The American dream of owning a home is something everyone should have if they want it. You should be able to live where you want and enjoy the features of your environment that help you relax, entertain, play, and do more of the things you enjoy without the restrictions imposed by a landlord.
You can own a pet, build a treehouse, paint the walls your favorite color, and play music and videos as loud as you like without disturbing your neighbors. That's the essence of the dream -- independence.
For most first-time buyers, it's better to accept that for dreams to come true, you have to do the groundwork. Yes, you will be far more independent than you would as a renter, but you will still have some very real responsibilities to make homeownership work. Here are the top three responsibilities you'll have as a homeowner.
You owe your lender timely payments. Paying on time helps you build your credit. With great credit, you can take on more projects such as remodeling, or you'll be able to buy furniture, cars or other things you want with lower interest on your payments.
Your debts should never be more than 40 percent of your income. If you get overextended, you'll have problems meeting the minimum payments. Instead, limit the amount of credit you actively use and pay off balances every month. Don't add new charges until you've paid off your balances.
You should also be in a position to save money, which you can do several ways. You can put money in your 401K, you can pay extra on your principal every month, or you can buy bonds or invest in the stock market, according to your tolerance for risk. You can put money in a safety deposit box or under the mattress as long as you are saving rather than overspending.
Common wisdom is to build six months of cash so you can continue to make your house payments if you lose your job or become ill. You need savings for emergencies, large expenses such as student debt, and retirement.
When you buy a home, your household becomes part of the neighborhood. You can influence whether or not the neighborhood prospers or declines simply by the way you treat your neighbors and your home. It's up to you to uphold or to set a higher standard for the neighborhood by keeping your lawn and trees trimmed, your home freshly painted, and toys and trash picked up from the entry.
This is the way you can protect your investment and those of your neighbors. It's one of the reasons many neighborhoods have homeowners associations -- to protect values by standardizing safety and maintenance for the community.
To get the benefits the HOA provides such as higher and consistent home values, you have to pay your dues and obey the covenants. You can volunteer to help or you'll have to abide by the decisions others make. Before you buy a home in a HOA-managed community, read the covenants so you'll know what you're getting into. If not being able to use certain exterior paint colors bothers you, then don't buy the home. Find something else.
You owe yourself and the other members of your household the best life you can possibly provide. Buying a new home is a great time to step up your lifestyle and enjoy what your new home and the community has to offer.
Your home should help you be who you want to be. That's the purpose of shaping your environment. You have control over whether you entertain like Martha Stewart, paint in your studio like the next Picasso, or grow a lawn as sleek as the Augusta fairways.
Choose a home that meets as many needs as you can within your means. Separate bedrooms for the kids may be doable, but you may have to compromise on a Jack and Jill shared bath. This is an excellent opportunity to teach your older children about prioritizing, delayed gratification, give and take and winning and losing gracefully.
Make sure the area you select offers amenities that your building doesn't have. If you don't have a yard for the kids and the dog, make sure there's a park and playground nearby.
Think about how far and how long it will take you to get to shopping, work, and other friends and family. Think about how a long commute will affect your family. Would you rather be sitting in traffic or attending your son's ball game?
You and your spouse may want the prestige of living in a certain area, but if your house-payment is too high, you'll introduce problems into the relationship you don't need. It's about making choices that make sense. Better to buy a smaller home in a great neighborhood and keep the arguing down.
Buy the best home you can that's within your means and it will see you through years of comfort.