What I Wish We Did Differently When Buying Our First Home

Matt Christensen
·10 min read

Home buying is a huge ordeal with a lot of room for error. No wonder why, in a survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by homes.com, 40-percent said that buying a home was the most stressful experience of their lives. Hell, 30-percent of those individuals said they were reduced to tears at some point the process. The most common causes included a lack of confidence in their home-buying savvy, the length of the process itself, and just a general unfamiliarity with all the minutiae that buying a home requires. Certainly many homeowners would agree with the sentiments. Home buying is complicated. There are a million questions to consider.

It’s almost impossible to get everything right. But, it helps to hear advice from those who have already gone through the process. So, to offer a bit of help to anyone searching for a home right now — and because hindsight is 20/20 — we spoke to a variety of parents and asked: What do you wish you knew about the home-buying process or did differently during your search? They spoke of meeting the neighbors, finding a more attentive real estate agent, not spending so much on the down payment, and looking harder at schools. While home buying is different for everyone and, yes, you’ll have some regrets or things you’d do differently, all of this advice is worth reading to help you find a home you love — limit a bad case of the ‘coulda, woulda, shoudas’.

I Wish We’d Met the Neighbors

“Because they’re assholes. If I could go back to buying my first house, I would immediately canvas the neighborhood and introduce myself, just to get a sense of who I’d be living near. My wife and I were newlyweds, so we were infatuated with the concept of our first house. So infatuated that we ended up buying a really nice one that backs up to a family of dirt bike riders who blast music and make noise constantly. Our other neighbors were okay, but we were definitely fish out of water, and it made for a lot of strife the whole time we were there. Luckily that was only a few years. We were able to sell the place — we even turned a profit — and move to a new, well-researched home.” – Bruce, 39, Ohio

I Wish We Looked Harder at the Schools

“We moved to a new state when we bought our first house, sight unseen. My husband got a big promotion that necessitated it, and we had to move really quickly. The house we found was great. We had a great realtor who worked with us completely virtually, and we were really happy with the actual house and neighborhood when we moved in. But, when we sent our kids — son, 8, daughter, 10 — to school, they hated it. Even though the area seemed nice, it turned out that the schools were known for being pretty terrible. After the fact, I looked online, and at the local Facebook pages, and it was right there for all to see. I wish I’d thought to do that before we moved.” – Kim, 38, Colorado

I Wish I’d Seen the Yard in the Rain

“We bought our first house in the summer. We spent the season landscaping, planting flowers, and all that. Then fall came, with the beautiful changing leaves. Then winter. No problem. But when spring came, the first major downpour we had turned our backyard into a literal swamp. Standing water was at least a foot deep, for almost a half-acre. We’d become friendly with the neighbors by then, and they told us that the previous owner had done a really shitty job landscaping the backyard, and was too cheap to ever get it fixed. He knew it was an issue, but it was never disclosed to us because it wasn’t prevalent during the buying process. And it wasn’t something we would’ve ever thought to even consider asking about. We ended up paying about ten grand to get the yard regraded so the water would run off properly.” – Justin, 40, Michigan

I Wish We’d Gotten a Home Inspection

“I bought my first house ‘as-is’ for a great price. It was sort of a family friend deal, and I knew that the house wasn’t in mint condition. What I didn’t know was how much I would actually end up shelling out over the years to replace the furnace, waterproof the basement, and fix just about every plumbing fixture in the house. Since we agreed on ‘as-is’, an inspection wouldn’t have changed the price, but at least it would’ve given me a ballpark figure regarding what a money pit I was buying. All told, I think I could’ve bought a nicer house in better condition for what I paid for that one, plus all the improvements I had to make.” – Matt, 37, Massachusetts

I Wish We’d Been Less Superficial

“Our first house was such a cliché. No white picket fence, but it was all about looks for us. We wanted the classic cul-de-sac house in the suburbs, and were determined to get one. We found one, but it was mildly outside of our budget. Once our first mortgage payment hit, my husband and I were kind of like, ‘Oh shit. This is real now.’ We were young, and we were stupid, and we were in over our heads. It was just the two of us at the time, and we definitely didn’t need that much house. We should’ve bought small, made improvements, resold, and then upsized once our family started growing. Classic rookie mistake that, thankfully, we were able to learn from.” – Allison, 35, North Carolina

I Wish We’d Been More Flexible

“We were completely rigid on what we wanted in a house, and we didn’t budge. Because of that, we missed out on a lot of great opportunities in the process. Our ‘Wishlist’ turned into this non-negotiable set of criteria that we just believed was out there, waiting specifically for us, in some perfect scenario. And our list was so specific. We wanted a certain price, a certain number of bedrooms, certain number of bathrooms, certain acreage. We were homebuying brats. And what happened? Of course we never found a ‘perfect’ first home. We settled and got a place we liked, but we always wonder if there was another diamond in the rough during our search that we missed because we refused to budge for so long.” – Lynn, 34, Pennsylvania

I Wish We’d Just Asked More Questions

“When you buy your first home, you don’t know what you don’t know. So, as we went through the process, we were sort of just going through the motions. Like, ‘Look at us, we’re buying a house. Adulting!’ We didn’t think to ask about stuff like how old the roof was, what kind of shape the HVAC system was in, or what the condition of the foundation was. We had a home inspection, but it became pretty clear that he did the bare minimum once we started having to make service calls to fix leaks and broken radiators. There really are no stupid questions when you’re making the biggest purchase of your life.” – Mike, 34, South Carolina

I Wish We’d Found a More Attentive Realtor

“We used a realtor whose face was on billboards and yard signs all over the city. That was a huge mistake. He was popular, yeah, but that just meant more people wanted to hire him. And the more clients he took on — and he took on a lot — the less time he had for each of them, including us. To his credit, he did take us around to see the houses we asked to check out, but he was always on his phone, always stepping away, and always seemed like he had better things to do. When we sold that home, we didn’t use him. We used another realtor who was directly recommended by a friend, and she was phenomenal. She sold our first home, then helped us buy our second, and we refer her to everybody looking to buy around here.” – Sarah, 37, California

I Wish We’d Made a Smaller Down Payment

“We didn’t realize that a large down payment only helps your monthly payments if it’s, like, really large. I think we put down 15 percent on our first home, and it saved us about $100 per month in mortgage payments thanks to the mortgage insurance we had to carry. Even worse, because we used so much of our savings for the down payment, we were cash poor for a while with no reserves for emergencies or improvements. Luckily — miraculously, really — we were able to make it through our first two years as homeowners pretty unscathed, and started saving again. Hindsight being 20/20, we definitely would’ve saved the cash upfront instead.” – Aaron, 32, Illinois

I Wish We’d Paid more for a Home Inspection

“We skimped on our home inspector to save money, and we definitely got what we paid for. Technically, he inspected our home by the book, but when we started talking with friends who were also buying houses we realized that he really just phoned it in. He missed a lot of stuff, and that eventually resulted in the bank mandating a second home inspection before they would sign off on the loan. So, we had to pay for two home inspectors — a cheap, crappy one, and an expensive, thorough one. If we would’ve known better, we would’ve just gone with a more reputable inspector in the first place, despite the price tag. We would’ve ended up saving money and stress throughout the whole process.” – Sean, 35, Washington

I Wish We’d Better Prepared for the Closing

“I had no idea it would take so long. The closing process itself took two hours from the time we walked into the office until we walked out with the keys. And all we did was sign and initial documents! It was like we were doing an autograph signing at the mall or something. The lawyer would just throw folder after folder at us, we’d sign everything, and then he’d come back with an even bigger stack of papers. I’m not even sure what the point was by the end, because I guarantee my signature didn’t look the same as it did when we started. My hand was exhausted. And I was way later to work than I planned on being.” – Joel, 29, New Jersey

I Wish I Had a Better Sense of What Repairs I Could Do Myself

“Once we moved in, our pilot light went out. It cost $95 for a guy to come over and literally flip one dial to a different position on the furnace. Took all of five minutes. I’m definitely not a handy guy, but YouTube can teach you anything that can’t be done with heavy machinery. Our first year in our first house, I think we were so petrified we were going to break something more that we just erred on the side of caution, and called repair guys out all the time. It was actually a plumber who told us, ‘You know, you can probably do this yourself next time if it happens again.’ His ‘blessing’ made us realize that we were, in fact, pretty smart and capable when it came to most basic home repairs.” – Sam, 35, New York

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