Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Tips for Young Single Buyers in the New Year

A single woman of 29 definitely plans to buy a city condo one day. But first she intends to get her career moving, travel abroad and pay back her nearly $200,000 in student debt.

Ashley Dixon, a certified financial planner for an advisory firm focused on millennial clients, isn’t surprised by the young woman’s intentions. Many of her clients in the same age group share her sentiments.

“Single millennials would still like to have that ‘forever home.’ But first they want to put all the loose pieces of their life together,” says Dixon, who’s affiliated with Gen Y Planning, an advisory firm focused on clients in their 20s and 30s.

Although many young adults delay a home purchase, she insists they’re just as motivated as their parents were to own -- particularly once they commit to a job and metro area they like. Research from the National Association of Realtors (www.realtor.org) indicates that many millennials aspire to own property as soon as they’re financially able.

Moreover, the association reports that the share of overall home sales involving first-time buyers is gradually increasing. In November, it rose to 33 percent, compared with 31 percent during the same month in 2017.

Dixon advises her single clients to be even more conservative than married purchasers with dual incomes. That’s because singles rarely have a second income to fall back on if they can’t meet their mortgage payments.

Here are a few pointers for single buyers:

-- Avoid maxing out on your mortgage.

Among homeowners who faced foreclosure during the downturn were many who used an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM). At the introductory “teaser rate,” they were comfortable handling the payments on their home loan. But once their ARM adjusted upward, they were in trouble.

Merrill Ottwein, a real estate broker who specializes in relocations, says many past problems with ARMs were the fault of lenders who failed to fully explain all the terms involved. But in other cases, borrowers were to blame for overextending themselves. Either way, he says numerous owners might have avoided foreclosure had they simply taken a traditional fixed-rate mortgage.

“All ARMs introduce an element of risk. That’s why I never recommend taking one,” says Ottwein, a former president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (www.naeba.org).

-- Consider a property a roommate might share.

You may be one of those young singles who longs to finally be free of roommates. Even so, Ottwein says it might still be wise to choose a property suitable for a rent-paying roommate, just in case.

“Just knowing you have the right sort of house to share can relieve a lot of homeowner anxiety,” he says.

Single buyers who wish to keep open the option of having a roommate should make sure they choose a property with an extra bedroom and at least two bathrooms.

“Location and floor plan are the key factors that determine if having a roommate is a realistic idea,” Ottwein says.

-- Look for energy efficiency in the place you buy.

Margaret Smith, a certified financial adviser who works on a fee-only basis, says that many young singles are unpleasantly surprised by the size of their utility bills in their new homes. But she says more young purchasers are now beginning to shop for energy-efficient housing -- the same way they’re choosing gas-saving vehicles.

To estimate the energy costs of a property, she recommends buyers ask the current owners for copies of their utility bills, ideally going back two years or more. Then factor in annual cost increases.

To educate yourself on the topic of energy-efficient housing, Ottwein suggests you go to the internet. One website he recommends for this purpose, energystar.gov, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Also, he recommends you ask your home inspector to assess the energy efficiency of any property you might buy. Have the inspector check for energy-efficient windows, as well as insulation throughout the home.

-- Keep your friends in mind when choosing a home.

If you’re like most singles, having a vibrant social life is a top priority. Smith says you don’t have to live in the same neighborhood as friends to stay in close touch. But you won’t want to locate yourself so far away that your only regular contact is through social media.

“There’s little worse than buying a home where you’re stuck out in the middle of nowhere, stranded from your network of friends,” she says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)