It's hard to believe, but January 28th marked three years of homeownership for Brendan and I. Sunday, I was reflecting on what I think we did right (and wrong) when building and purchasing our home. I hope by passing along some 20/20 hindsight (from both of us), you faithful readers can benefit.
What We Did Right:
We stuck to a more conservative budget. Despite being approved for larger loans than the one we took out, my research told me that we should cap our home search at 2.5 times our annual combined salaries. By following this formula, we bought the best home we could really afford. While there are times I wish we had a little more space, I'm thankful that our cost of living stayed consistent (we hardly saw an increase between apartment rent and our mortgage) and that we still had money to furnish and landscape.
We put money into upgrades that really matter to us. It'd be easy to look at an upgrade list and go wild. For us, upgrades made up 10% of the cost of our home, and we picked the ones that really mattered to us. Namely, we don't have any carpet in our house. Wood and tile floors are relatively easy to keep clean, we've laid down rugs where we want them, and the cats have nothing to destroy. We're also happy that we spent money upgrading the bathrooms (tiled showers/jetted tub) and the kitchen (stainless steel appliances, double oven, and under cabinet lighting), and adding a water softener and reverse osmosis system were key. I'm also glad we added ceiling fans in all the rooms and on the patio and a keypad for the garage. Everything we paid extra for has been enjoyed, but there's nothing we upgraded and then thought "why did we bother?" because we really gave some thought to what we wanted.
We made the most of our warranty. I'm also glad we went ahead and built. Knock on wood, but we haven't had to fix anything (yet!)
Location, Location, Location: We bought a home just a few miles from work, and it has been extremely convenient. I can be in the car at 7:45AM and in my classroom at 7:57AM (and that's with traffic!) We love being near work.
When picking our tile, counter, wood, paint, and cabinet colors, we used the most neutral palate possible. Doing so has provided us with a lot of flexibility, and we hope that if we sell the house, it will appeal to a wider range of buyers than some of the more eccentric combinations. We're also happy we picked traditional looking brick rather than some of the less common color choices (which look a bit off to us).
What I Wish We Had Known:
One thing we didn't really think about when selecting our lot was the placement of the nearby cul-de-sac. I'm not sure it would have changed our minds, since we selected our lot based on many factors (like curb appeal, placement in relation to undeveloped lots, and distance to the neighborhood playground/pool), but we have less backyard privacy than we anticipated because we have neighbors behind us in addition to on either side.
When we were building, we got asked all kinds of questions, and one of them I didn't think about enough was placement of light switches. I made a mistake by not having a switch placed in the kitchen dining area, which is right outside our bedroom. If I want something, like water (or lately, a snack), in the middle of the night, it's a long and dark walk to the fridge.
One of our favorite parts of the kitchen is the bar, but we didn't think much about the paint color of the wall under the bar. Honestly, we should have done brick here instead. Needless to say, off white gets really dirty, and we're constantly using a magic eraser. Which brings me to my next point...
I'm not sure we could have avoided this, but in hindsight, we wish our walls weren't textured. This may be the way every home in the neighborhood was built, but when cleaning a textured wall, the paint tends to rub off.
Landscaping, even if you do it yourself, is really expensive! Luckily, our yard has become like a hobby to us (especially Brendan), and we enjoy making it attractive and don't mind spending money on it. However, I do have to remind Brendan not to be so self-critical--getting anything to grow in the desert is an accomplishment. When buying a new home, add in money for what you will need to spend on the front and backyard (add in more money if you need to hire someone).
You can push for things you really want. I think we were too willing to accept no as an answer on some issues. For instance, we really don't like our fireplace mantle, and I think we could have insisted on an upgraded one, even though it wasn't on the given list of possibilities.
When building, monitor constantly. Our builders made a few sloppy mistakes we may have caught if we'd known what to look out for (or had the time to visit the construction site more frequently). While maybe only we can notice a few things that aren't ideal, it would have saved stress to catch errors, and we wouldn't have to live with the mistakes.
Those are the big things we can think of. If you have any wisdom from your own experiences to pass along, please feel free to leave a note in the comments.