My husband and I recently bought our very first home! And let me tell you, it feels like a really big deal! We have been married for 11 years now and have rented apartments the whole time. Of course, a lot of them have been very nice, and we have been very thankful for them. But there is just something about living in a house that is actually YOURS. Where you can do whatever you want to it! (within a realistic budget of course!) I have been excited for this moment for literally my entire life. I always looked forward to the day where I could have a house where there were no limitations, and I could make it look exactly how I wanted. It feels amazing to have finally made that dream come true!
That being said, there were things throughout the whole process that were a bit unexpected and we had to adjust our expectations several times throughout it. Since I am obsessed with all things Househunters and Realtor.com and I are basically besties, I assumed I knew most of what went into buying a house. But as it turns out, there were still a few things I didn’t know I didn’t know! And now I’m here to share those things with you…so YOU will know! 🙂
Here goes: The things we learned buying our first home!
- Property Tax. More specifically, just HOW MUCH property tax was. I basically spent tons and tons of time on Realtor.com over the years just browsing homes and dreaming, and did that in many different states we lived in. So, while I obviously knew property tax was an expense, I had no idea how much it actually was in the state we now live in: Texas. Lucky for us, we live in the 4th highest tax rate of any state! :p And we had no idea. Right now it says the average tax rate for the area we live in is 1.93%. When we were house hunting, it was even higher than that (up to 2.6% in some areas!) so this is no small expense. When I used to calculate how much house we could afford monthly for the same amount of rent we were paying, I never took that into account. While websites like Realtor and Zillow DO add a certain approximate tax amount to the total monthly payment, often that percentage is much lower than it is in your actual area. I highly recommend finding out what the exact tax percentage is in the area you are looking, even down to specific neighborhoods and subdivisions, because they can really vary. Also, Texas has a higher property tax rate because there is no state tax, only income tax. So if you live in a state without state tax, you may have a much higher tax rate. It’s something to be aware of! The reality of even an extra 1%, when it evens out monthly really changes what you can comfortably afford. Which brings me to my next point…
- Calculate absolutely everything in the monthly total you can afford. We were really excited when we finally decided to take the plunge and buy a house here. At the very beginning when we first started looking, all the mortgage/income calculators said we could afford almost twice the purchase price of the home we actually bought! That was super fun to think about, of course, because those were some pretty nice houses! However, it wasn’t actually true for a couple reasons. First off, we try to live quite a ways below our means because that gives us lots of wiggle room, the ability to put away savings every month and justify me getting to stay home. But besides for the fact that we wouldn’t have maxed out our budget anyway, we honestly couldn’t afford it either when we really crunched all the numbers. We only had 5% to put down, so that meant we would pay mortgage insurance, we liked houses in the areas with HOAs, and like I said before there was very high property tax. We were talking an extra 1k a month for all those things together! So even though a mortgage calculator says you can afford a certain purchase price, you might not be able to when it all shakes out. When you add that extra 1k (which is a whole mortgage payment itself in many areas!) you can really see how that decreases your overall budget. We ended up decreasing our realistic budget like twice to account for all the expenses we discovered. That was quite the punch in the gut! But once we accepted it, it was ok and we knew we were being wise. We ended up getting something we loved anyways in our adjusted budget so it all worked out! 🙂
- HOA Fees: HOA fees shouldn’t be underestimated, and they also vary wildly. Know your max budget for HOA fees. I found that they varied a lot, even from neighborhood to neighborhood! There is a city next to us we considered because it was more affordable. There was a house there that even though the overall prices were lower and tax was lower, happened to be in an area with a crazy high HOA. Because of that, it threw the whole monthly way over what we wanted. So just be aware of HOA fees in the area you are looking. And decide if you are ok with being in an HOA in the first place too! It’s funny, I have only ever heard people speak negatively about HOAs, but I guess I am a rare type of person who likes them. Because I am obsessive about living in a neat and orderly house and yard, I like that there are rules to keep the whole neighborhood neat. It would really bother me to spend a lot of time taking care of my house, front yard, etc. and have the house next door with a lot of clutter that I need to look at the whole time. So I appreciate it! They also use your dues to make overall improvements in landscaping and offer community facilities many times. Yes, it’s a trade-off and you lose some freedom, but to me, it’s worth it. But, whatever floats your boat! Some are stricter than others, so just know what you are getting yourself into!
- You have to move quickly these days! This one will probably fluctuate with the economy, but for the moment it is true. We had heard that you have to move quickly these days when you find a house, but when they say that, they mean it! We were encouraged to make an offer on one house the very day we saw it. That seemed SO crazy to me, to make such a huge decision that quickly. Some houses were even going before they actually hit the market, and they would be labeled as “Coming Soon”. That’s why it’s very helpful to have a realtor. They know which houses are coming soon, and can get you in to see them sometimes before they are even listed for sale. Since we took so long looking we were pretty confident with what we wanted, so this aspect was less daunting. We made the offer on our home 2 days after it was listed.
- Take your time finding what you truly love, if you can. I am SO thankful that we had the luxury of time finding the right house. We ended up searching for 6 months before finding something we truly loved. It felt SO LONG, and wore on us after a while. We just wanted to finally find something and get moved in! But we were on a month to month lease in our apartment at the time and just needed to give 30 days notice when we knew we would vacate. We also lived in the general area we were looking, so we were able to just go out every weekend and look at open houses, and quickly go see houses that came up on the market. I’m sure we could have made a fine home anywhere if we were in a time crunch to buy, but I am so so happy we were able to wait because then we actually got something we fell in love with.
- You can fall in love with a house, and feel THAT feeling. We were about 5 months into the process of our house hunt and I had started feeling super discouraged that we would never find exactly what we wanted, and might have to settle for something that was “just ok” or fine. You know? Like “yeah, we could make this work and it will all be ok”. But that’s not how you want to go into buying your first home, I really hoped we would actually LOVE it and be super excited about it. And even though we both really wanted the same thing overall, we were disagreeing sometimes on the pros and cons of each house. We ended up having dinner with some friends around this time, who had just bought their first home. And they said they both totally “felt that thing” when they walked into the house they ended up buying. It gave me that last push I needed to hold on to the hope there was something like that out there for us. And guess what? It was only about a week or so later that we finally found the one! And BOTH of us loved it!
- The water bill. You guys, the first two water bills we have received since moving in are like WHOA! Super, duper high. Turns out having a nice, green lawn and landscaping costs a lot to water. It’s good to know that in advance!
- Things you will need to invest in. We were aware that living in our own home would come with a lot of expenses that you don’t have in an apartment. Things like taking care of a lawn, higher utilities, etc. But it did cost a bit more to invest in some of those tools than we thought. Our lawn is a good example. Not only did we need to get a lawn mower, but you also need a weed whacker, rake, pruning shears and other things like that. We also didn’t anticipate needing to get pest control. When we first moved in, there were SO MANY BUGS getting into our house, all the time. Thankfully, they have died down and I believe it is seasonal, but next year we will need to take care of that. Our cats will be sad though because they actually think it is great fun to chase bugs around the house! 😉
Overall, I think we were mostly prepared for the difference between apartment living and our own home, but these are some of the things we learned along the way! We both think it is completely worth it, and are really enjoying the journey! But I hope this list can be helpful to anyone looking to make the transition any time soon. Any questions for me? Also, any tips you would add to this list? Let me know!