The American dream of owning a home is powerful and prevalent, but that dream doesn’t always make good sense in the light of day. When deciding whether to rent or buy, you’ll want to keep your eyes open and your feet on the ground so you can make decisions that are right for you and your family. Here are 6 things to keep in mind:
1. Crunch the numbers. Buying vs. renting isn’t solely about comparing costs, but that’s still a huge part of the process.
2. Know the market. If you don’t know the difference between a “buyer’s market” and a “seller’s market,” now’s the time to educate yourself. Is low inventory driving prices up and making buyers more competitive? Or is there a glut of homes for sale, giving buyers more leeway to cut deals? In either case, how is the rental market responding? Are home prices trending up or down (i.e., will the places you’re looking at likely be worth more or less in five or ten years)? You can’t predict the future, but you should look at current trends and make informed decisions based on what’s happening now.
3. Itemize your costs. The financial difference between renting and owning is much more than simply the upfront difference in price between paying rent vs. mortgage. Don’t forget to account for property taxes, homeowners insurance, HOA fees, maintenance, and repairs/renovations. (If the fridge stops working, you can’t just call your landlord; you will need either fix-it skills and a can-do attitude or money to hire a pro.)
4. Get real about job stability. One major consideration of the “to buy or not to buy” question is whether homeownership makes sense with your job. Can you count on maintaining at least the same level of income in the years you plan to own the home? Will your job allow you to stay in the same city or state for more than a few years at a time? Will you lose income if you choose to stay home with children? If your career is subject to change, don’t discount the benefit of renting a place that’s easy to leave if you need to relocate or reduce expenses on short notice.
5. Consider the kids. Many people decide to buy homes specifically to accommodate building a family. Questions to ask yourself include: Can you afford to live somewhere with schools that meet your needs? Is there room for not just your current family but also any family members that might join you in the future? If you will have to move in 5 years or less, buying may not be a good idea.
6. Search your heart. Do you even want to own a home? Or do you think it’s just what you should want? If owning a home and all that comes with it -- the good and the bad -- isn’t something you’re excited about, don’t sweep that feeling under the rug. Owning a home can be awesome, but it’s not for everyone. You do you.