Young singles: Is now the time to buy a home?

Smart Moves

Smart Moves

December 29, 2008|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

You're still single, in your 20s and fresh out of school. You have a solid job in your chosen field. Despite the nation's financial crisis -- which has your parents' nerves on edge -- you and your friends feel carefree. You all live in apartments, and spend your discretionary cash on entertainment, eating out and clubbing.

But lately you've thought about buying a home while property prices are relatively low. Your friends dismiss the idea as silly and assume home-buying is solely for those in serious relationships, which doesn't apply to you.

So should you ignore their teasing and go forward anyway?

"Yes, I would absolutely recommend that many young singles buy property now, whether it's a common choice or not. The earlier you buy, the earlier you'll build equity. If you buy at age 25, you could easily own this or another house free and clear by age 55," says Sid Davis, author of "The First-Time Homeowner's Survival Guide."


But Davis adds that if your job is unstable or you're interested in graduate school or you are planning on moving in five or fewer years, you should wait.

"That's because your transaction costs -- first to buy and then to sell -- could more than wipe out any appreciation you might enjoy in the next few years," he says.

Be especially careful to avoid short-term ownership of a brand-new house, says Davis, who points out that a new home typically takes some expensive initial fix-up costs -- such as landscaping, fencing and window treatments.

Here are more pointers for wannabe single home buyers in their 20s:

o Buy within your financial comfort zone.

Among those now facing foreclosure are many first-time buyers who used an adjustable-rate mortgage to finance their purchase. They were able to qualify for the initial teaser rate on the mortgage. But as soon as the ARM adjusted upward -- often within a year -- they were in over their heads.

Who was to blame? In some cases it was the lender who failed to fully explain the terms and conditions of the home loan. In other instances, the borrowers were at fault for knowingly accepting a mortgage they couldn't afford. Either way, they might have avoided foreclosure had they used a fixed-rate loan to finance their purchase, says Merrill Ottwein, a real estate broker and former president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (

But he cautions young single home buyers against taking any mortgage -- including a fixed-rate one -- that feels uncomfortably large.

"Even with today's rigid lending standards, it's still possible to get your lender's blessing to borrow more than you should. Remember that the people who make mortgages know nothing about your spending priorities," Ottwein says.

Remember, too, that as a single person living alone you're financially more vulnerable to the impact of an unexpected job loss than someone with a second wage-earner supporting the household would be.

o Consider a "roommate suitable" home.

After sharing space with roommates in college dorms or in rented apartments, you may relish the idea of living alone in the home you buy. Still, Ottwein encourages you to consider choosing a property that would be attractive to potential boarders, should you one day need the rental income to offset your mortgage payments.

He suggests you look for a place with a bedroom suite that includes a private bath, so a roommate could live more autonomously. A separate, outside entrance to the suite would be ideal. And a property located near a college or university campus, where demand for rentals is strong, could also be a good bet.

o Look for an energy-stingy home.

After moving in, many first-time homebuyers are surprised by the size of their outlays for home upkeep. They hadn't expected to spend so much for everything from plumbers' bills to lawn fertilizer. The size of their utility bills also comes as a shock.

But home shoppers can more easily contain their energy costs by selecting an energy-efficient property that's well-insulated and has substantial, double-pane windows, says Davis, author of "Your Eco-Friendly Home."

"Don't try to project your future energy costs based on what a home's sellers have been paying during the last 12 months. Energy prices are always subject to the vagaries of the market. Plan for the worst-case scenarios," he says.

o Don't allow home-buying to eclipse your social life.

If you're like most single people in their 20s, your social life is of paramount importance to you. And even though you expect to outpace your friends in the quest for homeownership, you won't want your move to result in social estrangement.

To contact Ellen James Martin, e-mail her at

The Herald-Mail Articles