I am a 41-year-old single woman and never before thought I would buy a home on my own. But I don't want to rent anymore, because I feel like I'm throwing money away. I have $35,000 in savings and $30,000 invested in my 401(k). I earn $80,000 a year and currently pay $1,500 each month in rent. How much can I spend to buy a condominium?

Suze Says:
Like many single women, you may have been waiting to be in a committed relationship before buying a house. But good for you that you're not sticking to that old-fashioned notion. You are ready to buy on your own. And how fabulous that you have the financial ability to do just that!

I like your idea of buying a condominium unit. It's a nice transition from renting to owning. But you need to understand a few basic issues that pertain to condos. In addition to your mortgage, insurance, and property taxes, you're also going to pay a monthly association or maintenance fee to the condo management. It's your share of the costs of maintaining all the public areas within the condo, as well as security. It's smart to find out how many times the fee has been raised in the past five years and by how much, so you can get a decent idea of what to expect down the road.

Focus on condos where at least 90 percent of the owners live in their units, rather than rent them out. It makes for a much better sense of community and affects resale value. I also want you, or a real estate lawyer, to make sure there aren't any lawsuits against the owner or builder of the condo, or any other legal problems. That's especially important if it's new construction that hasn't been completed. You don't want to move in and then find out the elevators won't be finished because the developer went belly-up. Also, check out how soundproof your unit is. Better to find out before you sign the contract that your upstairs neighbor wears three-inch Jimmy Choo slingbacks on her hardwood floors and has a penchant for punk rock. You get the idea: You need to be careful and thorough.

Okay, now we're ready to talk money. I think it's smart for your monthly housing costs to be about the same as your current $1,500 rent. I want you to be comfortable with your investment. So let's go with what we know you can handle.


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