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Everything you need to know about buying your first home

So, you’re considering buying your first home? Well, congrats! Just thinking about it is a big step. For most of us, buying a home is the biggest financial decision we will make in our life. It is important to do the research and we suggest talking to an expert. You will of course need to consider your finances. But there are many other lifestyle factors that you should consider such as school districts, proximity to work, safety, etc. Additionally, there are a few different ways to purchase your first home. In this article we will first talk about both financial and lifestyle factors that are important to consider when buying your first home. We will also briefly discuss an alternative method to help you buy your first home. In the end this is a deeply personal decision and there is no right path for everybody, only you can choose what is best for you.

The first question many buyers ask themselves is “how much can I afford?” There are multiple factors that determine how much you can afford, so let’s break down some of the most important ones. Note that if you are buying all-cash then your cash and current lifestyle determine how much you can afford. However, most Americans use a mortgage or other financing to buy their first home.

Financial Factors

Know your Debt-to-Income Ratio

The debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is the percentage of your monthly gross income that is spent on servicing debt, including mortgage, credit card, student and other types of debt. For example, if you earn $2,000 per month and have monthly debt payments of $600, then your DTI is 600/2,000 or 30%. The Federal Housing Administration uses a 43% DTI standard as a guideline for approving mortgages. However, some banks might have slightly different standards. A 43% DTI means that all of your consolidated debt payments, including your new mortgage and housing-related expenses (insurance, property taxes, HOA fees, etc.) should not total more than 43% of your monthly gross income. This DTI ratio can be further divided in two:

  • Front-End DTI: The front-end DTI is the percentage of your monthly gross income that goes to housing related expenses, including your mortgage, taxes, HOA fees, etc. This calculation excludes all other types of debt such as auto loans, student debt and credit card payments. For this ratio, lenders usually want to see a ratio that is no more than 30%. That means that all of your housing related expenses should be no more than 30% of your income. 
  • Back-End DTI: As you could have guessed, the back-end DTI is the percentage of your monthly gross income that is spent on servicing non-housing related debt such as auto loans, student debt and credit card payments. 

When looking at properties, be sure to research all of the expenses including how much you will pay for property taxes, insurance, HOA fees, etc. If it is an old home, it is likely that you need to factor repairs or maintenance costs before you move-in. In the long run, some old properties can be quite expensive to maintain.

What about the Down Payment?

Many lenders prefer that you put down 20% of your home’s price to avoid paying private mortgage insurance. For a house that costs $400,000 this means an $80,000 down payment which can be challenging for many of us. With the high cost of healthcare, rent, education and transportation  it can be a real challenge to save that much. Talk to your lender, you might be able to obtain financing without a 20% down payment. An FHA loan can let you buy a house with a 5% down payment if you meet certain other requirements. However, if you put more down, you can obtain a cheaper loan (better rates and no insurance required) and it will increase your chances of getting approved. In addition to obtaining cheaper financing, a larger down payment will also decrease your monthly mortgage payments and will put you in a better situation to negotiate rates and terms with different lenders. It is important that you balance your down payment and savings account to ensure that you have enough money for an emergency or that planned life event. We recommend a 20% down payment when utilizing a mortgage to finance your home purchase.

Mortgage Terms and Rates

The mortgage term refers to how many years you have to fully repay your mortgage. We recommend negotiating the longest period you can. Mortgages can be pre-paid with no penalty so you always have the option to reduce your outstanding balance and pay it in a shorter period of time if you want to do so. A longer term might also reduce your monthly payments.

Interest rates play a fundamental role in determining your monthly mortgage payments. Mortgage rates are always changing and can be fixed or variable. Fixed rates charge an interest rate that does not change throughout the life of the loan. Variable or adjustable-rate mortgages change depending on the economic outlook. Because the future rate that you will pay is unknown, they can be risky. We suggest you consider fixed rates when buying your first home.

Others financial Considerations to Keep in Mind

Lenders will look at other qualifying ratios before deciding if you obtain approval for a mortgage. They will look at your credit score and perform a background check so be sure you are aware of this before applying for a new loan. Your home will also need to pass an inspection. Be sure that critical components such as the roof, foundation or HVAC are in good conditions. 

Lifestyle Factors 

After you have analyzed your financial situation, it is also important to find a home that will make you happy. Buying a home is usually a long-term commitment so it is important to be pick and find a home that fits your current lifestyle.

Urban vs Suburban lifestyle

Living close to a city center has both its pros and cons. Generally speaking, you will have a centric location and be close to the action. Depending on where you live and work you might not even need a car. Several cities now have great mobility solutions such as scooters and e-bikes that allow people to transport themselves quickly without needing a car (or a parking lot). Additionally, locations near city centers tend to be safer investments although this is by no means guaranteed. 

In the suburbs, master planned communities (MPCs) are thriving. These communities are often more remotely located and you will likely spend more time commuting and more money in transportation. However, most MPCs offer a wide array of amenities such as gyms, pools, running trails, etc. The sense of community in MPCs is also a key characteristic of the suburban lifestyle. 

A novel concept that is being implemented by a few developers tries to mix the best of both worlds. Small Urban Communities (SUCs) are small communities (generally 10-40 homes) that are located closer to the city center, giving users easy access to thriving downtown life. Additionally, these communities tend to offer certain amenities which can be attractive for residents, such as a gym or more recently co-working spaces, although they are not as amenity heavy as MPCs. SUCs strive to provide residents with access to the best a city offers while enjoying a sense of community. 

School Districts

If you have or are planning on having kids. Be sure to know the school district for the home that you like. This might be obvious but is sometimes overlooked and can be a costly decision if you are not happy with the ISD that you fall into. You can easily check and compare ISD rankings online.


Make sure the area where you want to live is safe. Check local crime rates and make sure that you feel comfortable not only with the area but with the neighbors that you get. Many neighborhoods have groups (Facebook or other social media) that you can look to get a sense of the area. Be sure to spend some time in the area, maybe take a walk or a bike down the street. Here are a few options that you can use to check neighborhood safety 

Home Specifications

Last but not least, be sure the home you want to buy meets all of your requirements. Does the home include a garage or parking space? If you live in a snowy area, it is important that the garage has a roof or covering to protect your car. Does your home have enough storage space? Do I have enough rooms for the family that I am planning? 

Alternative Method to Purchase Your First Home

If you can’t or do not want to get a mortgage, you can still purchase your first home. Obtaining a mortgage can increase your debt load substantially and can often hamper your financial flexibility. Additionally, saving for that 20% down payment can be hard. However, with real estate prices increasing, postponing your home purchase might be costly. With Mirabilis’ INTRO Program – a novel co-ownership / co-investment program – you can become a homeowner today without going further into debt or a down payment. Click here to learn more about how you can buy your first home with no debt and no down payment. 

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