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Many people search for a new home without being realistic about all the expenses they could face. Before you start shopping for a house, sit down and figure out how much you can actually afford to spend and leave room in your budget for future changes in your circumstances.

Understand What Mortgage Pre-Approval Does and Doesn’t Mean
Getting preapproved for a mortgage can help you demonstrate that you are serious about buying a house and that you can afford to do so. A lender will review your financial information and pre-approve you for an amount, but that is not necessarily the amount you should spend.

A lender may not include significant monthly expenses, such as healthcare and daycare, in its calculations. It also may not factor in savings for retirement, your children’s education and future vacations. Your budget needs to include all your priorities. 

Consider All Costs Associated With Buying and Owning a Home
Plan for the numerous expenses you will have before you move into your new home. Closing costs typically total thousands of dollars. You should also factor in moving costs, plus new furniture, carpets, appliances and decorations. All those bills can quickly add up.

If you make a small down payment, you may need to purchase private mortgage insurance, which may cost hundreds of dollars per month. You also have to budget for homeowners insurance, property taxes and possibly homeowners association fees.

If you are currently living in an apartment or a small house and you plan to move to a larger home, your utility costs will most likely increase. You may be shocked when you start receiving much higher bills than you’re accustomed to. Budget for higher utility costs so you won’t have to stress about them after you move into your new home.

Homeowners are often shocked by the costs for maintenance, repairs and lawncare. Plan to set aside money in a savings account each month to cover those expenses so you don’t panic when you receive a bill that you weren’t expecting or that is higher than you anticipated.

Think About How Your Life May Change
Your circumstances will likely change in the future. For example, you may decide to start a family or to have more children. You may have an elderly parent move in with you. You or your spouse may be laid off. One of you may be unable to work because of an illness or disability. While you can’t know what the future will hold, recognize that things can and will change down the line. Leave some breathing room in your budget to deal with those changes when they come.

Don’t Get in Over Your Head
Make a list of all the expenses that could be associated with buying and owning a house, as well as your current and future priorities, and figure out how much you could comfortably afford. 

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