7 Things You Need to Know Before Buying Your First House

by Ashley Marcin on 13 July 2015 (1 comment)

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My husband and I bought our first house when we were in our early twenties. Almost a decade later, we recently closed on our second home. We learned a great deal throughout the process, but we definitely had more confidence this time around. We were older, yes, and also wiser having gone through all the preparation, negotiations, and random struggles for the second time. But if I could go back, here are all the things I wish I had known before we signed on the line for that first deal. 

First-time buyers — review these tips to help you through a complicated process.

Settling Isn’t Always Wise

When we went around neighborhoods looking at various to-be homes, we’d evaluate them based on a checklist. Inevitably, we wouldn’t find absolutely everything we were looking for, so we’d discuss if we could deal with a place that, say, didn’t have a garage or another that had only one tiny bathroom. The old kitchen in another was hardly functional and our budget wouldn’t allow for remodel. Eventually we did our fair share of settling and took on some not-so ideal features. These same features were — surprise! — difficult to sell when we put our place on the market last year. If you’re not choosing a forever home, consider what's sticking out as a negative. Chances are it will delay future resale unless you have the funds to transform it.

Sellers Will Negotiate

Depending on where you live, markets can vary wildly according to location. Where we live, there’s a glut of great houses sitting vacant at ridiculously low prices. In a college town just an hour north of us, you can’t snag a deal unless you know a house is going to be listed weeks in advance. Then there’s usually a bidding war. (Your agent should know this information specific to your area.) When we were buying our first house, we were so concerned with possibly insulting sellers that we weren’t terribly aggressive with our offers despite it being a buyer’s market. In fact, we even bid above asking price on our first house because we heard multiple offers were coming in, which may or may not have been true. We spent a good amount of time feeling like we paid too much, which is especially hard to reconcile when putting a place back on the market years later.

Agents Really Matter

Our first one didn’t do much to guide our search or lead negotiations. At the time, we thought this was the norm — that perhaps all the agent does is give us access to see the homes we’ve requested and to give us paperwork. Seems simple enough. Well, from our second sale and purchase, I can tell you that an experienced and politely aggressive agent can make a massive difference. Ours was a huge advocate for us and helped lower the asking price, deal with some tricky closing issues, and move the whole process ahead faster during snags. She definitely earned her commission.

You’ll Fall In Love Again (and Again) 

Having gone through a number of houses and potential homes by now, I assure you: You will fall in love with many properties. You might think that this or that home is the only place you can ever imagine nesting. Then something else will pop up and blow your socks off. Promise. If you’re not getting the price or overall deal you want with a certain house, it’s totally fine (and recommended) to walk away. Chances are it won’t sell immediately (and you can revisit negotiations) or a place even more awesome will pop up. Just keep your eyes and ears open.

You’ll Need Savings . . .

Even if you buy a relatively new home, you shouldn’t deplete your savings account with your down payment. In the first year we lived in ours, we had to unexpectedly fix some plumbing issues in the bathroom. A DIY project to remove the carpeting in the kitchen turned ugly and expensive. Then the water heater died one cold January day. You see where this is going. Unexpected costs pile up, and you need to be prepared to financially deal with them. Consider this a kind warning before stretching your budget higher.

. . . And Some Stress Management Skills

At the height of the buying process, I felt like we were hemorrhaging money. We handed over a grand for our earnest deposit, a few hundred more for the home inspection and another hefty fee for this or that application. Then came the loan process as a whole. Since I’m self-employed, the amount of documentation needed for my employment started to feel terribly invasive and almost accusatory. After that hurdle was cleared, we tried coordinating moving plans and other logistics only to discover that the closing was moved back due to a missed code issue (the deck was an inch too high and needed a railing — more money). It’s not always this way, but it’s best to set up a support system and maybe even some yoga classes in advance. Keep breathing.

Neighborhood Has Big Impact

We lucked out the first time around in that our house was situated in a quiet, quaint neighborhood with nice neighbors. However, we didn’t check out any of this stuff during our search. We liked the house, rushed to the office to sign the papers and submit our deposit, and kept our blinders on until we moved in. With our second house, we spent a good amount of time researching the schools in the area, checking out the walkability score, and meeting the neighbors to ask about anything from the trash collection process to how often the fire house siren goes off in the middle of the night. If you’re only looking at the inside of a home, you’re only getting half the picture. 

What did you wish you knew before you bought your first house?

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Guest's picture

Great post. One thing you probably did the second time (although you didn't mention it) was to get pre-approved for a loan before going house hunting to help spread out the stress and paperwork (among other things).