5 Things to Consider Before Buying a Home When You're Single

By Camilla Cheung on 18 July 2017 0 comments

It's become increasingly common for people to buy a home by themselves instead of as a couple. According to the National Association of Realtors' Profile of Homebuyers and Sellers, new homeowners in 2016 were comprised of 17 percent single females and 7 percent single males.

Buying a home is a big undertaking, whether or not you're doing it as a single person. I spoke to Markus Brown, a realtor in Orange County, California, about some things to consider before buying a home by yourself.

1. Understand the risks

As a single person, is it better to pay rent or to own a home? The monthly costs of owning a home may be higher than what you pay in monthly rent when you consider costs like insurance, property tax, maintenance, and higher utility bills. You're also taking on greater risk by taking on a loan. (See also: Why I Choose to Rent Instead of Buy)

However, according to Brown, there can be significant advantages to owning a home, the biggest of which is the ability to fix your housing costs in the future. When you own your home on a fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage, you remove unknowns such as your rent going up, being asked to move because the landlord wants to renovate or sell, and more. This allows you to make concrete plans for the future without worrying about housing.

If you're planning to stay in the area for several years, you should consider buying a home. "Historically, you need to own for at least five to 10 years before market appreciation helps you to make a profit," Brown says, "[but] if you're going to be relocated in a year or two, don't buy."

2. Review your finances

Having only one income to rely on in purchasing a home can stretch you financially, so it's a good idea to go over your finances before considering a home purchase. You'll also want to take steps to improve your credit score before buying a home. Consider the stability of your income and whether you have enough savings to see you through if something happens to that source of income.

As a single person, you will want to have a large savings buffer, because you won't be able to fall back on another person's income if yours is disrupted. The rule of thumb is that your emergency fund should have at least six months of income — nine if your income is unpredictable.

3. Calculate the hidden costs

Don't be surprised by the "hidden" costs of owning a home, including the closing costs, property taxes, insurance, possible homeowners association fees, utilities, maintenance, and potential renovations. Factor all these extra costs into your budget before deciding on a home that you can afford. According to Brown, many people think they can buy more than they actually can when all these costs are factored in. (See also: 10 Hidden Housing Costs New Homeowners Don't Expect)

4. Talk to a mortgage broker

As a single person, it can be more difficult to quality for a loan because you can only count on one income. If it's your first time buying, you may be able to qualify for an FHA loan, which allows you to purchase with a lower down payment (only 3.5 percent down) and lower interest rates, and doesn't require as high of a high credit score.

Another option is the HomeReady Mortgage Program through Fannie Mae, which only requires as little as 3 percent down, and allows greater flexibility in qualifying for a loan, including income from co-borrowers, family members who are not on the loan, gifts from family members, and even "boarder" income from a roommate.

Talk to a mortgage broker or financial adviser about whether it makes sense for you to pay a lower down payment. You may have to purchase mortgage insurance if you don't put enough money down, so factor those costs into your decision.

"Low down-payment loans make sense for people who have a solid job and stable income, but don't have a lot of savings because they've just started out, such as new grads or young couples," Brown recommends.

5. Choose the right home

In his experience, Brown sees single people going for condos, because the maintenance and chores are simpler and easier to deal with. Brown suggests buying only what you need at the moment and getting a foot in the market, instead of trying to buy a family home when you don't know what you'll need later. Look for a condo in a community that has other working professionals, and allows you to enjoy your single life.

However, it's better to buy a two-bedroom rather than a one-bedroom if you can afford it, according to Brown, because it gives you what he calls "future-proofing." If you lose your job or the economy tanks, you can take on a roommate to help you share the costs. On the other hand, if you get married or have your partner move in, you have enough space for the next step in building your family. Either way, you won't have to sell immediately if something changes in the future.

In addition to potential financial benefits, there are a lot of intangible benefits to owning your own home. Pride in your own home, the ability to control things about your living situation that you couldn't control as a renter (such as decorations and renovations), and the feeling of being more settled, are all attractive reasons to buy a home as a single person.

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