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While Pittsburgh is still associated with the steel industry of the past, the city today has a lot more to offer, including beautiful scenery, unique architecture, big universities and iconic sports teams. It also has refreshingly affordable home prices. If you’re looking to buy a house in Pittsburgh, or just curious about buying a house in Pennsylvania, here are some things you should know.
Deciding where to live in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh has 90 distinct neighborhoods, separated by rolling hills and the convergence of three rivers: the Allegheny, the Monongahela and the Ohio. Each of these areas comes with different school districts, parks, cost of living and amenities for its residents. Before deciding where in the city to go house-hunting, look into general prices in each neighborhood, distance or commute times to your workplace and which ones best fit your lifestyle. What a family of five needs is going to differ from what a single retiree or a young couple needs. If you’re not sure where to begin, a local real estate agent who knows the market well can provide recommendations for neighborhoods that might work well for you.
How to buy a house in Pittsburgh
Follow these steps to successfully buy a house in Pittsburgh.
Save for a down payment
It all starts with a down payment. According to Redfin data, the median sale price for a home in Pittsburgh in March 2023 was $217,000. A typical 20 percent down payment on that price comes to $43,400. If that seems daunting, don’t panic: a full 20 percent down is not always necessary. Some loan programs require down payments as low as 3 percent, and there are even some that require none at all (if you qualify). There are also down payment assistance programs that may be able to help.
Get preapproved for a mortgage and find the right lender
Once you have a down payment saved, apply with a lender to get preapproved for a mortgage. This is not the same as an official loan approval, but it will give you a solid idea of how much a lender will likely be willing to loan you, which is very helpful for budgeting. It’s also useful once you start house-hunting, as a preapproval signals to sellers that you are a serious, qualified buyer.
Once you’re in contract on a home, you’ll need to apply for official mortgage approval. You can go with the same company that preapproved you, but you don’t have to: Shop around to find a lender with the best terms. Keep in mind that interest rate alone doesn’t reflect total costs: Some lenders may charge additional fees and offer fewer services for the money, so do your homework.
Find the best local real estate agent in Pittsburgh
Finding the right real estate agent can make your house hunt much easier and more efficient. Knowledgeable local agents can take your list of wants and your budget and narrow down the listings that best suit your needs. Look for someone who specializes in the areas you’re interested in. For instance, if you’re looking in Squirrel Hill North, you may not want to hire an agent that mostly works in the southern suburbs. Take your time and interview several candidates to find someone you’ll have a good working relationship with.
Start house hunting and make an offer
With a trusted agent by your side, you’re ready to start shopping. While the housing market has cooled slightly since the rapid-paced years of 2021 and 2022, it still pays to be quick on your feet. Pittsburgh homes on the market tend to garner an average of three offers, according to Redfin — so stay in close contact with your agent to see homes you’re interested in as soon as possible. When you find a home that checks the right boxes, don’t dawdle. Your agent can help you draft a solid offer, which should include your preapproval letter, and negotiate on your behalf if needed.
Get a home inspection and appraisal
When your offer is accepted and you go into contract, the next steps are getting an inspection and an appraisal. You’ll need to hire a licensed home inspector to assess the condition of the home and property. Inspectors will look through the house, top to bottom, to find potential issues with anything from the roof to the foundation to the plumbing and electrical. They’ll create an inspection report outlining everything they find. If major issues are found, you’ll need to work it out with the seller — they might pay for repairs or offer a credit to cover the cost.
Your lender will require a home appraisal, which is different from the inspection. An appraiser examines the property to assess its value — the lender doesn’t want to offer up more money than the home is worth, after all. Appraisers take many factors into consideration, including recent local sales, tax records, home condition and more.
Requirements to buy a house in Pittsburgh
Homebuyers who want to finance the purchase will have to prove to a mortgage lender that they are credit-worthy. Many factors will influence a lender’s decision on whether to loan you money, and how much, including your credit score (the higher your score the better) and your debt-to-income ratio (or how much other debt you have, like car payments and student loans, compared to how much you earn). Here are a couple of Pittsburgh-specific topics to consider:
Can I afford a house in Pittsburgh?
Pittsburgh’s cost of living is right on par with the national median, according to RentCafe. Happily, though, its home prices are significantly lower than much of the rest of the country. The median home price was $217,000 as of March 2023, which is quite a bit below the nationwide median of $375,700.
According to Bankrate’s mortgage calculator, for a median-priced $217,000 home with a 20 percent down payment and a 30-year fixed mortgage at 6.5 percent, monthly principal and interest payments would come to $1,097. (Not including property taxes, insurance premiums and other fees.)
Redfin data shows that prices in Pittsburgh are falling slightly, down 8.1 percent from March 2022 to March 2023, and they’re also staying on the market more than two weeks longer than this time last year. While it’s still a seller’s market in many neighborhoods, buyers have more leverage than they’ve had in recent years.
First-time homebuyers in Pittsburgh
Buying your first home is a huge financial decision that can feel intimidating and stressful. If you’re a first-time buyer, you may qualify for a state assistance program that can help with your down payment or closing costs. Other programs are often available at the federal and local level as well, to help those who qualify to get down payment or closing cost funds via grants and low- or no-interest loans.
The home closing is where all the pieces finally come together. At the closing table, you’ll have to sign a stack of documents, as well as pay some fees, also known as closing costs. Some of these fees could include:
- Real estate transfer taxes
- Title insurance and title search fees
- A loan origination fee
- Mortgage points
- Attorney fees
These costs could amount to more or less depending on the cost of your home, your chosen lender and where your home is located. For example, you’ll experience higher transfer taxes within Pittsburgh city limits than you would in the surrounding suburbs. But when it’s all over, you’ll get the keys to your new home. Congrats, Pittsburgh homeowner!
According to data from Redfin, Pittsburgh home prices fell 8.1 percent from March 2022 to March 2023. However, they are up month-over-month: The median sale price in February was $212,500, while in March it was $217,000.
The best time to sell a house is traditionally in the spring and early summer, but the best time to buy depends on your personal circumstances and priorities. Warmer months may come with more selection but higher prices. Colder months have less selection, but you’re more likely to get a better price — Redfin data shows that the length of time Pittsburgh listings sit on the market spikes in the winter, so sellers then are likely more willing to negotiate or drop their prices to get a deal done. Regardless of season, though, the higher your credit score, the better mortgage rate you’re likely to be eligible for. If your score is not great, it may be smart to give yourself some time to grow that number before you start house-hunting.