For many of us, buying a house was our first glimpse of “adult life.” From finding a new home to moving and settling in, the first-home experience is probably stressful as it is rewarding — with many lessons to learn, sometimes the hard way. Looking back, wouldn’t it have been easier if you knew then what you know now?
We asked 25 people for one thing they wish they knew at 25 for the benefit of today’s new generation of first-time homebuyers. This is what they had to say.
1. Know what you can afford. Set a price range based on your income and debt as well as the down payment and closing costs you’ll need to finalize the deal. Then stick to your budget. Mortgaging more than you can comfortably afford can cause financial stress down the road. — George W.
2. Your credit score will dictate more than you think — when you’re buying a house and in all aspects of your life. Make sure you have a good one! Pay your bills on time and in full, keep credit card balances as low as possible, and don’t take out any new loans or make major purchases until after you buy your new home. —Alphonso D.
3. Closing costs are like a black hole. They include a long list of expenses, from loan-related fees and property taxes to insurance premiums and attorney’s fees. Ask your real estate agent for an estimate of your closing costs so you can be prepared. —Belma K.
Shopping for a Home
4. Work with an experienced agent you know you can trust — one who knows the local housing market, and is attentive to your needs and willing to hustle for you. You’ll be spending a lot of time together, so rapport is essential. Ask family and friends for referrals, or a relocation specialist if you’re making a long-distance move. — Katie F.
5. Finding a home you love is as much about the community as it is about the house itself. Do your research and pick the best neighborhood for your lifestyle. Ask about the crime rate, noise level, traffic and any future development planned for the area. Take a tour on foot and visit at different times, including nights and weekends, so you won’t be met with any surprises when you move in. —Camilla N.
6. Pay attention to the lot the house sits on. Tall trees near the house can be hazardous and costly to take down. A sloping lot can be difficult to maintain and impossible to mow. Waterfront property can be prone to flooding, and may require flood insurance. And remember, more yard means more yard work. —Mike A.
7. Buying a fixer-upper is a great way to get a great deal on a place. But you may need to invest more time, effort and money than you expected to get the result you were hoping for. Don’t get attached to what a fixer-upper “could” look like without talking to contractors or other experts. —Robert B.
8. Don’t get hung up on paint color, carpeting or anything that can be easily changed. Focus on the more expensive or permanent things, even if they are less visible. —Mary E.
The Purchase Process
9. A home inspection is a must. A standard inspection will identify trouble spots and needed repairs, but you should also have the house checked for termites, mold and radon. They’ll cost extra, but can save you lots of sorrow in the long run. —Paul A.
10. Negotiate with the seller. Your bargaining power will depend upon the housing market, and your agent can help you strategize accordingly. Once you’ve made an offer, you may be able to leverage inspection report findings, especially if major problems are identified. — Kathy S.
11. Shop around for home insurance. Mortgage lenders require proof of insurance before they’ll fund your loan, and may offer referrals. But it’s smart to compare pricing, coverages, and consumer reviews for a few different insurers before purchasing a policy. — Bill B.
12. Don’t get emotionally attached to a house until after the closing. It is good to envision yourself living there, but until you close, so many things can get in the way. —Matt B.
Moving and Settling In
13. When packing your own moving van, use moving boxes that are all the same size (rather than boxes you collect from here and there). This makes for more efficient packing, especially for out-of-state moves. —Lucie J.
14. Before unpacking, do a walkthrough of the entire house. Make sure everything is as you expect it to be. Get familiar with the essentials, like the circuit breaker box, main water valve and plumbing cleanout. You don’t want to be searching around for these items if you ever blow a circuit or have a major plumbing problem, such as a burst pipe. — Evelyn B.
15. Get to know your neighbors. Introduce yourself and make friends as soon as you move in. You never know when you might need them, and a friendly rapport can help make everyday living much more enjoyable. —Neil E.
16. Change the locks, and throw out the keys you got at the closing! You have no idea who has copies of those keys. It’s better to be safe than sorry. — Chris. H.
17. Keep your calendar as open as possible in the beginning. Between service appointments and just unpacking, you’ll need to be flexible. —Joe F.
18. Don’t get a new pet right away (unless it’s a fish). As tempting as it may be, you will be too busy with appointments, projects or setting up your new home. —Abby Z.
Home Projects and Maintenance
19. Many people want to change five or six things they don’t like about a new home before moving in. Live in the home for six months first. You will probably find five or six new things that bother you more! Waiting also gives you time to rebuild your savings so you can more easily pay for your projects. —Jake F.
20. The planned timeline for every “easy project” should be multiplied by three, to account for all of the “not-so-easy” issues that come up along the way. It literally happens every time. —Alyssa F.
21. Home renovations are stressful and time-consuming, but if you stick it out and do it right the first time, you will save yourself years of stress (and money!). Hire qualified contractors to make improvements and repairs you’re not qualified to do, and be sure to pull any necessary permits with the local building authority. —Salvatore Z.
22. There will always be something that “needs to be done” on the house, and sometimes it’s okay to relax outside with a glass of wine instead. —Alyssa F.
23. You’ll need a few new tools even if you don’t plan on any big DIY projects. Start with a hammer, a set of screwdrivers, electric drill, ladder, stud finder, and measuring tape. If you buy a house with land, invest in the big stuff (lawn mower, snow blower, etc.) but don’t forget the little things (lawn rake, shovel, pruning tools, etc.)! —Frank I.
24. When shopping for paint, many stores have “used” pints or gallons that are still almost full but sold at half the price. Great for bathroom renos or other projects! —Sue S.
25. Go into your basement regularly, even if you don’t have a use for it. We neglected to check on our basement for about a month, and when I finally made it downstairs, there was about a foot of water. Gross and a pain! —Beth G.
Have a few first-time homeowner tips of your own? We’d love to hear from you. Please share them in the comments below!