Tell me about your first year as a first time home buyer.
December 29, 2020 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Our offer to purchase a house was accepted. We are now in the anxiety-filled waiting period while the inspection, appraisal, and mortgage underwriting processes are completed. We are also emptying out the tank in order to go through with the purchase and while I feel really great about the house we are buying, it's pretty nerve racking. In order to soothe my nerves, I am constantly googling for stories about home buyers. Can you tell me about your first year as a first time home buyer?

We are putting about 10% down, have a small PMI, and will have 3 months mortgage payments left in the till after down payment and closing costs. If you were a very responsible human who put down 20% and also had 20k or more saved in the bank after closing, I commend you. However, I am most interested in stories like mine, where we did not put down 20% and will be running a little sparse after closing.

Was it the worst mistake you ever made? Maybe the best mistake you made? Terrifying at times but you got through it? Tell me about it.
posted by kmr to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience the scariest/most stressful things in the first year after buying a house (not just your first one) are the unexpected issues and repairs that pop up. And there are always some, even if the inspector is great. We've never had a really disastrous one, but stuff like the water heater needing to be replaced 2 months in is pretty de rigueur in my experience. Even with brand new houses, stuff comes up (though then you can usually get the builder to deal with it). Don't let it throw you off, and definitely don't let it lead you to think you've made some big mistake, the house is a money pit, the inspector was an idiot, the previous owner was a con artist, etc. (I have seen many threads along these lines in various homeowner forums). It's none of those things; it's just normal home ownership. But once you've had the house for a while, you'll (usually) be better able to predict them, so when the house is new, they can come as surprises.

I think some of the bigger mistakes we've made have been around not living in a house long enough before buying furniture or making big changes. Sometimes you just need to live in a space to understand how you want to use it. It can be hard to predict where you'll want to spend most of your time, what the best seating arrangement is (e.g. taking into account lighting conditions at different times of the day and different seasons). My advice is to take get the minimal furniture you need (or stick with the furniture you have), try different arrangements, and let the house teach you what works best before spending a bunch of money on new furniture and/or house modifications.
posted by primethyme at 9:07 AM on December 29, 2020 [18 favorites]

Something *will* happen in the first few months. It always does. It might not be huge, it might not be expensive, but it will be your indoctrination into home ownership. In my 20+ years of owning homes (we're on our second), the tasks are never really done. Accept that now and you'll be much better off.
posted by cooker girl at 9:22 AM on December 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Make sure you have like up to 10K of available cash or credit available somewhere to deal with the inevitable "oh shit we gotta fix this now" issue which may not be expensive but is totally part of owning a house. If you're not handy, or aren't willing to become so, find a friend/relative who is. Read books, buy a few tools, watch youtube videos. Always hire people in for electricity and plumbing, though, doing that wrong could kill you (electric) or result in tens of thousands of dollars in hidden water damage (plumbing).

Best advice I have is pay attention to your house. Learn its rhythms and sounds. When something changes, like the paint is bubbling or the drywall is soft somewhere, or the tub doesn't drain so fast, or the basement toilet requires a lot of plunging, or there's a funny smell or maybe sizzling noise when you flip a switch or plug something in -- pay attention and figure out what's going on.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:36 AM on December 29, 2020 [12 favorites]

yep! Something always happens. A leak under the patio; the HVAC gives up the ghost... always during the first year.

After that, things do still happen but with less regularity. In my experience.

Agree muchly with above comment, that you really want to wait before buying new furniture, art, renovation etc. Wait and see how you use the house. Seasons make a big difference! You want to know how the house is and how you use it, in at least a whole winter and a whole summer, before you go making those kind of decisions. That includes use cases with other people, if you think you'll want to do stuff like host big Thanksgivings etc. Try it all first and be patient.

Bottom line, don't spend any money you don't absolutely have to, on house stuff during that first year. Because it's too soon to be buying stuff for the long term; and you will need to have some - I agree $10K is a good amount - available for the inevitable fixes.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:38 AM on December 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

The first year in our new house was not plagued with maintenance or capital expenditures. Instead, life through curveballs at us the entire year. My wife became pregnant. (We bought the house to start a family, but not on that time schedule!) I finished my MBA (in the plan) and changed jobs with a boost in salary (not in the plan, but not bad!).

We moved from an apartment to a house. I was so proud to mow the lawn the first time! A country squire! It rapidly lost its excitement and quickly went to "I've got to mow the %^^&^%% lawn again!"

The neighbors were an issue. Our young attorney neighbor across the street ran for and won his race for judge. Now, at all times of the day and night, police cars came for him to sign warrants. (He was the new guy and that was his assigned task.) Bad News - there were police cars with lights at odd times of the day and night. Good News - heavy police presence means there were no robberies or other nonsense on our street.

My warning will be to make sure you try to get along with your neighbors. And be ready for lawn work.
posted by Colonel Sun at 9:45 AM on December 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

The worst mistake we made, and one I'll never make again after watching many friends go through it (even on not their first purchase) was assuming the home inspection was being conducted in good faith by the nice person our agent recommended.

Take a couple hundred dollars of your saved mortgage payments and directly hire some kind of a contractor or handyperson who will agree to meet you on time for whatever window of time you can get to get inside the house (this may be at the time of your "official" home inspection, feel free to be like "oh hey this is my Uncle Joe, he's just helping us out"). Do not tell anyone else who you hired. There are some inspection services that offer various kinds of guarantees they're not being paid off to pass the house (in most states, there is zero liability if they do this), but I don't know how you tell if any particular guarantee means jack shit.

There's just so much money at stake to the buyer and seller's agents, it is worth it to them to pay off an inspector and I don't know how you beat that offer to get them to tell the truth.

There is definitely going to be stuff wrong, it's just a question of how major and how soon, and it is fair for you to know that going in as part of your decision-making process. A walk-through with a contractor or handyperson is also a good time to ask about the general effort level required to change stuff on your wish list.

Ideally in your first year, if you're not buying a fixer-upper, you can focus on learning to do proper maintenance and minor fixes/improvements. Youtube is extremely helpful for this, but when the pandemic is over it may also be worth hiring a handyperson to come for a few hours and show you how to do some of the things on your to-do/how-do?/wish list. You will not be used to this ongoing maintenance being a constant part of your life, but if you don't start rolling it in from the start you will let stuff slide - or not be noticing things with the sharp eyes of someone whose problem it will eventually become - until they become bigger more expensive problems.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:53 AM on December 29, 2020 [7 favorites]

Colonel Sun above reminded me of a huge mistake we made at our first house. While we were friendly if we saw people, we made effectively no effort to get to know the neighbors. Even five years in, we didn't know most of their names, and by that point it felt too awkward to remedy it.

In all of our subsequent houses, we have gone out of our way to introduce ourselves to the neighbors. This might sound extreme, but we actually go door-to-door several houses in each direction, introducing ourselves, bringing cookies or something similar, and giving them a postcard with our names, phone numbers, and email addresses. I can not overstate how big of a difference this has made. Yes, of course, there will always be some neighbors you get along with better than others. But having everyone on the street know who you are is a game changer.
posted by primethyme at 9:56 AM on December 29, 2020 [20 favorites]

I love my house. It is expensive and stupid and a lot of work but it's the best decision we made. Knowing that it would take at least a decade to get 20% saved, we went in with 10% (some of which was from cashing in a retirement account early and taking the hit -- people advise against this all the time but I'd do it again) and had not much left afterward.

Nothing broke right away (the 40 year old HVAC system died in month 13) but it was a VERY LEAN year. We both had steady employment and made replenishing our savings a priority over buying all the new things.

While you're getting to know your neighbors, ask them who they use for electric, plumbing, and HVAC issues. Homeowners LOVE to talk about that stuff.

Congratulations! It's going to be great!
posted by kimberussell at 10:08 AM on December 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

I bought a house about a year and a half ago. I bought a little below my budget, and saved the extra cash for making improvements on the house. I've been doing the improvements myself, and have discovered that even doing all the work yourself, they still cost a lot of money! The materials are expensive. My projects routinely end up costing 2x my initial estimate. They also take like 4x longer than my time estimate. These are projects of types I have done before, too, not stuff I'm brand new at! I've learned what a lot of my strengths and weaknesses as a builder are, though. (Tip: measuring accurately is hard, trace directly on the workpiece whenever possible).

Nearly all my improvements have been "optional". For anything required for livability, like a roof, I would think very hard about how long I can live without it when deciding whether to do it myself or hire a contractor.

Plumbing, as it turns out, is dirty, nasty work, even when not working on sewage.

Mortgage rates are crazy low right now. Enjoy that, and congrats on buying at an awesome time. It's scary to owe so much money, but think really hard before putting extra cash into your mortgage. I would say don't pay any extra on your mortgage for a while, save up a fat cushion instead. If you put that money into the mortgage, the only way to get it back in an emergency is with a home equity loan, and you'll probably never get a rate as good as you currently have. Start saving for the new [roof/HVAC/foundation] now.
posted by agentofselection at 10:09 AM on December 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

I bought a house six months ago. It needed/needs some work, but no expensive surprises yet, knock on wood. I put about 10% down and stretched my budget for the mortgage because prices just keep going up here and I saw a chance to finally buy (but still had some cash in reserve).

- I wish I had found my own inspector and found a realtor better-suited to me, in hindsight. OTOH, I bought at the bottom of the market and actually toured only one house because all the others were unsuitable after a drive-by, it's not like I was spoilt for choices. I think the various contractors and realtor colluded in that she fed them work so they wanted to keep her happy, but not that anyone actually did anything unethical / hid problems. That relationship with the realtor also meant that inspections and work got done quickly.

- Work your way through house systems, figuring out how they work. I mostly had to do this because things were broken, but it was also helpful to learn some basic stuff about what the e.g. valves on the water heater are for, suggested maintenance, and common failure modes so I know what to look for. See also: breaker box, furnace, foundation, plumbing / water shutoffs, windows, disposal, washer and dryer, fridge, stove... I start with This Old House and watch some additional YouTubers. Sometimes the YT folks have useful supplemental info, sometimes they have shortcuts that are clearly crappy.

- I feel pretty sensitive about my house / being judged on it, which I didn't expect. It makes your financial status obvious in a way that smaller purchases don't (and it is a publicly recorded transaction, be prepared for a ton of junk mail with your mortgage amount and mortgage company listed that is trying to sell you crappy insurance, etc.). It's shaking up my self-perception a bit. This aspect is also probably trickier because I bought alone and can't really have friends over / a housewarming. Overall, I'm still happy with my house, the real estate market just encourages comparison.
posted by momus_window at 10:41 AM on December 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

When I bought my first house, I felt like I received a thorough and honest inspection, but when I bought my second house, the inspection was much more thorough. So you can get a 16-page report that seems impressive, but that pales in comparison to a 50-page report. I don't think the first inspector was intentionally using a light touch, but the second guy was really, really detail-oriented. Different people are going to catch different things.

When a problem has been identified, the correct course of action isn't necessarily clear. The inspector might recommend one thing, but a contractor who is actually going to do the work may have different ideas (and a different contract might have different ideas again). Also be aware of knock-on effects. The first repair I made to my first house was a small bumpout where the foundation was sagging. The foundation repair cracked drywall and knocked my front doorframe out of alignment. In hindsight, I really didn't need to fix the foundation at all, because it was a minor problem.

I wound up living at that first house for about 8 years, and I was happy there. The house did not feel like a burden. I had typical homeowner tasks, but nothing crazy went wrong. I was not a very well-informed house buyer the first time around and got lucky that the house was basically solid. I already knew the neighborhood (I cannot overstate how important that is). When I sold, it was at a considerable profit.
posted by adamrice at 11:10 AM on December 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

It took six months to get the former owners out of my house after escrow closed. Their new place wasn't ready yet, you see, so they figured they'd just squat on my property until it was ready. Tried to be a nice guy about it and give them a little time, but only shutting off their utilities and a visit from the sheriff's office convinced them to finally vacate. During which time, of course, I was paying the mortgage and utilities AND the rent for where I was staying. Jerks.
posted by SPrintF at 11:17 AM on December 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah. If you have a crawlspace, or other area that is difficult to access and hidden, and you haven't been in it, go in it. Take an hour and see what's going on down there with your own eyes. Look for moisture, rot, displacement in the foundation, and generally just figure out where stuff is.

Figure out where the access points for important maintenance are. Where is the clean-out for your sewer line? For your kitchen sink? Where is the main water shutoff, gas shutoff, breaker box? Make sure that they are all accessible, in an emergency you don't want to have a project just getting access to them. At my house, the old owners had a concrete patio poured over the sewer cleanout, so if it ever clogged, there was no way for a plumber to fix it without first bringing in somebody with a jackhammer.

Oh hey I checked your history and it looks like maybe you bought somewhere in the Sacramento area. Me too! Memail me if you want a recommendation for a plumber, or other random Sacramento-specific questions. If you're inside city of Sacramento I am also happy to talk about the available rebates for lawn removal and drought-tolerant landscaping.
posted by agentofselection at 11:19 AM on December 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

We bought a house in a medium sized town a few months ago. We bought a bed and bedframe and what I learned from the experience is that it was cheaper, easier and quicker to go to the mom-and-pop mattress store with less selection to get furniture. They have what they have, it's cheaper, they deliver it fast. (in this case, the owner makes deliveries in the morning before opening and running the store.) Not as much selection but it was good enough.

Having moved our stuff ourselves a bunch of times and made ill-advised trips to Ikea, this was a much better experience.
posted by Emmy Rae at 11:27 AM on December 29, 2020

Don't rush into landscaping! I've been very excited to have gardens and then less excited to have a lot of barely alive plants because I didn't know how much shade/sun/water would be impacting my plants.

Keep all the paperwork from closing somewhere easily accessible because there's somethings that if they cleared the inspection and breaks within a few months will be covered. Our garage door failed like a week after it would have been covered, which was very annoying. But what was more annoying was the 5 days we spent trying to find the paperwork to figure out who to call to see if we were covered.

If you're in Sacramento area me too! I also can recommend some handy people.
posted by lepus at 11:33 AM on December 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

The nervous energy of buying a house start a to dissipate a few months in to ownership. What others said: don't upgrade, buy new furniture yet. Keep at least 10k if not 20k in savings. Read the whole inspection report, look at the trouble areas and prioritize your needs. Definitely learn to do things yourself.
posted by DixieBaby at 12:09 PM on December 29, 2020

Don't rush into anything once you've moved in.

You should know right here and now that there will be a dozen things in your house that were bandaged or covered up to make the sale happen. The inspector missed it or it was hidden behind a wall they can't tear open. And you will only discover these things when you do open that wall, remove a floor, or do any sort of remodeling work more advanced than putting down a coat of paint.

We wanted that ugly wood paneling taken down in the living room and a smooth coat of paint put in its place. Surprise! That paneling was covering a large hole in the plaster, which (surprise!) was generated by a leak in the roof.

We wanted that old bathroom downstairs freshened up, with a new sink and tub. Surprise! The house was filled with galvanized plumbing that was either sclerotic or crumbling.

You will learn the phrase "as long as..." Example: "as long as we're replacing the plumbing for the sink and tub with incompatible copper, we might as well repipe the house."

This phrase, while it is the usually the right thing to do, is an expensive phrase any time it is uttered. Beware.

It goes on and on. Oh, and definitely get the sewer lines inspected for roots/clogs/mayhem before you close. When a house goes from a little old lady that uses the bathroom once a day to a family of 3-4 that does constant laundry and bathing the mucked-up drain lines can't handle the increased traffic. Surprise!
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:13 PM on December 29, 2020 [8 favorites]

We bought a house in July in a new-to-us state. It was at the bottom of our budget, we put 10% down, no PMI through our lender, and we didn't have a lot in reserve at that moment. We now have $10K in our emergency fund and we haven't had to touch it, but we have put a few grand into the house already.

Nothing catastrophic has come up, but a few appliances needed repair, we took advantage of some energy rebates to fix the attic insulation, upgraded an incorrectly-sized garage door, it looks like we need a new softener and additional water treatment to have aesthetically pleasing water, and previous owners have made some weird, cheap, and stupid decisions.

I would not buy this house today. It's old and it was not well cared for. We say, "Seriously?" a lot. However, I don't regret buying in general because we sincerely hated renting, we're getting some DIY experience, we generally feel much more 'stable' in a hellish year (not that this is an accurate feeling to have). But this was a rushed decision and we should have spent more to get more. This house is easy for us to afford, but because it's already at the top of our neighborhood in price (but not in a 'trendy' neighborhood) none of our (quite drastic) renovation ideas seem worth pursuing.
posted by rawralphadawg at 1:21 PM on December 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I bought my flat 13 years ago. A little different from buying a house as we have property managers, but a similar life experience in other ways. Yes, there were headaches - terrible property managers, money was tight, my first lodger seemed to think paying rent was optional and left everything horribly scuzzy.

But it's definitely the best thing in the world. Even now, I feel happy and grateful every time I look around; every time I walk in the door.

It changed my whole orientation to the world, I became more grounded, more of a homebody (I mean, where else would I rather be than the one place that is exactly as I like it?!). I had a moment of collywobbles when something went awry in the middle of the purchasing process, and now I look back and think... imagine if I hadn't bought this place. Imagine if I was still renting. Or living somewhere that was not here. I'm so glad I have a home. You will be too, even though there will be headaches - congratulations!
posted by penguin pie at 2:12 PM on December 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Just to add: The one thing I wish I'd done differently - not panicked as much when things were difficult. That's very much easier said than done. But those things all passed and here I still am with my lovely home. The home will endure longer than the problems, so even in the midst of it, remind yourself, it'll all be worth it.
posted by penguin pie at 2:14 PM on December 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Say no to anyone who knocks on your door saying all your neighbors are getting this extermination deal, there was a storm a little bit ago so they can replace your roof or siding through your insurance, offering a quote on windows, etc. There's probably a ordinance against it soliciting anyway, but more importantly (and as others have mentioned), get a recommendation from your neighbors when you actually need work done instead.

I'm guilty of this one, but don't put off things that you know need to be done. Eventually, you'll look past things that need to be done and they'll perpetually be on your to-do list. Fixing lose railings and towel racks, patching and painting those nail holes, flushing the water heater, etc. aren't do or die, but just do them as soon as you can.
posted by hankscorpio83 at 2:27 PM on December 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Since you haven't finished inspection yet - the first house we had an offer accepted on was lovely. I was so excited. Then we got the inspection and the results were awful. Nothing aesthetic, all "if this isn't fixed your house will catch fire/be filled with carbon monoxide/flood" type of stuff. I was sick of looking for houses and really wanted it to work. The seller refused to do ANY fixes. So we walked away and I am so glad we did.

The house we bought is much newer, in great shape, in a better town, and the sellers fixed more than we asked them to and just really wanted us to love it.

I think the inspection cost $600 and saved us $40,000 on that house.
posted by Emmy Rae at 2:48 PM on December 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Someone already said this but I second/third/whatever getting your own inspector not paid or recommended by your realtor. I bought a house and after we moved in, it started leaking in the kitchen. My dad stuck his head up in the crawl space to discover the seller had left ice cream buckets up there to fill with water whenever it raised because of the roof leak. Yep. My inspector didn't bother to even stick his head up in the attic access in my kitchen. It is 12 years later and I have paid for two roofs (first guy did a shitty job and it had to be redone before starting to sell this year).

Our A/C also went out in our first or second summer and I wouldn't have been able to afford replacing it without my parents helping me so... the fact that you have a maintenance fund already shows that you're in the right place.
posted by possibilityleft at 2:59 PM on December 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Then we got the inspection and the results were awful.

Just to add a counterpoint on this (very correct and valid) experience, it's really important to keep inspection results in perspective. This is always hard to do, and even more so when it's your first purchase. But you have to remember that no house is perfect, and any good inspector is going to come up with a long list of issues (if they don't come up with any issues, it means the inspector sucks, not that the house is perfect). Think critically about which things are serious issues, and which are minor. Which you can live with, and which you can't. Which you could fix on your own, and which need a professional. And if there are any in that latter category, also think about whether you really want the seller to have them fixed (with the incentive to do it as quickly and cheaply as possible), or if you'd rather have them credit you some money and fix it yourself (which brings the risk that it could be more complex and expensive than was apparent).

Everyone has their own threshold on inspection issues, and preferences on how to handle them. But in several home purchases so far, I have been served well by just living with trivial/cosmetic issues, asking for credit for things that do need to be fixed (and actually fixing them promptly after closing), and only walking away if the issues are truly severe, or I was on the fence about the house anyway and the issues pushed it over the edge.
posted by primethyme at 3:20 PM on December 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Sorry, in the above comment "counterpoint" isn't really what I meant to say — it's clear that Emmy Rae did exactly the right thing, and it definitely falls into the category where I would walk away too. I just meant to say, I think sometimes people get overly freaked out about inspection issues that are minor in the grand scheme of things. But when you run into stuff like Emmy Rae did, you need to pay attention.
posted by primethyme at 3:23 PM on December 29, 2020

We were really, really freaked out. We came from the suburbs, and this place has a well, oil heat, septic, had sub-par x, y..z. And we had never owned, even though we were forty-ish when we got the place.

But mostly it's just terrifying to have to deal with things you've never dealt with before and you feel kinda dumb and you're always asking for help--so becoming cool with that, and comfortable and unapologetic when you need things explained (rather than feeling like 'okay, this is it, I'm not really an adult after all. Kill me.' helps.)

The best thing we did was keep a list of *everything* we succeeded at
"found a plow guy!" "got someone to fix that hole in the floor!" "Fixed the screen door!" "Replaced the dishwasher" -- everything-- big and small. I cannot recommend this highly enough. I built a little kitty litter bathroom--on the list. Added a dimmer switch, on the list. Replaced the doorknobs! We were like Gods.

The successes help with the future unknowns that come. Dealing with the fucked up scenarios (surprise, the septic was leaking into the basement via the washing machine output when it rained!) makes you feel better too. You call people, ask questions, listen, write the check. Etc. and slowly realize each daunting item is a phone call or series of phone calls and learnings but literally none of it is like launching a rocket into space.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:28 PM on December 29, 2020 [8 favorites]


Your home inspector won't do it as part of their inspection. There's people that's all they do, probably costs $200-300. Depending on the age of your house something can be up with it (broken clay pipes, roots, etc) and you can pressure the sellers to give cash-back at closing to cover the cost of it. All the houses we were looking at were ~90-100yrs old and we live in an earthquake area too.

We pulled out of escrow on two places because of this:
- one was semi-disconnected from the city sewer by 3 inches. Digging this up in the street to fix would have been $15-20k. Could have possibly done the fiberglass lining to fix it.

- one was completely missing a 10ft section of pipe between the sidewalk and the city sewer on a busy street. Sewage was literally being dumped into the underground, eventually either going to clog the line or cause a massive sinkhole. God know how much that would be to fix, easily $40k since it was 12ft below ground.

And after you close and are moved in:

You'll get endless mail for scams. Property transfers are part of the public record and there's companies that run automated mailings that go out to residential sales to scam you with quasi-legal looking invoices.
posted by wcfields at 5:29 PM on December 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

We bought our house 10 years ago in similar financial circumstances.

I agree with what everybody is saying about the inspection, especially about knowing how to interpret the inspection results. I'd ask any long-term homeowner for advice. Our report said the windows were in bad shape. It didn't tell us that to replace the windows would require major repairs inside and out and that the good storm windows more than made up for the single-pane glass.

We also had a separate electrical inspection that I think was worth it -- it found a panel that was a fire hazard.

Verify any repairs the sellers agree to have done, or better yet, get a monetary concession. Three years in we had a roofer out for our garage and they noticed that the roof on the house was in dire need of replacement, the same roof that was supposedly replaced by the sellers. We had a receipt from the closing but did not look at the roof (nor would we have known how to tell if it had been replaced).

Within the first year, we had a drain pipe leak, a hurricane-induced basement flood (in a basement that has never flooded since), and had to replace a faulty fridge and stove.

It was stressful, but it worked out. The list of things to do to the house from when we moved in is still not complete, but we've found other priorities and there's only so much time and money.
posted by miscbuff at 6:29 PM on December 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

My first home worst buying experience was because I didn't investigate enough about the location. I bought a $15,000 condo that seemed like a great deal until I lived there for a few months and discovered that I could hear gunshots sometimes and my car got stolen and my upstairs neighbor broke into my storage place in the basement and stole my bike and all my camping equipment.

After that I was much more careful buying my next two homes. Also I was very diligent about inspections and never had many problems. The only real downsides were that I still wasn't completely happy with the locations but I did the best I could with the money I had and it was good enough.

I made a point to never have a monthly payment that was more, or much more, than I was already paying for rent. Because of that and, of course, homeowners' insurance, I had enough wiggle room to cover most expenses and enough credit to cover the rest and, luckily, the income to pay off the credit cards pretty quickly.

Personally, owning my own home gives me a huge amount of security. I'm paying what I would be in rent and gaining ownership and equity. I think it will all be OK for you.
posted by bendy at 8:21 PM on December 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Please do a thorough check to make sure there are no outstanding permits or code violation issues with the city. We purchased our first home in March and were told by the sellers that the extra room that was built in the 1950's was unpermitted. We thought, "Ok, good to know, if it's been there for over 70 years, I'm sure that's no big deal." Plus, it brought the sale price down on the house because it appraised as a 1-bedroom instead the 2-bedroom they were marketing it as, so yay?


It turns out the owners were actively being served with code violations from the city, which they failed to inform us about and which transferred to us immediately upon purchase. For the last 9 months we've spent over $11K on working with a permit company to get structural plans drafted and submitted (and re-submitted, we're on round 3 right now), paying for extensions and civil citations because the engineer took too long to get the plans done, getting the electrical in the garage upgraded because it turns out the permit on the garage never had a final inspection and that needed to be completed before the city would accept the plans for the house, and we are still crossing our fingers to see what the city's decision will be on the extra room addition. It could be anything from "looks fine, you're all set" to "let's open up the walls and pull up the flooring to check the work" to "this room needs to be torn down and rebuilt entirely." And I have NO IDEA which way it will go or how much it will cost.

posted by platinum at 11:41 AM on December 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

Unpermitted additions and unclosed permits, that's HUGE. My neighbor has a horror story about building a front porch on the house and discovering that the permits to the second floor on the house were never closed out - including the plumbing pressure check on the new bathrooms.

If that had failed the whole yard would have had to been dug up to add a larger water service line to the house to meet code. Thousands of dollars and they would have lost all the work in landscaping and improvments.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:20 PM on December 30, 2020

My biggest surprise moving to a house (from a condo I owned) was all the freaking stuff I had to learn. Just so much stuff. Had to learn about security systems. Learn about sprinkler systems, learn about low voltage landscape lighting, learn about how to not ruin granite countertops, how to care for wood floors, how to keep the plants alive, how to deal with ants, wasps, spiders, skunks in the crawlspace, on and on and on. No serious problems, just a completely endless parade of small hurdles. The house required no "improvements", but it still took me about a year of diligent effort before I could relax and stop learning new stuff so much.

One advantage I had was that the sellers were very nice and left me a nice list of the gardener, electrical guy, and other contractors they liked to use, including things like "you have to get the a/c serviced once per year or the extended warranty is invalidated". You might ask your outgoing seller for the same info (or at least get their email address in case you have questions they might be willing to answer like "Do you remember what color the paint in the living room is?".
posted by bluesky78987 at 1:20 PM on December 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Don't have much to add to the very useful and practical advice above, just wanted to give a thumbs up! We were kind of tight for the first couple of years as homeowners, but we held tight and now we are SO much better off than if we were renting. In addition, the emotional buy-in of owning is real.
posted by HaveYouTriedRebooting at 4:28 PM on December 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

When we moved into our house in 1976, we had a break-in the first day the house was unattended. Probably a neighborhood kid. The most irritating thing stolen was a deposit box key. No similar problems since.

The house had been empty for months, and a porch door might have been left unlocked, the the perp might have had the run of the house for a while. In the event though, entry was by window. He left a sneaker print on the washing machine.

But the first week is no time to relax security.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:00 PM on December 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I regret not making more of an effort to get to know my neighbors when I first moved in. I was overwhelmed and also embarrassed about the state of my barely-furnished house-I-could-barely-afford, but now I've been here for years and it'd be a weird time to start introducing myself to folks.

I also put < 20% down and drained my savings to get in the door. Don't go further into debt for furniture, upgrades, or landscaping right now. It is so tempting--some upgrades are much easier in an empty house, and you want to make the space feel like your own--but it's better to recover financially, rebuild your savings for the inevitable random repairs, and figure out what you really want to spend your money on once you've gotten to know the house. And they're tempting when you've drained your savings, but don't buy a house warranty unless you just happen to enjoy fighting claim denials as a blood sport. Just save aggressively for a few months after you get settled in.

If there is an HOA/POA, get a copy of the covenant and by-laws before you close, read them carefully, and talk to some neighbors who aren't HOA officers to get a sense of how much of a pain in the ass the HOA might be.

And keep an eye on interest rates forever (unless you're getting a rock-bottom rate, which you're probably not with <20% down). Refis always seemed like some kind of stupid financial trickery to me but I did one when rates dropped substantially nationwide and I was surprised at how easy it was and what a sound financial decision it turned out to be.
posted by xylothek at 6:46 PM on December 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

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