If you’re combing the web for advice on homebuying, you’ll have no trouble finding tips on the financial aspects of real estate: saving for a down payment, determining your debt to income ratio, and the pros and cons of loan types. But buying a home isn’t a decision that can only be boiled down to a cold, hard spreadsheet, and readiness isn’t just about your credit score or how many 0’s you have in your bank account.
As New York Times columnist David Brooks astutely points out, “people generally don’t select a house; they fall in love with it…you’re just buying an object, but your heart is suddenly on the line.” It’s a major financial decision, yes, but it’s also an emotional one—not unlike choosing a college, a job, or even a partner.
So, dollar signs aside, how do you know when you’re ready to take the plunge into homeownership? Here are two psychological signs it’s time to buy:
1. You’re ready for stability.
Whether it’s the flexibility to handle job relocations, lifestyle changes, or explore new cities and neighborhoods, renting gives wandering spirits a welcome sense of mobility. But there comes a point for many renters when they’re done packing boxes and are ready to hang their hat somewhere permanently.
“Home ownership is a lot about wanting an element of stability and planting roots,” says Joan Kagan, a realtor with Triplemint.
Whether you’re single, coupled up, have kids, or not, it’s normal for the house-hunting process to induce some self-reflection, especially if you’re a serial renter. And the truth is, nobody’s situation is 100% secure and settled and tied up with a bow. But if you’re tired of going from one rental agreement to another and comfortable with wherever you are in life, you’re probably ready to take that next step.
2. You’re searching for a dream home that fits your real life
To quote David Brooks again, “when people fall in love with a house, they aren’t really falling in love with the walls and the roof; they are falling in love with a beautiful vision of their future lives.” There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but level-headed home-buyers also catch themselves while dream-weaving and will continuously pause for a gut check.
Studies have shown that, over time, it’s not so much the features of a dwelling that result in joyfulness, but the social connections people make inside and outside of their abodes. In other words, the social fabric of your family and neighborhood will ultimately matter more. But when house-hunting, we often can’t see the forest through the…fixtures.
One sign that you may not be ready to buy just yet: if you’re considering a major lifestyle trade-off—such as a long commute—in order to afford a home with lavish features. “If you’re moving to a place far away from your friends, but it has nicer stuff, it’s not a great deal for your happiness,” says Elizabeth Dunn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia.
Realtors say that successful home searches almost always involve toning down expectations, and clients who are ready to buy tend to be those who balance an understanding of the limitations of the market and their budgets with a focus on more than just a home’s features.
In other words, they want to fall head over heels in love with their home, but they don’t expect the structure itself to magically upgrade their lives.
“When you begin to look around [at homes] you realize one of two things is going to be more flexible: Either your budget is going to increase or the parameters [of the search] are going to get wider. One of those two things typically changes and when those things change, you know the buyer is serious,” says Anna Hargraves Hall, a realtor with Stribling.
Ready or not? Ask yourself these questions.
In some cases, your bank account and credit scores are green-lighting the way to homeownership, but you still may not feel ready for the final leap. If you’re in that boat, there are a few questions to ask yourself as you look at properties—or even before you start your search.
1. How does your present lifestyle fit into what you’re attracted to with your home search?
2. How will your future lifestyle possibly look in this home search?
3. What does “home” mean to you?
4. How important is the community around you? Do you crave space and solitude or neighbors dropping by?
5. Are you ready to invest the time it takes to properly care for a home?
Take some time with these questions, visualize the answers and use them to guide you on your path to home ownership.