I am absolutely in love with the house I live in…most of the time at least. There have been things I never realized I’d love so much and others that I wish I would have considered more thoroughly. Right now we’re planning to live here for quite some time, but I still wonder if we would do things differently if we had the opportunity to turn back time.
Hindsight is always 20/20 though, so in reality I’m lucky we had such great advice going into our purchase. If it hadn’t been for our parents and a great realtor, God only knows where we’d be living. So for those of you about to make this huge decision, here’s my best advice and some important things to consider:
Plan to Live There for a Really Long Time
When my husband and I bought our house we knew we wanted a starter home that we would live in for 3-5 years before making a leap to our “forever” home. Well, over 5 years later we’re still there and now all I keep thinking about is how I can turn this house into our forever home. I’ve grown to love it and even though it’s much smaller than the house I grew up in, I think (and hope) it will be perfect to raise my kids in. And aside from the emotional attachment, there are other reasons we’re still here. Some are circumstantial (like switching to a one-income household) and others are logistical (I have no idea how I could handle a move with small children and pets). Whatever the reasons may be, time changes things and you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you’re forced to move when you really don’t want to.
Be Prepared to Move if You’re Miserable
On the other end of the spectrum, don’t buy a house that you can’t feasibly move out of if it turns out to be a horrible purchase. There are a ton of things that are outside of your control, many of which are completely unpredictable, so you need to be prepared to leave (even at a loss) if your quality of life is seriously being affected. There are thousands of stories of families being stuck in homes because their house value decreased too much, but there are other factors that can make your home unlivable. You can’t put a price on your mental health, so don’t put yourself in a position that you can’t get out of.
Don’t Underestimate Maintenance
In my humble opinion, the cost and time of maintaining your home directly correlates to the square footage of your house and surrounding property. One of the things I loved most about our house was the beautiful garden outside AND all the space I would have to add more gardens. Now I sometimes stare at apartment buildings envious of the people inside who are probably drinking wine and eating cheese because they have so much time when they’re NOT weeding and mowing the lawn. Same goes for inside – the larger the house is, the more you need to clean. And more importantly, the more it will cost to keep it heated and cooled. This is the #1 biggest reason I love my little home and am terrified of the thought of something larger.
Location, Location, Location
Everybody’s heard that before – location, location, location. But I’m telling you, it’s not just a cheesy saying. It is so unbelievably important and one of the biggest factors that you can’t change once you’ve purchased your home. On top of the obvious factors like crime rate and school district, you also want to consider proximity to essentials like a grocery store, dry cleaners, and gas station. And whatever you do, don’t forget the specifics of your lot – are you in a flood zone? Are there tons of trees around? Flooding is NOT something you want to deal with and trees can be bittersweet. They’re beautiful, add tons of privacy, and the shade can really cut down your utility costs, but the roots can be a real pain for your pipes.
You will never, ever, ever understand how important neighbors are until you’ve had bad ones. And unfortunately, it’s a factor that is nearly impossible to figure out ahead of time. There are some things you can do though. Drive around the property at different times of the day and on different days of the week. Are they neighbors outside? Can you get a feel for who lives there? Are their dogs barking? Do they have a fence? Do they mow their lawn? The house NEXT to the one you’re thinking about buying may actually be more important than your actual purchase. Please, please, please do not underestimate this factor. We’ve had people peering in our windows, camped on our front stoop, and howling at the moon (I. Am. Not. Kidding.). Needless to say, had we driven past on a full moon and heard the howls, we would not have bought the house. (P.S. The howling has stopped – PHEW).
Only Get a Mortgage that Can Be Supported by One Income
The first time we consulted a loan officer about how much we could borrow we couldn’t believe how much they would loan us. They use a set formula, so in theory they are looking out for you, but you have to be really careful if that loan amount is based off of two incomes. Even if your plan to be a double-income home forever, you never know what will happen. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be staying home with my son, but the second I was pregnant everything changed. Thank God we took out a loan much less than what they were willing to offer us because otherwise I wouldn’t have had the choice to stay at home.
Fight the Temptation and DON’T Get a Fixer-Upper
There is a very specific kind of person that will actually enjoy living in a fixer-upper while they’re fixing it up – and that person is not most of us. Fixing up is much, much harder than you think and takes much, much longer than you think, and is usually much, much more expensive than you think. TV makes it look very sexy, but I promise there’s nothing sexy about it. You want to LOVE the house you live in. You don’t want to spend years and years fixing it up just to sell it right away. Do that on the side as an investment, but not as your primary home.
Be Ready to Spend Money on Big Fixes Immediately
No matter how hard you try to find a house in mint condition, there will always be fixes (and some can be fairly large) within the first few months. Maybe it’s because you’ll be using the house a little differently than the previous owners or maybe it’s just new homeowners’ luck. Either way, it’s going to happen, so be ready with an emergency fund right away. Hot water heaters, HVACs, appliances, and roofs love to start wearing away when you least expect it.
That’s all I’ve got! Good luck with your new home purchase. 🙂 Let me know if there are any major pieces of advice you think I left out.