Do You REALLY Want to Buy a House Without Help?

The New York Times recently published an article under a headline that sounded like a do-it-yourselfers’ instruction manual. But instead of a hobbyist’s step-by-step for making macrame wall hangings or scrapbook assemblages, the How-to subject was the largest acquisition most families make in a lifetime: “How to Buy a House.”

The first step in the How-to was to determine “Rent vs. Buy?” That’s a reasonable starting point because if renting makes more sense than buying, time spent learning how the Times would go about buying a house would be better used in learning, say, how to keep your pets from damaging the rental.

There were three “basic questions” for determining whether to buy a house—the first two being:

  1. How long will you be staying in the rental or purchased home?
  2. How much can you afford to pay each month?

If you think you are likely to relocate “in a couple of years,” the jig is up. You can stop at Question 1 and just rent! If, on the other hand, you will be staying put for “more than a couple of years” (actually, 4 or 5 years may fit ’s timeframe more accurately), the do-it-yourselfer should advance to answering Question 2—which involves penciling out your current monthly housing budget. If you can’t afford to buy a house that will fit your family’s needs, the Times opines that “it may be worth it to rent while you save a bit more.” (Not covered is a how-to for what to do if the monthly rental consumes the entire housing budget).

Only after Step 2 has been satisfactorily answered does it make sense to proceed to Question 3:

  1. What’s on the market? If you were to do directly to Question 3 before completing Question 2, you might waste valuable time checking out Michael Jordan’s Chicago estate, even though the asking price ($14.9 million) could be more than your monthly budget allows. It’s only reasonable to point out that if the mortgage payment ($60,000+) is within your monthly budget, you probably shouldn’t be making the rent-or-buy decision without a roomful of tax advisors).

There are additional questions to be answered in the Times How-to, but I’d recommend shortcutting some of the do-it-yourself steps by teaming with an experienced licensed real estate professional.