First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Jane in a single-family home with a white picket fence and a baby carriage.
If the popular playground song were written today, the part about home ownership would no doubt weave its way into the musical timeline of life’s milestones.
That’s because across the United States, more than 67 percent of occupants own their home. But they’re not all bustling with two adults, 1.5 children, and a dog.
What if Jane was a content, single, and financially independent woman who decided to alter tradition by jumping straight to the little house with the white picket fence? Or if wedded bliss unexpectedly came to an end and she decided to become the single female homebuyer?
She would find herself embarking on one of the biggest purchases of her life, joining other single females across the country who made up 16 percent of home buying purchases between July 2012 and July 2013. While 38 percent cited a desire to own as the top reason for purchasing a home, 9 percent said a change in family played the biggest role.
By educating and empowering themselves, single women have acquired a sense of home-buying confidence, making the dream of home ownership a reality. It’s a process that doesn’t necessarily begin with love first—unless it’s for her dream house. She just needs a good real estate agent, an educated understanding of navigating the home-buying process, and a glass of champagne to celebrate after signing on the 50,000 dotted lines at closing.
When buying as a single female, there is a lot to consider. We’ve compiled a list of sometimes-overlooked tips to help the Jane’s of the world make smart decisions when buying a home.
Safety first and foremost. We look around in parking garages and raise our awareness in dark parking lots. You don’t want to feel the same anxiety walking from your driveway to your doorstep.
Whether you’ll be living with Tiger the cat, or three rambunctious teenage boys, buying in a low-crime area should be cardinal priority. The time to investigate is before you sign.
Drop by the police precinct in your town for a chitchat with the officers about issues in the neighborhood; Research area crime statistics online and check for any registered sex offenders; Talk to neighbors and the editor of the neighborhood newspaper; drive by the area during both daytime and nighttime hours.
You’ll be surprised at the transformation of some neighborhoods once the sun goes down. And here’s something many buyers don’t know: You can request, in writing, disclosures about neighborhood nuisances and any known crime statistics from the seller.
Remember: an area with a high crime rate may not only jeopardize your safety, it can affect property value, too.
Be prepared for a long-term purchase.
Sure, property values may continue to rise. And when your agent assures you that five years down the road you can sell and recoup your money because you bought in an area with a high resale value, she might be right.
But will you be prepared if the market takes a turn for the worse? Or if life throw you a financial curveball, like the ex who decides to stop contributing to your first-born’s college fund or the first business venture that goes bottoms up?
Are you prepared to hunker down in the house for a while? This means buying a home you can live in long term in an area with great general appeal. It’s also wise to educate yourself on the area’s rental restrictions in case your dream house turns into a rental one day. Always have a back-up plan.
We all want the celebrity mansion with sweeping views of the Hollywood Hills. But as a one-person income household, you have to make decisions based on your budget. You don’t have another person to fall back on.
Choosing the smaller house in the right location or the condo instead of the single family home might be the better option. Staying within your budget also sets you up for unforeseen or unexpected life or financial changes.
Meet with a mortgage broker before previewing homes.
Prior to stepping foot in your real estate agent’s car on your way to preview homes, you will want to sit with a mortgage broker to discuss making the most of your one-person income. Have them go over any dings on your credit report and exactly what you qualify for based on what you can afford each month with all the associated costs.
Be sure to leave with a pre-approval letter in hand; that piece of paper empowers you as a competitive single female homebuyer. As an added bonus, you don’t have to worry about qualifying with a partner!
Consider the property upkeep.
Even in this day and age of female DIY, you still want to take into consideration how much maintenance and repair work the property will take, as well as the limitations of your handywoman work.
Suppose you fall in love with an old charming house that has outdated plumbing and electric? Who is going to fix the leaking faucet and light switch after you’ve moved in? The same applies to yard work and landscape. Unless you like to trim grass and or were an electrician in your former life, be prepared to factor in a monthly gardener and handyman expense.
Or you just may want to consider the townhome, condo or newly renovated home, which require virtually no maintenance.
Life could change.
You are a solo buyer now, but what if you find a partner and start thinking about a family? If your budget allows, consider additional bedrooms, more square footage, and even a bigger yard to account for growth. And the possible addition of Fido.
Timing is everything.
Your BFF from grad school gets her real estate license and claims you as her test client. She persuades you to borrow the other half of your down payment from the parentals, “just to get your foot in the door.” Great!
So now what? Who is going to foot the bill when it comes time to pay annual property taxes, unforeseen HOA assessments, the main drain that busted, or six months of mortgage payments when you’ve been replaced by the new intern?
Murphy’s Law: owning a home is a big investment with ongoing expenses. Don’t stretch yourself too thin just for the sake of buying a house. Renting until you’ve saved more money might be the better option.
The perfect place.
You’ve heard the phrase: “location, location, location.” Now how do you apply this to your new home purchase?
Let’s say you are buying into a neighborhood for top-notch schools or an urban nightlife with close proximity to boutiques and cafes. What more could you ask for, right?
Think beyond the doorstep and do your research. Investigate city-planning notes, zoning controversies or any major trends that could affect the local economy. You don’t want to be walking down the street six months later to discover a new porn shop diminishing property values.
What you may not know about the numbers.
Stacking the closing costs on top of the purchase price may seem like a grand idea upfront. But it’s going to mean more to you than the seller.
The more you finance, the more you owe—especially when paying interest on what you borrow. Hold the fire to your mortgage broker’s little number-driven toes. Have them lay out all the pros and cons of each loan option presented so you can choose the best long-term solution.
For example, one good question to ask: If I put more money down on a conventional loan vs. an FHA, how will this affect the life of my mortgage insurance? Long term, you may find it actually costs less. And remember; don’t always rely on re-financing your loan. You might not qualify down the road and there are always costs associated with a new loan.
Ladies, never skimp on the home inspection.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not having your own inspection. Or hiring the cheapest person in the business.
You want to hire the most qualified professional for the job, and that might mean paying more for it. Require that your inspector provide photographs, a detailed report highlighting a summary of safety and health issues and walk through the property, physically identifying all the findings on the report.
And ask questions, lots of questions.
Negotiate and be prepared to walk away.
This is when the dukes go up! If the seller asks you to make up half of the difference when the appraisal does not come in at value, don’t be afraid to dig your heels in by negotiating the sales price down. Also, be sure to ask for concessions for costly repairs, including padding the estimate a bit as the final bill always end up higher.
All real estate agents are not created equal.
Simply put: hire an exclusive buyer’s agent. The main reasons: A buyer’s agent has a fiduciary responsibility to the buyer shows loyalty to the buyer by acting in the buyer’s best interest, and does not disclose facts that could influence the buyer’s ability to negotiate the best terms.
When buying a home, there’s no need for love, marriage, or even the baby carriage. Jane can find happiness all by herself in her dream home surrounded by the white picket fence.
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