I live in the Iowa City area housing market. I am a single mother of two boys. Thanks to my remarkable storage techniques, we have successfully lived in a two bedroom apartment for the last 8 years. However, the oldest is now 14 and the youngest is 11 and we (I) cannot do this anymore.
I have a small down payment of about 5K saved aside and have been looking at buying, but most of what I find in our area seems so overpriced for what it is. The average price is 125-135K for a small 3BR condo or zero-lot (if you are lucky to find a zero-lot in that price range in the right school district area).
I have no one (like a male friend) to help me look at these properties. I hate to have the guys from work come help me, because most of them live near our work over 30 minutes away. I feel like I don't know what will be a good buy. I don't know what to look for.
I know the tax rebate of 8K is a nice incentive to buy, but is it really a good time to buy? Should I just find a nice 3BR rental and rent for a while more? All the condo values of the places I have been looking at scare me. They have either been flat for the last few years or they have dropped in value. I am almost afraid to buy. I need advice.
By Carrie Wilson from Iowa City, IA
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THESE ARE NOT FINANCIAL TIPS FOR HOME BUYING,
These are tips I wish someone had told me before I purchased my first home:
1) Make sure you have GOOD drainage! ...If you see a sump-pump (or ANY pump under the house or in the basement) RUN AWAY as fast as you can! ...Make sure you know how the neighbors' yard drains & NEVER buy on or near a river... If it doesn't flood yearly, it will most likely flood every 5 years! ...Check the county records to see if the place has EVER flooded! or if a home near-by has slid down a hill... Speaking of rivers: Don't buy a place that has a railroad trestle near by because all trains have to blow their LOUD whistles every time they go over the trestle to warn people. (I live near one!)
2) Keep your eye out for any rot (look under the windows) or mold (especially on the roof) & have your place professionally inspected before even considering putting money down! You won't be sorry! To have a home professionally inspected is well worth every cent!
2B) Check the foundation under the house for cracks! & make sure there's no termites, carpenter ants, old wood or garbage under the home & that the ground is totally covered with plastic as a vapor barrier... Check the roof & walls for insulation. What kind is it & how thick? (especially in older homes!)
3) Be sure your house faces the right direction for sun... In Seattle (where I live) It's best if the house faces South (for MORE sun) & in hot areas (like Arizona etc) It's best if your house faces North (less sun)... But it's usually best if the room you use most gets morning sun or it will heat up in the summer afternoons & evenings. But you don't want trees right up to your doorstep because the leaves will fall on your roof & make it rot or you'll have to pay to have it cleaned yearly. Also, look for moss on the roof & make sure the roof is new or like new! (Roofs can be PRICEY!) Our Neighbor has a large, tall cedar which shades our kitchen/livingroom in the hot summer sun. Trees can also be very helpful! (if they're not dropping leaves all over your roof!)
4) Talk to the neighbors about the neighborhood... ...A bad or nasty neighbor can make your wonderful new home a place of dread... Knock on doors & talk to lots of neighbors or go for a walk around the neighborhood in the morning or evening & talk to those outside working or those also on walks & ask LOTS of questions (I learned lots of things this way before I signed the final papers, but I didn't really do enough research or talk to enough neighbors!)...You (usually) have 3 days to cancel the contract after you've placed your bid, so once you talk to the neighbors you may be able to cancel & still keep your down payment!.
5) Make sure the schools are excellent... When I moved my daughter to a new school district, (back in 1992) her old (Jr. high) friends were all having sex, whereas in her new school none of them were... This could have easily have been the opposite... It pays to talk to the teachers & attend a PTA meeting... AT least do some research online about the schools in the area. Some schools have some pretty bad gang problems. I had one of my kids teacher's tell me that the more apartments around the school, the more problems they have with kids. And, sadly this can be especially true if they are low-income apartments.
6) With boys that age, they probably like to play basketball &/or skateboard outside with their friends... It's great if you can find a place on a dead-end street or in a culdesac, or where there's little or no thru traffic.
7) If your boys are close to their friends now (& these friends are good for them) it will help with the transfer if you can be fairly close to their old buddies so they can ride their bike over or where you can easily drive them to spend the night. It's SOOO hard to move away from friends at that age (especially for the 14 year old!)
8) Do you have a dog (or want one?) think about getting a place that is already fenced, or budget the money you'll need for fencing the yard into your budget.
9) Heat??? You probably don't want to have old fashioned oil heat, but instead gas or electric... Make sure the furnace has been recently serviced If not, have that be written into your contract! ... You don't want to buy a new furnace & water-heater right after you move in! ...Also, check if the windows are double-pained You'll save LOTS of energy cost if they are!
10) Septic tank? ...Make sure it's pumped AND INSPECTED FOR CRACKS before you move in & also have that be written into your sales contract!
11) I made a BIG mistake when I moved into my new place... I didn't have the contract say "have it cleaned by a profecional"...I just figured that any decent person would make sure the place was cleaned before they moved out.. Not only was the place dirty, but they left an old fridge, a rusty swing-set & MANY other things they didn't feel like taking to the dump!
---> Have PROFESSIONAL cleaning & inspecting of that cleaning before you sign written into your contract!
12) Rules & Regulations & "Heritage" homes... Some homes are designated as an important part of the town or community & you can't add on to them or build a deck & even have to get an okay on the color you paint them. Some homes are in communities where you can't park an RV or a boat in the driveway... Some communities also will fine you if your lawn gets to high... Maybe you want this & maybe you don't... But it's worth thinking about.
13) Is the home on a hill? Do they plow right up to your driveway? Can you get in & out with ease in the winter when it snows?
14) Power Outages: We live in the country & we've found out (by talking to the power company) that when there's power outages that the "low density" areas get their power turned on last... If you live in the middle of a city or at least the suburbs, your power will usually be off for a shorter duration than if you live in the "toolies"..
15) Real Estate Agents: Some will work harder for you... In fact, some won't even show you the less expensive places because then they'll make less money (like mobile homes on land). Look for a real estate person who will work hard for your money & that will treat your right & that you get along with well & feel comfortable with. (I would suggest a female since you're a female because you might be alone with this person quite a bit).
16) Manufactured home or "stick-built"? A regular-build home will cost you more in the beginning, but it will continue to go up in value, whereas a manufactured or mobile home will cost less, but will go down in value every year & only the land value will increase.
17) PROPERTY TAXES: Check how much the property taxes have gone up each year. This will give you a clue about the future! ...Our taxes went up 80% this year & also 80% last year... Our County is know for exorbitant property tax raises... Be aware of the future. Highter taxes can EASILY raise your payments to more than you can afford!
18) LASTLY, People will go to many extremes to cover up flaws in their homes... & their real estate agents sometimes will actually help them do this!!! ... Pull up throw-rugs & carpeting & look for stains & burn holes on the floor, & check things like water pressure by turning on the bathtub water full-force & while the kitchen sink & the bathroom sink is also running. (Is it the pressure strong enough or does it dip?) Check how old the water-heater & furnace is. Also, if you see brand new window sills in an older house, it may mean that the window leaks, etc. These are just a few reasons why you should have the home professionally inspected, then also go through the home with the inspector with any questions you have!
19) Ask the seller why they are moving... & Maybe they'll even tell you the truth! ...There's nothing that says you can't go back & talk to the home owner without a real estate agent with you. (what are they gonna do anyway?) Agents don't want you 2 to meet & the seller's agent wants them to be gone when you look at their home. That way you can't ask them any questions... (This is what our agent told us. She was a long-time family friend). Find an agent you can trust... Ask your friends, ask around!
You're going to get an opinion from anyone you ask and all of those opinions are going to differ and not be exactly accurate. Case in point, sump pumps in homes are pretty standard. And yes, they do break down and cause flooding, but you are not likely to find a home without one, unless you are 100 miles from anywhere that rains. Also, "final walk through's" are your right as a buyer. It is to ensure that no changes have happened to the property between the inspection and the signing of the contract.
What I would recommend you do is hire an agent. The selling agent does not work for you and will not be looking out for your best interests. You own agent will be your advocate with certain caveats. First and foremost, they have to be careful in what they recommend and don't recommend as they can be accused of unfair housing practices toward protected classes. They will be able to explain more to you about that. However, they will be able to research properties that you are interested, find out what the fair market value is and recommend inspectors.
The good part about hiring an agent for this, is that you, as the buyer do not pay their commission or the commission for the selling agent. The seller does.
Before you look at homes, you need to find out what kind of mortgage you qualify for. Shop around to different banks and lenders. I will say that because of the recession and the housing market problems, most lenders have gone back to insisting that you have 20% down. 5K is not going to cut it. You may have to wait.
When you go to look at properties, take pictures. It is standard that you should be able to do this. However, the property owner can ask that you not photograph the property. Make notes, and take your time.
When you go to hire an inspector, I would check them out first. Find out if there are any complaints filed against them. The BBB would be a place to start but they will not have all of the information on this person. And whatever you do, be there during the inspection. This will give you a chance to ask questions of someone who knows building code. And trust yourself. You know when something doesn't look right. Even if it passes code, you can bring it up to the sellers and ask for it to be fixed before the sale or have the cost of the repair to be deducted from the sale price.
Good luck. I know how daunting and foreign a task this is. You'll learn a whole new language of terms before you're done.
I disagree with "Corene" about sump-pumps... I believe they are a big fat warning! ...They mean that the basement or under the house floods occasionally & do you want that??? I doubt it! ...I'd rather have a home with good natural drainage... Sheesh, what happens if the power goes out during a heavy rain!? You'd end up without a pump & your house could easily flood!"
That's not what they mean at all. Most homes with a basement that have foundation walls that extend beneath the ground level, have a space between the exterior of the wall and the ground around it - the is called the "sump". This is where ground water will naturally collect. House are designed this way to protect the foundation walls from pressure from the water and to divert the water to a corner of the foundation where it can be pumped out (hence the name). It doesn't have to rain for this to happen but most of the time, it is what causes it. And it will happen with ANY house that is level or nearly level to the ground and has a subterranean basement. If you don't have a sump, then the house has a french drainage system and those I would stay away from.
The way you protect yourself in a power outage is to get a battery backup for the pump. Some also come with an alarm on them to notify you of either a power failure, a failure of the pump, etc.
If you want to avoid this altogether, you get a house with no basement, that is well above ground level and has it's ground sloped well away from the house. Good luck in Iowa. With the amount of lakes and snow fall in that area, you will need the pump.
The way to insure that the water has not seeped into the basement walls is to have the inspector test the moisture of the exposed concert foundation walls in the basement. This is done with an electronic meter. This will tell you how prone you are to flooding and mold growth. Have him test several of the walls as parts of basements are more prone to flood depending on the slope of the ground outside. If you find a house with a pump, ensure that the outside hose extends several feet away from the house and on a downgrade. You will also want to make sure that it can be disconnected the in the winter as they will freeze and the ice will cause a back up in the house in the case of a sudden snow thaw.
On top of all the info, I suggest to even check the bath tubs. We bought a house, and did not think anyone would sell it with a big hole in the tub. First time for us. We had to pay for a new tub. Keep shopping for a place, you'll know it when you find it. You'll say"That's it"we use to buy & sell homes, good luck.
To that I would add that any good home inspector will fill the tub and let it drain and then check for leaks. If he doesn't, make him do it.
We are in the final stages of buying a home north of Houston. Here are some things that I would suggest. Get pre approved for the loan. That way you know the max amount you can afford. Shop for a home much less than that and work your way up to your max amount if necessary.
When you're pre approved, send them anything you think may be needed such as tax returns, bank statements, DL, divorce decrees, etc. They will want to know everything about you except what color socks you wear on thursday.
When you're looking at homes be opened minded. I watched a lot of home improvement/remodeling shows to open my mind to homes with potential.
We looked at about a dozen homes that I said "I love it, but " when you find a home you can say that about without the "but..." that's the home for you. We found a home that I absolutely love with no "but..." about it! Good luck
I'm very surprised in your area that the average price of a 3-bdr condo is 125-135K. Maybe a condo costs more than house. My husband and I were very lucky to sell our 3-bdr home last year before the housing market fell. Both my husband and I have owned three houses, and we are spending the remainder of our lives in apartments.
It might be in your best interest to rent a 3-bedroom home rather than to buy one. The houses that they are building today have an average life expectancy of 10 years, then they start to deteriorate and repairs have to be made.
My husband spent most of his time making repairs on things that were just breaking down. Some of the things that had to be done: He had to remove the wood deck porch because that started to rot. The home builder had the deck attached to the front of the house, and he had to chisel out rotted boards under the vinyl siding. A small section of vinyl siding on our 2.5 car garage started blowing off in the winter time due to high winds. What really got him angry about a year ago was that some of the aluminum flashing pulled away from the garage, and was flapping in the cold winter wind. He had to go outside in sub-zero weather, climb up an 8-ft. ladder and get on the roof and hammer the flashing back on the side of the garage. I also nearly froze my butt off, because I didn't want him to fall off the roof and kill himself. Also he couldn't see where to attach the flashing and I had to be his eyes for him.
We had a small leak coming through a kitchen patio door that had to be taken care of. My husband could do small repairs, but a major remodeling job was done by a professional who we hired. So we had the contractor remove the patio door and he filled it in with a wall. So that was about $2,000+ to have that done. And before we sold the house we had the same contractor install a beautiful vinyl tile floor in the kitchen, hallway and bathroom. And that job ran us $2,000+.
Along with being a home-owner comes responsibility. So really weigh it out before you jump into it feet first. If you can't do the repairs yourself, you will have to hire a professional building contractor. If I were you I would rather rent a 3-bedroom home.
I know I am swimming against the current here, but I was in real estate once for a year and when the market started going 'wierd' about 12 years ago I knew something was wrong. Things we were told were unacceptable in our firm [solid, honest firm, which of course went out of business years ago} such as 2 mortgages were suddenly being allowed. Buyers in the '70's had to have a 5-20 percent down payment, house total price had to be just under 3 times your gross annual income, no credit card debt, in fact any credit lines were counted as debt, assuming you'd use them, etc. Income had to be provable. These things were prechecked over the phone, and we didn't even show houses if these criteria were not met. That is what we are going back to, but there is still denial, and many are not aware of the old lending standards.
Then in this last decade, appraisals were artificially pumped up, and are still up too high. There is and was fraud. Appraisers were pressured to up the appraisals. Portland, Oregon where I lived, had obscene rises in so called value and actually there was/is an investigation into appraisal pressures by lenders.
I wouldn't buy yet. Prices still have a ways to go to be based on incomes again.
Get yourself some more room, remain frugal, do some research and find out what foreclosed and short sales are really selling for [start with dept of taxation and assessment, go in and talk to them, find out what you can from them], find out what your county does with houses that have tax lien properties that have gone beyond [usual 3 years] time allowed to catch up. Find out all you can. Do not allow some investor to dump one of their houses on you.
Go to a couple of banks and find out what the current story is. Not to take out a loan, to get info on current situation. See if you can't find someone willing to give you a real glimpse at the larger picture.But when it's time to buy, consider your local credit union. Talk to them about housing. They usually have time to sit down and really pay attention to you. I belong to a credit union and in general, most are in okay condition, and are realistic.
Look in the neighborhood at all houses for sale that have an open house, and any other you can manage to get a look at, even through the windows. When you have looked at 50, yes I said 50 houses, you definitely will know when you find the one right for you. Do not believe a thing a Realtor tells you or tries to tell you about a house. Cut through the baloney. I can't believe the nonsense I hear on house shows. I watch them just to see houses, but most are outrageous, and the spin.
I know you are a single mom and have limited time, but if you will do everything you can to inform yourself, you will find a fairly price home, but not yet. Now is for information gathering. if you have the self discipline to organize a small place for years, you have what it takes to not get carried away. If you get your next apt on a month to month or 6 month lease, you have some built in flexibility time wise. There is no reason you have to build your life around the convenience of a landlord. I used to be a single mom for years, and I have learned to stand up for myself. An out going personality on the part of a sales person or rental agent is only that; it doesn't mean anyone is looking out for you.
Never get a house with 2 contracts or two mortgages. Only a fixed same payment, every month ie 30 year contract. Anything else is harmful to the buyer, and basically means they are not financially in a position to get a house and the only people who will give them a mortgage are giving them a crooked deal, to benefit the mortgage giver, not the buyer. Never get a balloon payment, adjusted arm agreement. No prepayment penalty [contracts can have anything in them you want, as long as both parties agree].
Your payments should all be identical, never change. 360 payments over 30 years. Payments should include principle, interest, taxes, and insurance and not be more than 31-33 of your monthly income. You should not have credit card debt. Those are the old school rules and they are stiff, but they will make it possible for you and your boys to keep your house.
Never buy a house with mold, ever, ever, ever. [My grand niece and nephew both got pneumonia from mold]. It is very expensive to eradicate. Does anybody realize that by the time you have paid
360 payments over 30 years you will have paid closer to 3 times the initial amount? This is your money, and your lifetime of work, and sweat and effort.
Their is no one who writes in here, I am sure, who hasn't lived through hard times. That must be considered when buying a house; there will be times of unemployment in 30 years, divorce, illness, change of jobs, accidents, medical bills. You cannot in good conscience buy a house at the top of your limits and houses need to and will come down because they used to be based on what people made, and they are still higher than that and they will "revert" to the mean.
There was dishonesty, fraud, lies, exaggeration of value and people were sold stories about what they could afford . Fantasy has no room in the life of a single Mom, but shrewd planning and investigating is right up your alley, I can see that. I feel you will come up with a good deal for your family. Be a really tough bargainer, be willing to look out for yourself and stand up for yourself. When you deal with contracts costing you years of labor, you are not on a date, or shopping with friends, you are fighting to protect your rights and quality of life for you and your kids, and anyone who thinks things that important should be all lightness and pleasantry has been watching HGTV.
What most people can get at the present time that is no more than 3 times their yearly income, is aesthetically unacceptable, or in neighborhoods that are not quite what they had hoped for. Houses are still overpriced, and job security is troubling. How's your job? Do you reliably receive child support? When I was a single Mom I couldn't get credit because my income was low for someone with dependents and my ex was out of country, so bye-bye child support. However, I kept a roof over our heads all by myself and we lived.
I applied here and there for credit and was turned down, just based on income to cost ratios, but they were right. I couldn't afford the extra burden of things bought on credit.
Call every housing program you can find and look at what's available. As I said you will have to look at many home. In the meantime, keep saving and look for a new renter special offer and give yourself a little more space.
I am sure this is a splash of cold water for a lot of people, but I think it's a crime to build a dream up for people that's unrealistic, knowing their chances of losing their home are high, just so you can get a commission.
Banks are holding back on foreclosed homes. They are not listing them, to keep prices up. That will have to stop as banks are being examined, and have to account for bad loans. That's just the banks. There are mortgage companies which are out of business, and the houses are empty and in limbo. Who holds the mortgage, nobody knows?
If you rent, make sure you get on the taxation and assessment site for your county and check out the address before you sign or hand over any money. Many sites will say if the property is in preforeclosure, ie about to be processed as a foreclosure. That applies to apartment complexes as well as single houses.
Do not even consider, rent with option to buy. If you can't qualify for a loan now how will you [realistically] qualify 2 years ago when it's time to buy or move. Those deals are offered by investors just trying to raise cash and are no deal to you at all.
This is a lot of info I know, but I am sharing all I would say to you in person.
Houses are expensive; utilities are higher, every cost is yours; every repair. Are you handy or willing to become handy; that helps a lot. Do you have a reliable car? One needs things for houses. And car payments and new home ownership just don't mix. Add up all the details of your life. Be very real. Look at your income and it's reliability, and ask yourself what a 1/3 or slightly less is. What does that tell you?
I do believe you will get your home, but you will have really worked for the best for you.
Forgot to tell you. Donald Trump on CNBC says condo loans are almost impossible to get. They are so overpriced. I researched the condo my son lives in and saw what everyone paid. Oh, boy. The man we rent from is several hundred dollars underwater every month. And we pay $950. He paid the most of anyone in this condo complex, of at least 100+ units.
All the above advice are great tips to look for in buying a house. Keep a list of all these to check for and then more as you think of something; jot it down. It's so easy to overlook and forget to ask, so take your time and go through each one with a fine tooth comb. You might even want to jot notes about an item in the process to help you form your to buy or not to buy conclusion.
Also, have an electrician check the wiring, make sure all light switches and outlets work, ceiling fans and furnace and AC unit besides the smoke detectors, outdoor lighting, etc.
Check that windows work too and close tightly; no termite damage to woodwork and crawl space. Check for mold in moist to damp areas in the house like bath, kitchen, basement, and utility rooms. Is there any musty odor in cabinets or warping of shelving units under sinks, etc.
Find out when the hot water heater was installed. They only last so long and then you must replace or continue paying for repairs.
Does the floor or stairs squeak when walked on? Are there sufficient closets and cabinets, and do windows and doors lock and unlock properly? How much is the heat bill for the winter months and to run AC during the summer?
Does the ground slope toward or away from the house? (I know someone whose home had a slope going toward the house and heavy rains came into the kitchen through the doorsill and flooded over the carpet. It's best to check these things out during a rainy day and see how much water stands in the yard and for any leaks in roof. I'd set up an appt. to see a house during the worse weather besides in the best of climate.
Residing in a good neighborhood with a good school cuts down on a lot of problems one would expect to experience in lower class neighborhoods like crime rate. You might want to consider the convenience to work, school, stores, transportation, etc., in case car problems develop and you need a way to work, kids staying after school for functions and their safety.
You don't have to ask a guy to come help you look at homes. All it takes is to educate yourself first. Check with your local Extension office to see if they have first-time home buyer programs available. Classes will help you learn what to look for in a home, what to expect during the entire mortgage process, and how to maintain your home after you purchase it. For some first-time home buyer programs a home buyer glass is required.
The best piece of advice you've been given so far is to pre-qualify for a mortgage, and be sure to shop around for it. Getting at least 3 quotes is a good idea. It's best to know upfront what you can afford so that you don't waste time looking at homes that are too expensive.
Rule of thumb for anyone with a mortgage is that your total payment, including principle, taxes, insurance and interest, and utilities (except phone, internet and TV), should be no more than 28% of your income. Mortgage lenders will sometimes tell you that you can go higher than that but you might be setting yourself up for failure if you go much higher.
Also know what's on your credit report before you set out to find a mortgage. You are entitled by law to one free credit report each year. The government website for that is http://www.annualcreditreport.com.
I have done a pre-approval at a credit union affiliated with my employer. Of course I qualify for way more home loan than I would ever allow myself to borrow, however..the 28% rule..is that gross or take-home pay?
I have interviewed many realtors and finally found one that actually seemed to care and returned my calls. I think what is going on is that the condos are being built continually (it's so bad that supposedly the city stopped giving permits but somehow they are STILL building) and so many realtors are not even bothering to work very hard to sell condos because most people are just buying the new ones and it's harder than heck to sell the older ones. I don't blame the realtors at all. I just met with my realtor on Sat. and looked at three zero lots priced a bit higher. I asked her point-blank whether I should invest in a condo in our area right now or would I be smarter to pay a little more and go with a zero lot. She said the zero lot is smarter b/c even with the home buyers credit, Iowa is a DIFFERENT market than the rest of America right now...and the condo values are either staying flat or decreasing. If I wanted to do that I may as well rent.
The zero-lots are increasing in value, even if slowly. However, so far I have seen one zero lot with skylights and MOLD issues you could smell, still high priced, one with a "French" drain b/c there is a hill right behind the back of the home that leads right to the back patio door, one where the basement flooded last summer b/c a sump pump became disconnected while the owner was overseas...now it's completely renovated but the whole issue kinda "worried" me...and one with an offer in(with contingency on the people subleasing their apt) that was nice but the two decks would need redone b/c the steps were wobbly. And I have seen blatant construction issues such as brand new decks where the main vertical members are split right down the middle, making you wonder what is hidden INSIDE the home's walls. Argh..! I just don't know what to do.
To top it all off our school system is in flux right now with school boundaries, arguing over overcrowding in the two area high schools and whether to build a new h.s. which would never occur while my kids are going through, but if they start messing with the boundaries, my kids do NOT want to go to one of the h.s. so if I buy in an area that gets remapped to the "icky" h.s. we are worried.
Anyway...I'm still looking. Do I hire an electrician separately from the home inspector? My realtor recommended a home inspector. I don't know if maybe I should hire someone on my own accord though. One guy at work told me that often the realtors and home inspectors are "in-bed" with each other so to speak.
I really want to thank everyone for all the advice because some things I really hadn't thought of and I want to be prepared and make a good investment...otherwise what is the point of buying?
All I can advise is to be very careful about who you accept advice from. There will be many scam artists looking to relieve you of your "modest" 5K down payment!
I have received such good advice from everyone and I wish there was some more tangible way to say thank you! Thrifty hugs OOOOOO. I am not going to give up on owning a home...however...I think I am leaning more toward now is not the right time for ME to buy. I have a really promising rental to look at Saturday and I think things will work out for the best...and in the most affordable manner. Thank you everyone for all your help. I am seriously printing all the advice to keep forever.
This is good advice for any home buyer. Ask at the electric company where the main lines are that will be restored first in a power outage. We live in a suburb of New Orleans. After our 3 week "vacation" for Hurricane Katrina we returned to find that our ice cubes hadn't even melted in the freezer. Turns out we're on the power line to the waste treatment plant, which is brought up fast. Another example would be the sheriff/jail, a hospital, etc.
I am sure you have your heart set on a standard home or condo but do keep an open mind about mobile homes. There are some great ones out there and not all parks are Trailer Park Trash parks. Many are amazingly nice. I have a dear friend and also an aunt who both live in very nice parks in good school districts (and have done so for two and three decades respectively) and both are very nice three bedrooms with central air, a fire place, large master bedrooms with bath.
My friends home even has an island in her kitchen, etc, etc. etc. and are landscaped so nicely (they did it themselves) that if you took a photo it would be hard to tell they were mobile homes. In some areas city/county codes will allow you to purchase your own piece of property in certain areas already utility ready and you can move your home on to it. If you really look around you can find some really nice older ones for dirt cheap.
If you live in a park, you do not have to pay property taxes and lot rentals are very, very reasonable. It's just food for thought. Might not be the home of your dreams but it would be quite affordable and it would be yours.
Being a single widowed parent for years I would suggest for you to do as you have already been told already by someone else. Rent a 3 or 4 bedroom home or apartment. When you own a home you have all of "its" headaches also because if something breaks (and it will), you will have to replace it while if your renting it is fixed by the land lord. Buying a house also means property taxes which can be a huge yearly debt for you.
Rent, rent, rent is all I can say. I have owned brick homes, wooden homes and mobile homes in my 50+ years along with renting several homes AND I would still rent all over again and keep my money in the bank. When you rent you are not responsible for the property taxes or the cost of repairs and replacing things (like roofs, fridges, stoves, furnaces, air conditioning units, hot water heaters or even the cost of yard up keep).
It is just my opinion but owning "anything" is not what it is cracked up to be.
Good luck and keep us posted on what you end up doing.:)
I am a Realtor in the Cedar Rapids area, and I would suggest that if you are ready to buy then buy. All renting is helping someone pay off their mortgage and putting money in their pockets. With a mortgage you will get the 8K rebate and also allow you to deduct the mortgage interest at the end of the year.
Also, the prices for homes in Iowa City are ridiculous! For $200,000 house in Cedar Rapids, you will easily pay $250,000! I am not sure how much more the condos are, but I would bet that it is a lot more! With the boys, you are probably wanting to stay in their school district, but if you aren't set on it, try to buy outside of Iowa City and to the South. The corridor is also very pricey!
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