- Buying a home is a process that requires years of saving, careful planning, and a ton of effort to ensure you find the perfect place.
- But when you buy your first home, there are certain things you may not realise you should do, and not knowing can have huge financial consequences.
- Here are five mistakes I made when I bought my first home that could have been avoided.
My wife and I bought our first home back in early 2011. It was a charming, ranch-style house nestled just below the foothills of Glendale, California that was built in 1928. It still boasted many of its original charms, such as a massive window looking out on a 2,450-foot mountain, a stucco fireplace, and a vintage dining room chandelier with stained glass panels.
We did a lot of things right during the home-buying process, one of them simply being the timing: We bought while the housing market was still near a multi-year nadir due to the financial crisis, and the property appreciated remarkably over the next five years. We also saw the potential in the large but neglected and overgrown yard and the rundown garage, which we cleared and restored, respectively, over the course of several months.
Of course, being first-time homebuyers, we also made plenty of mistakes. Some of them turned out to be relatively minor, such as not repainting rooms before moving in furniture or choosing the wrong places for storing cleaning supplies, linens, and other household goods. These issues could be resolved quickly and without long-term issue.
But we also made a few mistakes that would prove to be much larger problems that often came with commensurate costs.
1. We went too cheap on the home inspection
Before you buy a home, you really should get it inspected. Wrongly assuming that one inspector must be as good as the next, we went with the cheapest guy we could find. And we ended up paying for it many times over down the line.
The quick-and-dirty inspection didn’t turn up pipes so rotted that they failed literally the first day we moved in, a roof that would require replacing in less than three years, and a fireplace flue that was far too small for the current codes.
Had our inspector found and reported these issues, we could have negotiated the sale price down and/or required the sellers to address the issues before completing the purchase. Once the contracts were signed, all of the issues were ours.
2. We rushed the landscaping
Our first home was set on an 8,300 square foot property, which was large for the area and massive for a couple moving out of an apartment with a small patio. After getting a $US20,000 quote from a professional landscape design company, we committed to doing all our landscape work ourselves.
Over the course of many weeks, my wife and I and a few friends cleared brambles, underbrush, weeds, dead trees and shrubs, and cleared and leveled the long-neglected land. Then we seeded a large area to grow a lawn, planted a few trees, shrubs, and flowers, and had a company install a patio.
Within a few months, the patio was still looking great, but all but one of the trees had died, the grass was down to a few muddy patches that I hadn’t overwatered, and the bushes were largely on life support.
In the rush to get the yard completed, I didn’t take the time to learn enough about how to grow new grass, which plants would work best given the sunlight and irrigation situation, and so on. Basically every dollar and hour invested into the first iteration of the yard was wasted, save for the education that came with it.
3. We furnished before living in the space
When you move homes, certain pieces of furniture move with you. Whether it’s a favourite chair, a comfy couch, or a bedroom set that works well in the new place, there’s no reason to toss perfectly good furniture just because you’re moving. But when the move is to a larger home, you are going to need some new stuff, too.
We kept our apartment for two months after buying our house, since we were doing so much work on it both outside and in. We were eager to have the home as ready as possible when we finally did settle there. So we bought a new couch, chairs, and coffee table for the living room, accepted some hand-me-down antiques for the guest room, and bought a media center for the den.
Within a year, we had replaced everything but the couch. None of the other furniture suited our functional needs, nor did it work with the items we brought along from our apartment. Had we waited to furnish the place once we lived there, we would have done it right the first time.
4. We didn’t check zoning regulations
When we first bought our home, it was a three bedroom, two-bathroom house measuring about 1,500 square feet, and it was the perfect size for the two of us. Once we were expecting our first kid, we realised the place was about to feel a bit small. So we set out to add an addition, which should have been an expensive but simple proposition, given our large lot.
The problem came from a beautiful towering live oak that hung over our property despite being rooted in our neighbour’s yard. I loved that old tree, but what I didn’t love was the fact that its protected status required us to apply for a variance that would ultimately require months to approve and involved hours spent on the phone and at city offices.
Had we known the land use limitations placed on our property ahead of time, we could have applied for the variance as we began to first work with our architect and builder and saved untold amounts of time.
5. We ‘saved’ money in the wrong places
Buying a house is expensive, so every dollar you can save during the process is a welcome dollar indeed. And in some ways, we saved wisely.
For example, I picked a certain type of granite for our kitchen countertops, only to find a similar option that cost half as much. I never regretted that choice for a second.
But in other cases, such as buying cheap curtains for the guest room, a low-quality faucet for the second bathroom, and inexpensive lighting fixtures for the kitchen, spending a bit more upfront would have saved us money overall.
The curtains proved to block almost no light whatsoever and had to be replaced almost at once, the faucet started leaking within a year, and the lights flickered intermittently, which is beyond frustrating while one is trying to cook or enjoy a meal. Needless to say, those had to go, and we ended up paying for the same items twice.
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