered here are overly simplified examples of basic retirement related information. Please consult a qualified financial professional to learn additional details about each financial concept and to help you figure out what is right for you.
Just Tell me the Magic Number
Now, let’s get back to an often asked question about retirement planning. Many time, when having initial conversations about retirement, people just wanted us to tell them what they perceived to be a very simple question: How much money do I need to save for retirement?
One Common Answer
Sometimes, articles on retirement planning suggest a simple answer that even includes an actual dollar amount: $1,000,000.
That’s right. ONE MILLION DOLLARS!
Doesn’t that sound like a CRAZY amount of money? Certainly, if I had a million dollars, I’d be rich—and for sure able to do whatever I wanted in retirement.
One Key Factor: How Long Will Retirement Last
The trick with retirement is that it may last a really long time—think 30, 35 or even 40 years. When we’re working, we get more money every couple of weeks as long as we stay employed. In retirement, though, we start with a big pile of money and our goal is to figure out how to not run out of money while we’re still alive. So how do we do that?
How Much Yearly Income Could You Get from $1,000,000?
One common strategy for attempting to not outlive your retirement money is the 4% rule.
In super-oversimplified terms, the thought is that if you withdraw 4% of your total account value annually, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll have enough money to last you for 30 years. (Notice that the word “guarantee” is nowhere in this statement. There are no guarantees. There is only planning as best we can and adjusting our plan as we deal with the challenges life throws at us.)
Basically, if you start with $1,000,000 in retirement savings, and use the 4% rule as a guide, in your first year of retirement, you would withdraw $40,000 worth of income. If you’re for real using the 4% rule, you’d adjust what you take out each year based on inflation—meaning that you’ll typically end up taking out a little more each year.
How Much Do You Need?
Translating $1,000,000 into about $40,000 a year puts that amount in perspective. Depending on your lifestyle, you may need to save more, or less, money for retirement. One commonly recommendation for figuring out much income you need is to anticipate that you’ll need to replace approximately 85% of your pre-retirement income. If for example, your pre-retirement income is $50,000 per year, 85% of that would be $42,500. (Again, in this super-simplified version doesn’t consider other sources of retirement income, like Social Security, or inflation.)
One way to estimate the amount you may need to save is to take what you anticipate to be the annual income you want, multiply that number by 25, and use that as your overall savings goal. If, for example, you decide your annual desired income from your retirement account is $75,000 per year, $1,875,000 could be your desired retirement savings goal. (Again, in this super-simplified version doesn’t consider other sources of retirement income, like Social Security, or inflation.)
So Now What?
Check out these resources to give you another take on these topics. Don’t take my word for it—keep learning more so you can make the best decision for you.
Standard Personal Financial Advice
When it comes to basic financial advice, we all know what we're supposed to do. Spend less than you earn. Save for retirement. Pay down your debts. This covers the what, and a little bit of the how, but skips the most important part: the why.
Your Values Impact Your Budget
When figuring out how to budget your money, you need to know what you care about and how that influences what you spend your money on. Without thinking thorough the why, you may catch yourself spending money on things you don't really value just to keep up appearances--or because you think you should spend on those things.
Most of us inherently know what we care about, but we have a hard time putting it into words. Fortunately, Think 2 Perform offers a free, online tool that can help you name and prioritize your values. For me, this tool helped me translate my ambiguous thoughts about what matters to me into a few helpful terms.
Here are my top 5 identified values:
What Those Values Mean to Me
Here's what each value tangibly means to me:
How Values Translate to Spending
So how do those values translate to how I choose to spend my money? Here are a few examples on how this manifests itself :
So Now What Should You Do?
I learn for a living. I distill my research into useful blog entries. Geek, parent, knitter, yogi, writer, educator, businessperson, gluten intolerant & roller derby nerd.