Your First Home: How Much Can You Afford?

Before you start shopping for a house, figure out how much home you can afford with these tips.

Determine the Mortgage You Can Afford

First, review your current financial situation. What assets do you own? What is your income? What liabilities do you have now or will you have in the future? Is there anything about your financial situation that could change in the future? For example, will you have to start making student loan payments next year?

While some mortgages may have specific parameters around debt-to-income limitations, a good rule of thumb is to keep your homeownership costs to less than 28 percent of your pretax income. That includes mortgage payments, insurance, real estate taxes, and regular maintenance.

Your lender can help you understand your financial situation and get pre-approved for a home loan. Getting pre-approved means a lender reviews your credit history, and verifies your income and other information. Then, the lender commits to loan you a certain amount.

This process can give you useful perspective on which home prices are more realistic for your situation. For example, if you are pre-approved for a $200,000 mortgage with a $50,000 down payment, you may want to set your “maximum home price” at $250,000 and look at homes priced at or below that amount.

Your lender can also help you decide whether to take out a fixed interest rate (“fixed”) or variable interest rate (“variable”) home mortgage:

  • Fixed mortgages have fixed interest rates that borrowers know from the outset. They offer stability and predictability over the life of the loan with respect to the amount that the borrower will be expected to pay each month.
  • Variable mortgages have interest rates that fluctuate based on market forces, may be sensitive to changes in economic conditions, and will change from time to time. For example, if interest rates rise, your monthly payment and interest rate will also likely increase based on movements in the index rate.
  • Regardless of which type of mortgage you choose, a larger down payment will reduce your monthly mortgage installments. The Regions mortgage payment calculator can help you determine how your monthly costs could vary based on different down payment amounts.

Consider all the Costs of Home Ownership

Once you’ve determined your target home price, start planning for upfront expenses beyond your down payment. These may include home appraisal and inspection fees, termite checks, application and origination fees, title insurance, and other closing costs. Jim Duncan, a real estate broker in Charlottesville, Virginia, suggests budgeting up to 3 percent of the loan amount to cover these initial outlays. "You may sometimes roll those into the loan and purchase price," he says.

Make sure to assess variable costs and factor them into your monthly budget before you make an offer on a home.

1. Property Taxes

"Taxes usually become part of the mortgage payment, prepaid each month into escrow, and paid by the lender when they come due," Duncan explains.

Tip: Expenses like property taxes vary by location. Contact the local assessor’s office to learn more about tax rates in your area.

2. Homeowner’s Insurance

It’s also helpful to talk to an insurance agent during your home search. If you have a location in mind, or have found a home that fits what you’re looking for, you can call a local insurance agent to get a homeowners insurance estimate. Ask about the cost of common insurance riders, such as flood or sewage insurance, to get a comprehensive picture of your potential insurance costs.

3. Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

If your down payment is less than 20 percent, you may also be required by your lender to purchase private mortgage insurance to cover the risk of defaulting on your mortgage. The monthly premium payments for this insurance will probably be included in your monthly payment to the lender. You won’t “shop” for this insurance.

4. Maintenance

Don't forget to account for the costs of changing locks, maintaining the lawn, painting, and purchasing new furniture to fill a larger space, as well as some inevitable surprise expenses. You may also be required to pay homeowner's association dues in addition to utility costs, such as water, gas, electric, garbage, and sewage.

With a little bit of research, you can find out how much home you can afford and make a plan for purchasing your first home.


This information is general in nature and is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. Although Regions believes this information to be accurate, it cannot ensure that it will remain up to date. Statements or opinions of individuals referenced herein are their own—not Regions'. Consult an appropriate professional concerning your specific situation and for current tax rules. Regions, the Regions logo, and the LifeGreen bike are registered trademarks of Regions Bank. The LifeGreen color is a trademark of Regions Bank.