Laurel Abbott

Buying a home is the biggest investment you are likely to make in your lifetime. It is prudent to be prepared for the changes that it will bring.

After your lender tells you what you can qualify for, make certain that you are comfortable with what the monthly budget feels like. While you are looking for a home, live as if you are already servicing that mortgage, including property taxes, insurance, utilities and maintenance.

After you’ve tried out the payment, make sure it isn’t too much of a burden. The bank ratios for loan qualifying are much more realistic than they were, and home buyers have less of an opportunity to get themselves into trouble. I’m suggesting that you take the time to make sure that your new living situation as an owner of property isn’t going to untenably change your lifestyle.

It’s also a good idea to have $5,000 to $10,000 on reserve in your budget at all times for any repairs that can come up during home ownership, such as a water heater going out, sewer line fixes or unexpected roof work.

With your new budget, do you have to give up those cocktails at the El Encanto? Does the term “stay-cation” give you hives? (Side note: If it does while you’re living in Santa Barbara, then perhaps you’re a bit spoiled, but that’s another discussion.)

If you do start to feel a bit pressed in your budget trial, think about buying a less expensive house, maybe not taking on that fixer that requires a lot of cash to make livable or opting for a condo. Santa Barbara is a great place to own any kind of real estate, and almost 70 percent of our business is locals moving around trying out different neighborhoods, moving up or downsizing.

Your first purchase isn’t likely to be your last. Find a partner in a local Realtor to make your dreams a realistic destination.

Laurel Abbott is a real estate agent with Prudential California Realty and president of the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors. Contact her at or 805.879.8050. The opinions expressed are her own.