When my husband and I bought our first home, it was not a quick or easy decision. For two years we followed the market, saved our money, and visited over a hundred open houses. Excessive? Sure. But we rarely make a decision partially informed.
Once we found our house, we thought we were in the clear once our offer was accepted. Sign a few papers, pay some money and in 30-45 days it would be ours. What else were we missing?
As it turns out, a lot.
I didn’t realize buying my first home would be this overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are my top five lessons learned that will help you if you’re in the process of buying your first home.
1. “Move-in ready” isn’t real.
We looked at a range of homes, from places that needed significant work (one was missing a kitchen!) to places that were “move-in ready.” We ended up buying the latter. As the whole house had recently been renovated, we didn’t think much about the actual cost of moving in.
That first week after closing was expensive. Once the staging furniture was gone and we were staring at the empty house, we realized there were a few details we had overlooked. The shower didn’t have a door, there was no washer and dryer, the kitchen faucet didn’t have hot water, the back steps were slippery, the bedroom windows didn’t have screens, and more.
Sure, these things are minimal compared to buying a house with no kitchen. But it added up to a lot of money and time that we weren’t expecting.
2. Shop around for a mortgage before getting pre-approved.
When we jumped into the home search process we naturally focused on finding the right home over finding the right mortgage.
We needed to get pre-approved, so after 15 minutes of online research we picked a bank and applied for pre-approval. Hours later we were emailing the letter off to our real estate agent and promised ourselves that we’d shop around for a mortgage once we actually had an offer accepted.
Well, surprise. Things move very quickly once you have an offer accepted. We had 30 days to close, a lot of inspections to go through, and a lot of paperwork to get to the bank. Shopping around for a mortgage wasn’t really an option anymore. When we got an estimate of our closing costs along with the rate we were tying ourselves to for the next 30 years, we realized we probably should’ve done more research before the madness began.
3. No one cares more about your money than you do.
The number of people who were involved in our home purchase was surprising. Multiple people at the bank, so many inspectors, a few people at the title company. It honestly felt like a new name was popping up every few days. With all these people involved, if there was an issue or a mistake someone would spot it, right?
While everyone we worked with was nice and had great intentions, we quickly realized that no one cares about your money more than you do. Yes, our real estate agent cared about our happiness, and our loan officer was great. But after signing dozens of pages saying that we wouldn’t sue anyone if the purchase didn’t turn out as expected, we realized we needed to spend more time sifting through the details.
If an inspection report misses a thing or two (it did) and we end up with a few costly issues (we did), we are the ones who are going to be dealing with that years down the road.
4. Negotiating isn’t scary.
After we submitted our offer and crossed our fingers that it would be accepted, the real work began. There were some inspections that were really important to us to have, and fortunately, most of them came back clean. But one inspection came back requiring us to spend thousands on a retaining wall update.
We were frustrated with the report because we were already pouring our savings into this house. An additional cost would be difficult. Our agent reminded us that we could still negotiate the sales price because nothing was final until we closed. With the competition in our market fierce, we were terrified to negotiate.
After thinking about it for a while we realized that we weren’t trying to cheat them, we were honestly asking them to pay for an issue that would make the home safer. We were halfway through the closing process and the seller wanted to close as much as we did. Asking for a very justified amount back from our offer price was fair.
5. The neighbors know everything.
My mom did a great job of casually interviewing the neighbors in the areas we were looking at buying our first home. I was mortified at the time, but in retrospect, I wish I would’ve taken her cue and done more due diligence with the neighbors. I looked at a crime mapping tool, I spent hours cruising around the neighborhood looking for any faults. But all of that homework could have been shortcut if I’d spent a few minutes chatting up the neighbors.
Would any of the information I learned change my decision? Probably not. But it would’ve helped us navigate some tense neighborhood situations more easily. And luckily some of the information my Mom dug up from a neighbor kept us from making an offer on a house in another neighborhood, where safety would have been more of a concern than the “hip neighborhood” vibe let on.
Take the time to talk to everyone you can, because the neighbors really do know it all.