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Buying a House: 25 Things I Wish I Knew at 25

Buying a House: 25 Things I Wish I Knew at 25

Lily Zappulla and Kathy Simpson

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 workMike 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!

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40 Responses to "Buying a House: 25 Things I Wish I Knew at 25"
    • Cynthia Propst | November 17, 2020 at 12:35 pm

      Really nice post!

    • Bill G | November 17, 2020 at 9:07 am

      Buy a smaller house!!
      Invest $500/month or more in ETF’s . Between the house and the stocks, you will have a lot more at 50 or 60 years old when you want to retire.

    • Rob B. | November 9, 2020 at 8:37 pm

      Find out early on if there’s a Home Owners Association (HOA) and what kind of rules you will be expected to live by. With the first house I bought We had dogs and up on closing, before moving in, I started setting fence posts to fence in the back year. After setting several posts I was approached by several of our new neighbors inquiring if we had gotten permission to construct a fence? Turns out in some communities you need approval to make almost any changes to your home, including paint colors. Better to find out before you buy as to what restrictions my be applied to your landscaping and decorating plans.

    • Tad | November 7, 2020 at 4:16 pm

      Before doing anything, visit a bank that you might use for your mortgage and ask how much mortgage you can afford. That amount, plus your down payment, places a maximum price on a house you might want to buy. The bank may also provide a preliminary estimate of the total closing costs for a hypothetical purchase.

    • Anthony DeCicco | November 7, 2020 at 11:31 am

      There are buyer’s brokers and seller’s broker, understand which one you’re working with. A broker isn’t a buyer’s broker just because they have shown you dozens homes. A seller’s brokers is legally obligated to work for the seller. They are required to tell the seller everything you say during the negotiation including your willingness to pay a higher price.

    • Jill G. | November 7, 2020 at 11:24 am

      Most homebuying occurs in the spring when it’s easy to forget what you’ll be dealing with in the winter. There are many features of my home that I appreciate after the fact – things that didn’t cross my mind before putting in an offer. Among them are a driveway that’s straight and flat (making snow shoveling easy) with space on either side to put the snow, a roof without entry points for squirrels and a foundation that’s concrete rather than fieldstone so there are no openings for mice.

    • Dan Lumsden | November 7, 2020 at 10:30 am

      Bought our first home in 1970, my wife noted that in 30 years it would be paid for. In the interim years until 2000 when the time was up we moved 3 times. House number 5 we paid for with a wire transfer using a bridge loan that was paid off when #4 sold. Yes, in 30 years we were free and clear owners and now we shop insurance and pay our taxes each year. When you retire it makes a difference, but thankfully we will not be looking at a reverse mortgage unless we live to 120!

    • Brad Dallof | November 6, 2020 at 12:19 pm

      The single most important factor, whether considering to buy, already own, or want to sell a home, is your investment. Mortgage statements only keep track of principal payments. They do not account for the interest you have paid. Buying and selling a home is a good investment but not as good as you would think. In the last six years, my daughter paid $21,000 toward the principal on her home bringing her mortgage balance from $190,000 to $169,000. Good for her. What did not appear on any of her statements was the amount of interest she paid, which was $70,000.

      Mortgage loans use an amortized schedule. At the beginning of the loan, most of your payment goes toward interest. By the time you reach the end of your loan, a large portion of the payment is now going toward the principal. After you purchase (close on) a home, an amortized schedule will be included with the papers you receive indicating the total amount you will pay over the course of the loan. The amount is shocking!

      Building equity in a home is a wonderful thing. It can offset what you spend in interest. When you decide to sell your home, calculate the actual amount of money that you have spent to see if you are really coming out ahead. Just multiply your payments by the number of months you have paid. If your payments include taxes and insurance you should deduct that amount first, then multiply your payments.

    • Cris | November 5, 2020 at 3:42 pm

      Love The Hartford! My rates have gone up, but I think that’s just a sign of the times. They’re great service has been the best and they’re always so friendly on the phone.

    • brian kollmeier | November 5, 2020 at 3:05 pm

      I have owner 7 homes, some new, some resales, one built in 1860. When it comes to construction newer is worser. Sheathing, the wood siding under the siding you see, is the strength of the house. Without it the frame collapses. Usually plywood in anything built after 1960, it provides lateral strength. New homes built after 1990 or so are mainly made of soft composite sheets instead of plywood for sheathing. This is bad for a lot or reasons besides strength of the structure. When siding has to be replaced or repaired it provides no firm base for attachment. Roofing is worse. Particle board is used in newer homes for roof sheathing under the shingles. Over time this will sag and look terrible as well as not provide a firm nailing base for shingles. Have your house inspected for these weaknesses before buying or you will pay big dollars in the future to correct them.

    • Patricia Hearring | November 5, 2020 at 2:53 pm

      Fantastic reference info for home buyers!!!!

    • Rick | June 4, 2019 at 12:19 pm

      We bought a house with a beautiful, but shaggy oak tree in the front yard. We called to have it trimmed only to find out it was dying and needed to be removed; this was verified by another trimming service and the county arborist. $8000.00 later, I would recommend having large trees checked as part of the pre-purchase inspection.

      • Extra Mile Staff | June 4, 2019 at 11:45 pm

        Rick- thank you for providing this excellent advice!

    • Ila E. Stapleton | May 1, 2019 at 6:04 pm

      After learning that a local Navy service man and his family were forced out of their Port Orchard, Washington home, because the place is contaminated with methamphetamine, I wanted to inform others about this issue as I for one, didn’t know about this issue.
      The Barnes bought the place after the Navy transferred them here a year ago. But after their son kept getting sick they had the place tested for mold. It was four times the legal limit. They said none of this came up in the home inspection done before they bought the place because apparently, they don’t test for methamphetamine. And please note that Inspectors don’t check for mold either unless you ask for it and pay extra.

      • Extra Mile Staff | May 3, 2019 at 1:23 pm

        Thank you for sharing, Ila.

    • Jeanne | April 30, 2019 at 4:03 am

      Visit the neighborhood at night. Things can be different. My sister bought a house on a not too busy during the day but discovered that the nearby port unloaded cars from dusk to dawn, causing loud rumbling traffic all night. The house shook. Is there a security light that shines right into the master bedroom? Could some clubs that close at 2 be a way home for those avoid police or traffic? How early are children dropped of at school? And more. I recommend at least one 24 hour watch. Weekends can also hold surprises.

      • Extra Mile Staff | April 30, 2019 at 3:02 pm

        Wow, what a great tip! Thanks for sharing, Jeanne.

    • JULIUS KLAUSNER | April 28, 2019 at 5:45 pm

      I have owned two homes, for forty years plus, and I learned some great points from your list. your list was great. I have one recently married daughter, I will forward this list immediately to her. I will also hold a copy for friends and neighbors. Thank you so much.

      • Extra Mile Staff | April 29, 2019 at 1:55 pm

        Julius- thank you passing our list along!

    • Stefanie Mead | April 28, 2019 at 1:02 am

      Beware of wallpaper. I live in Florida, purchased a home inspected by two professionals, one of whom was from the insurance company. Two weeks after closing and eager to move in I began ripping off old bathroom wallpaper, surprise! Black mold. The entire shower, walls, flooring had to be gutted. Damage was caused by copper piping which had been leaking for years.

      • Extra Mile Staff | April 29, 2019 at 2:35 pm

        Great advice Stefanie- thank you for sharing!

    • Mary An Coty | April 28, 2019 at 12:46 am

      Husband died, sold 75 year old house, finally, purchased townhouse in a much better area, higher taxes, too. The first morning taking a shower the cold water would not turn off. That afternoon the hot water tank went caflooy all covered by an insurance policy purchased by our real estate person.The next week the dishwasher overflowed, the refer, brand new, went out and the toilet wouldn’t stop running. After Christmas we noticed a gradual discoloration of the wall over the fireplace. Roof replaced two years before with 1/4″ sheeting instead of 1/2″ allowed water to get under the roofing and “run” into the fireplace. The whole inside was mildewed and the chimney was cracked. I called my insurance on that one and they pulled down the chimney, pulled out the fireplace and wall, cleaned up the mildew, replaced the wall and I put in an electric fireplace. My cost was $4000.00, Insurance paid $62,000.00. Not to mention the sellers hide the ivy covering the one huge flowerbed with bark and on and on and on. It has been three years and hopefully most problems have shown themselves or there will be no more.
      I had my own inspector plus the seller had one and yet a number of problems that didn’t show during inspection popped up.
      I must say when you buy a house as a first home buyer or even a second or third home buyer “be careful”. Get several knowledgeable craftsmen to check out the residence just to be safe. It will save you a ton of money and a lot of sorrow.

    • Gladys D. Orama | April 27, 2019 at 8:13 pm

      While planning on home improvement make sure you hire professional people to do the job.

    • paul tyre | April 27, 2019 at 6:37 pm

      The #1 thing in Florida and states that have similar laws is…” Use a Single Agency Buyer’s Broker.” !

    • Sheila Lacher | April 27, 2019 at 4:27 pm

      It really pays to search to find the right house for you, not the cheapest or the most showy, but one that you will live in for a few years, at least.

    • Jennie Sindak | April 27, 2019 at 2:49 pm

      In some states the inspectors are barely trained. Especially if you are buying an older home, spend the money to have an engineer look at the foundation. If you have a finished basement a house inspection won’t show the cracks behind the finished walls. An engineer knows what to look for. It should be the law. Foundation cracks can cost a small fortune to fix. I know, love my home of one year. Not at all happy I am now paying to fix the foundation.

    • Helen Snyder | April 27, 2019 at 2:46 pm

      Tip #9: your loan-related costs have to be fully disclosed by your lender under RESPA, and you should treat your title or escrow officer as a source of info about. Other closing costs like escrow fees, title fees, recording fees and the rest. The realtors’ commissions are not typically part of the buyers’ closing costs unless that was spelled out early on. As a realtor, I bring up closing costs early on in the relationship with buyer or seller, and buyers should always ask if it’s not covered.

      • Extra Mile Staff | April 29, 2019 at 2:43 pm

        Thanks for providing this insight Helen!

    • Nancy Rohn | April 27, 2019 at 5:58 am

      Older houses or houses that have been occupied for 10+ years should get new outlets installed. Cheap and easy to do. An attic fan or two can alleviate hot houses. Worth the investment!! Requires an electrician to wire it and roofer or contractor to install the unit. Wish I had done this 15 years earlier. We don’t need air conditioning because of the attic fans. Dogs would have been a lot cooler when left in the house during 4th of July fireworks.
      Put in lots of bulbs in the yard that return every year. Buy them in the fall when they go on sale and plant according to your area. Fresh flowers in the house or bouquets to others are always welcome.
      Get an independent inspection. Know where your crawl space access is if your house isn’t on a slab. Know where your plumbing cleanout is. Know where your attic access is. Is the house insulated underneath? You won’t know until you tour the crawl space. Is there enough insulation in the attic? Poke your head up there and look. Keep information on paint colors inside your electrical panel. Label your paint cans.
      Go introduce yourself to your neighbors. National Night Out Neighborhood Watch is the first Tuesday in August. Organize a block party.

      • Extra Mile Staff | April 29, 2019 at 2:38 pm

        Amazing advice Nancy! Thanks for your feedback.

    • Kris | April 26, 2019 at 1:02 am

      Maybe one of the tips applies to the first of my two home purchases: 1988, a 3 bedroom + 2.5 bath townhome condominium, in a seller’s market. At the age of 44, I finally had the financial resources to attempt a purchase, when there was very little available in the San Fernando Valley at less than $100/square foot. Was able to borrow the 20% down payment from two tax-sheltered annuities (like IRAs, for educators) and get a 30-year fixed mortgage sweetheart rate of 10 3/8%.
      A surprise was the amount of “earnest money” required, which I borrowed from a friend prior to the annuity loans. After moving in, I realized I couldn’t live with the grey interior walls or the red toilet seat in the kids’ bathroom or the decorative 4′-high white picket fencing around the dining room walls. A complete interior paint job really was required. Additional surprise: two sliding glass doors and the dining room window that were too wide for any off-the-shelf drapes, absolutely required for privacy; contracting and selecting from J.C. Penney, they were “custom” and about the same as one month’s mortgage payment. It was three months before they were delivered and installed, but not before the HOA had pointedly inquired about my makeshift screening.
      Five years later, a couple years after I’d had an accelerator installed on the gas furnace because it had trouble turning on, the gas company started doing on-demand free inspections with exhaust analyzing devices. Turned out the roof exhaust pipe had been blocked at some time during or before residency of the two previous owners (10 years), and I’d been breathing the exhaust for 5+ years. Furnace worked very well after a local vendor who could do roof work unblocked it.
      Yes, do find and pay for your own inspection. Be specific for anything involving heating, cooling, electrical, plumbing, and drainage. Oh, and termites or other critters known to be invasive in the area.

      • Extra Mile Staff | April 26, 2019 at 11:57 am

        Thanks for sharing, Kris. This will help a lot of the readers when buying a house.

    • Larry | April 25, 2019 at 3:47 pm

      Get your own appraiser especially if you are buying your new house for cash. Few hundred dollars can save you much sorrow later when you discover the hard way that you paid $10,000 to ? To much. Also appraiser can give other advise that can save you money about major repairs that may not add value to your homes resale. Surprised no one mentioned never buy. Home on a sloped lot. Homes shift and also cutting grass can be dangerous and very hard.

    • Deborah Hiner | April 25, 2019 at 2:34 pm

      This valuable information. I will use these 25 tips when looking to purchase a new home.

      • Extra Mile Staff | April 25, 2019 at 9:46 pm

        Thanks for reading, Deborah!

    • Darvin Sutton | April 25, 2019 at 1:12 pm

      You can always change things in your new home but the lot it sits on is forever. Being on a lot sitting below street level or up a grade could be a problem. Any property that sits near a creek or river is a potential problem. Amazing how often that “once in a hundred year rain” seems to occur.

    • Buying Property To Rent | April 13, 2018 at 4:27 pm

      i love what you have completed here. keep up the great writing!

    • Mapo | October 24, 2017 at 12:48 pm

      This is my third house I acquired. After I got separated I had my wishes to own a historical or at least a Vitoria era home. Searched all over for months while I moved into an apartment I rented. Finally after many trips I was able to find the house of my dreams, a house built in 1772, in good fair condition, but with a lot of work to do. So here what is my advice to you if you are buying a house under 415,000. Go FHA/ HUD if it’s your first house or your life status changed…you will win big buy doing it. I sold my house and my life status changed from married to divorced, so, I was ok to buy using this method which was great deal. The house was on foreclosure, by using HUD/ FHA the bank must fix the house for you so it comply with HUD to be in livable conditions. I got new electric box, new furnace, new water heater, few new windows done by the bank who owned the house. Once I moved in I replaced roofs, installed solar panels, removed carpets and finished hard flooring. Did some plumbing and electric to be more modernized, I installed new hood and range stove top, ( which was used in great conditions). I bought oops paint gallons at Home Depot for 9.00 instead of original price of 45.00 per gallon. I used unexpensive handyman, searched google for unexpensive roofers. I got all of these done ( excluded solar panel) for less than 11,000. Remember one thing, once you buy a house people think you are rich or you have a lots of money. So be like “ this is what I can pay you, not more than that”, if the person wants the job then they will do it for what you can afford to pay him. Do your yard work at the end of autumn or on winter when landscapers are off of jobs, it’s much cheaper too. I have one acre to clean up and it will be done at winter time so I will save money. It take a lot for us women to accomplish things in our own, but we can do it. I find it much easier for men to get good deal, so I do pai with some males once things doesn’t go right on my own. Buying a house is the best investment we can do, so do not install your TV until you have all your hints accomplished, TV can and will keep you from working around the house.

    • Gpyle | October 21, 2017 at 8:59 pm

      Pay for your own inspection, don’t use an inspector recommended by the seller or, especially, the real estate agent. And read the fine print in the inspection report. Most of them say that the results are “an opinion” on the condition of the house. The inspectors specifically exclude any liability for things they missed.

    • Nunyainct | October 17, 2017 at 3:00 am

      I bought a contemporary. The house itself is 2200 sq ft, the roof was 4400 sq ft because of the extended eaves…lesson learned, massive roof, massive roof bill for a complete tear down. Think out your projected expenses for necessities in addition to the wish list of other renovations.

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