It's hard to believe, but so true: a year ago, we closed on our home.
There have been high and low points to homeownership, but mostly it has been a wonderful experience. We are really happy in our home and about ten times more comfortable here than we were in our apartment. We both lived in apartments for over ten years before becoming homeowners, so it was a big change, but one we were definitely ready for.
I've only been a homeowner for one year, but I feel like I've learned a lot. Here is my advice for anyone considering taking the plunge into homeownership:
1.) Make sure you are really prepared to commit to the area for at least five years. Good questions to ask yourself (or yourselves) include: is my job stable? Do I like my job? Do I like this area? Is it possible a better opportunity will come up for me somewhere else? If so, will I be alright turning it down? The financial loss that you would take if selling too soon after purchasing is real, so commitment to the area should be definite.
2.) Don't look at it as an financial investment. Look at it as an investment in your comfort and quality of life. I know what you read, and it's true. If the market does well, you CAN make a ton of money off of a house when you sell (if the market plunders, you can lose a lot of money too). But I would strongly advise not to think of your home as a plan for making a lot of money. The true incentive for buying should be quality of life issues like privacy, space, a garage, a backyard, a larger kitchen, more storage, etc. Expecting to make a huge profit is setting yourself up for disappointment. Enjoy living in your home. If you make a profit, see that as a bonus.
3.) Save, save, save, and save some more. We felt financially ready for a house when we bought our lot in April 2014, but we had nine extra months to save due to construction time, and that turned out to be great. This past year was the most expensive of our lives. Moving into a new home, you instantly have more space, but not furniture for it. Landscaping is not cheap. Property taxes and home insurance are also new expenses, and unfortunately, the tax breaks you hear about for homeowners don't seem that substantial. Of course, your down payment and closing costs are the obvious expenses, but try to think well beyond those when preparing to buy a home. I would never suggest buying above your price range. We were approved for loans far larger than what we agreed would be smart to spend. Remember, the bank just wants your money. Just because they will give you a certain size loan, it doesn't mean it would be a good idea to take it.
4.) You'll know what you want when you see it. Brendan and I looked at three houses before we bought our lot and decided to build. When we saw an option that was new construction, a floor plan we liked, close to work, and in our comfortable price range, we took it. Remember, you are never going to find 100% perfect (I wish our laundry room and extra bedrooms were a little bigger, for instance), so stop expecting to. When you see mostly perfect, make an offer. If you are looking for 100% perfect, it may be a sign that you aren't actually ready (and thus, you will second guess houses that are actually a great match). Being decisive can save you a lot of time and torment. This advice applies to a lot of things outside home buying, and I wish it was advice I could always figure out how to take!
5.) The actual move and first few weeks will be stressful. I think I expected the whole process to be all romantic and Pinteresty (you know, we'd order pizza to the empty house and eat it on a picnic blanket with champagne). In reality, though it was exciting to move in and there were romantic moments, there was also a lot of stress. I wish I had known to expect that. Any move is a major adjustment, but the change between being a renter and an owner is really anxiety provoking. Also, your house doesn't feel like a home at first. It takes time to feel settled.
6.) Yes, it does make a big difference. I never knew how happy our house would make me until I got here and got settled. It truly is wonderful to come home to a place that is all your own and to not share walls with anyone. Decorating our home and designing our backyard has given us a fun and meaningful project to work on together. We no longer deal with many of the inconveniences that were a result of renting, like hunting for parking spaces, having to defrost our vehicles in winter, carrying gallons of water and groceries up three flights of stairs, going outside to do laundry, etc (I realize every rental experience is different. That was just ours). On a daily basis, I truly feel happier and more relaxed because of our home. It has even made a difference for Lola and Zoe. They seem more content now that there is extra space for them to roam.
If the timing is right, getting the keys to your new home is one of the best feelings.
Here's to home.