2010 Real Estate Guide
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5 questions for the first-time homebuyer

1. How much can I afford?
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It may be hard to figure out what you can truly afford. "The very best ratio to have is one-fourth of your income going toward house payments," says Jessica Cecere, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast in Florida.

Cecere says she means net income, or 25 percent of what you earn after taxes -- lenders calculate using gross income. "Anywhere between 25 (percent) and 32 (percent) is safe. Anything over 35 (percent) is the danger zone," she says.

A higher ratio puts you at risk if anything changes, like an increase in insurance costs. "One hurricane in Florida and insurance charges can double," she says.

Then there is the prospect of job loss. "With 25 percent, even with the loss of one income, you can still keep your home," Cecere says.

Huss says you should know your financial situation before you approach a lender and borrow accordingly. A 30-year fixed mortgage is preferable. Chart out how high your payments would be at different rates by using Bankrate.com's mortgage calculator.

Once you know what you can afford to pay on the mortgage, you can figure out your housing price range, Huss says.


 

 

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