Buying a House on Disability Benefits or SSI

Know how to navigate the system so you can find the home you’re looking for.

The complexities of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits leave many people wondering not only if they can buy a home, but if buying a home will, in turn, affect their benefits in the future. The short answer is many people who receive SSDI and SSI benefits can and do qualify to buy a home, but will also likely face some additional hurdles unique to receiving these benefits.

How does SSI work?

SSI serves as a stipend resource for people with limited income who have a physical disability, and are 65 or older. These benefits are paid out monthly at the current rate of $735 for an individual and $1,103 for a couple, as of January 2017.

With a limited monthly income, it can seem incredibly difficult to save for a home while also covering ongoing household needs. According to 2017 Zillow data, 68 percent of renters cited saving for a down payment as the biggest hurdle to buying a home.

How does SSDI work?

SSDI is a resource available to those younger than 65, but it also requires work credits, meaning you must have worked enough during the years prior to applying for SSDI. While people receiving SSDI can face additional hurdles when trying to buy a home, they aren’t bound by the same income restrictions as people receiving SSI.

The problem, however, is that neither lenders nor recipients of SSDI benefits know how long the benefit income will last. In turn, it’s difficult to assess whether recipients have stable income — the Social Security Administration (SSA) only provides proof that people are actively receiving benefits instead of guarantees for the future. The SSA performs regular reviews of SSDI cases for continuance.

Buying a house on SSI

Buying a home while on SSI comes with its own set of unique challenges. Most notably, SSI rules limit the amount of income or assets you can have while remaining eligible for benefits. As a result, having enough money to buy a home — but not too much that you lose benefits — can be a fine line.

Because people on SSI can’t have assets valued at more than $2,000 as an individual or $3,000 as a couple, saving up enough cash for a down payment to even consider buying a home is difficult. On the bright side, not all assets count toward those limits. Case in point: The home you live in is considered your primary residence and is not considered an asset.

Although you might face additional challenges, buying a home on SSI is still possible.  Lenders look at your income and credit score, just like they would with any other loan applicant. But even if your credit score and income aren’t up to par, there are programs in place to help you get into a home. Need to find a lender? You can use Zillow to quickly find a lender who’s licensed to work in your area.

If you do acquire a home loan, it doesn’t count as income and doesn’t reduce your SSI benefits.

Find help

You can find many SSI housing resources when you’re thinking about buying a home. For instance, Fannie Mae offers loans for people with disabilities and loans to make necessary home improvements for your disability. Here are some examples:

  • Fannie Mae loans for disabled individuals
  • Individual Development Account (IDA)
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Homeownership Voucher Program

While many paths to homeownership exist for people with disabilities, see if any local nonprofits in your area offer additional support. Make sure to consult with a lender who has experience with SSI or disability benefits.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.



How to Buy and Sell a Home at the Same Time—Without Losing Your Mind

Ah, to be a first-time home buyer again: How easy it was to buy a home when you weren’t carrying another mortgage on your back at the same time!

If you’re looking to graduate from first-timer to repeat buyer, you know things are about to get much trickier. Unless you’re a bona fide house collector, you’ll have to sell your home in order to buy anew—adding a whole separate layer of anxiety to what you already know is a stressful home-buying process.

In an ideal world, you’d buy a new home, move, and then, when all the dust settles, deal with the turmoil of selling.

But for most people, that’s totally unrealistic. Not only does it cost a lot, since you’ll be paying two mortgages at the same time, but sellers of your potential new home might be quick to judge if you’re holding on to your current home.

Drew Snyder, a Realtor® with Snyder Sutton Real Estate in Topanga, CA, says one of his clients had difficulty getting sellers to “take them seriously unless the house was on the market or in escrow. As soon as we put it on [the market], they were considered as serious buyers.”

So, while shopping for a new home and selling your current home at once may sound like a real estate nightmare, it may be your best option.

Here’s what you need to know to make sure both processes go as smoothly as possible.

Know the market first

Before you start seriously searching for a new home—or put your current home on the market—make sure you have a solid understanding of the housing market in your area (and the area where you’re planning to buy).

Ask your real estate agent: Is the market weighted toward buyers or sellers? Only then will you be able to fully strategize. In real estate, your best plan of action may depending on whether sellers or buyers are in the more powerful position.

One way to play it safe is to keep your mind open to lots of buying options. If it’s a seller’s market, you might find that you’re able to get your home sold quickly, but that the homes you tour with your real estate agent just aren’t up to par.

If you can widen your search and find multiple homes you’re interested in, you’re less likely to find yourself in trouble if a purchase falls through—selling your current home won’t leave you stranded.

Another way to protect yourself is to hire an appraiser and price your old home fairly.

If it’s a buyer’s market, you have to know that your home has lots of competition. You may not have the time or energy to update your home, but one thing you can do is set a reasonable price that will get buyers interested.

Now is decidedly not the time for delusions of grandeur: Two extra months on the market because you couldn’t humble yourself to lower the price means two months that you’ll be paying double mortgages. Two very long months…

Plan your schedule carefully…

You might be asking: Should you try to buy first, then sell—or vice versa? Both have their risks and rewards.

Selling first makes getting a mortgage easier, but it also means you’ll need to find a temporary place to live.

Buying first means that moving will be easier, but it also skews your debt-to-income ratio, making it harder to qualify for a new mortgage—not to mention the difficulty of juggling two monthly house payments.

Your down payment can be difficult to come up with, too, if all your money is tied up in your old home.

“It’s walking a tightrope,” says Gary DiMauro, a Realtor in New York’s Hudson Valley. And he’s not just talking about scheduling: Your finances will be on the high wire, too.

When determining whether you should sell or buy first, think beyond “How can I make the move as easy as possible?” Instead ask: “Can I handle two mortgages? What if my home sells for less than its listing price?”

Whichever option you choose, make sure you’re prepared to accept the consequences: either having to store your stuff and rent temporarily, or undergoing the financial burden of dual mortgages.

… but don’t rely on timing

When buying and selling a home simultaneously, “There are so many external circumstances,” says DiMauro. “I’ve yet to see it really work smoothly and efficiently.”

Remember: You’re not the only party in this equation. For every seller there’s a buyer, for every buyer a seller.

While things might appear to be working smoothly when viewing your master plan from above, that doesn’t take into account the varying fortunes of the people you will be working with.

Closings are rife with delays. Your buyers might have difficulty securing their mortgage; your home inspector may bring up issues that need to be fixed before you can move in.

“You’re relying on the seller of the place that you’re buying to be ready to move, in concert with the buyer of your house,” DiMauro says.

So even if you’ve planned to sell your home first and are prepared to rent while buying, know that even the best-laid plans go awry—and that you might end up juggling both mortgages. Preparing yourself for this (however remote) possibility ahead of time will ensure a smooth transition.

Know your financial solutions

For those who choose to sell first, the process is relatively straightforward: taking on the additional cost of a rental between homes.

However, you might want to consider the option of a rent-back agreement, where you negotiate with the lenders and buyers to be able to remain in the property for a maximum of 60 to 90 days—often in exchange for a lower selling price or for rent paid to the buyers.

This can relieve some of the pressure of finding a new home, giving you additional time to house hunt.

But if you’re buying first, talk to your Realtor about ways to decrease your financial burden and risk. Here are the two most popular options for buyers:

  • Contract contingency: Buyers can request that their new home purchase be dependent on the successful sale of their old home. If you’re looking in a competitive market, this may not be a good option. However, if the seller of your intended home has had difficulty attracting interest, this may be a good deal for all parties involved—assuming that you can persuade them that your home will sell quickly.
  • Bridge loan: A bridge loan allows you to own two homes simultaneously if you don’t have deep pockets for a second down payment. This option is especially attractive if you’d planned to sell your home first and use the proceeds to buy the second. It functions as a short-term loan, intended to be repaid upon the sale of your original house.

Don’t let fear rush you

If your home has sold but you haven’t found a new place to live, don’t let anxiety push you toward a bad decision.

DiMauro usually recommends that his clients preemptively plan on a short-term rental “so they don’t feel stressed or pushed into something that they would not normally be interested in,” he says.

“They shouldn’t make a purchase because they felt like they were pressured from the time constraints.”

Found the perfect home right on schedule? That’s great. But don’t feel that you have to compromise on things that are important to you just because you need to find a home.

Conversely, don’t accept a bid that you feel is too low just because your finances are strained by two mortgages. If you have a temporary apartment set up, you’re less likely to compromise.

Certainly, selling and buying a house simultaneously will be stressful—but carefully considering and planning for the risks and hurdles can mitigate the stress.


16 Questions To Ask a Home Inspector Before, During, and After a Home Inspection

If you’re buying a house, you know that your home inspector will check it out and make sure it’s in decent shape. But if you want to get to know your home beyond its pretty facade, you should pepper your inspector with questions—a whole lot of them, in fact!

But when you ask those home inspector questions is as important as what you ask. To ensure you get the most out of your home inspection, here’s a timeline of queries to hit before the inspection even starts, during the actual home inspection, and well after it’s over.

Questions to ask a home inspector before the inspection begins

So, how do you separate a great home contractor from a merely good one? It boils down to interviewing home inspectors to gauge how thorough a job they’ll do. To help, here are some of the best questions to ask.

Bonus: This’ll also help you know what to expect! Knowledge is power, my friends.

1. ‘What do you check?’

“A lot of people don’t know exactly what a home inspector is going to do,” says Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

Wondering what does a home inspector look for? A whole lot—1,600 features on a home, to be exact.

“We inspect everything from the roof to the foundation and everything in between,” Lesh says.

Going into the inspection with a clear understanding of what the inspector can and can’t do will ensure that you walk away from the inspection happy.

2. ‘What don’t you check?’

There are limits. For instance, “we’re restricted to a visual inspection,” says Lesh. “We can’t cut a hole in somebody’s wall.”

As a result, an inspector will often flag potential problems in the report and you will have to get another expert—a roofer, HVAC person, builder, electrician, or plumber—to come back and do a more detailed examination.

“Understand that we’re looking at what exists in the house today,” says home inspector Randy Sipe, of Spring Hill, KS. “I can’t see into the future any more than anybody else.”

3. ‘What do you charge for a home inspection?’

A home inspection costs around $300 and $600, though it will depend on the market, the size of house, and the actual inspector. Generally you’ll pay the inspector the day of the inspection, so you’ll want to know in advance how much and what forms of payment are accepted.

Lesh cautions against going with an inspector who quotes you a very low price.

“That’s often a sign they’re having trouble getting customers,” he says.

Spending on a good inspector will more than pay for itself in the long run.

4. ‘How long have you been doing this?’

Or perhaps more important: How many inspections have you done? A newer inspector doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality, but experience can mean a lot—especially if you’re considering an older home or something with unusual features.

5. ‘Can I come along during the inspection?’

The answer to this should be a resounding yes! Any good inspector will want prospective owners to be present at the inspection. Seeing somebody explain your house’s systems and how they work will always be more valuable than reading a report, and it gives you the opportunity to ask questions and get clarifications in the moment. If an inspector requests that you not join him, definitely walk away. Run!

6. ‘How long will the inspection take?’

Inspections often take place during the workweek, when the seller is less likely to be around. Knowing how much time you’ll need to block out will keep you from having to rush through the inspection to get back to the office. You’ll get only a ballpark figure, because much will depend on the condition of the house. But if you are quoted something that seems way off—such as a half-day for a two-bedroom apartment, or just an hour for a large, historic house—that could be a red flag that the inspector doesn’t know what he’s doing, says Lesh.

7. ‘Can I see a sample report?’

If you’re buying your first home, it can be helpful to see someone else’s report before you see your own. Every house has problems, usually lots of them, though most generally aren’t that big of a deal. A sample report will keep you from panicking when you see your own report, and it will give you a sense of how your inspector communicates. It’s another opportunity to ensure that you and your inspector are on the same page.

Questions to ask a home inspector during a home inspection

Ideally, you should attend your home inspection—in person or by video—and ask your home inspector anything that comes up right then and there. The reason: Rather than trying to decipher your home inspector’s (very technical) report, it’s much easier for this pro to actually show you what’s going on with the house.

To help you get this essential show-and-tell session rolling, here are a few important questions to ask a home inspector that will help you size up a house yourself, and keep it in good condition for as long as you hang your hat there.

1. ‘What does that mean?’

During the inspection, your home inspector will go slowly through the entire house, checking everything to ensure there are no signs of a problem. He’ll point out things to you that aren’t as they should be, or may need repairs.

Don’t be afraid to ask any questions about what the home inspector is telling you, and make sure you understand the issue and why it matters. For example, if the inspector says something like, “Looks like you’ve got some rotten boards here,” it’s smart to ask him to explain what that means for the overall house—how difficult it is to repair, and how much it will cost.

Just keep in mind that your inspector can’t tell you whether or not to become the buyer of the house, or how much you should ask the seller to fix (though your real estate agent should be able to help with that).

2. ‘Is this a big deal or a minor issue?’

For most people, buying real estate is the biggest purchase they’ll ever make. It’s normal to start feeling panicky when your inspector is telling you the house has a foundation problem, a roof or water heater in need of repair, or electrical, heating systems or an HVAC system that isn’t up to code.

Don’t freak out—just ask the inspector whether he thinks the issue is a big deal. You’ll be surprised to hear that most houses have similar issues and that they’re not deal breakers, even if the fixes or repairs sound major. And if it is major? Well, that’s why you’re having the home inspection done. You can address it with the seller or just walk away.

3. ‘What’s that water spot on the ceiling, and does it need a repair?’

Don’t be shy about asking questions and pointing out things that look off to you during the home inspection and checking if they’re OK, real estate–wise. Odds are, if there’s something weird, your inspector has noted it and is going to check it out thoroughly. For example, if there’s a water spot on the ceiling, maybe he needs to check it from the floor above to know if it’s an issue.

Ideally, your inspector will ask you if there’s anything you’re specifically concerned about before he starts the inspection. Make sure to tell him if this is your first real estate purchase, or if you’re worried about the house’s age, or anything at all that strikes you, the buyer, as a possible negative.

4. ‘I’ve never owned a house with an HVAC/boiler/basement. How do I maintain this thing?’

Flaws aside, a home inspection is your golden opportunity to have an expert show you how to take care of your house.

“Inspectors are used to explaining basic things to people. If you have an inspection question, ask it,” Lesh says. “Don’t expect your inspector to teach you how to build a clock, but we are happy to answer and explain how things work.”

5. ‘What are your biggest concerns about the property?’

At the end of the inspection, the inspector should give you, in broad strokes, a summary of what he found. You’ll get a written report later, but this is a great moment to get clarity on what the inspector thinks are the house’s biggest issues, and whether or not they require further investigation.

Often, it’s a good idea to call in another home inspection expert—a plumber, electrician, roofer, or HVAC professional—to take a look at anything the inspector flagged.

You should walk away from inspection day with a mental punch list of things that need to be addressed by either the seller or another expert. In some states, there’s a limited amount of time for these negotiations to happen, so you and your agent may want to hit the ground running.

Your official home inspection report will have more detail, but you should know what’s on it by the time you leave the home that day.

Questions to ask a home inspector after the inspection is done

What are some questions to ask a home inspector after he’s finished the inspection? Because, let’s face it, just staring at that hefty report highlighting every flaw in your future dream home can send many buyers into a full-blown panic!

Know the right questions to ask a home inspector afterward, though, and this can help put that report into perspective. Here are the big ones to hit.

1. ‘I don’t understand [such and such], can you clarify?’

Just so you know what to expect, here’s how it will go down: A day or two after the inspection, you should receive the inspector’s report. It will be a detailed list of every flaw in the house, often along with pictures of some of the problem areas and more elaboration.

Hopefully you also attended the actual inspection and could ask questions then; if so, the report should contain no surprises. It should contain what you talked about at the inspection, with pictures and perhaps a bit more detail. If there’s anything major you don’t remember from the inspection in the report, don’t be afraid to ask about it.

2. ‘Is there any problem in this house that concerns you, and about how much would it cost to fix?’

Keep in mind, most problems in the house will likely be minor and not outright deal breakers. Still, you’ll want your home inspector to help you separate the wheat from the chaff and point out any doozies. So ask him if there are any problems serious enough to keep you from moving forward with the house.

Keep in mind that ultimately it’s up to you and your real estate agent to determine how to address any issues.

“The inspector can’t tell you, ‘Make sure the seller pays for this,’ so be sure you understand what needs to be done,” says Lesh.

3. ‘Should I call in another expert for a follow-up inspection?’

Expect to have to call in other experts at this point to look over major issues and assign a dollar figure to fixing them. If your inspector flags your electrical box as looking iffy, for example, you may need to have an electrician come take a look and tell you what exactly is wrong and what the cost would be to fix it. The same goes for any apparent problems with the heating or air conditioning, roof, or foundation. An HVAC repair person, roofer, or engineer will need to examine your house and provide a bid to repair the problem.

Why is this so important? This bid is what your real estate agent will take to the seller if you decide to ask for a concession instead of having the seller do the fix for you. Your inspector can’t give you these figures, but he can probably give you a sense of whether it’s necessary to call somebody in.

4. ‘Is there anything I’ll need to do once I move in?’

Wait, you’re still not done! It’s easy to forget the inspector’s report in the whirlwind of closing and moving, but there are almost always suggestions for things that need doing in the first two to three months of occupancy.

Lesh says he sometimes gets panicked calls from homeowners whose houses he inspected three months after they’ve moved in. Although he’d noted certain issues in his report, the buyers neglected the report entirely—and paid for it later.

“I had a couple call and tell me they had seepage in the basement,” Lesh says. “I pulled up their report and asked if they’d reconnected the downspout extension like I recommended. Nope. Well, there’s your problem!”

Everything you didn’t ask the seller to fix? That’s your to-do list. Isn’t owning a home fun?


Why you shouldn’t waive the home inspection

The vast majority of existing homes sold in the U.S. need one or two things to be patched up, with 86% of all home inspections turning up some kind of problem, according to a study by the home improvement website

The average home inspection can cost from $300 to $500 depending on where the home is and how big it is, but’s study indicates that this is an investment that will save the average buyer around $14,000 in renovation costs.

A home inspection involves assessing the condition of things such as the roof, ceilings, walls, floors, foundations, windows, doors, major appliances, heating and air conditioning, plumbing and electrical systems. Most real estate agents agree that it’s essential their clients pay for a home inspection to ensure the home they’re buying is on a solid footing and won’t cause them headaches later.

But worryingly, the low inventory of existing homes for sale today has led to intense competition among buyers, and many are faced with bidding wars and have to offer well above a home’s listing price to clinch the deal. Besides making a higher offer, some buyers are also waiving the home inspection to make their offer stand out. Redfin said last year that almost 20% of the offers submitted by its agents waived the inspection contingency.

Any buyer who makes that decision needs to be aware of the risk, and just as importantly, the most common issues that home inspections can turn up.’s study shows that just over 19% of home inspections uncover problems with the roof. Home inspectors typically check roofs for things such as leaks, venting, the material condition, proper installation and any other visible issues.

Another common problem is issues with the electrical wiring, which turn up in 18% of all inspections. The most common electrical issues are reversed polarity, frayed insulation, DIY wiring, over-fusing, and mismatched wiring. About 51,000 fires each year are caused in homes by improper electrical wiring.

Another 18% of inspections discover problems with windows that can hamper energy efficiency and cause issues with indoor air quality, said.

In addition, said almost 17% of inspections turn up issues with gutters, 14% discover problems with the plumbing, and more than 12% find issues with the water heating system and air conditioning.


What Do HOA Fees Cover: Homeowners Association Expenses Explained

What is an HOA?

Are you confused about the meaning of an HOA? HOA is short for a homeowners association. Lots of people ask real estate agents how an HOA works and what purpose does it serve. Once they understand the purpose of a homeowners association they ask what the HOA fees cover.

An HOA is a group or organization in a neighborhood that makes and enforces rules and regulations for homes or condos for the benefit of its owners.

Buyers who purchase within an HOA become members and must pay association dues, known as HOA fees.

Before buying into an HOA, it is vital to understand the rules and regulations. You may find that some of the rules are not what you’ve been accustomed to. In fact, if the rules and regulations are overbearing, you could find yourself in the position of not wanting to live within the neighborhood.

On the other hand, you may love the thought of having guidance and uniformity. Some of the biggest advantages of living in an HOA are preserving and upkeep of the homeowners association’s homes and neighborhood.

One of the most common questions home buyers have is what do the HOA fees cover? Let’s take a deep dive into what you need to know about homeowners association expenses.

HOA Fees
How Do HOA Fees Work?

What Are HOA Fees?

Homeowners association fees are paid to maintain the common areas and shared spaces in your home and neighborhood. Being part of a homeowners association makes it a lot simpler to live in than having a home where you are responsible for all the maintenance.

So, if you have an expensive emergency in your house, you have to find the money to fix it. Where in the HOA, expenses are shared amongst everyone in the community.

An elected committee governs the HOA fees in your neighborhood. All of the expenses should be approved by those who reside within the community.

In larger HOAs, there is often a paid office team organizing contractors and paying bills. Other HOAs can be staffed by using outside contractors. Sometimes this can be a problem when work is not completed satisfactorily.

HOA costs depend on the neighborhood and type of project. It is not uncommon for HOA fees to range anywhere from a few hundred dollars up to $1000 in some luxurious settings.

Homeowners association fees are influenced heavily by what kind of perks are offered for living within the community. For example, neighborhoods that offer community pools, gyms, and tennis courts, naturally would cost more to maintain and operate.

However, a lower-cost townhouse without a pool, gym, or other amenities could be far less expensive. Costs can be as low as $100 per month in some locations around the country.

HOA expenses in a high-end city center may include concierge, spa, and gym, making them much more expensive to live in. You could potentially see fees as high as $3-$4 thousand per month. Think of the rich and famous.

How Are HOA Expenses Distributed?

If you live in an HOA within a condo or townhome complex, you may have underground parking, with a car space allocated to every apartment in the building. Part of the maintenance with this living style is security, as we all feel safer in a secure building.

Rubbish collection is another cost, as rubbish has to be taken down to the basement and removed from the building. Companies are often hired to fill this role.

The pool must be maintained, the ground manicured, plants pruned, and the gym equipment is cleaned. While these perks are probably the reasons you bought in, the cost can be a bit high for some retirees. Perks such as these are often standard in retirement communities. It is often a significant reason seniors downsize into a neighborhood that has an HOA.

Do Homeowners HOA Fees Go Up?

Of course, everything rises with inflation, and there will always be new projects or remedial work to be carried out on the homes and neighborhood.

Some HOAs schedule increments annually, so if you are preparing a five-year budget, you may want to factor in the cost. Doing so will be helpful to work out what your expenses will be projected at in the future.

It will be vital before buying to take a look at the homeowners association bylaws, rules, and regs, along with the latest financial state. You should make sure to have a contingency for document review in your offer.

What If You Can’t Pay The HOA Fees?

You can be fined or taken to court, and a lien could be placed on your property. It can also be embarrassing not to pay because, in committee meetings, they often have nonpaying homes as agenda items and discuss strategies to recover the funds.

HOA expenses are very much worth paying, as in most cases, you do get your money’s worth. Because there is power in numbers, you often get better value for money with more people paying to get the best deal for your HOA.

Before you move into a condo, townhouse, or home, check how your HOA fees will be apportioned, and make sure no special assessments are pending.

Special assessments would mean that you will have to come up with an extra lump sum to fix an unexpected expense. Nobody likes financial surprises, so it is essential to research any significant expenditures on the horizon.

How Do I Choose The Right HOA Neighborhood?

Form a working relationship with a high-profile local agent. Once they know what you are looking for, they will help you to find your perfect HOA.

The best buyer’s agents will know most communities in the town or area. Real Estate agents have their ears to the ground and often hear positive or negative things about a particular neighborhood and the accompanying homeowners association.

Moving into an HOA is a terrific idea when it is a well-oiled machine. Living within a homeowners association can make your life more simple, especially from a maintenance standpoint. If you’re the kind of person, who travels a lot, it really makes a lot of sense.

First-time home buyers who do business travel could find living in an HOA to be the perfect situation.

Final Thoughts on HOAs

In the area you are planning to live in, there hopefully will be a wide range of suitable HOAs to choose from. As long as you pick an HOA neighborhood that does not have strange bylaws or overbearing rules, you’ll probably enjoy the living situation.

The key is doing the proper due diligence. Without that, you could make a bad mistake that you’ll regret. Take the time and do the proper research. Hopefully, you have found this guide to HOAs to be useful. You should now know a bit more about what HOA fees cover.


Credit Sesame Can Help Homebuyers Fix This Problem Before It Happens

If you’ve ever searched for a home to buy, you know the first step is mortgage pre-approval — and in today’s competitive market, you likely need to have it before you even put in an offer.

But if you’re like one-fifth of Americans, an error on your credit report could mean banks could be scared of lending to you and won’t give you a pre-approval. And even if they do, it could be for an absurd loan rate that can cost you tens of thousands of dollars or more by the time you pay off the house — yikes.

So if you didn’t see that roadblock coming, your dream house could be someone else’s before you have a chance to fix it.

That’s why you need to make sure your credit report card is free of errors and your score is in tip-top shape before you even start Zillow-ing. A free website called Credit Sesame makes it super easy to check for issues and can help you raise your score. And when you do improve, you can earn cash rewards every 30 days!1

By signing up for a free account with Credit Sesame, you’ll have quick access to your score and personalized tips on how to improve it. You’ll also get free credit monitoring and ID protection, meaning no surprises when you start the homebuying process.

It takes about 90 seconds to join the free service. And you don’t need to put in your credit card — meaning no sneaky subscriptions.

Being prepared before you put an offer on the corner lot starts with a clean credit report and a high credit score. Just enter your email address here to sign up for your free account with Credit Sesame. It could be the first step toward your dream home.

Kari Faber is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

1 This is a limited time offer. To be eligible for cash rewards, a deposit of $25.00, every 30 days, must be made into your Sesame Cash account. Rewards earnings are available for credit score improvements of ten points or more within a 30-day reward cycle. Improvements are calculated from your baseline credit score, as determined by Credit Sesame. Please review the full program terms for more details.


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Assembling enough money for a down payment is typically the largest hurdle to clear when securing a mortgage. The median home price in the U.S. is up 14% year-over-year, according to a November 2020 Redfin report, and as the housing market gets more expensive, so too will the deposit that you have to front for a home. Working with professional financial advisors can help you strategize so that your money’s doing the most for you, but in some places compared to others, scraping together that bundle of cash can be particularly daunting. Keeping all this in mind, SmartAsset investigated where it takes longest to save for a down payment.

To do this, we examined data on the 50 largest U.S. cities, using median home values, median income figures and assuming that workers would save 20% of their income each year. We calculated the years needed to save for both the recommended 20% down payment as well a 12% down payment (the median down payment among all homebuyers in 2019, according to the National Association of Realtors). For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s fifth look at how many years of work it takes to afford a down payment. You can read the 2020 edition here.

Key Findings

  • Oakland takes over in the Bay. In the last three editions of this study, San Francisco homeowners have always needed to work longer than Oakland homeowners to afford a down payment. This year, however, Oakland has surpassed San Francisco and moved to the No. 2 spot, bumping the Golden Gate City to No. 3. San Francisco real estate is still pricier – with a median home value of more than $1.2 million – but the differences in average income make Oakland second only to Los Angeles on our list.
  • It still takes less time in Midwestern and Southern cities to assemble funds for a down payment. Residents in the East Coast and West Coast cities that comprise our top 10 will need more than three times longer to save up for a down payment than residents in the Midwestern and Southern cities that comprise the bottom 10. To save up for a 20% down payment, those in the top 10 will need to work an average of 8.90 years, compared to only 2.83 years in the bottom 10. For a 12% down payment, it will take 5.34 years for residents in the top 10 cities to reach their home buying goals, while it will take 1.70 years for residents in the bottom 10 to do so.

1. Los Angeles, CA

It will take residents in Los Angeles, California the longest to save for a down payment. The median home value is $697,200, which means that they will need to save $139,440 for a 20% down payment. If a person earns the median household income of $67,418 and saves 20% of that each year, then he or she will need to work 10.34 years to have enough money to afford a down payment.

2. Oakland, CA

In Oakland, California where the median home costs $807,600, a 20% down payment equals $161,520. The median household income here is $82,018, so a person saving 20% annually will need to work for 9.85 years to afford a down payment. For comparison, saving up a 12% down payment of $96,912 will require 5.91 years, but this means having to pay significantly higher mortgage payments.

3. San Francisco, CA

The median home value in San Francisco, California is $1,217,500 – the only city in our study with a seven-figure price tag. A 20% down payment on that median value would cost $243,500. With a median household income of $123,859, the average person saving 20% annually could afford a down payment in 9.83 years.

4. New York, NY

In the Big Apple, homeowners will need 9.81 years to make a 20% down payment on a home. The median home value is $680,800, which means a 20% down payment is $136,160. And for a comparison, a New Yorker saving 20% annually at a median household income of $69,407 will need 5.89 years to save for a 12% down payment of $81,696.

5. Long Beach, CA

Long Beach, California has a median home value of $614,400. To buy the median house with a 20% down payment, the average resident will need $122,880. If you earn the median income of $67,804 and save 20% of your income each year, then you will be able to afford a down payment in 9.06 years.

6. San Jose, CA

San Jose, California is in the heart of Silicon Valley, and as you might expect, the median home value is fairly high – at $999,990. A 20% payment on that home value is $199,980. The median household income in the city is $115,893, so if a resident saves 20% of his or her income each year, then the person could afford a down payment in 8.63 years.

7. Miami, FL

Miami, Florida is the only Southeastern city in the top 10 of our study. The median home value is $358,500, which means that a 20% down payment costs $71,700. The median income in Miami, however, is $42,966. So a resident saving 20% of that median household income ($8,593) each year could afford a 20% down payment in 8.34 years.

8. Boston, MA

It takes someone saving 20% of the median household income in Boston, Massachusetts 7.93 years of work to afford a 20% down payment on a home. The median home value is $627,000, with a 20% down payment coming to $125,400. The median household income in Boston is $79,018.

9. San Diego, CA

The median home value in San Diego, California is $658,400, which means that a 20% down payment is $131,680. Someone earning the median household income of $85,507 will need 7.70 years to afford that down payment. For comparison, a 12% down payment of $79,008 takes 4.62 years to save up for, with the caveat that paying a smaller down payment now means larger mortgage payments later.

10. Seattle, WA

Seattle, Washington rounds out the top 10 on our list, with a median home value of $767,000. This means that a 20% down payment is $153,400. So if you earn the median household income of $102,486, then it will take you 7.48 years – saving 20% of your income each year – to afford that payment.

Data and Methodology

To rank the cities where the average household would need to save the longest to afford a down payment, we analyzed data on the 50 largest U.S. cities. We specifically considered two pieces of data:

  • 2019 median home value.
  • 2019 median household income.

Data for both factors comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.

We started by determining the annual savings for households by assuming they would save 20% of the median annual pre-tax income. Next, we determined how much a 20% down payment as well as a 12% down payment for the median home in each city would cost. Then, we divided each of the estimated down payments in each city by the estimated annual savings. The result was the estimated number of years of saving needed to afford each down payment, assuming zero savings to begin with. Finally, we created our final ranking by ordering the cities from the greatest number of years needed to the least number of years needed for each.

Tips for Hassle-Free Home Buying

  • Consider investing in expert advice. If you’re thinking of buying a home or starting to save, consider working with a financial advisor before you take the plunge. Finding the right financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors, get started now.
  • Prevent potential mortgage mishaps. The payments don’t stop after you’ve put money down; you’ll also need to make mortgage payments. Figure out what those might be before you move forward by using SmartAsset’s mortgage calculator.
  • It pays to read the fine print. When thinking about your home buying transaction, don’t forget closing costs. These may seem small compared to the down payment, but every dollar counts.

Questions about our study? Contact 

Photo credit: ©

Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®). When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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How to Find All Your Debts: 4 Tips

Paying off your debts is a critical part of a healthy credit profile. Here’s what you need to know about how to find your debts.

It’s uncomfortable to admit, but it’s entirely possible that you have debts you didn’t even know about. Whether mail went missing or communication about medical debt got mixed up, it’s possible an account with your name on it is languishing somewhere in collections. Get some tips to find out all your debts so you can make educated decisions about how to clean up your credit history.

How to Find All Your Debts

Even if you keep meticulous records, it’s possible for some debts to have fallen through the cracks. And perhaps you know you owe a debt, but it’s been passed around between collection agencies so many times you’ve forgotten who currently owns the debt. Here’s how to find out which collection agency you owe or uncover debts you don’t know about.

1. Check Your Credit Reports

Our first tip for finding your hidden debts is to turn to your credit report. While not every debt is reported, many are. And if you’re in collections or have owed the debt for a while, chances are someone has placed a negative item on at least one of your credit reports.

The trick here is getting copies of all three of your credit reports from the major bureaus. Not all creditors report to all three, so TransUnion, for example, could have a detail that Equifax and Experian do not—and vice versa.

You can get one free copy of your credit report from each agency every year at (They’re available weekly for a limited time due to COVID-19.) But for those who really want to get a handle on who they owe and what’s on their report, a service such as ExtraCredit is a good choice.

ExtraCredit lets you see your credit reports from all three bureaus—anytime. The reports are pulled monthly. It also gives you regular updates on 28 of your FICO® scores, so you have a clear picture of what your credit history looks like to lenders. Plus, you can get rewards and offers for valuable credit services, including credit monitoring and credit cards.

2. Go Through Old and New Mail

Who among us hasn’t picked up the mail, only to put it in a stack by the front door and leave it there to languish for months? Life gets busy, and it can be tempting to slide unopened envelopes into a bin or drawer and forget about them. But mail can back up before you realize it, and you might miss a notice of a bill or debt.

Take some time to gather all the mail you have. Open it and sort it, carefully looking to see whether you need to take action on something or if you might owe someone money. Keep a notebook or computer nearby so you can make a list.

3. Listen to All Those Old Voicemails

Voicemail can back up just like snail mail. Many people never actually check their voicemail, assuming those who need them will call them back or text them.

Legitimate creditors and collections agencies should leave a voicemail, including contact information. They’ll also usually show up on your caller ID. 

Clear out your old voicemail, listening to each one and making notes about it. Compare that information with the notes you got from your mail and what’s on your credit report to compile a master list of debt you might owe. Keep an ear open for potential debt collection scammers and do your research before following up with anyone.

4. Contact Creditors You Think You Owe

In some cases, you know you owe someone, but it’s been a while. You can contact the last creditor you remember and find out if they still own the debt or if they wrote it off and sold it to a collection agency. They should be able to confirm your debt and give you the name and contact information for the agency that they sold the debt to, if applicable.

What to Do After You Find Your Debt

Once you go through a debt finder process and figure out who you owe money to, you have some decisions to make. Here are three tips for dealing with debt once you find it.

1. Decide Whether You Can—or Will—Pay

You might rush to pay off old debts thinking it will boost your credit, but that may not happen. Yes, the debt should then be marked as paid on your credit report. But the damage from the late payments and collection accounts could still linger.

So, you need to consider seriously how you can and will deal with old debt. If you simply can’t afford to pay, talk to a legal professional about your options, rights, and what consequences could come from paying or not paying old debt. For example, if you start making payments, the statute of limitations could restart and leave you at risk of lawsuits and legal collection activity much longer.

2. Consider Credit Repair Services

One result of digging through credit reports and chasing down old debt can be finding errors or collections you don’t actually owe. If you find inaccurate information on your credit reports, you might consider working with a credit repair service.

Credit repair services work on your behalf to dispute inaccurate information with the credit bureaus. You can actually do credit repair yourself, but if you don’t have time or just know you aren’t going to follow up, you might get more value by paying professionals to handle it for you.

3. Keep Up with Credit Reports and Debts in the Future

Finally, once you do the work to find your debt and clean it up, keep up with your credit reports in the future. While every single debt may not appear on your credit report—or appear right away—staying on top of your credit report ensures you’re aware of most of them. ExtraCredit gives you the access to your accounts that you need to keep track of your debts and your credit score.

Bonus Tip: Once you’ve found all your debts, use a debt management app like Tally to keep track of them moving forward so you’ll never have to wonder about them again.

TL;DR: ExtraCredit Could Help You Identify and Manage Your Debts

If you’ve lost track of your debts and what you owe to who, it can take some work and time to track everything down. But once you do, stay ahead of these things with help from ExtraCredit.


The Most Common Home Buying Real Estate Contingencies

Contingencies in Real Estate Explained

Do you know what a real estate contingency is and how it works? Real Estate contingencies are when some defined action or outcome must occur before a contract becomes legal and binding.

From a buyer’s perspective, a real estate contingency is an escape clause that can be used under defined circumstances. We will take an in-depth look at the most common real estate contingencies you need to understand when buying a home.

Many buyers and sellers are not well educated about the intricacy of some real estate contingency clauses. Given they are significant legal terms in a purchase and sale, it is essential to have a strong working knowledge of how they work.

Some of these clauses can benefit you when purchasing a home, so we will look at some of the contingency clauses you might encounter when buying a property.

If you are buying your first house, it will be especially beneficial to understand real estate contingencies.

Home Buying Contingencies
Home Buying Contingencies Explained

What Are The Most Common Real Estate Contingencies

These are some of the clauses that you may encounter when buying a house. The home buying contingencies below should be completely understood before signing on the dotted line of a purchase and sale agreement.

  1. Home inspection: often called a due diligence contingency, will give the buyer rights to have the house inspected. Most buyers will have a home inspection contingency in their contract. In extreme seller’s real estate markets, it is not uncommon for buyers to waive a home inspection as a way of sweetening their offer.
  2. Obtaining financing: allows the purchaser to get the funds to buy the property from a lender of their choice. Unless a buyer is paying cash, the mortgage contingency clause is almost always found in a purchase and sale agreement.
  3. Appraisal Contingency: You are waiting for a valuation and getting your loan from the bank. You need the real estate appraisal to be at a specified amount. An appraisal contingency will protect you by ensuring the property is valued at the minimum amount required by the borrower. Licensed real estate appraisers conduct appraisals that are hired by the lender.
  4. Association contingency – if there is a homeowners association, there will often be a clause stating the purchase is subject to the successful review of the association documents and financials. Buyers will want to make sure they are comfortable with all of the rules and that the HOA is financially stable.

These contingencies need to be met for a contract to become ratified and binding. While these contingencies are waiting to be performed, the property is considered a contingent house listing. It will be marked in the multiple listing as “contingent” until all the contingencies are satisfied.

When a condition or action is defined, it must be met for the contract to be binding. If these conditions are not met in a purchase contract, one of the parties may decide to terminate the agreement. The meaning of contingent has slight variation differences from state to state, so check with your real estate agent for clarification.

Real Estate Contingencies Explained

Once conditions are met, this makes the contract enforceable, and it is too late to back out without incurring legal consequences. This could involve losing part or all of your earnest money deposit. Many real estate contracts will have earnest money as the relief a seller can get for a buyer not proceeding with a contract.

  • An appraisal contingency protects the purchaser by ensuring the appraisal is at a specific figure for purchase to proceed. The purchase price of the home is usually the threshold that must be met.
  • A financing contingency gives the buyer time to raise funds for the purchase, and if they can’t raise funds, they can be released from the contract without penalty. The mortgage contingency clause will specify how much the buyer is borrowing and when they need to procure their financing.
  • Home sale contingency is put in place when the buyer has not yet sold their own home. Purchasing is contingent on making the sale first. If you are the homeowner awaiting purchase, you may want to put a time limit on this clause when signing the contract. You won’t want it to drag on for months and miss out on other buyers. Home sale contingencies are often frowned upon due to their risky nature.
  • The inspection contingency is contingent on a satisfactory house inspection report. The purchaser will need to be sure that there are no major expenditures required immediately, like a new roof. If a new roof was required, it might cause the buyer to terminate the contract or alternately to ask the seller to pay for it.
  • A homeowners association’s document contingency gives you the right to back out of the sale if you find something in the documentation that is not to your satisfaction. Quite often, it could be finding out that the neighborhood is not doing well from a financial standpoint.

Additional Contingencies in Real Estate Sales

What is a Kick-Out Clause

A buyer or seller can add the kick-out clause to protect against the house sale contingency. If a better offer comes along, a seller can move forward on a purchase agreement with a new buyer after giving the first buyer notice. The buyer with the kick-out clause in place will need to decide on moving forward in a specified amount of time. The time for a decision in a kick-out clause is usually 24-48 hours.

If the buyer does not exercise their right to move forward, the seller can move forward with a contract with buyer #2.

When working with a kick-out clause, it is not a bad idea to consult with a local attorney on crafting appropriate language. A kick-out clause is similar to the right of first refusal found in some real estate contracts.

Why You Should Pay Attention to Contingency Clauses

Real estate purchase and sale agreements are legal contracts. You must understand the details when buying and selling. Not only are huge amounts of money involved, but there is often an emotional investment as well.

Contingency clauses are there to protect you, whether you are buying or selling.

When you buy your house, the contract may say contingent on quite a few things. It is essential to work with an excellent buyer’s agent who will carefully craft appropriate contingencies to be inserted into the contract.

Whether it is a financing clause, home inspection, or some other contingency, it is crucial to stay on top of dates. You will need to make sure you follow all the designated contingency dates, so you stay within your deadlines.

By not providing notice by specified deadlines could leave you open to losing your deposits.

Contingencies Can Benefit Buyers and Sellers

You can make contingencies work for you whether you are selling or buying, as you want your transaction to run as smoothly as possible and complete in time.

So once you sell, there will be contingencies in place in the contract. A contingency is actually a condition that allows everything to move forward to completion. So it is useful when you are purchasing to have some specific contingencies in place to protect you.

Final Thoughts on Real Estate Contingencies

A contingency clearly states expectations and dates. Both buyers and sellers should have a clear understanding of all real estate contingencies meaning. Not understanding a real estate contingency could either cause problems in your transaction or, in a worst-case scenario, a loss of funds.

It is especially important for first-time home buyers to have a firm grasp of common home buying contingency clauses.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of common real estate contingencies when buying a home.


Veteran? Want to Buy a Home? Check out Veterans United Home Loans

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If you’re a veteran, and you’re looking to buy a home, a company called Veterans United Home Loans could help you buy one — no down payment needed.

Here’s why: Veterans United offers competitive, transparent rates. And it acts as a resource for military homebuyers and their families, offering 24/7 customer support over the phone.
That’s a lot of people. In fact, only four states have more people than that.

How You Could Buy a Home Without a Down Payment

You might be thinking this sounds complicated. But here’s the thing: Veterans United makes it easy. It handles all the hard parts for you, and its VA loan experts on staff know how to navigate the whole process quickly and easily. They know the benefits and processes inside and out, making sure you get every benefit you qualify for.
Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s not a veteran, but he is a homeowner.
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Also, Veterans United just makes it really simple to apply for a VA loan. You can use its website to see if you’re eligible, and it’s easy to apply for a free quote.

How to Get Started

Veterans United Home Loans is the single biggest lender for VA purchase loans in the country. It’s licensed in all 50 states, and in 2020 alone, it helped more than 86,000 service members, veterans and military families secure more than billion in VA loans. Veterans United has been the nation’s No. 1 VA purchase lender since 2016.
There are roughly 18 million U.S. military veterans. Together, they make up about a seventh of the country.

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