“If only I knew then what I know now.”
“Hindsight is 20/20.”
“I wish I would’ve thought of that back then.”
If given the chance, would you go back in the past to learn more about a situation or to do something different?
Turns out, first-time homeowners would answer that question with a resounding “YES!”
A recent study conducted by Forrester for Ally surveyed consumers on what they wish they had known before they bought their first home. At least 10 percent of homeowners were interested in each of the 15 topics presented, which ranged from renovation costs to resale value.
Hands down, buying a house is one of the most important purchases you’re likely to make. Since it’s such a big deal, it’s perfectly understandable that shoppers can’t think of everything in the moment.
That’s where we come in.
Here’s a list of the top 10 things first-time homeowners wish they’d known about in advance, as well as tips on how to prepare now so you’re not surprised later after receiving the keys to your new house.
1. Emergency Home Repairs
Who hasn’t heard a story about a couple who bought their first house, only to get caught off-guard just weeks after closing with a basement flood or a dead hot water heater? As luck would have it, these costly emergencies often seem to happen right after you’ve made another large purchase (in this case, your down payment) and have little savings on hand to tap.
Prep work: Nobody needs a big-money repair to bust their budget shortly after move-in day. A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is backed by your home and allows you to tap into the value of it. Consider applying for one, but only utilize it if you truly have a costly 9-1-1 fix to make.
2. Renovation Expenses
We all want the home of our dreams. But as a first-time homebuyer, you might not be able to afford it right away. Remodeling an outdated house can be a good option, but it’s possible that you’re in the dark about how much it’s going to cost to turn that 1980s, laminate-covered kitchen into the sleek, stainless steel beauty more suited to a modern homeowner.
Prep work: Before you purchase a fixer-upper, determine your budget and get a realistic scope of the project. After making a down payment, do you still have money in savings that can cover the renovations? If not, you may need to apply for a HELOC or a home equity loan to pay for them. Or, you’ll have to live in your house in its current state while you save up another chunk of change.
3. Maintenance Activities
All houses require constant upkeep (even new ones). Some homeowners, however, neglect to perform standard maintenance such as annual furnace check-ups or gutter cleanouts because, frankly, they’re often tedious and not very exciting.
Prep work: Homeowners should live by the adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words, it’s easier to take care of an issue before it actually happens than after it becomes a full-blown problem.
Regular upkeep can keep your house in top-notch condition. Search online for a home maintenance checklist (indoor and outdoor) and stick to it. It’s also essential that you make repairs — even ones that seem tiny — as they crop up. Otherwise, you’re more likely to have a major, expensive fix on your hands at some point.
4. Trusted Repair Pros
When you rent and your roof starts leaking, your landlord will take care of it. But, when you buy, you may not necessarily have a Rolodex of repairmen at your fingertips and will have to do some groundwork to locate trusted professionals for home repairs.
Prep work: As you’re going through the home buying process, start doing your research. Ask friends and family for recommendations for electricians, plumbers, and handymen. Join your community’s online forum or Facebook page; people often solicit repair suggestions on these sites. Or consider joining Angie’s List, which is an online, crowd-sourced review site for local repair experts.
5. Resale Value
You’re just buying your home. Why would you need to think about selling it already? But as it turns out, whether or not your house will hold its appeal is something you should consider before you even place an offer. Not only should you love your home; it’s important for your bottom line that others adore it, too.
Prep work: Make a good real estate investment and shop for a home that not only meets your needs, but others’ as well. Factors such as curb appeal, more than two bedrooms, a location in a good school district, natural light and open space, more than one bathroom, ample storage, and upgrades (granite countertops, crown molding) will increase resale value.
6. Neighborhood Feel
You’re not going to be a happy homeowner if you love your house, but hate the community it’s located in. In fact, a recent study we conducted found that 82 percent of respondents would consider moving if they didn’t like the feel of their neighborhood.
Prep work: Don’t just look at houses, research their neighborhoods. Do you want to live somewhere that you can walk to reasonably priced restaurants and coffee shops? Or do you prefer quiet, tree-lined streets? Determine what neighborhood vibe is right for you before you go through the mortgage application process.
7. Basic DIY
As previously mentioned, all homes need regular maintenance. A popular rule of thumb says to expect to spend 1 percent of your home’s purchase price each year on maintenance. So if your home cost $250,000, expect to pay around $2,500 annually on fixes.
Prep work: You’ll save money if you can perform some of the repairs yourself. Much of a home’s upkeep requires sweat equity, but little expertise. If you’re unsure about how to replace your furnace filter or repair a leaky showerhead, watch a how-to video on YouTube or crowd source advice on social media.
8. Infrequent, but Costly Home Purchases
Your actual house isn’t the only large purchase you’ll make as a homeowner. It’s inevitable that you’ll need to shell out for the occasional big-ticket item.
Prep work: Think about your cash flow and determine what kind of rainy day savings plan you need should your stove need replaced or a large tree must be removed from the property. Think about putting aside a set amount each week. Stash away every $5 bill you get. Or stockpile any large influxes of cash, like a tax return or raise at work, until you’ve socked away an amount you’re comfortable with.
Keep your rainy day funds in a separate, liquid account, like Ally Bank’s high-interest Online Savings Account.
9. Yard Maintenance
If you’re moving out of an apartment and into your first home, you might not even think about the need to maintain your entire property — including the lawn, flower beds, and trees — instead of just the house.
Prep work: Do you want to DIY or hire a lawn service? Both have associated costs, although a landscaping company is almost always more expensive. If your thumb isn’t so green and you’d like someone to mow your yard, expect to pay an average of $30 to $80 per visit.1 Additional services like leaf blowing, edging, and fertilizing will set you back even more. In contrast, a lawn mower costs just a few hundred bucks.
10. Neighborhood Noise
After living in a college dorm or an apartment in a chaotic, urban environment, you probably expect your first house to feel tranquil. But if there are noisy neighbors next door, think again.
Prep work: Enter homeownership with the hope that you’ll get along with your neighbors, but the realistic expectation that you might not be best buds. Introduce yourself early on and model good neighborly behavior. In other words, don’t blow leaves at 7 a.m. or have rowdy outdoor guests over late at night. If you’re respectful, it’s likely they’ll respond in kind.