Factors Homeowners Should Consider Over Interest Rates

Here are six factors that may be more important than interest rates when deciding whether to buy a home this year.

Length of time you’ll stay in that home. How long you have to live in a home to make it more economical than renting varies by locality and, in fact, by the individual home a person is considering buying or renting. “On average, it takes four to seven years to break even on a home, where you’ve got enough appreciation where it can pay you back for the cost of the transaction and cost of ownership,” Fleming says. “If you’re thinking about buying a home, selling it in two years and think it’s going to be cheaper than renting, it’s very unlikely to be.”

Job security. You don’t want to buy a home and then discover you’ll need to relocate to get a new job in six months or, even worse, end up unemployed and unable to make payments. Lenders typically like to see two years of job history, though that isn’t always necessary if you have changed jobs within the same field.

Down payment. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have announced plans to back loans with down payments as low as 3 percent, while the Federal Housing Administration offers loans with down payments of as little as 3.5 percent. But if you put less than 20 percent down, you have to pay private mortgage insurance every month, which could cost you more than a slightly higher interest rate. “If they’re looking at an FHA mortgage, paying PMI is a lifetime proposition,” Humphries says. With a conventional mortgage, you can ask to have the PMI removed once you have 20 percent equity in your home. That’s not possible with an FHA mortgage.

Emotional readiness. Not everyone is ready to own a home. If your dream is to travel the world, you should do that first. Or, you might not be sure you want to stay in your current city. Plus, homeownership brings additional responsibilities. “Your life changes a great deal when you go from being a renter to an owner,” Fleming says. “When things break, it’s your responsibility to fix them, not the landlord’s.”

Financial readiness. Before you buy a home, you want to make sure you have good credit, a steady income and some money in the bank beyond what you’ll need for a down payment. You likely will have to pay a year’s worth of homeowners insurance and property taxes up front. All homes, even new homes, require maintenance. And you don’t want to be stuck with no reserves if the air conditioner or furnace dies shortly after you move in.

Your local housing market. In some cities, buying a home is significantly cheaper than renting. In others, the calculation is less clear. Macro math aside, you might also discover that you can’t afford a home in a neighborhood you want or the type of home you want is in short supply this year.