‘I was kind of swept up’: Nearly 3 in 4 homebuyers who bought during the pandemic regret it now — here’s how to ensure you’re not one of them

Kay Kingsman bought her very first home in the summer of 2021 — but now wishes she hadn’t.

Kingsman, a travel blogger based in Portland, Oregon, says she decided to buy since she had plenty of money saved up from not traveling during the pandemic and mortgage rates were extremely low.

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But — like many other pandemic homebuyers — she rushed into buying a home that didn’t fully align with her needs. And now she’s dealing with the consequences.

Nearly three-fourths of Americans who purchased homes in 2021 and 2022 have regrets, according to Anytime Estimate’s American Home Buyer Survey, which was released in September 2022.

“Pandemic-era buyers really faced these unprecedented conditions,” says Amanda Pendleton, who is a home trends expert at Zillow. “This combination of rising prices, few options to choose from and that extreme time pressure meant that some buyers really ended up at a home that was less than ideal.”

Many pandemic homebuyers made big compromises

Rushing through the buying process meant a number of buyers compromised on crucial elements, like price. Respondents to the Anytime Estimate survey paid a median amount of $495,000 for their home — with almost a third paying over asking.

Meanwhile, 80% of buyers also compromised on their priorities, like finding the right location. Some bought fixer-uppers, while others made offers without even seeing the properties in person.

Like Kingsman, 70% of buyers from the survey were purchasing a home for the first time. After seeing a previous listing snapped up within a day, she was determined not to fall behind.

“[Homes] were selling so much above market rate. I didn't want to wait too long,” explains Kingsman. “And I was kind of swept up in this fast go, go, go motion.”

Before buying a home, make sure you’ve done your research and established your priorities.

She says that her only priority had been to find a home that was close to her place of work, but wishes she had considered other factors, like updated plumbing and proximity to green spaces and trails.

Kingsman recounts finding beard shavings in the bathroom and the carpet smelling of cat urine after the previous owners had vacated. The water pressure was weak and the air conditioning was busted.

She also discovered she had no parking privileges thanks to a messy lawsuit they left behind.

“It's just been a complete headache,” she says.

“I would say my regret is not that I bought a house — it's more that I didn't allow myself the time to pick the right house.”

How to avoid buying a lemon

Pendleton has four tips for house-hunters before buying a home.

“Number one: Before you enter your home search, really understand where you're willing to compromise and where you're not,” she says. It’s important to establish your priorities and deal-breakers and separate your needs from your wants ahead of time.

Her second suggestion is to focus on the right things, like location and layout. “You can update a dated kitchen, you can rip out that ugly carpeting. But all the money in the world really can't change your home's location, and changing a home’s layout would be really expensive.”

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Pendleton’s third tip is to determine any hidden costs of maintaining the home to make sure you can really afford the home.

She cautions against taking unnecessary risks, like waiving an inspection. This can end up being incredibly costly later on.

Zillow research shows that homeowners end up paying around $750 a month, or over $9,000 a year just for basic repairs and maintenance.

“The fourth tip would be to have a sounding board,” advises Pendleton. “You know, you really want to rely on a trusted real estate agent who will keep you grounded and focused on your priorities … so they can help you identify potential red flags in the home.”

What to do if you have homebuyer regrets

Kingsman doesn’t believe she’ll ever be completely happy with her current home, primarily because she doesn’t have a designated parking spot and has to resort to parking on the street.

The previous homeowners were embroiled in a conflict with the HOA and one of the stipulations of the resulting lawsuit was that the future owner of the lot wouldn’t have access to designated parking either.

“So now, all my neighbors feel very icky about me because of some drama that they had with the previous owner and my lot,” adds Kingsman.

She hopes to eventually sell or rent out the home.

“I feel like a lot of people are very sentimental about their first home and stuff, and I just can't wait to get out.”

Keep in mind that just because you buy a home, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to live there forever.

“Not every home is going to be a forever home,” Pendleton emphasizes. “If your home doesn't meet your needs, you can always move.”

You could also consider doing renovations that suit your needs. And if you’re going that route, don’t forget to look for any potential tax credits or rebates you could claim for making upgrades as well, like making energy efficient improvements.

Finally, on the bright side, the housing market has already shown some signs of cooling, which means many buyers today are in a way better position than they would have been even a few months ago.

“The silver lining for [buyers] is that they are going to be facing less competition, they're probably not going to get into a heated bidding war, they're going to have more options to choose from, they're going to have a little bit more breathing room to make that decision,” says Pendleton.

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This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.