You know you should buy a home. Eventually. But timing matters when it comes to such an enormous and potentially life-changing purchase. Which begs the question: When is the best time to buy a house? Does such a moment exist when all lights turn green, guaranteeing this is a decision you won’t regret?
While there’s no crystal ball in real estate, there are some fairly easy-to-read signs that a home purchase is something you should consider. Let’s dive into some of the factors that can influence whether the time is right for you to pull the trigger.
For many people, knowing when to buy a home all comes down to the numbers. Here are the biggest pieces of that equation.
- You have a down payment: If you need a mortgage to buy a home, you should know that most lenders will want you to show them the money—that is, have a sizable down payment. For most conventional loans, you’ll need to scrape together 20% of a home’s price, or $60,000 on a $300,000 home. Amassing that cash can be challenging, but know that some lenders can require as little as 5% down. You also may want to check into down payment assistance programs; many homeowners are surprised to find that they qualify.
- You can afford a monthly mortgage: How much you can afford in monthly mortgage hinges on your income and debts. Higher income is good, of course; higher debt is bad. Check out a mortgage calculator for an easy way to plug in your salary and debts to see how much home you can afford in your area.
- You have a good credit score: Your credit score is a measure of how well you’ve paid off past debts. Lenders look at this number to prognosticate how well you’ll pay them back, too. If you have no credit history, you should get some fast (lenders will want to see at least a year of payments under your belt). If your credit score is poor, you may want to do what you can to bring it up to snuff, because a higher credit score means you’ll stand to land a better loan.
Housing markets go through highs, lows, and bubbles—much like stocks. As such, you may be wondering whether current market conditions are conducive to buying (e.g., “Wow, you can buy a whole townhouse for under two hundred grand?”) or a total rip-off (e.g., “a two-bedroom for a half-million, seriously?!”).
Sadly, the adage for stocks applies to housing, too: It’s impossible to perfectly time the market. Yet there is still something to be said for considering economic conditions.
“You should never buy a home you can’t afford, but sometimes market conditions offer a little incentive to get off the sidelines,” says Mark Abdel, a real estate professional with Re/Max Advantage Plus in Minneapolis–St. Paul.
You’ll want to consider the following:
- Inventory: Look through listings for your area. If the majority of houses have been sitting on the market for more than six months, then the market is slow and prices should be OK. But if many properties get snapped up in months, or even weeks, this suggests you’re in a seller’s market—and that’s where buyer bidding wars could drive up prices. Of course, they could just continue to climb, or they may have peaked and go down. Local real estate agents can give you the lay of the land and their predictions, but just remember it’s anyone’s guess what could happen next.
- Interest rates: Interest rates on home loans also fluctuate depending on market conditions. Currently interest rates are fairly low but have been inching up fast, which has many thinking of buying a home before they rise even higher. Make sure to check out interest rates in your area.
- Renting vs. buying: A final factor to consider is whether it’s cheaper to own or rent, based on the market conditions in your area. You can figure that out with our rent vs. buy calculator.
Does time of year matter?
Conventional wisdom says to buy during the peak seasons of spring and summer, when there may be more options. But that also translates into more competition and potentially higher prices. That’s why you shouldn’t neglect fall and winter for home shopping, especially if the other conditions above line up.
“Buying off-season usually gives buyers more negotiating power for both the price and the closing date,” Abdel says, because off-season sellers are often more motivated to sell and therefore may be more willing to make a deal.
How long should you stay put?
Last but not least, one final factor to consider regarding when to buy a house is whether you plan to stick around. Buying a home carries a bunch of upfront costs, so it’s generally best you don’t sell soon after you’ve closed the deal. Typically home buyers should expect to stay in their house at least five years to make this investment worthwhile.