How Much House Should I Afford?

The internet is a treasure trove when it comes to finding information that can help you buy your first home. Unfortunately, searching for “How much house can I afford?” will mostly lead you to online calculators that use an algorithm to come up with a generic estimate.

To come up with a figure, these calculators ask you for details like your zip code, your gross annual income, your down payment amount, your monthly liabilities, and your credit score. From there, they come up with an estimate of your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), or the amount of bills and liabilities you have in relation to your monthly income. 

The truth is, most lenders prefer your debt-to-income ratio to be at 43 percent or lower, although some lenders may offer you a loan with a DTI slightly above that.

Either way, the figures these calculators throw at you are a simple reflection of what a bank is willing to lend you — not an estimate of what you really can or should spend. 

Let’s dig in a bit more to what factors to consider.

Factors that Should Impact Your Home Purchase Price

One of the main factors to consider when deciding how much to spend on a home is how much you want to pay for your mortgage each month. What kind of payment can you commit to without sacrificing other goals?

A mortgage payment calculator is a good tool to use in this case. With a mortgage calculator, you can see how much your monthly payment might be depending on the amount you borrow, the interest rate you qualify for, and the term of the loan. 

While you decide on a monthly payment you can live with, there are additional details you should consider. The main ones include:

  • Down Payment: If you’re able to put down 20% of your home purchase price, you can avoid private mortgage insurance, or PMI. PMI adds an additional cost to your mortgage each month (usually around 1% of your loan amount), although you can have this charge removed from your loan once you have at least 20% equity.
  • Property Taxes: Find out the annual property taxes for any home you’re considering, then divide that amount by 12 to figure out approximately how much you’ll need to pay toward taxes in your mortgage payment each month. Also remember that your property taxes will likely go up slowly over time, which will increase your monthly housing payment along the way.
  • Homeowners Insurance: Your homeowners insurance premiums will also vary depending on the property and other factors. Make sure to get a homeowners insurance quote so you know approximately how much you’ll pay for coverage each year.
  • Home Warranty: Do you want a home warranty that will repair or replace major components of your property that break down? If so, you’ll want to price out home warranties that can provide coverage for your HVAC system, plumbing, appliances, and more. 
  • Other Monthly Bills: Take other liabilities you have into account, and especially the big ones. Daycare expenses, college tuition, utility bills, car payments, and all other bills you have should be considered and planned for.
  • Financial Goals: Are you trying to save more than usual so you can retire early? Or, are you saving in a 529 plan for future college expenses? If your financial goals are a priority (as they should be), then you’ll want to make sure your new house payment won’t make saving for other goals a challenge.
  • Upgrades and Repairs: Finally, don’t forget to come up with an estimate of how much you might want to spend on repairs or changes to your new home. A property that is new or move-in ready may not require much of anything, but money you plan to spend on a major renovation should be taken into consideration along with the purchase price of your home.

Hidden Expenses to Plan For

The factors you should consider when figuring out how much home to buy are pretty obvious, but what about all the expenses of homeownership you can’t always plan for? The reality is, you will need to do some work on your home at some point, and many of the most popular repairs can cost tens of thousands of dollars on their own. 

These repair and renovation cost estimates from Remodeling Magazine’s 2020 Cost vs. Value study are just a few examples: 

  • Garage door replacement: $3,695
  • Vinyl siding replacement: $14,459
  • Wooden window replacement: $21,495
  • Asphalt roof replacement: $24,700

In addition to major repairs like these, you’ll also have repair bills for your HVAC system, mulch to buy for your flower beds, and ongoing costs for maintenance and upkeep to pay for. You may also decide to remodel your older kitchen one day, or to add an extra bedroom as your family grows. 

As you figure out how much you should spend on a home, remember that you won’t know exactly how much you’ll need for home repairs or upgrades. Most people set aside some money for home maintenance in their emergency fund, but you can also set aside money for home repairs in a separate high-yield savings account. 

How to Calculate How Much House You Should Afford

All of the costs we’ve outlined above probably seem overwhelming, but keep in mind that most major home repairs will be spread out over the years and even decades you own your home. Not only that, but you will hopefully start earning more over the course of your career. As your paycheck grows, you’ll be able to set aside more money for emergencies and potentially even pay your mortgage off faster.

So, how do you calculate how much house you can afford? That’s really up to you, but I would start by tallying up every bill you have to pay each month including car payments, insurance, utilities, student loans, and any other debts you have. From there, add in some savings so you have money to set aside for your investing and savings goals. Also factor in money you set aside for retirement in a workplace account.

At this point, you could consider other factors that might impact how much you want to pay for a home. For example:

  • Do you need to build an emergency fund?
  • Are children on the agenda, and should you play for daycare expenses?
  • Do you like being able to save more money for a rainy day? 
  • Do you want to have one spouse stay at home in the future?
  • How long do you want to pay off your home loan?

Once you’ve considered all other factors, you may decide that you should set aside money for some other goals, like future daycare bills or college savings. Maybe you decide you want to pay double on your student loans so you can pay them off early, or that you want a 15-year-home loan with a larger monthly payment instead of a traditional 30-year loan. 

Either way, experts tend to agree that your mortgage payment should be no more than 25% of your income. For a $7,000 monthly income, that means your payment shouldn’t exceed $1,750. If your income is $5,000 per month, your monthly payment should be no more than $1,250 per month. These are ballpark estimates, and your property taxes and homeowners insurance premiums (or estimates) should also be figured into this amount. 

What to Do If You Already Spent Too Much?

If you already overspent on your home, you’re probably wondering which steps to take next. Maybe your monthly mortgage payment is making it impossible to keep up with other bills, or perhaps the home you bought required a lot more work than you realized. 

Either way, there are some steps to get back on track financially if you bit off more than you can chew. Consider these options:

  • Refinance your mortgage. Today’s incredibly low rates have made it so almost anyone can refinance an existing mortgage and save money these days. If you’re able to qualify for a new mortgage with a lower interest rate, you could lower your monthly payment and save money on interest each month. Compare mortgage refinancing rates here. 
  • Cut your expenses. Look for ways to cut your spending on a daily basis — at least until you figure out what to do in the long run. Figure out areas of your budget where you might be spending more than you realized, such as dining out, getting takeout, or going out on the weekends. If you can cut your monthly spending somewhat, you can find more money to use toward your mortgage payment each month. 
  • Get a roommate. Consider renting out your guest room in order to get some help with your mortgage. If you live in a tourist area, you can also rent out a space using platforms like Airbnb.com or VRBO.com. 
  • Sell your home and move. Finally, consider selling your home and moving if you have enough equity to do so without taking a financial loss. Sometimes the best thing you can do in a financial crisis is cut your losses and move on.

The Bottom Line

How much house you can afford isn’t always the same as how much you should afford. Only you know what your monthly bills and liabilities look like each month, and only you know the goals and dreams you really should be saving for.

When it comes to buying a home, you’re almost always better off if you err on the side of caution and borrow less a bank will lend. Buying a modest home can leave you with a lot more choices in life, but buying a home you can’t really afford can leave you struggling for years to come.

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