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Ask Farnoosh: How Much Car Can I Afford?

Tim emails: My rental property has been on the market for about 4 months, receiving no offers. My realtor says there hasn't been any negative feedback, just people aren't really taken away by it. She thinks it's because it's empty with no furniture. She's quoted me $1,600 to have someone come by and "stage" it for the next several months to try to entice buyers. Is this worth it? Or a waste of money?
 
Dear Tim,
 
Buying a home – while one of, if not, the biggest purchase of a lifetime – is very much an emotional process. It’s been proven that when you make your home more appealing with the right décor, furniture – and even scent – you can boost your chances of making a sale.  In fact, a Duke University study found that a house on the market is better off furnished, rather than empty. It’s more inviting and allows prospective buyers to imagine actually living in the space. 
 
But before you drop thousands of dollars on professional staging, keep in mind that some critical aspects of staging require little to no money down. “The first thing you need to do is make sure your windows are clean. It sounds obvious but buyers want a view and it’s one of those things that we often overlook but makes a huge difference,” says Kathy Braddock, co-founder of Rutenberg Realty in New York. Next, inspect your home for small but annoying issues. Do the doors squeak? Cabinets not closing properly? How’s the water pressure? Addressing those issues is an important part of your home’s overall presentation. Also, invest in small, aroma-enhancing additions like fresh flowers and oven-baked cookies during an open house. If your home was already furnished, I’d also recommend hiding personal items like framed pictures and toothbrushes, and de-cluttering the entryway and window areas.
 
From here, if you’re still considering hiring a professional staging team to furnish your empty property, spending a couple thousand dollars is not unheard of, more if your rooms need a fresh coat of paint. “A midsize family home would cost about $3,000 to $5,000 to paint and stage with furniture,” says Braddock. But if done well, she says, the investment should help to move your home off the market faster. To minimize costs, consider staging just a few key areas of the home, like the entryway, kitchen and master bedroom.

Keith Florian @KeithFlorian asks: Do you have some type of ratio as far as purchasing a car to make numbers easy? If I make $100K, how much car can I afford?
 
A solid rule of thumb is to spend no more than 15% to 20% of your take-home pay each month on a car payment. Leave room for operating costs like maintenance, insurance and gas, as well, within that budget. So, if your pay – after taxes – is $100,000, you’re looking at a total budget of no more than $1,667 a month toward car expenses.
 
Of course, that’s assuming you don’t have any major life events coming up that require substantial savings (e.g. baby, a new home, graduate school). In that case, you want to spend even less.
 
Ron Montoya, consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com actually calls 20 the “magic number,” as he sees it’s also helpful to place a down payment of 20% to offset some of the vehicle’s first-year depreciation. And the site’s “How Much Can I Afford” calculator gives prospective car buyers specific suggestions based on their price range.
 
Having said that, when trying to score at the dealership, try not to get too fixated on a vehicle’s monthly costs. “Focusing too much on the monthly payment is a great way to get a bad deal,” says Joe Wiesenfelder, executive editor of Cars.com. You might blindly get convinced of buying a ride that, while sweet and matches your price point, carries high maintenance costs, has poor resale value or receives so-so mileage.  Rather than immediately telling the salesperson you want to spend no more than, say, $1,000 a month, pinpoint the model you like and “negotiate the cost of the car first,” he says.  Then, with a low interest rate and loan term spread over several years, you could then very well reach a monthly figure below that 20% figure.
 
Got a question for Farnoosh? You can reach her on Twitter @Farnoosh or email her atfarnooshfinfit@yahoo.com.

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