Not long after my wife and I got engaged, my parents offered to help us with a down payment on a house. We were completely taken aback. I, for one, had just figured out how to scrub my dishes well enough before putting them in the dishwasher. How would I adapt to owning a home? Still, it was an exciting proposition, especially considering the amount of HGTV we were watching at the time (and are still watching today).
Ultimately, we decided it was best for us to keep renting for a while.
Although it didn’t take us long to come to that conclusion, we ended up learning a lot about what it’s like to be a first time home buyer. If you are ready to buy your first home, here are some tips that you’ll find useful as you dive into your search.
You are going to get a lot of advice (I mean, a lot of advice)
And not all of it will be good.
When I made the mistake of telling a few people we were considering buying our first home, people I hadn’t heard from in years suddenly came out of left field to make sure we heard what they had to say. A majority of it was sound – don’t buy too much house, avoid PMI at all costs, buy in a good school district. Some of it, though, was... surprising, to say the least.
At least one family friend made the assumption we had millions of dollars to spend on a home (we didn’t). And as much as we would have like to spend a million dollars on our first house, we knew that would cripple our ability to do much of anything else in the future.
We learned two things from all the advice we received: 1) be gracious when given advice about buying your first home and 2) trust your instincts, at least when you’re chatting with someone who isn’t a real estate agent.
Do some serious thinking about whether you can rent out your home if you decide to move
My family is in New Jersey. My wife’s is in Georgia. We would love to say we’ll settle down in one place or the other, but the truth is that we just don’t know yet.
The simple solution? A number of people in our lives said to us, "You live in New York. Rent out your place if you decide to move someday." Seems simple enough, but there’s one problem:
I have very little interest in becoming a landlord.
I’m excited about maintaining a house I own someday (more on this later, though), but I don’t imagine I’ll have the time or energy to maintain two homes, especially if one of them is being rented to another family. On top of that, if we had purchased a home in an area where tenants aren’t as easy to come by, we’d be stuck if we had to suddenly pick up and move.
For some people, owning multiple properties is a great investment. But before you say, "If I don’t like this place, I’ll just rent it out," make sure you’re not as curmudgeonly as I am about the proposition of being responsible for more than just the house you live in.
Being ready for homeownership goes way beyond having the money
We knew it at the time, but it’s worth reiterating how lucky we were to have the support we had. And we made it a point to let my parents know that we were grateful. However, the money wasn’t enough for us as a couple to say, "The Property Brothers are casting in our area! I can’t wait to meet Drew!"
In our case, our jobs (I had two at the time) and wedding-planning checklist left us little time to spend with each other, and it was taking a toll on both of us. As we began searching for a home, we quickly realized what homeownership would add to our checklists, not to mention our wallets (we’re still paying off student loans). We hadn’t even seen this study that found that on the days spent maintaining a home, people spent anywhere between 2 to 3 hours doing a variety of household tasks.
As much as I look forward to mowing my own lawn and knocking down useless walls to create an open concept someday, we needed some time to invest in our relationship before we seriously considered buying a place. We’ll never see the money we’ve paid in rent again, but having a maintenance company available to shovel snow and let us in when we’ve forgotten our keys gives us a lot of room to grow as a healthy couple before we consider adding homeownership or aahhh kids to the equation. If kids are about to become a part of the equation for you, having the flexibility to choose your space based on your new needs—and not having to deal with the physical burden of carrying a child while searching for a home—might outweigh the benefits of being "settled" before your newborn arrives.
So what now?
Some people will say (and have said) that we were crazy for not taking my parents up on their offer. However, we knew it was best for us to pass, especially as a younger couple (my 26-year-old wife considers me "old" because I’ll be 29 in two weeks). Of course, we’d like to own someday, just not today. And that works just fine for us.
What are some of the most surprising lessons you’ve learned about buying a home for the first time (even if you’ve never bought one)? Let us know in the comments below!