What is House Poor?

House poor is a term used to describe a person who spends a large proportion of his or her total income on home ownership, including mortgage payments, property taxes, maintenance, and utilities. Individuals in this situation are short of cash for discretionary items and tend to have trouble meeting other financial obligations, such as vehicle payments.

House poor is sometimes also referred to as house rich, cash poor.

Key Takeaways

  • A house poor person is anyone whose housing expenses account for an exorbitant percentage of their monthly budget.
  • Individuals in this situation are short of cash for discretionary items and tend to have trouble meeting other financial obligations, such as vehicle payments.
  • House poor individuals can consider limiting discretionary expenses, taking on another job, dipping into savings or selling to ease their financial difficulties.

Understanding House Poor

A house poor person can be considered anyone whose housing expenses account for an exorbitant percentage of their monthly budget. People can find themselves in this situation for a number of reasons. In some cases, a consumer may have underestimated their total costs. Alternatively, a change in income may be the reason that housing expenses have become overwhelming.

Buying a home is part of the American dream and many homeowners pursue homeownership because of the many advantages it offers. Making payments toward the ownership of a real estate property can be a good investment in the long term. That said, it can also quickly turn sour if you run into money trouble and fail to account for the number of unexpected costs that often arise when taking on such a big commitment.  

To prevent becoming house poor, prospective homeowners should not let their dreams get the better of them. They can start out by considering the following unwritten guidelines:

  • The maximum you should spend on a home should be 2.5 times your total gross salary. Sure, you might earn more in five years. However, you might also find yourself out of work, as well.
  • Make sure you choose the right mortgage. If you don’t want to get caught out by unexpected payment increases, opt for a fixed interest rate.
  • Payments should not exceed a quarter of your income.
  • Keep some money aside for unexpected circumstances, such as maintenance costs or sudden changes to your financial position.

House Poor Requirements

Experts say consumers should plan to spend approximately 25% of their take-home pay on expenses. Alternatively, in the rare case that a homeowner has few other expenses or no additional debt, they could potentially spend up to 30%.

The general rule of thumb is that mortgage payments should never exceed 28% to 33% of your income. If you have other debts, your total debt to income ratio, all debts divided by income, should be below 40%.

If an individual spends more of his or her income on owning a home, he or she very likely qualify as house poor.

House Poor Methods

In some cases, unexpected circumstances may occur that make housing payments difficult to manage. The loss of a job or a having a child can completely change a household’s spending outlook leaving them house poor with difficulty making the mortgage payments.

If this happens, consumers may need to look at a few different options.

Limit Discretionary Expenses

First, if expenses on housing seem overwhelming perhaps there are areas of the budget where you can reduce spending. Maybe canceling vacations or trading cars for a lower payment vehicle could help. 

Take on Another Job

If it seems that the expense has gone beyond budget, many consumers will be willing to take on a second job or side jobs that can help to pay the housing bills.

Dip into Savings

When buying a home, investors should start a savings account. Saving a little each month for unexpected issues, such as maintenance and home repairs, can make a big difference, particularly when individuals find themselves strapped for cash.

Sell

If none of these options seem feasible, consumers always have the option to sell their home. Selling may allow you to move to a less expensive neighborhood or find a rental home with lower payments. While selling may not be your most favorable option, it allows you to obtain the funds you need and potentially save for buying a new home in the future.