Mortgages

Can You Afford to Move?

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Perhaps you’ve always wanted to live in the heart of your city, have a bigger house with a backyard, or live on your own, but there’s an important question to answer before making any changes: Can you actually afford to move?

Of the 11.6% of people who moved within the U.S. in 2012, 72% of them moved within the same county. Sometimes people move out of necessity, like when a job requires you to move to a different state, but moving can also be a choice of desire, rather than need.

So whether it’s moving out of Mom and Dad’s place or upgrading from an apartment to a house, there are a few things that will tell you whether or not you’re ready to pursue your real estate dream.

Are You Sticking to Your Budget?

A consumer’s present situation is a good barometer for the future: If you’re barely making ends meet now, moving could put you at risk of overspending and falling into debt. Even if the monthly rent or mortgage payment at a new place doesn’t differ much from the cost of your current home, there are dozens of other moving-related expenses to consider, and they need to fit within your means after you’ve accounted for the rent or mortgage difference.

Francine Duke, a certified financial planner in the Chicago area, said she often encounters clients who want to upgrade their housing while maintaining their standard of living, and such a transition tends to require significant planning and sufficient savings.

“They have to decide what’s worth it to them,” Duke said. “Do they need to give up anything?”

Having to make tradeoffs isn’t a dealbreaker, but it has to be doable. Cutting back on entertainment expenses is a reasonable way to help pay for the higher cost of a larger apartment, but pulling money away from retirement savings or necessities like groceries are red flags that you likely can’t afford to relocate.

Are You in a Stable Financial Position?

Moving can be very disruptive, even chaotic, so try to plan such changes when you’re confident in the state of your finances. Consumers worried about job stability shouldn’t prioritize moving, and this also comes into play for those moving in with others. If you’re taking on a new housemate or deciding to cohabitate with a boyfriend or girlfriend, make sure your understanding of the shared expenses is clear, and you should be confident in their ability to contribute.

Make sure you have savings on hand to cover the costs that tend to pop up during the moving process.

“I think sometimes people want to go into it and they don’t have a penny saved,” Duke said. Whether you’re renting or buying, having savings dedicated to home costs is a crucial part of making a smart move, she said. Potential homebuyers should have at least 20% of the home value saved for a down payment before applying for a mortgage.

What Are the Other Costs?

Perhaps you’ve calculated the monthly rent or mortgage payment, and it looks like the new place is affordable. But there are dozens of other expenses to account for: physically moving your belongings, transportation, utilities, furnishings, taxes, fees, maintenance, repairs, etc.

If you have a pile of credit card debt, paying it down should take priority. Once you’ve dealt with it, you can focus on other goals, like moving to a nicer place. If you’re not sure what your credit profile looks like, you can see a breakdown of it each month using a free tool like Credit.com’s Credit Report Card, which can help you identify the areas you need to work on so you can build toward your financial goals.

Changing locations will impact finances, and there’s no way around it. Determining affordability often comes down to priorities and making sure your long-term financial health isn’t compromised when moving to a new, exciting place.

Image: moodboard

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