Attention: You are now leaving the Wintrust website.
by Amanda Harding
February 24, 2018
by Amanda Harding
February 24, 2018
Buying a house is one of the most stressful and expensive purchases you'll make in your adult life. When my husband and I ditched our 600 square foot apartment six years ago in favor of home ownership, we had absolutely no idea what we were doing. We read advice articles and scrolled through Zillow obsessively, but at the end of the day, only the experience of buying a home could teach us all the mistakes we were making.
I'm not an expert by any means. But after going through the process of finding, purchasing, and living in our first house, I've discovered a few important things that I wish I knew before we signed our names on the dotted line. From which house to pick to how to decorate it, these are the top words of advice I'd give to any first-time home buyers.
My husband and I didn't have any children when we were buying our first home, but we knew we wanted to have kids eventually. Our plans for a big family in the future inspired us to narrow our search to three and four bedroom homes only.
The house we ended up purchasing was listed as a two bedroom but we went to see it anyway. I'm so glad we did! The room we use as a third bedroom was omitted from the listing simply because it didn't have a closet. That small detail has a cheap and easy fix — all you need is an armoire from Ikea.
Listings are often incorrect or missing information. The only way to get a real feel for the house is to go and see it.
Our house was about $20,000 cheaper than comparable properties a few miles away. The reason? It's right on the border (but on the wrong side) of an excellent school district.
As newlywed homebuyers, babies were a distant possibility, and school-aged kids seemed forever away. But it's amazing how quickly five years fly by. Now that we have three kids and are facing the prospect of kindergarten for the oldest, we have some tough choices to make. Should we sell our first house and move to the better school district before the school year starts?
Even if you don't have kids and never plan to, your school district has a huge impact on resale value and taxes. It's something you need to consider before you make an offer on any house.
It's easy to get hung up on things like ugly paint colors or hideous furniture when you're house hunting. Just try to remember that an inexpensive can of paint has the power to transform the space in a matter of hours.
The master bedroom in the house we purchased was painted Pepto Bismol pink (even the ceiling) and the cabinets were an ugly brown and caked with years of grease. We painted everything before we moved in and now it looks a million times better.
You may have mentally prepared for the mortgage, utility bills, and taxes. But it's important to know that even in a new home, things are going to keep breaking — and costing money — the entire time you're in the house. And as the owner, you're 100% responsible.
Two months after we moved into our house we had a majorly gross situation when tree roots grew through our septic line. This year we had to spend $2,000 on something called a chimney liner to fix the interior structure. Believe me — just when you think you're in the clear, something else needs attention. It's endless
I really lucked out with my realtor — but I know plenty of people who didn't.
One of my friends was pressured into buying the first house she looked at, and now she's stuck in a home she hates that's not worth the price she paid. As a first time homebuyer, she didn't know any better.
Our realtor is still one of our good friends. He was really laid back and forced me to take a step back and calm down when I tried to pounce on every semi-decent house in our price range. When we toured the house we ended up purchasing and he encouraged us to submit an offer within the hour if we wanted it, I knew to believe and trust his sense of urgency. And it's a good thing we did because the house was underpriced and ended up having multiple offers in less than 24 hours.
Like many other home buyers, we had two offers fall through during our long and frustrating journey to home ownership. At the time we were devastated. Now, I realize that everything worked out the way it was supposed to.
Even if your offer is accepted by the seller, a million things can go wrong between the moment you make an offer and the day of closing. Financing issues, failed home inspection, appraisal problems… it's important to remain realistic and not get too emotionally invested in a property before you own it. Remember, it's just a house. There will always be another one.
I used to turn up my nose at new construction, preferring vintage details like glass doorknobs to builder-grade everything. Now I'm starting to see the appeal of a brand new house.
Don't get me wrong — I still prefer older homes to newer ones. But old homes inevitably cost more to renovate and they're often hiding tons of costly secrets, like knob and tube wiring, asbestos, and lead paint. Unless you have a gigantic renovation budget (which I don't), a brand new house is less likely to need a ton of work done. And you can always add in pretty upgrades like crown molding if that's the look you like.
The house we purchased isn't terribly old; it was built in 1960. But they did skip adding insulation, which would never happen in a newer house. It's a problem that costs us thousands in heating costs every winter
One of the best decisions we made was having the hardwood floors refinished before we moved in. It was much faster and easier to get the work done without furniture and moving boxes everywhere. Plus, it made the house feel clean and new when we were first settling in.
When we first moved into our house, we had big plans for renovating. Finish the basement! Tile the kitchen! Redo the bathroom! Build a deck! The list goes on.
Well, it turns out that renovations aren't usually done in a weekend, and most projects require serious funds. Out of all the items on our wish list, the only one we managed to accomplish was completely gutting and renovating the bathroom. And yeah, it cost about twice as much and took twice as long as we budgeted for it.
Unless you're married to a general contractor, choose a home you can live with just as it is today. If you get to a project, great, but don't assume it'll happen quickly. It usually won't.
Twelve hundred square feet isn't a huge amount of living space, but it was double the space we were used to in our apartment. Despite the additional breathing room, we managed to resist the urge to go crazy at the furniture store.
That's because I read somewhere that you should wait a few months before making any furniture decisions so you can get a feel for how you want to use the house. We assumed we would use the tiny room attached to the kitchen as a dining room, but after living in our house for a few months, we realized it was way too small and worked much better as an office. I'm glad I never shelled out the cash for a dining room table when that's not even how the room is used now.
Our first apartment had 7-foot ceilings and felt like a small cave. Our current house has 8-foot ceilings and I kind of hate those too.
Maybe it's because I'm a little claustrophobic, but for some reason low ceilings make the space look incredibly cramped and a little cluttered, even when it's not. A cathedral height ceiling makes a small room look exponentially bigger and more open. For my next house, I'm making tall ceilings a requirement.
I grew up in a two-story home and never imagined I'd enjoy living in a ranch house. But now that I have young kids, it's nice that I don't need to worry about anyone falling down the stairs. We have less space than I'd like, but there's something cozy and comforting about having everyone close together on one level.
You may have visions of a specific style of house, but try to be a little open-minded. You may wind up liking something you never thought you would.
If you can, try knocking on some doors and asking what it's like to live in the neighborhood before you choose a house. My family lives on a busy road, which is not conducive to making friends and having fun block parties. I envy my friends who live in neighborhoods where the kids all play together. For our next house, I'll definitely pay more attention to what the neighborhood is like.
In most areas, acreage comes at a premium, and first-time home buyers tend to overlook outdoor space if the house is nice. That's a mistake.
I have just over a half acre of land, which seemed like a lot at the time, but now it feels minuscule. A small plot of land is great if you hate mowing the lawn. But if you plan to add outdoor features like a deck or patio, a shed, or a swing set, then a large backyard is worth the extra cost in the long run.
Unless your budget is a billion dollars, you're going to have to make some concessions on your wish list. Maybe you get the brick colonial of your dreams but it has a tiny yard. Maybe you found a house in the best neighborhood in a top-rated school district but it's a split level and you hate that. Figure out what's most important to you, and realize that there is no perfect house.