July 12, 2024

It’s officially time. After two years of paying off debt, saving money, and wishing for four walls and a roof to call my own, I’m now house hunting, complete with pre-approval from mortgage lenders.

I don’t have a huge budget for buying a home — mortgage rates around 7% mean I can no longer buy as much house as I could have in 2021, when rates hovered around 3%. Since I want to keep my predictable housing costs (such as monthly mortgage payments) below 25% of my income, that limits what I can spend. So I’m being extremely choosy about what I can and can’t live with — and afford

Here are three major deal breakers I’ve encountered so far — and why it’s important to decide what yours are before you start house hunting, too.

I’ve looked at a few houses so far that seemed suspiciously cheap based on their MLS entries. But all became clear once I actually visited the houses in person. Kudos to seller’s agents who fairly price a home, but my aversion to immediately putting a ton of money into major repairs has taken these houses off my list.

So far, I’ve seen houses that needed a new roof, new siding (preferably vinyl — this is a wet and harsh climate), and replacements for 70-year-old windows. I also looked at one that had two-prong electrical outlets throughout, which would need to be replaced with three-prong outlets (and in some areas of the house, they would need to be grounded outlets as well).

It’s not uncommon to put some serious money into a house initially — my colleague Christy Bieber recently purchased a house that needs a ton of work, and I am thrilled for her. But I could absolutely not see myself doing the same. She’s got a lot more experience as a buyer and a homeowner than I do, and her budget is different from mine.

More: Check out our picks for the best mortgage lenders

 

Paying for a new roof or windows as soon as I buy would capsize my finances, so I’m hoping to buy something that is more updated and move-in ready. (In my price range, this likely means a smaller home — which is perfectly fine for a household of one human and three cats.)

2. Proximity to neighbors

The location of a home is one of those qualities you can’t change. One of the first houses I looked at was nice, and I could’ve been happy there if not for one major problem. There are apartment buildings very close by — from the home’s driveway to the parking area for the apartments, there was a distance of less than 50 feet.

Renting an apartment is a good way to save money. But part of why I’m buying a house is to escape the pitfalls of renting — such as transient neighbors who may not be easy to live near due to noise and habits. I also don’t want to listen to cars coming and going at all hours of the day and night, and there’s a greater chance of that living near an apartment complex with multiple residents and their guests.

3. No garage

A lack of an enclosed space to park a car might not be a deal breaker for everyone, but it certainly is for me. I live in a part of the country that gets serious winters, and frequently 100 inches or more of snow per year. I work remotely now and no longer have to drive in the snow if I don’t want to (spoiler alert: I never want to). But having my car in a covered place means it will be safe and out of the elements.

The car is 15 years old this year, and I made my last payment on it almost a decade ago. I’d be happy to drive it forever, so I’ve put serious money into maintenance. Some of the more recent repairs I’ve had to make have been due to old parts wearing out, and I suspect that the car being out in snow, ice, and road salt is accelerating its deterioration. I’m hopeful that keeping it in a garage will give it more staying power — and perhaps keep me from needing to pay for new coil springs or bushings ever again.

What should you focus on when you’re house hunting?

It’s a good idea to focus first on the unchangeable qualities of a house. If you dislike the neighborhood, that’s not something you can change for any amount of money. It’s also difficult and expensive to change the size

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