Many first-time homebuyers have stars in their eyes when they first begun house-hunting. Their ideal is a house that is move-in-ready, offers the number of bedrooms/baths/square footage they’re looking for, is in a great neighborhood and, of course, is within their budget. Matching all that criteria is often a tall order, especially the move-in-ready aspect of it. Buying a first home can be a scary, sobering experience, but if a buyer’s eyes are wide open and their expectations are realistic, they’ll be able to throw down that welcome mat in front of their very own front door.
The realistic part is not fun, but there are number of things first-time homebuyers worry about that really don’t matter as well as things easily changed before or after move-in.
The big (potentially bad) facts when considering your first home:
- A north-facing house will always be dark unless you add a ton of skylights.
- A house on a busy intersection will always be noisy and most corner lots will always have neighbors zipping by.
- A traditional style exterior will likely never look Manhattan-industrial chic and a contemporary one will never smack of the Hamptons.
- The next-door neighbor who uses his front yard as a car repair shop isn’t likely to change careers anytime soon.
- Homeowner fees rarely get reduced and often get jacked up over the years
- Supplemental taxes (extra ones added to your normal property taxes for infrastructure care) can last up to 25 or more years.
- Strict neighborhood restrictions (covenants, codes and restrictions) may preclude you from parking cars on the driveway or running a business out of your house.
- The commute to work will never get shorter and may, in fact, get longer.
- Schools, shopping, and freeways/interstates may never get closer than they already are.
- Barking dogs may not last forever, but they do have lifespans capable of robbing you of years of precious sleep.
- Changing the location of the laundry room or a set of stairs is no walk in the park.
- Some of the most important necessary improvements are not the sexiest: things like more attic insulation, new windows, a new roof, scraping Mount Everest texturing off the ceilings, replacing or upgrading electrical or plumbing, but they often have the best return on investment
- Older homes have secrets hidden behind walls that are not necessarily caught during a physical inspection.
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Small stuff not to sweat:
Furniture that doesn’t fit. Just because the IKEA table you painstakingly put together is a heartthrob piece to you, it’s not worth rejecting a house over. On the other hand, buying a house for that huge four-poster bed your grandparents made babies in might make you look for a house with a huge master, which in turn, may find you compromising on other things you want in the house. Remember that furniture that doesn’t work in your new home can be sold on Craigslist, given to a charity thrift store, consigned, or handed down to a relative.
Paint, wallpaper, paneling and dated built-ins. Remember this house started out as a shell, and everything you see on the interior was lovingly added by someone according to their own idea of heaven. Just because the inside looks like 1965 doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Some of the least expensive DIY projects you can do are demolishing cosmetic items, such as removing non-load-bearing walls (get an engineer to help you make sure it’s not otherwise), changing out light fixtures, replacing ugly paint colors, and smoothing out cottage cheese ceilings (with masks on, of course — check to make sure they’re not asbestos-laden before taking this on).
Don’t let yourself be bothered by the seller’s furniture and hot messes, or how they’ve used the dining room for a kids’ playroom or a messy office. Well-worn recliners and dusty drapes are nothing compared to the prospect of remodeling a kitchen or a bathroom. Before you buy, you can get some quotes on how much it will cost to remodel the kitchen and the bathrooms that look like scenes out the movie Pleasantville. Those are the rooms where updating will cost you.
Become the savvy first-timer
According to Remodeling’s annual study, putting loose-fill insulation in the attic can bring a 107.7% return on investment, while siding replacement recouped 92.8 percent of its cost. We know. Improvements like those are about as exciting as watching grass grow, but they’re among the wisest improvements to make upon move-in.
Be sure to examine what the inspection you ordered up tells you about how the house has been maintained and do some research on the neighborhood as well. No one can stop you from door-knocking and asking the neighbors a few questions. Infrastructure matters –not just the structure itself, but these days connectivity services available in the neighborhood are important. New roofs, new plumbing and new electrical systems will likely serve you better than a recently remodeled kitchen.
First-time homebuyers are often guilty of seeing things only as they are, instead of seeing what they could be. As we said, do your research. Visit the local city hall to see what the future of the neighborhood might be. Ask about those abandoned railroad tracks and the bottom of the hill and find out whether those are apartments being built behind the backyard. Call the local school district to see what schools your kids may be attending even if there are some obvious ones close by.
Surprises after move-in are not fun, but many can be avoided with a bit of due diligence. And above all, force your eye to view the potential, not the paneled walls, disco mirrors or flocked wallpaper.
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