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Regret-Me-Not

Buying
5 PITFALLS TO AVOID AS A FIRST-TIME HOME BUYER

Ah, spring: that most refreshing of seasons, full of new things. New growth. New baby birds chirping in that birch tree that you park your car under. (You might not be able to see them, but your windshield sure has its share of proof.) New ducklings falling beak-first into that “pond” in the middle of the park next door. New home buyers. New life.

You may have noticed that one member of this list is distinctly less adorable than the others.

Don’t worry, new home buyer – we’re not here to hold your lack of adorableness against you. On the contrary, we’re sure you could out-chic those ducklings any day; which is to say, any other, regular day. You know, one where you haven’t been ripping out chunks of your hair and fretting about that massive hunk of wood and metal you’re about to make the biggest financial commitment of your life to.

Hey, it’s a crazy process, and you are entitled to a certain amount of fretting. The trick is making sure that all the fretting happens before you buy the house, not after. Otherwise, those ducklings are going to be top-dog on the pond scene for a good long time to come.

If you’re looking to avoid the top 5 pitfalls of new home buyers, you have come to the right place.

Bigger is better: Yes, you know we’re going to say it: size does matter. You have more stuff than you think. Don’t believe me? Go on — open that little cupboard in your entryway and count how many different pairs of shoes you’ve managed to cram into that tiny space over the past few years. And, just like some of our less-than-fortunate waistlines, the stuff we accumulate over time tends to go up in bulk, rather than the other way around. To be clear, we’re not advocating that you break the bank for the sake of acquiring ten extra shoe closets. However, don’t lose your head over something that is “too cute to resist” and decide that you can make do with less space than you know you really need. Your shoe menagerie will not thank you for it. Trust us.

Get to know the place: Truly, we’re not just blowing hot air with this one. It’s a dog-eat-dog housing market out there, and people are snapping things up so fast that sometimes the skunk fails to look twice before it crosses the road. Understand that doing so could get you flattened by a Vespa—or, you know, one of those massive OVERSIZE truck loads with the yellow flashing lights of doom. You wouldn’t marry a guy based on his eHarmony profile, and you shouldn’t buy a house based on those six MLS photos you glimpsed as you were gulping down your coffee this morning, either. Dig up your facts before you cough up the cash. Otherwise you’re going to end up with a plague of hidden mold behind that whole north-facing wall, a race of termites under that beautiful new deck, and Mello-Roos that cost more than the mortgage.

Pamper your piggy bank: It’s your first time buying a house, and like pretty much all first-time-anythings, you have some expectations. A nice ensuite in the master. A nice sunny deck. Heck, make that nice deck into a nice greenhouse, and throw some nice skylights into the nice tile roof while you’re at it – that way you can grow your prize-winning geraniums in every room! What many first-time home buyers fail to realize, however, is that “nice” things like geranium-friendly skylights add up fast, and a lot of the time the aforementioned home buyers aren’t financially secure enough to pay for them. The moral of the story here being: don’t let your eyes get bigger than your pocketbook. Figure out how much you can really afford without stressing out over it every month. Otherwise you’re just going to end up spending even more on prescription sleeping pills and aromatic essential oils, desperately battling the chronic insomnia that comes with not being sure if you can make your mortgage payments every month.

Make the makeover snappy: Yes, we know: you and your bank account have been on better terms. Sure, you’ve had your differences over the years — a designer-jeans binge here, a splurge at the Coach store there. But it’s never had a sucker punch to the savings account quite like this before. Worse, the damage isn’t done yet: you still have that ghastly lime-green countertop in the middle of your otherwise pristine-and-perfect kitchen to deal with. The sight of it makes you queasy, but the thought of shelling out even more cash to remodel right now is having pretty much the same effect. So you think, “Maybe I can put up with it for six months. Just until the sticker shock has died down and my wallet stops shrieking in terror every time I reach for it…”

Think again! There is a real risk that you will end up sticking yourself with that monstrosity of a countertop for years to come – possibly even forever – if you don’t take a sledgehammer to it right now. Frankly, it’s just too much trouble to play musical chairs with everything again, once you’re settled. Before, the way was free and clear for lime-green-countertop demolition. But now, there is a toaster on it. Not to mention a blender, a microwave, a dish rack, a rice cooker, a can opener, an electric tea kettle, a mixer, and your Super Deluxe Margaritaville II machine. Think of where you’re going to stash all those things during the remodel (note: electrical appliances and bathtubs generally do not mix). Think of all the dust you will be subjecting your nice, clean furniture to. Think of your poor asthmatic Chihuahua, Q-Tip. But whatever you do, don’t think, “Well, with all this stuff on it, I can’t see that much of this hideous countertop anyway. Maybe I can hold out just a few more months…”

Pay now, play later: Most of us would agree that a house tops the list of huge purchases we will make in our lifetimes. Spending this much money on a single object can be a wee bit intimidating. So when new home buyers are faced with the choice of putting down a large down payment vs. a smaller one, the latter option can be pretty tempting.

However, as we well know, most things that are tempting tend to have a dark side. The gallon of triple-chocolate-chunk rocky road ice cream was tempting three days into your latest for-real-this-time diet.  That eighth cosmo was tempting on your last trip to Vegas (“last” as in you’re never going back, because they’ve banned you from the place for life).

The same is true of house down payments. Take the “tempting” path of putting down the bare minimum, and you’re going to end up saddling yourself with extra costs in the long run – like mortgage insurance and a higher interest rate. On the other hand, if you save up a solid 20% down payment for your new home, you can skip that whole mortgage insurance thing, and your interest rate will be lower. Plus, your mortgage payment itself won’t be as high month-to-month.  This is thousands of dollars in savings we’re talking about here. Which leaves you some extra pocket money to take care of your cosmo fix. Just do us a favor, and think twice before sneaking back into Vegas.

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Kristine Serio
Kristine Serio is an editor and writer with Author Bridge Media. Her real estate roots stretch back to her grandfather, who launched a profitable second career as an investor during the 1950s. She is now passionate about empowering women through real estate writing. Her authors and entrepreneurs have been featured in The New York Times, O: the Oprah Magazine, and the San Diego Union Tribune.
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