We all make mistakes the first time we do something, but those mistakes can be doozies for first-time home buyers. For one, these errors are hard to backpedal out of—and worse, they can cost thousands of dollars. And so, in the hopes that you won’t inadvertently step into one of these booby traps, we got some homeowners to spill their guts about what they botched with their first home purchase. Then we got some advice from professionals on how you can avoid the same fate.
Mistake No. 1: Wait, which house did we buy?
“We bought our first home while we were living in San Francisco but moving to Denver. We shopped for homes online, then flew to Colorado for a marathon, three-day house-hunting weekend. After a whirlwind of 18 homes, we chose one. Huge mistake. Once we moved in, it didn’t take us long to realize the layout of the house was impractical, the driveway was buckling, and the carpet looked awful. New issues cropped up constantly.” – Krista Van Lewen, San Francisco, CA
Lesson learned: How much are you going to remember about each house when you look at 18 in a single weekend? Not much.
“One of the biggest mistakes I see first-time buyers make is rushing into buying their home after only a very brief showing,” says Denver-based Realtor® Luke O’Bryan with the O’Bryan Group.
Whether you’re from out of town or based locally, some markets move so quickly that decisions have to be made on the spot. A second showing is always the best option, but in a pinch, O’Bryan recommends videotaping the home so you can review it later and possibly get a different perspective when you’re less rushed.
Mistake No. 2: The price isn’t right
“When I bought my first house, I was so eager to close that I offered the asking price for a newly listed property that didn’t have any other offers—even though my agent advised against it. I also didn’t ask for any repairs, although the inspector pointed out some things that I should have requested, so now I’m dealing with a leaky roof.” – Jeff Neil, York, PA
Lesson learned: Buying a home may have plenty of warm and fuzzy aspects, but it’s also a business transaction where you need to leverage everything possible to get the best deal, says David Feldberg, broker/owner of Coastal Real Estate Group in Newport Beach, CA.
If you are a seller’s single offer, know full well that you have the advantage—from the price and terms all the way to repairs the seller should make. Feldberg recommends not getting too emotionally vested in any home until you are done negotiating with the seller, as that can negate your advantage.
Mistake No. 3: Count your chickens before they hatch
“I was pregnant with our first child when we bought a house that seemed fine at the time. However, we now have three small children, and there just isn’t enough space. There is no peaceful spot to have time alone.” – Dusti Reimer, Grand Junction, CO
Lesson learned: Buy for the future, not just for the now, and that means considering any future family growth.
“To avoid getting caught having to sell a home too quickly, think through what needs you are going to have over the next five to 10 years and make those a requirement,” says Feldberg.
Mistake No. 4: Not up to code
“The house we bought was built in the ’50s, and while it had its charm, we discovered after we purchased it that there were several things that previous owners had done on the cheap. The wiring was a mess; there were unfinished closets and floors; and the kitchen only had one electrical outlet. We wound up installing power strips so we could function—which it turns out, is totally against code! While we fixed what we could, it caused us massive heartburn when we started the selling process eight years later.” – Heidi McDow, Oak Point, TX
Lesson learned: Most home buyers don’t take the home inspection seriously enough, but they really should. Accompany your inspector on his rounds so you can see firsthand any flaws—it’s far easier than eyeballing the paperwork he’ll send you later. And even if you’re fine with certain flaws, future home buyers might not be, so take any issues seriously.
Mistake No. 5: Friends, neighbors, enemies
“When I bought my first home, I chose a duplex, thinking I’d rent out one side for guaranteed income to help offset the mortgage payments. I didn’t count on the hassles of landlordship in general, but I made it worse: I rented it to my best friend. So all the pains were magnified. For example, she was always cold, so her husband would call me constantly and insist I jack up the heat. My oil bills became astronomical. Never again have I bought a two-family residence.” – Cynthia MacGregor, West Palm Beach, FL
Lesson learned: “As someone who has owned and leased out many properties, I can tell you firsthand that being a landlord is really tough, and I would never recommend it for a first-time home buyer who probably is just learning how to do basic repairs and manage utility bills,” says Feldberg. And renting to friends is just asking to be enemies. Still can’t give up the dream of having that juicy rental income? Consider a property manager to take the stress off.