Planning tips for first-time home buyers

Are you among the thousands of Manitobans who pay rent each and every month, knowing that you’ll never see that money again?
For many, this need not be the case. Why not take income lost forever to rent and build it into an investment that can last a lifetime? Right now, there are excellent opportunities for first-time buyers — mortgage rates are low and there is an abundance of reasonably-priced starter homes on the market.
Before you run out and start looking at homes, it is a good idea to first take a look at what you need, what you want and what you can afford. Whatever your taste and budget, there is a home out there for you. It will just take a little planning and forethought to make your dream of being a home owner come true.
What kind of home do you need?
Buying a home is never based on one specific factor: instead, it is a balance of many requirements, things like family size, location, income and lifestyle. REALTORS® are excellent sources of advice and assistance in these matters. Not only do they have the experience and knowledge to make sure the choice you make will be the right one, but they also can help you find the right property.
The first thing you need to do is decide exactly what you need in a home. How many bedrooms? How close to schools or shopping? Do you need a garage or finished basement? These kinds of questions can be itemized in a “buying blueprint” that will serve as a guideline in your search.
Next on your agenda should be deciding on a preferred location. City or suburbs? City or small town? Town or country? 
City dwellers tend to think that living in a smaller, outlying community would be idyllic, but forget about the commuting factor. How will the roads be in the winter? Do you really want to drive 45 minutes or an hour every day, winter and summer, to get to your dream home?
Once you decide on a general area you wish to live in, you will probably find that there are a good number of options when it comes to the age and type of home you might purchase.
New homes are a good bet because of their extensive warranties and pristine condition. On the other hand, you won’t have mature trees or landscaping, which is something you will have to plan and work at over a long period of time.
Resale homes offer a great combination of affordability and character. Many will include improvements such as finished basements or rec rooms, decks or patios and mature landscaping. They may also come with repairs and upgrading in the near future.
Townhouses and condominiums are obviously suited to particular lifestyles or budgets. Maintenance is usually taken care of by the management and upkeep costs can be low. Townhouse or condominium living often means sharing common areas such as parking, hallways and landscaping.
Rural properties offer the ambience that many of us crave: green pastures, wooded areas, friendly community and safer streets. These pluses must be weighed against more limited services and additional commuting time.
What can you afford?
Once you have determined what it is you want and need, you will have to find out what you can afford. It is crucial to avoid a situation referred to as “house poor.” Many homeowners have found themselves in a position where the costs of paying for the home are so burdensome that any enjoyment is outweighed by the pressure of the monetary commitment.
So the first thing to do is set a maximum price range instead of just an upper price. It is not always wise to buy the most expensive home you can afford, but better to aim lower in anticipation of extra costs or fluctuations in your income.
What you can afford will be based on two things: the amount of your down payment and the maximum monthly payments. Obviously, it is preferable to make as large a down payment as possible; this will keep your payments down and save money in interest costs.
A REALTOR® or your financial institution will determine the amount of the mortgage you can carry by calculating your debt-service ratio. The rule of thumb is that the sum of all your current loan payments (car, personal, credit card, etc.) plus your mortgage payment should not exceed 40 per cent of your gross income. In addition, mortgage payments and property taxes should not be more than 30 per cent of gross income.
Buying your first home may seem intimidating in the beginning, but with careful planning and a clear idea of what you want, home ownership can be a joyful reality for you and your family.
— provided by the Manitoba Real Estate Association.