Dear Dave,

My husband and I are debt-free, and we have an emergency fund of six months of expenses saved. We’d like to buy a home in the $250,000 to $275,000 price range in the near future, and we plan on saving $60,000 for a down payment. It should take a little less than two years to save that much money. When should we begin the search for a good real estate agent and start the underwriting process? — Sarah

Dear Sarah,

I’m really proud of you two. You’re being very intentional and goal-oriented about getting control of your finances and the home buying process.

I’d advise starting a conversation with a quality mortgage company when you’re about five or six months away from your savings goal date. There’s “pre-approval,” but there’s also something called “certified.” That’s a step beyond pre-approved, and it basically puts you in a position to make an offer when you’re ready for the purchase. So, getting certified as a buyer is very helpful. After that, sit down and talk with a few agents. Interview them, and decide on someone you like and trust. Find an experienced agent you’re comfortable with to guide you through the real estate world, and then start outlining your search and buying strategy.

What I would not do is jump from agent to agent. There’s a tremendous benefit in finding someone you trust and feel good about. I’m talking about a buyer’s agent who’s going to fight for you. This means someone who will show you several different properties, keep your wants and needs foremost in their mind, and help you get the best possible buy on your new home! — Dave

A Home Shouldn’t Leave You House Poor

Dear Dave,

My husband and I were listening to your radio show the other day. In it, you were speaking to a lady about buying a home. When you talk about mortgage payments being 25 percent or less of your take-home pay, does this figure include taxes and insurance or just principal and interest? —Ann

Dear Ann,

That figure includes taxes and insurance, too. The whole idea is to make sure your house payment is manageable. You don’t want to have so much money going toward your mortgage every month, what I call being “house poor,” that you can’t take care of your other financial responsibilities or enjoy life.

It’s simple. You have more money when you don’t have debt. If you want to build wealth, you have to get out of the payment business. When one-third to one-half of everything you bring home is going to creditors, you have less money for other stuff—other important stuff.

Trust me, I get it. A home is a huge expense that very few people, especially those just starting out, can afford to pay for in cash. That’s why I don’t beat people up for getting a 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage. But that’s the only kind of mortgage I recommend.

And yes, make sure the monthly payments are just 25 percent, or less, of your take-home pay! — Dave

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Dave Ramsey is CEO of Ramsey Solutions. He has authored seven best-selling books, including The Total Money Makeover. The Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 16 million listeners each week on 600 radio stations and multiple digital platforms. Follow Dave on the web at daveramsey.com and on Twitter at @DaveRamsey.

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