Owners.com, an online platform designed to lower the costs of purchasing a home, commissioned a study to see how consumers are feeling as spring – the traditional launch of the selling season – begins. The top four homebuyers’ worries make it clear that the dark days of 2007 and 2008 are most certainly not forgotten.
Even with a housing market that has staged an epic recovery over the past eight years, consumers, especially those who felt the effects of the Great Recession, don’t go into the home-buying process without anxiety. (For more, see 5 Real Estate Fears That Keep You From Buying.)
If you're in the real estate market this spring – either buying or selling – keep these concerns in mind. Answering them could make the process go more smoothly (and let you sleep better!).
1. Homebuyers’ Worries: Losing Earnest Money
Maybe it’s because it’s the first time that the customer hands over a large amount of cash, but 64% of home buyers fear losing their earnest money, the cash they put down to show that they’re serious about buying the home and won’t back out of the deal without good reason. But don’t be overly concerned. Earnest-money contracts come with contingencies that allow you to get your money back under certain circumstances, such as when the house is appraised for less than expected, your financing falls through, your house doesn’t sell, you discover a major flaw in the house you want or the seller backs out.
One thing to be careful of, though, is the financing; a buyer should have that locked down before making an offer. Not liking the financing terms doesn’t normally qualify for an earnest-money refund.
2. Becoming ‘House Poor’
You absolutely fell head over heels in love with a home. The bank or mortgage company approved the loan, and now you have a dream home that takes so much of your monthly income that basic living expenses are a struggle. That’s called being “house poor,” and 61% of home buyers are worried this could happen to them.
The key is to know how much you can afford before house-hunting. You could start with one of the many free online calculators that will help you estimate how much you can afford. Then you can work with a mortgage broker, banker or other professional to get a more official sense of what you can qualify for.
The owners.com survey also found that on average 55% of consumers are willing to go over budget, prepared to spend as much as an extra $38,000. Because there will always be expenses you didn’t think of, you should resist the urge and stick with something you can afford. If it’s not your dream home, start saving for your next home purchase or keep renting until you can amass enough to afford what you want. How Much Mortgage Can You Afford? will walk you through the decision steps.
3. Bidding Wars Driving Up the Price
In some cities inventory has become so low that most homes receive multiple offers. That’s why 59% of those surveyed said they have a legitimate worry about being outbid on the home they really want. This is another reason to find a property in the middle of your price range instead of the top. If you have room to up your offer, you could still get the home by improving your bid. Sometimes, the right letter can even make a difference in turning the sale your way (see How to Write a Homebuyer's Letter to a Seller).
4. Sacrificing Long-Term Financial Goals to Buy
One of the more alarming findings of the study is that consumers are willing to give up long-term saving and investing goals to afford a home this year. A massive 87% said they would give up meals outside the home, and 86% said they would buy fewer clothes – both admirable financial decisions – but 76% said they would stop investing in stocks, 72% said they would give up contributing to other investment funds and 61% will stop saving for an emergency. Not investing for retirement so you can afford a home is probably not the best financial strategy.
The Bottom Line
Remember that when you’re house-hunting, you will see plenty of properties that don’t fall within your budget. The concerns that buyers voiced above are a result of failing to set a realistic budget and sticking to it. Make sure your realtor only shows you homes that are in the middle of your price range. This will keep you from falling in love with a home you can’t afford and give you financial breathing room should something go wrong in the future. (For more, see How to Buy Your First Home: A Step-by-Step Tutorial.)