Saturday, January 14, 2006

When should I buy a house? 6 things to guide you


That question is popping up more and more frequently in my inbox as it is one of the top questions on many people's minds. I am not an expert in every local market, and I certainly can't know everything with regards to each person's individual financial situation. Yes, there are tons of good deals and special situations out there. What I am going to do is give some solid advice that will help guide most people who are looking to buy their primary residence. Again, everybody has a different situation, but I think the 6 things below are a good place to start, and will keep most people out of trouble. That said, here is my quick and dirty opinion on things.

6 things to do - you could be ready to buy when...

1. You have done your own homework. Sit down with your friend named "google" and do some research on your own. Plenty of info on the net about mortgages, and plenty of places to get property info like and If you do your homework, you will be able to better spot the 'red flags' that might pop up if you are dealing with 'overzealous' or less-than-honest salespeople. By doing your homework, you will less likely to be taken advantage of. Also, just because a friend, or a friend of a friend and is going to "hook you up", doesn't mean you are excused from doing your own homework.

2. You realize that the market performance of the last 5-8 is NOT an indication of future results. Just because somebody you know made 100k in a year by buying a condo, doesn't mean the same will happen to you.

3. You have an absolute minimum of 3 months of ALL living expenses in your savings acount if you are single, or 6 month minimum if you have a family. This money is seperate from any money used for downpayment or closing costs. Yes, it can be in a money market or other 'liquid' account. No, its not glamorous or sexy, but the fundamentals never are.

4. Have some sort of money to put down. Preferably 10% or more, but even 3-5% will do. I know that it is hard for people to save up for the large downpayments that would required in many high value areas today. I know that "no money down" and "use the bank's money, not your own" have been popular mantras the past few years, but I'm talking about buying the house you plan to live in. I'm not writing this from the standpoint of advising 'sophisticated' people who understand leverage. I'm writing this for the people who want to buy their primary residence. See this post for more info on leverage.

5. You can get a fixed rate loan with a payment you can afford! Even though rates are up some, they are still near historical lows. If the only way you can 'afford' to get a house is with I/O or neg-am, you should probably wait. Even if you have to do an 80/10 or 80/15 loan, make sure the 80% is at a fixed rate, and try to get a fixed rate 2nd. When you have extra money, pay down the 2nd as fast as possible.

6. Find a place that you like and where plan to stay there for a while. Realize that homes don't always go up, and you very well could be upside down for a few years. As bad as that might seem, if you have a fixed rate payment that you can afford, you still have your job, and you are not forced to move, then you will be fine. Bringing cash to the table when you sell your place is not the best feeling from what I have heard. Make sure you have a realistic time frame for the amount of time you plan on living in the house.

So there you have it. I'll sum it up right here:

Do your homework, forget past results, have some savings, put some money down, get a fixed rate loan you can afford, and finally, find the house that you plan on making a home for a while.

I think that if you do those things, the odds are in your favor that you will be a successful homeowner.

I want to add a few quick things as well. I'm not anti-housing by any means. I think housing is overpriced in many areas and people are using creative "credit" as a means to not be priced out "forever". I'm not here to debate the value of a particular house. If you can do the things above, and realize that the value might go down, and you are ok with it, go ahead and buy. I'm not here to tell people what to do, just help give them some information so they can make an informed decision.

About the other 'creative' loan products out there. They all have their place for responsible, financially savvy borrowers that understand the risks, and have the finances to handle those risks. The problem is that most of the people getting these loans, are not that type of person. There are a million situations where these loans can be used correctly and effectively. There are many situations where I could recommend some of the "exotic" loans for people, but for the average person looking to buy a house, I would say stick with the basics above.

Enjoy the long weekend...and as always, I look forward to the comments and e-mails on this one!



Blogger B. Durbin said...

I am one of those people who cannot understand buying a house I wouldn't want to live in— unless, for whatever reason, I had the money and I wanted to turn it INTO a place I'd want to live in. (Sometimes I think I'm a little addicted to HGTV.)

Really, that's good advice for any purchase. "If things go wrong, could you live with the purchase?" If the answer is no, then why are you buying it?

If the answer to that is that you'll sell it, why do you think somebody else is going to want something you don't? Pay attention to your feelings on this. Even in a hot market, there are some things better left alone.

1/14/2006 6:46 PM  
Blogger SoCalMtgGuy said...

r patrick.

I agree with you about 6 months or more. I said "absolute minimum" in my post. 6 months single, 12 months family is preferred.

I don't think there will be a 20% downpayment requirement for ARMs. ARMs have been around a long time, and they have their uses.

Where things get tricky is with ARMs that rely on stated income, I/O, and negative amortization. I think it is these loans that will be scrutinized more by any regulatory organization.


1/14/2006 7:30 PM  
Blogger SoCalMtgGuy said...


Good point.

I think that is great "financial" advice.

When I look at being able to "afford" a mortgage, all debt payments are taken in consideration. While having no debt is always preferred, a car payment or other debt shouldn't necessairly stop somebody from buying a house. It will just 'lower' the amount of mortgage they can get.


1/14/2006 7:41 PM  
Blogger 41cadillac said...

Great 6 ideas for home hunters.

Also No. 7, no credit card debt.

Then Save, Save, Save, Monies. Keep looking, be patient until after 2007. If possible until 2008.

Write down exactly what you are interested in.

We all get caught up in what is seen. The unseen value of being patient must be recognized.

1/14/2006 8:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


First off, great site. I just recently discovered it and now I read it every day.

I live in LA and work in commercial lending for a small commercial bank. I agree with each of your 6 points. One thing I would like to add regarding banking and credit. I think what we are going to see is the classic "whipsaw effect". During the past 3-4 years, everyone knows credit requirements (if that's what you want to call them) has become increasingly loose. Well, from my experience in banking, when things start to go south and Banks begin loosing $$ (foreclosing on home), their loan portfolios do not look so good. What happens next is the regulators come in and tell the bank to "reserve" a certain amount of $$ for these bad loans. As bank loan portfolios continue to go from bad to worse, they "tighten" up. We saw this in the mid 90s due to the housing recession and we will see it again. And what I mean by the "whipsaw effect" is this. Banks have a history of going from one extreme to the next. We will see this in the way banks lend out $$. The people with a "clean balance sheet" - little or no bad debt, strong FICO, cash reserves, history of strong earnings (no stated BS)-will be the people getting loans. Will there be exceptions? Certainly - first time buyer programs will still exist. But, for the most part, the people with strong balance sheets will be to ones who do well during the next 3-5 years.

1/15/2006 9:46 AM  
Blogger Lou Minatti said...

Perhaps because I have a pretty secure job, I'm not sure that I agree with the 3-6 month living expenses.

Depends on the industry. I know a lot of tech people who were out of work for more than a year post 2001. It was a very humbling experience for them after 5+ years of riding an endless gravy train. They thought their skills were so valuable that they'd never be canned. Lots of folks in the Rust Belt 1978-1983 had to pick up and move to another state, starting their lives over. They lost everything except their cars and as many posessions as they could fit in a U-Haul trailer.

I don't think 3-6 months should be considered a minimum for anyone except people in ironclad professions (doctors, policemen, nurses, etc.) Everyone else should have at least 1 year's worth saved up in liquid accounts. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night with 3-6 months.

1/16/2006 8:33 AM  
Blogger Rob Dawg said...

Rule 1b/6b The neighborhood. Know the neighborhood and what you can expect it to be like in 8-10 years even if you plan on staying only 5. Are there plans for a freeway or Walmart next door? Is the own/rent ratio changing? Crime, schools, etc. even if you don't care in 5 years your buyer will care.

1/16/2006 10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1 years back up fund? Sounds extreme. I would agree with 1 year for blue collar job, 6 months if you are in a white collar job and 3 months if you are a Dr or Lawyer, Ivy league dude ;-)

Great Advice SoCal. When I refied last year I scoured the net and picked up a RE for Dummies book written by a seasoned broker caled 'Mortgages 101'. It helped with more than just the basics.
Also, for getting rid of debt I picked up "total money makeover' both on Amazon. Good common sense that is not commonly used so its a reminder.

1/16/2006 12:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

true what you say. My brother is a good example. His career has taken off in last 10 yrs and his sallary has increased gradually. But everytime he gets a bump up, the less money he seems to be saving. As soon as he gets a raise, hes already thinking of ways to spend money not yet in his hands.

1/16/2006 2:26 PM  
Blogger Wes D said...

The best financial book I've read is called "Good Debt, Bad Debt". I think I'll reread it every year to keep it fresh in my head.

1 yr. living expenses is a little extreme but it depends on your situation. Does anyone's figures include cashing out a 401K or is it simply cash in the bank? I'd like to maintain 6-months or more at all times, but it's really hard to do.

1/16/2006 3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I nedd some advice. What would you do?

...a scenariosI know you all won't be crazy about:
What if home price go NUTS again this spring, would you sell your house if you could get over 200k profit out of it and move to another state? Maybe rent or buy a ome cash in some remote place? I dont know. I missed the 'cash out' boat last time. I am thinking 'if' it goes erzerk again, maybe I should call it quits. My wife thinks i am nuts.

1/16/2006 4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this post. My husband and I earn approx. 145 - 155K per year but about 120K of that is from my business and I try my hardest to lower my tax burden (I'd say I show a profit on paper of about 90K out of the 120K) so we've been advised to go with a subprime loan (my fico is 749) and stated income. The offers I've had have been for 80/20 loans with a fixed 1st but a variable second and I didn't like that option as someone who is very responsible with credit. We have no debt and our cars are paid off, we have one student loan payment of $65 a month (this is why we don't have a serious down payment, we've been paying off two new cars rapidly). I appreciated your advice because I realized that waiting isn't such a bad thing to get a proper deal. I just wish I had a crystal ball so I'd know which way this market is finally going to go. I hope to have 40K saved by the end of this year towards a down payment, of course - that'll be 10% down of a rat infested shack of 400 sq. feet here in Los Angeles but...

Great blog~~!

1/23/2006 7:53 PM  

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