Buying a house in Columbus, OH: A how-to
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Want to live near The Ohio State University? You’re not alone. The Columbus housing market is hot as buyers continue to fall in love with the affordability of the “Biggest Small Town in America.” However, affordability is relative: The median sale price of a new home in the Columbus metro area actually increased by 12 percent in February, versus a year earlier, according to data from Columbus Realtors. But at $280,000, it still remains significantly below the national median of $363,000. Read on for everything you need to know about buying a house in Columbus.
Why buy a house in Columbus, Ohio?
Purchasing a Columbus home now will likely prove to be a wise investment down the road. The region’s population is expected to grow to 3.15 million people over the next 25 years, which amounts to an increase of around 272,000 households. As more people move here, property values will be poised to keep increasing.
Plus, Columbus has appealing big-city elements (with high-profile employers like JPMorgan Chase, Nationwide and Honda) balanced with college-town charm (OSU looms large here). In 2022, it was even named one of the best places in the country for Gen Z by the New York Times.
No matter how old you are or what you like to do, Columbus offers a very affordable lifestyle. Bankrate’s cost of living calculator shows that the city is cheaper than most other Midwestern hotspots.
Determine your budget and get preapproved
As is the case in most metro areas, the same budget will get you a different kind of house in different Columbus neighborhoods. For example, while the median price tag in the Hamilton school district was $217,000 in January, median prices in the Dublin school district were more than $300,000 higher.
And finding a home you can afford is not simply about the price tag. It’s about what a lender is willing to loan you for the purchase. That largely comes down to your credit score and debt-to-income ratio. With a higher credit score and a lower DTI, you’ll be eligible for the best mortgage rates available, which can save you a lot of money. According to Bankrate’s mortgage calculator, if you buy a home for the median price of $280,000, with a 20 percent down payment and a 30-year fixed mortgage, your monthly principal and interest payment would be $1,342 at a 6 percent interest rate. At a 7 percent rate, that payment jumps to $1,490 — a difference of nearly $150 per month, or more than $50,000 over the course of 30 years.
As you develop a budget, figure out how much you can contribute to a down payment — the more, the better — and get preapproved for a mortgage. Getting a preapproval letter requires handing over a range of information about your finances, like pay stubs, tax returns and bank account statements, and it will show sellers in Columbus that you’re a serious and qualified buyer.
Help for first-time buyers
If it’s your first time buying a home, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The real estate market can be confusing, and saving for a down payment is daunting. Fortunately, assistance is available. There are quite a few programs for first-time buyers in Ohio, including a grant program for recent college graduates that includes everything from associate degrees to doctorate programs.
Find a local Columbus real estate agent
You don’t necessarily have to use an agent to buy a home, but in a market like Columbus, you should have a professional on your team. The right real estate agent will be able to point you to listings that fit your needs — a big help in a popular market where there simply are not enough homes available.
Realtors do this every day, and they have a solid understanding of what’s happening in the market. By the time you read this article, conditions may have already changed. An agent will know which way the wind is blowing, and which way you should turn to find a good deal.
Make an offer and close on a home
When you start house-hunting, think about what you’ll need over the next five years, not just what you need right now. Are you planning on starting a family? The school district will matter. Are you about to be an empty nester? Perhaps a condo or a townhome is a good option.
When you find a place that feels like home, your agent will be instrumental in helping you figure out how much to offer. You want to be competitive without offering too much. Your agent will also help craft a contract that meets all of your needs, including time frame and contingencies. For example, if you’re buying a new place while selling your current home at the same time, you’ll want to give extra consideration to your closing timeline to avoid having two housing payments at once.
After your offer gets accepted, there’s still plenty left on your to-do list. Confirm that the property is actually worth buying by hiring a home inspector (your agent will likely have recommendations) to identify any potential issues. A professional inspection will clue you in to any problems that might come back to haunt you, such as roof damage or plumbing issues. If problems are found, you can use them to your advantage and request concessions from the seller — or potentially walk away from the deal.
If you’re purchasing the home with a mortgage, your lender will require an appraisal to verify the property value. If it’s lower than your offer price, you’ll need to either renegotiate or contribute more money to the down payment to make up the difference.
From the time you go to contract to your closing day, you’ll likely receive lots of requests for additional information from your lender and your attorney. Be responsive to make sure that you’re doing everything in your power to meet the closing timeline — any number of things can delay your close, so do your best to avoid holdups.
Is now a good time to buy a house in Columbus, Ohio?
Being in a buyer’s shoes in Columbus feels pretty uncomfortable right now. There is only 0.9 months of inventory available — a far cry from the 5 to 6 months that reflects a balanced market. And while prices are dropping in many places around the country, Columbus is still picking up steam.
However, it’s not all bad news for buyers. For one thing, sellers are accepting offers that are nearly 3 percent lower than their initial listing price, according to Columbus Realtors. In addition, since more buyers have pulled back in the current rate environment, homes in Columbus are taking 10 days longer to sell now than they were this time last year.
Tips for buying a Columbus home
- Shop around for a mortgage: All lenders are not created equal. Each one charges different fees and interest rates and has a different approach to customer service. You’re not obligated to use the company that issued your preapproval — instead, be sure to compare terms from at least three different lenders in Ohio so you can find the best deal.
- Understand the playing field: When you’re preparing an offer, be aware of who else might be trying to buy that house, and how they plan to pay for it. In February, 22 percent of deals in Columbus were all-cash transactions. Some of those might be accounted for by Opendoor and Offerpad, the two biggest iBuyers, which are both still buying properties here.
- Don’t overpay: The list price doesn’t necessarily have to be the price you pay. While 2022 saw plenty of over-asking offers, Columbus sellers are typically getting just over 97 percent of their initial list price. Work with your agent to make sure your offer is competitive, but not higher than you actually need to get a yes.
- Cast a wide net: Columbus prices swing wildly depending on which area you’re looking in. Median prices in the New Albany Plain school district were $750,000 in February, while in the Canal Winchester district they were a much more manageable $320,000. Go into your search with a willingness to look at many different parts of town to find the best deal and the best property for your lifestyle.
It’s not great. Many people want to move to Columbus, so the market is hot, but the housing supply is very low. With just 0.9 months of inventory, buyers won’t have many options to consider here. At the same time, high mortgage rates lessen your buying power by raising your monthly payments.
Within the metro area, the London City school district in Madison County, Newark City school district in Licking County and Lancaster City school district in Fairfield County all have median price tags that are well under the overall median of $280,000, according to data from Columbus Realtors.
Yes. The cost of living in Columbus is much cheaper than most major metro areas in the Midwest. It’s more than 25 percent more affordable than Chicago, for example. The city is also cheaper than much of its Buckeye State competition: 4 percent cheaper than Cleveland and nearly 7 percent cheaper than Cincinnati, according to Bankrate’s cost of living calculator.