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A Guide for First Time Homebuyers in the Eastern Panhandle

Buying your first home is the most expensive--and most important--purchase you’ve ever made. As a new homebuyer, you probably feel a mix of emotions: excitement but also anxiety and overwhelm. There’s a lot of information to digest and decisions to make, such as choosing a realtor and mortgage lender. JSB is the oldest bank in Jefferson County, West Virginia. We’ve helped generations of individuals and families buy their first home in the Eastern Panhandle region. Our mission of enhancing our customers’ lives continues today, which is why we created this first-time homebuyer guide for you. We’ll give you all the information you need, without overwhelming you. And instead of generic advice, we’ve localized this guide for your Berkeley or Jefferson County community. Local decision-making also drives our mortgage loan application process. Contact one of our loan officers today to learn more about the benefits of partnering with a community bank for your home loan.

 Buy your first home with confidence using these helpful tips from JSB

 

How much house can I afford in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle?

The median sales price on homes in Jefferson County is $231,200, while Berkeley County is slightly more affordable, with a median sales price of $186,300. To find out how close to the median price you can afford to pay, it’s helpful to get pre-approved for a mortgage loan. This process requires some basic information and will not affect your credit score. Unlike playing with mortgage calculators online, a loan pre-approval letter provides concrete evidence of the maximum amount a mortgage lender may approve you for. Pre-approvals do not guarantee a certain loan amount, but they make you a more informed buyer, which real estate agents and sellers like. Also, going through the pre-approval process gives you a chance to discuss steps you can take--such as paying down credit card debt or improving your credit score--if you aren’t satisfied with your pre-approval letter.

 

How much can you really afford?

When it comes to home ownership, it’s best to follow the Scouts’ motto of “Be Prepared.” Unlike renting, when your monthly expenses are fixed except for small fluctuations in utility payments, owning a home involves paying for unexpected repairs, such as a leaky pipe or broken furnace. Therefore, you’ll want to leave a margin between your monthly mortgage payment and the rest of your budget. Save that extra cash for all the unanticipated surprises that come with being a homeowner.

A general rule is to spend no more than 30 percent of your monthly post-tax income on housing (mortgage payment, taxes, and insurance). It’s also best to put down 20 percent if possible—the larger your down payment, the lower your loan principal and monthly payments will be. A 20 percent down payment will also help you avoid private mortgage insurance.

 Buying a home is one of the biggest financial decisions you'll make.

Of course, the right percentages will differ slightly among homebuyers. A person with student loans, for example, might want to aim for spending only 25 percent of their post-tax income on housing. Remember that a lot of your post-tax income is already spoken for each month. From debt payments to utility bills and child support, it’s important to leave yourself that margin between your fixed expenses and total income. Not only to save for a rainy day but also to enjoy life in the present.

 

Budgeting for Home Ownership

First-time buyers don’t become homeowners overnight. It’s a process you may have started months or even years ago, when you first identified home ownership as a goal and began to save your down payment. As part of your home buying prep work, start thinking—and budgeting—like a homeowner.

Basic Budget Math

The goal of any budget is to keep your monthly expenses from exceeding your monthly income. If your budget doesn’t succeed at this first goal, it’s hard or impossible to achieve any others, such as saving or paying down debt.

To budget like a homeowner, consider the difference between what your current monthly rent and your expected monthly housing payment. If the latter is more than the former, the extra money will have to come from somewhere. You can cut back on discretionary spending, but don’t forget about that margin. We keep repeating it because it’s that important.

Familiarize yourself with your debt-to-income ratio and credit score.

For example, not all of the costs associated with owning a home are unpleasant. Many people discover a greater enthusiasm for decorating and maintaining a house once they are an owner instead of a renter. And if you’re moving into a bigger space, you’ll likely need some additional furnishings.

You may also want to think now about the home chores you are able and willing to do. Will you or your partner mow the lawn perform other yard work, or would you rather outsource it to a lawn care company?

The best way to create a budget is to be realistic, even erring on the side of caution.

 

Living in Berkeley or Jefferson County, WV

Our Eastern Panhandle region of West Virginia offers a comfortable lifestyle at a more affordable price than neighboring DC metro areas. A family of two adults and two children would need about $7,400/month to cover typical fixed costs such as housing, transportation, child care, and more. This comes from the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator—you can adjust it to reflect your own situation.

Education

The Jefferson County Public School System and Berkeley County Schools are both well-regarded districts that offer free pre-k programs to children aged 4.

There are also multiple private school options in both counties. And among the area’s higher ed options, the Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg provides two-year degree programs in technical training and workforce development.

Where To Live

West Virginia is a state with abundant natural beauty, and the Eastern Panhandle region is no exception. Close to the Appalachian Trail and the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, you’ll find plenty of outdoor recreation here. There are also closely-knit small towns with history and modern amenities. Among the many choices of communities, we’ve highlighted the towns where JSB is located.

No matter where you decide to live, we have five convenient locations in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and Sharpsburg Maryland to serve your lending and banking needs.

 

Partner with your local mortgage lender!

Choosing the right mortgage loan and lender is just as important as choosing the right home. At JSB, we offer a community banking style that includes friendly service and local expertise. Check out the home loan options on our mortgage page and give us a call or visit your nearest JSB location to speak with a lender. We can also help you find a realtor and if you’re new to town, we can recommend all the local things you need to set up your new life.

Speak with a mortgage specialist at JSB!

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