What I Wish I’d Known Before Buying My First House

What I Wish I’d Known Before Buying My First House

So you’re finally ready to purchase your first home. You're daydreaming about the down payment, whether you can live with that ugly dining room paint job and shopping trips to Home Goods to furnish the den.

But have you considered everything? Some common regrets include buying something too small or hating the neighborhood.

These former first-time homebuyers are 'fessing up to their missteps so you can avoid them yourself.

Mistake #1: “I wish I had considered the school district — even though I didn't have kids.”

When Julie Strongson-Aldape, 41, and her husband bought their first home in Baltimore in their pre-kid days, the last thing on her mind was looking at public school districts or ratings. Then came two babies, and later on, a job offer in New Orleans.

Unfortunately, because the school district wasn’t attractive to prospective buyers, they’ve been unable to sell their home.

“Even if my husband hadn't gotten a job in New Orleans, we would have had to move anyway when our 5-year-old son started school; the public schools zoned for our Baltimore house are not doable, and we can't afford private school,” Strongson-Aldape says. “When we moved, we were unable to sell without taking a huge loss, so we are renting it out now right now. I don't know if we'll ever be able to sell and even break even.”

What the Realtors Say: Always consider the neighborhood and school districts to future-proof for resale value, says Rebecca Perlman, a realtor for Keller Williams Realty, who is licensed in Connecticut and New York.

“For younger buyers thinking about a home investment while interest rates are still low, think about the long-term potential of the home, not just the features of the house itself," Perlman says. "Can you be happy there if you are unable to sell in the future and have to stay in the house longer than planned?”

Realtor Judy Markowitz of Energized Realty Group, who practices in New York, says walking around a potential new neighborhood, visiting area schools and meeting with the principals are as important as looking at district ratings on sites like GreatSchools.org, Trulia or Zillow.

RELATED: Help! I Can't Stop Zillow Stalking My Friends' Houses

Mistake #2: “I wish I had known how expensive renovations would be.”

When Megan Folkman, 34, and her husband bought their first home in Brentwood, California, they were in love with the structure of the house, how it looked and the overall charm. So they assumed that fixing the things they didn’t like so much inside would be a cinch.

It wasn’t.

“We don't have time for DIY, and now we're in sticker shock with how much outside companies charge just for labor these days,” Folkman says. “I love our home, but I wish I had a better understanding of the cost of making it ‘our own.’”

What the Realtors Say: Lots of buyers are eager to find a home with “potential,” Perlman says.

However, doing substantial renovations, especially structural work like taking down a wall, can be costly. You may end up paying as much for a fixer upper plus repairs as you would have for a finished home, Markowitz says.

“The major difference is that you’ll get to pick out materials you like, but unless you have expertise in decor, you might not like the materials you put in as much when you see the results,” she adds.

If you’re set on HGTV-ing it, bring a contractor or other experienced craftsman along to get a rough estimate of the work required.

“A contractor can very quickly look in the basement or attic to determine whether walls are load bearing or hold hidden pipes, duct work or other home systems,” Perlman says. “They also know the cost of materials, labor and subcontractors.”

Make sure the contractor has done work on homes like the one you want to buy.

“Don’t look at work on a $700,000 house when you’re buying a $200,000 co-op,” Markowitz says.

RELATED: Getting Outbid in a Red-Hot Market, and Other Tales of Home-Buying Surprises

Mistake #3: ‘I wish I had hired my own independent home inspector.”

When visual artist Laura Higgins Palmer, 62, bought her first home in Maryland, the Annapolis resident figured that since it was new, it was flawless.

“Because it was a new home, we figured everything had been inspected exhaustively, so we didn't bother with an independent home inspection,” she says.

Turns out the foundation wasn’t so great.

“We spent a couple of years trying to get our builder to repair faulty things like concrete that flaked, a cold air return duct that wasn't sealed properly, and we finally gave up and fixed it ourselves,” Higgens Palmer says. “If we instead had the independent inspection and built it into our bid, the builder might have repaired these things.”

What the Realtors Say: A real estate agent's recommended home inspector may not assess for all the property's potential pitfalls. Shop around early for an independent inspector so you can quickly address any issues before moving forward with an offer.

In addition to a general building inspection, Perlman says, specialized tests — including inspections for lead, mold and termites, as well as a radon test for air and water — may be recommended.

The inspections Perlman's clients do take a minimum of three hours, no matter the size of the home.

RELATED: How I Saved $150,000 — and Bought My First Home

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