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If you're wondering whether it's a good time to buy a house, ask this instead: Is it a good time in my life to buy a house?
Current economic indicators and the state of your local housing market give important context for your decision. But whether this is a good time for you to buy a house also depends on your financial situation, life goals and readiness to become a homeowner.
Here's what to consider.
Current market advantages for home buyers
Low mortgage rates
Mortgage rates are at historic lows these days, which makes buying a home more affordable than when rates are higher. The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 2.9% in August, according to rates provided to NerdWallet by Zillow.
After a period of lenders tightening their loan criteria, credit availability is on the rise, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Higher credit availability means it's easier to qualify for a loan.
Current market disadvantages for home buyers
Here are the challenges you'll face in today's market.
Competition among buyers
Demand for homes is high, but inventory is low, making this a seller's market across the country. A seller's market happens when there are more prospective buyers than homes for sale.
The stiff competition for homes means fewer choices, higher prices and quicker sales. Eighty-seven percent of existing homes sold in August 2021 were on the market for less than a month, according to the National Association of Realtors. The typical time on the market was just 17 days, unchanged from the previous month and down from 22 days in August 2020, the association said.
Higher home prices
The median existing home price was $356,700 in August, up 14.9% from August 2020, according to NAR. Prices rose year-over-year in each region of the country.
» MORE: Buying a house in 2021
Your readiness to buy a home
Ask yourself these questions to explore whether you're ready to buy a home.
Prepared to put down roots?
Think about your life goals, relationships and interests. How long can you see yourself living in this location?
Ideally you'd want to remain in the home long enough for rising property values and your equity to exceed the costs of buying and selling, including real estate commissions and mortgage closing costs. That will typically take a number of years.
You could also be subject to capital gains taxes if the home appreciates in value and you sell it after less than two years.
How's your job security?
A mortgage is a big commitment and can become a stressful burden after a job loss, so it's not a good time to buy a home if you think you'll get laid off.
Wait until your employment is stable before thinking about buying a house.
Are you financially prepared?
Here are the three main ingredients to evaluate:
You'll need money for a down payment and mortgage closing costs, and for moving and other expenses after you buy the home. The down payment requirements vary by the type of mortgage and the lender. The more you put down, the lower your monthly mortgage payment.
» MORE: How to save money for a house
Lenders generally offer the best mortgage rates and terms to borrowers with credit scores of 740 and above, although you can qualify for a mortgage with a score in the 600s. Of purchase mortgages closed in July, about 6% were for borrowers with FICO credit scores of 600 to 649, and about 16% were for borrowers with credit scores of 650 to 699.
The options are much slimmer with a score in the 500s. A fraction of 1% of all purchase loans were for borrowers with a FICO score of 500 to 599.
If your credit is marginal, it might make sense to postpone buying a house and use the time to work on building your credit.
The average FICO credit score for closed mortgage loans in July 2021 was 740, down from an average of 750 in July 2020, according to mortgage data provider ICE Mortgage Technology.
Lenders look at your debt-to-income ratio, or DTI, to help determine whether you qualify for a mortgage. Your DTI is the percentage of your monthly gross income that goes toward monthly debt payments, including housing costs, as well as car, student loan, credit card and other debt obligations. Lenders like to see a DTI of 36% or below. The lower your DTI, the better your chances of qualifying for a mortgage.