Three things to ponder before you buy
By Erin Hall
As a Realtor and a homeowner, it’s easy to look back on the time my husband and I purchased our first home in 2009. There was so much excitement as we also got married that fall. The day we moved in, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh at all the moving boxes to be unpacked, cry over the fact our bank account had dwindled down a significant amount overnight, or absolutely burst with joy over the fact we were homeowners, living our American Dream.
One of the greatest thrills in this job is meeting first time buyers that are nervous yet excited to jump in the car and find the perfect home…a fixer-upper, a move-in ready brick ranch in the city, or perhaps a two-story colonial with two acres that looks out on mountain views. When I hear about my client’s ideal home I too get excited and love visualizing this perfect place for them—but then reality sets in and the questioning begins.
To help temper expectations and set them up for success, I like to ask first-time buyers three basic questions:
- How much can you afford to spend a month?
- How handy are you (or do you wish to become)?
- How willing/interested are you in maintaining a house? In other words, would buying an attached home where a home owners association covers exterior maintenance be a better fit?
Regardless of how much a lender says you qualify for, the LAST thing I want for my clients is to be “house poor,” meaning they cannot afford to care for their home and themselves each month. It’s always safe to encourage folks to stay within, or close to, their current monthly payment. Ideally I try to find the perfect home for a client where their mortgage payment will be less than their current rent. A win/win in more ways than one! I also remind clients that no longer will they be able to call on the landlord or maintenance crew when there is a broken appliance, leaky toilet….you get the point. It all falls back on the homeowner to pay out of pocket for that new appliance, new shutters, etc. A great way to manage this transition as a first time buyer, especially when it is a resale, is to purchase a home warranty. Yes, spending the one-time fee of $450-$500 can really pay off if/when something breaks.
No matter how many HGTV shows I watch or homes I go into that have been “flipped,” it takes true talent of knowing construction, cost of labor/materials, and having enough time to complete home renovations. The television programs don’t always share the moments where a really costly issue or expense MUST be tackled before the “real” renovations can begin. Or when a deadline isn’t met, thus delaying the whole project. Time is money in more ways than one, especially if you (the new homeowner) are hiring someone else to do the work.
So unless my client is willing and able to explore renovations truly on their own, I will encourage him/her to look at some more “move-in ready” homes.
And lastly, similar to having a mortgage that is too big for a monthly budget, having an older home or a home with a lot of exterior wood in general, regular maintenance is key! Homeownership can mean that each time you head out to the grocery you’re also stopping by the hardware store. There are all kinds of checklists and reminder programs out there to help folks with caring for their home – even I read them and blush because even though I like getting my hands dirty I definitely don’t do everything that’s recommended. Maintenance can be in moderation but it is key regardless, as deferred maintenance will ultimately come off the price of the home when you sell.
If you’re reading this and are considering buying a home in the near future, first-time buyer or a seasoned investor, I strongly encourage you to consider these three questions. And happy house hunting!
Erin Hall is an agent with Nest Realty Charlottesville. Her Southern charm and passion for people are deeply rooted in her peachy Dalton, Georgia upbringing. Erin’s energy and dedication to thoroughly servicing and supporting clients comes naturally.
Photo Credits: Creative Commons: Thad Zajdowicz, IconicPhotoServices, Jerry Swiatek