Lessons I Learned AFTER I Bought My First House
Oh, the joys of homeownership!
It’s hard to believe that not too long ago I was just a starry-eyed renter with big hopes of owning my own house. That vision was shattered pretty quickly when we moved into our new house only to find that every wall was wallpapered at least 5 times, the roof had major leaks, we realized that ambulances would be driving passed our house at least 20 times a day, and that the basement floods during heavy rains.
Don’t me wrong here for a second: I love owning my house! Homeownership comes with the freedom to one day decide “I don’t like this wall here” and you can tear it down! (Don’t do that.) But it’s that kind of freedom! Until we moved into our house more than 3 years ago, we’d never even been able to paint our walls!
When we bought our house, we got an incredible deal from a bad situation. The previous owners were getting divorced and just wanted to get rid of the house, so the price was really low. We were so excited to have stayed well below our $100,000 limit (remember, we were living off of $17,000 at the time)!
I’ll admit it, we were a little caught up in the whole “our monthly payment to own our house will be LESS than our much smaller rental,” and we didn’t think to ask some major questions that later came back to bite us.
When we bought our house, we were really alone. Our realtor was incredible and I’d recommend him to anyone! But as far as family advice or suggestions…my parents have never owned a house (they rented for 20+ years), and my husband’s family is 3 states away. So when it comes to “make sure you ask about… before you buy,” we were on our own.
Not once did we think to ask about how taxes factor in or if they’re lower in different places, or if we wanted to live in a certain school district, or how close we were to the hospital.
I’m here to tell you about what we learned the hard way to ask BEFORE you buy.
We have a tiny little 1/16 of an acre (yes, one sixteenth of an acre), for which we pay more than $3,300 (and it keeps going up) annually. But just across the street (in the township, not the city), they pay almost half of what we do in taxes. HALF.
If we knew that taxes would change that much just across the street, we would’ve kept looking!
Check out Zillow.com and look at the tax history. You can factor that in BEFORE you buy a house and think you’re getting a great deal, but really you’re going to make it up in sky-high taxes.
2. How close you are to schools.
If you’re going to send your kids to school, it’s super convenient to have a school right down the street! But no matter where you send YOUR kids to school, a school down the street means traffic twice a day and kids walking home at the end of the day.
There’s a middle school down the street from our house and the kids are just awful. They cuss at each other loudly, run on people’s porches, trample gardens and make me sound like an old lady telling them to get off my lawn. I’m not a fan, but it’s hardly the worst thing ever.
Some people might think that being right down the street from a school could be a great thing! You might love the idea of having your kids walk 5 minutes to and from school.
Another plus about living close to schools is that there are a lot of laws in place that keep criminals away from school zones. Megan’s Law prohibits sex offenders from living (I think) a mile away from school zones. So there’s much less worry about who your neighbor is, at least from that standpoint. There are also double, or higher, minimum sentences for people caught with drugs or guns in a school zone. Yes, I’m an old lady. I get it!
Where do you want to park your car? Do you want a driveway? Your own garage? A shared garage? Do you have a specific, allotted spot to park for just your house? Do you need to pay for permit parking? Where will extra cars park? Are you ok with on-street parking? Is it safely lit? All good things to think of before falling in love with a house to realize that they only have on-street parking and you wanted a garage.
4. ALWAYS get flood insurance!
I can’t stress this one enough! Our house isn’t anywhere near a body of water, and we’re at the very top of a hill. But we decided to splurge and spend the extra $200 ANNUALLY to get $20,000 coverage for contents and $50,000 for coverage for flood insurance.
And thank God we did! We had a torrential rain that poured water into the house from outside and sustained $13,000 of damage! With that $200, we were protected from all of that damage. Lesson learned: even if it’s not necessary to get for your mortgage, always get it!
5. ALWAYS have the house inspected, and have the inspector do a mold test!
We had a terrible inspector. He didn’t even get on to the roof because he “brought the wrong ladder,” so he just “looked with binoculars.” This laziness tricked down into all other facets of his inspection.
Spend the $500 or more to get a GOOD inspector! We weren’t moved in 2 months and we had leaks in our roof that was supposed to be in “perfect shape.” That’s the kind of inspection we got. We also never did a mold test because it never smelled like mold or seemed like we needed it… until we found out 2 years later that there was mold growth on the inside wall of our basement half-bath.
You’re going to make the biggest investment of your life, spend the tiny cost to make sure you know what you’re getting into. A bad inspection report doesn’t mean that you can’t buy the house. You can have the seller fix the problems before you move in, or ask for a lower price on the house, or ask for a seller concession (the seller give you some money at closing to cover your repair costs).
No matter what the inspector finds, you’ll be glad that you found out before sinking your life’s savings into a money pit!
6. Route of Emergency Responders.
You want to be in an area that has a police presence. You just do. Even if it’s a cul de sac, you want to have a cop in the neighborhood every once in a while. It’s a good deterrent for anyone who might be looking for an easy street to prey on.
But there’s a line that has to be drawn between a “good way to keep out bad people” and “this is the 90th police car today!” Check to make sure that your street isn’t THE road that police, ambulances and fire truck fly down to get wherever they need to go.
7. Street lights.
Whether you live on a street or in a neighborhood, be aware of the street lights. We didn’t think of looking out for the street lights and there’s one that shines right in our boys’ bedroom. It’s a good safety measure, but it’s also really bright for them. If you live in the countryside (I envy you so), but you should make sure that you have outside flood lights around your house for safety purposes.
8. Can you live with the way the house is RIGHT NOW?
Most houses have work that “needs” to get done to them, but what of that work actually needs to get done right away? Does the kitchen need to be updated before you move in, or can it be put off? Do you need to rip up all of the 1970s shag carpeting immediately or can you live with it until you have the cash for a really nice hardwood floor?
Talk about these decisions before closing! If you have things you want to get done before you move in, make sure that you can leave a few days or weeks before you need to be out of your old place.
Fair warning: the stuff you put off has a much lower chance of getting done. I speak from experience!
9. Have AT LEAST an extra $2,000 after your down payment.
Things you need that don’t come with the house (trash cans, show curtains, regular curtains, area rugs, tarps, plungers, mops, lights, light bulbs, maybe even appliances, etc.) or things that you need before moving in to clean up after other people (all the bleach, gloves, bleach, floor polish, bleach, dusters, disinfectant, more bleach, etc.) really add up!
10. Pre-approval basically means nothing.
Getting pre-approved for a mortgage is the first step before you can really do anything when buying a house. Some realtors won’t even show houses unless you have a pre-approval letter.
They hand those things out like candy. As long as you’re not working minimum wage and asking for a mortgage for a $1 million house, they’ll say that you have pre-approval.
Ok, so that’s an exaggeration: the mortgage lender looks to make sure that whatever your budget is, it won’t exceed 30% of your monthly income. As long as you meet that guideline, you have your pre-approval.
Then the fun starts: ACTUAL approval. Quite literally, you sign your life away 5 times over on paper. Then you have to explain almost each transaction to your lender who goes through your personal banking with a fine tooth comb under a microscope. It’s a little invasive, but hopefully at the end of it someone, will be basically writing a check for $150,000 (give or take) for you!
What do you wish you knew when you bought your first house?