When Is It Time to Buy Your Forever Home?
It’s not always possible to buy your forever home earlier in life, but when do you know it’s time to buy the home you plan to live in forever?
Maybe you’ve finally outgrown your starter home, or you’re looking to settle down in a house you plan to live out your days in. In either case, you might be telling friends and family that you’re shopping for that forever home.
But what is a forever home, exactly, and when should you look to buy a property you plan to stay in long-term?
“An average buyer will own at least one home their entire life. However, with inflation, high mortgage rates, and low housing inventory, this has reduced by 50 to 70%,” Alex Capozzolo, co-founder of Brotherly Love Real Estate. “People are now more inclined towards renting properties until they have the means to purchase one.”
How can you beat the odds and find the perfect fit? These experts have tips on what to look for in a forever home and when to get serious about finding it.
What is a forever home?
Unlike a starter home, a forever home is one that you can see yourself and your family fitting in long-term. In other words, you won’t outgrow it anytime soon, and you don’t want to make a ton of compromises when it comes to your wish list. If you’ve always wanted a three-car garage, where else will you get it than with your forever home?
Starter homes, on the other hand, are typically smaller and more affordable. They’re homes that newlyweds might buy knowing they’ll leave after their second child is born, for example. That might mean compromising on a smaller yard in favor of a more affordable mortgage payment.
“A starter home is a house that is typically the first that a person can afford to buy. Starter homes are generally one- or two-bed properties,” Capozzolo says. “Buyers with limited financial means generally consider starter homes. They might also be a choice for people who are trying to save money for an upgrade to a better neighborhood or a bigger house, for example.”
Real estate agents also say the expectations around starter homes, forever homes, and when you might own each are changing, especially as the barriers to entry in the housing market change.
“The term ‘forever home’ is a little dated now,” says Stephanie LoVerde, agent at Baird & Warner in Chicago. “Previous generations might have bought a house and lived there for a long time, but today we don’t necessarily have those same ties and commitments to stay put for as long. Data from the National Association of Realtors in 2022 found that the average homeowner stayed in a home for 8 years in 2021, down from 10 years in their homes in 2020 and 2019.”
The term forever home can also be more of a relative one, LoVerde points out. Say for example a couple buys a forever home but ends up spending the remaining years of their lives in senior living. “Forever” in that case didn’t fully pan out, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a long-term home or their last home-buying experience.
“There is an emotional delicacy to talking about forever homes because the term evokes such clear expectations of your future lifestyle,” LoVerde says. “I advise clients to focus on the here and now and work with the things that we know.”
When should you start looking for your forever home?
There are pretty hard rules of thumb for the age at which you should start saving for retirement, and when you should start getting annual screenings at the doctor, but when it comes to your forever home, no age is really the perfect one.
“There is no magic number for when people buy a forever home,” Capozzolo says. “Everyone’s situation is different based on finances and availability among other factors. So, there is no statistical answer to this.”
In other words, when you feel you’re ready for that next step, then it’s likely time to search for your forever home.
“There isn’t a quantifiable threshold in terms of age or income where buyers should be looking beyond their current needs and trying to decide where they will live ‘forever,’” LoVerde says.
If you find yourself feeling cramped in your home, longing for certain features you always said you’d have “one day,” or ready to take on a bit more of a mortgage payment as your lifestyle changes, then it could be the right time.
“For some, it might be when their kids are young, for others, it could be when they are reaching retirement,” Capozzolo says. “This is a fluid situation.”
That said, there are definitely some financial considerations to make before you make the leap. Start by talking to a lender and real estate agent, and get serious. Overall, Capozzolo says he notices buyers who are ready for a forever home are more intentional about the buying process.
“Prospective home buyers are more serious about options, and their finances, and are on the research themselves,” he says. “They know what they want and are on track to achieve it.”
What to Look for as You Search for Your Forever Home
Unlike starter homes, which you buy with the expectation that it might be relatively temporary, you’ll want to have more of a laser focus on your list of needs and wants as you select a forever home, starting with the surrounding area.
“The neighborhood is a dealbreaker for any type of home. The type of neighborhood also factors into the cost of the property,” Capozzolo says. “As such, it should be justified. A forever home is a long-term commitment, so you must emphasize the neighborhood. You might want to look into an already-established neighborhood or look into something that is being developed. This will offer an efficient return on investment.”
To evaluate a neighborhood, LoVerde suggests looking at the local school district, whether the location has easy access to parks and public transportation, and the area’s walkability.
“These things contribute to your quality of life over many years and will make a property more valuable as a long-term—if not ‘forever’—investment,” she says.
And while your forever home doesn’t necessarily have to be larger than your starter home, it could be one of the features on your wishlist that you’re prioritizing.
“When looking at forever homes, consider aspects such as size, requirement, location, etc. based on your present and future situation,” Capozzolo says. “If you are a young couple and buy a smaller forever home today, it might not work out for you when you have children. You will have spent a large amount of money only to relocate. So, consider your situation when deciding on a forever home.”
“When I work with buyers, I try to remove the pressure of calling something a ‘forever home’ and instead tailor the conversation to focus on finding their ‘next home,’” says LoVerde. “I have conversations with clients about what they are looking for, what their financial situation allows, and how long they plan to stay in their next home, but you can never predict the future.”