How to figure out the best time to buy a home, according to a mortgage analyst

  • Buying a home is likely to be one of the biggest investments of your life.
  • For many, life events such as marriage or the birth of a child are often the catalyst to buying a home.
  • It’s important to buy a home when you’re able to afford one, though waiting until the winter to put down an offer could save you a bit.
  • Here’s how to know when it’s the best time to buy a home.

Buying your first home is one of the biggest investments you will make in your lifetime.

With housing prices on the rise in many US markets, it can be difficult to find a home that fits your family’s needs without mortgage payments that will break your budget.

According to Holden Lewis, a mortgage analyst at Nerdwallet, timing your home purchase correctly – like during the winter or before you get married – can save you money.

Lewis has followed the mortgage market since 2001 – through the first housing boom, the 2008 crash and its aftermath, and the recovery. Here are his practical tips to help you figure out the right time to buy a home.


Buy when you’re ready

fizkes/ShutterstockYou’re ready to buy a home when you can afford one.

The right time to buy a house is when you have enough money saved up for a down payment and an income that allows you to comfortably afford the mortgage payment. According to Consumer Reports, many financial planners recommend limiting the amount you spend on housing to 25% of your monthly budget.

If you’re not sure whether you can afford a home in your area, Lewis suggests using an online calculator, such as this one from Nerdwallet.

Major life events can also be an impetus for making the leap into home ownership. “I think there’s a lot of personal triggers for homebuying,” Lewis said. “The most common one is adding children to your family.”

Lewis transitioned from being a renter to a homeowner shortly after his son was born. “It was really nice that his first steps were taken in a home of our own,” he said.


Don’t wait until you get married

Sergii Sobolevskyi/ShutterstockYou don’t have to hold off until marriage to buy a home.

According to Lewis, many people think they need to wait until they get married before buying a home. “I think being single is not a reason to hold off,” he said. “When you buy a home sooner, you’re building equity sooner.”

The Washington Post reported in that 18% of the home purchases made in 2017 were made by single women. That figure includes older women who are widowed or divorced, as well as younger women ready to invest in real estate and put down roots.


Buy in the winter

ND700/ShutterstockYou may find cheaper listings in the winter.

In 2012-2017, the number of starter homes on the market reached its peak between October and December in 70 of the 100 largest US metros, according to a 2017 report by Trulia. This means that there are more options for those looking to buy their first homes in the fall.

But it may be worth waiting until winter to make an offer, as Trulia also reported a decline in the prices of starter homes between January and March 2017. Additionally, Lewis said that prices tend to be highest in June and July and take a tumble by January or February.

While the number of houses for sale goes down in the winter, the number of buyers declines even more, so you’ll face less competition for the homes that are on the market, Lewis said. And sellers with homes on the market in the winter may be more likely to negotiate, according to a US News report.

Lewis said that this trend holds true even in the places that snowbirds flock to in the winter months. “There’s even a difference in prices in places like Orlando and Phoenix,” he said. “That really surprised me.”

“Each city and even different neighbourhoods might be different,” Lewis added. “The best thing to do is ask an experienced local real estate agent.”


Avoid waiting for mortgage rates to go up or down

g-stockstudio/ShutterstockDon’t let mortgage rates impact your timing of buying a home.

Lewis said mortgage rates have remained low for the past 15 years, despite predicting that they would rise.

“I’ve been following mortgage rates now for 17 years and I can’t tell you how many Januarys I’ve predicted, ‘This is the year when mortgage rates are going to rise substantially,’ and every year it hasn’t happened,” Lewis said.

Lewis recommends resisting the pressure to either rush or delay buying a home based on mortgage rate predictions. “You have at least a 50% chance of being wrong,” he said, so don’t let this affect your timing of when you want to buy a home.


Look for creative financing

tsyhun/ShutterstockThere are home-buying programs that you may find helpful.

You might have more options for home financing than you realise. Some states, such as Pennsylvania and California, offer homebuyers help with financing, including down payment assistance. Even if your state doesn’t offer any special programs, you might be eligible for an FHA loan, which may only require a down payment of 3.5%.

The VA offers home-buying programs to active-duty military, veterans, and some surviving spouses of servicemembers. “If you are a veteran or in the military, really look into VA loans,” Lewis said. “They are a great deal.”

There is also first-time homebuyers’ assistance at the local level. San Francisco has a special program to help local teachers, and New York City’s HomeFirst program provides up to $US40,000 in down payment or closing cost assistance to homebuyers.

In expensive markets like these, assistance programs can make a big difference, Lewis said. Invest a bit of your time to research what support is available where you live.

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