These 4 Factors Determine if a Home Is Really Affordable for You

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Don't just focus on your mortgage payment.

When you buy a home, the most important thing you need to do is make sure you can easily afford the property.

While it's common to focus primarily on whether your monthly mortgage payments are within your budget, this is only one of several costs that you'll have to cope with once you become a homeowner.

You need to make certain you take four big expenses of home ownership into account when deciding if a home is going to be affordable in the short and long term.

1. Mortgage payment

Your monthly mortgage payment plays a huge role in whether your house is affordable or not. If your mortgage payment just barely fits in your budget, that's going to be a huge problem since any cut to income could render your payments unmanageable.

You can aim to get an affordable mortgage payment by limiting the amount that you borrow, as well as by shopping around for a mortgage lender offering the best rate. Taking steps to improve your credit score before applying can also help ensure you don't pay more in interest than is necessary, which helps keep costs down.

2. Property taxes

You don't just have a mortgage to pay when you own a house -- you have to pay property taxes too. And these can vary a lot, depending where you live.

In general, more expensive houses come with higher property taxes. So keeping your home cost lower can help you avoid an expensive and burdensome tax bill. But geographic area can also make a dramatic impact on tax costs. In fact, a larger home in a county with a low property tax rate could have much more affordable property taxes than a smaller place in an area where these taxes tend to be very high.

You should carefully research county tax rules for different areas near where you'd like to live to see what you can expect to pay if you buy a house in that locale. If you find that one of your chosen spots has high taxes, this could end up rendering homes in that area unaffordable.

3. Utilities

Utility costs can also be a big expense for homeowners. Again, the size of your house can impact them, but so can property conditions.

If you're purchasing an older home with an inefficient furnace or A/C that doesn't have a ton of insulation and all the doors and windows need replacement caulking, you could end up with much higher utility bills than you would with a newer property that prioritized energy efficiency.

You may be able to ask the current homeowner for an example of monthly utility bills to get an idea of what you can expect to pay so you can make sure utilities fit in your budget.

4. Maintenance

Finally, home maintenance is required once you've purchased a property -- and you want to make sure you have the money to pay for your ongoing upkeep as well as for repairs.

The size of your home can impact this too, as can the condition. An older home that is going to need the roof repaired soon and that has started to age in other ways could leave you with much larger maintenance costs down the line.

Be sure to look at all of these factors for any home you're thinking about buying. That way, you can make the most accurate assessment of how much living on the property will cost over time. Then, make sure you're comfortable with the numbers before you put in an offer.

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