Ashley Skogen asked... I noticed that you take great pride in your cute home. What advice do you have for someone who is about to embark on their first-ever house buying hunt? What would you do differently if you could go back and to the time when you bought your first home?
LA: That's really nice of you to say Ashley, I didn't know that it comes across!
It was a long time ago when I bought my house (2003), and things have changed a lot in the market from what I hear. So to answer your question, I'm going to list out things I remember from my house buying adventure along with a few tips for customizing and decorating the inside, once it's yours :)
• Buy within your Budget! I'm bad at this because I'm good at spending money (ladies?) and I want everything I want (ugly but true)... but when it comes to your house, you will cry every month if you can't afford that mortgage payment. You'll also end up having to sacrifice other things to keep balanced. It's just not worth it to go overboard, it's your first home-- you'll buy another home down the road and can have more of what you want in that house :)
• Focus on the Bones, not the Cute. Being how I am, cosmetic details in the houses I viewed were really distracting... it's all I could see. Luckily, my dad was there and he helped me see where the value was-- a good foundation, layout, newer windows, age of water tank + furnace, kitchen and bathroom in good shape, and avoiding bad locations (like by a bar or on busy street). Cosmetic details can be added, but the bones are hard to adjust or really expensive to replace. You'll get the most for your money with Good Bones! This will also give you the best resale price (& speed) on your house down the road.
• Before looking at houses, decide if this is your starter home or where you want to plant yourself, for a long time. Then, as you look at listings, consider if it will meet your needs (or if it exceeds your needs). Things like... Is there room to grow there, could you put on an addition if you wanted, will that house and it's neighborhood work long term. Get off my lawn.
• View the home with your Real Estate Agent only, no homeowners inside. I don't know if this is common, but when I bought my house, the tenant at the time was watching tv and it was freaking awkward. I felt like he'd think I was snooping around his home during the tour and I missed everything I should have seen. When I went back to view it one more time before signing the paperwork, I was surprised to see that there were three layers of carpet stapled to the living room floor and a big hole cut into the wall for a built in fish tank?! lol, ummhm.
• Take your Time! Just like trying to get pregnant, house hunting takes time... you never know when the right fit will come along. haha, gross. Plan for it to take a while and look at lots of houses! As you do, you can zone in on your favorite types + must haves and find the best fit for your gig.
• Get a Pre-Approved Mortgage so that your paperwork is started and you know how much the bank will approve you for! Once you start house shopping and find the right one, you can make an offer without delay and feel confident moving forward. This might also put you ahead of others who are less prepared, giving your offer a better chance of being "picked".
• Decide what you can afford, don't let the bank tell you. The bank will approve your mortgage for as much money as they can. This is good for our egos, but that's it. Work out what your families actual budget is for your mortgage, with all other expenses + savings taken into account (plus how your income might change down the road; ex. if one parent stays home past maternity leave). Then shop for a house in that range, never the banks number.
• House Inspection, do it! Ya, it feels expensive but if you're about to buy the Money Pit starring Tom Hanks, you're going to save yourself the biggest nightmare by finding the problems before it's yours. It's such a small percentage of your mortgage-- the house inspection is an added security and peace of mind I'd never live without.
• Be specific in your offer/contract. When writing up my offer, my Dad suggested I include that the water tank, which was pinned and untestable when viewing the property, must be in working order or owner would replace at his cost. Turns out when I moved in, the water tank was pinned because it had exploded and would have leaked carbon monoxide if I'd used it. The owner had to replace it and my dad's smart addition to the contract saved me an instant $600.
• Consider Flipping! Cheap houses aren't as common these days but if you strike upon one, consider flipping it to work for you :) My house was 20k below my budget (and the market average) but needed a lot of work. With my Dad's skills, connections and lead, my family worked together for 4 months and flipped my house. I spent 14k in supplies, including appliances and it was a lot of hard work (especially for my Dad plus my Mom, who fed the troops daily with hearty homemade meals) but it gave me an amazing custom house that I couldn't have purchased with my budget otherwise. And, it's beautiful and perfect for my needs :)
• Decide how custom and fancy you want to make it. Will your reno's increase the resale value someday? My house is a 700sq.ft, two bedroom so I could start a family here someday, but it would be tight and I'm on a busy street with a smaller yard. Knowing this house won't be my last, I was okay with not having everything on my dreamhouse list and I didn't choose the highest end supplies when we flipped it. I went mid-range on a lot of supplies and spent the most money where it pays off at resale, in the Kitchen, Bathroom and areas of efficiency like new windows and insulation. This also saves me money every month on my hydro!
• As soon as you buy your house, insure it! I heard about a guy in Winnipeg who bought a house and while he was doing a mega reno, hoodlums broke in and trashed e-v-e-r-y-thing. He didn't have insurance yet and it was tragic.
• If you do upgrades at any point (ex. new roof, garage, flipping, etc), you're adding to the value of your house so you need to update your insurance (incase something happens, you'll get the proper value of your house's replacement value).
• Open the windows when you're painting. I got pretty high painting my small room.
• When buying furniture, buy what you need for the next two years, not for 10 years away. I bought an expensive 8 person table (built in leaf) when I got my house because I wanted a big family someday. That thing was a mother and hardly fit my house. I ended up giving it to my sister and I now prefer a desk in my dining room instead. Your needs will change a lot over time, just work with what you need right now.
• Paint it however you want the first time. People made fun of me when I had my crayon box of rooms, but I really needed to get that out of my system. Tip: If you're using really bold or crazy colors, keep your trimwork white or wood, it helps the colors pop and keeps a bit of normalcy in each room (you'll also thank yourself when you repaint or sell). Now, I like my light walls, all the same shade... but I wouldn't have gotten to this point without waking up in my school bus yellow bedroom of fright every morning for two years. Colors really do create a mood, I painted over that mood eventually ;)
• Don't try to impress people, just follow your heart and be realistic with your needs. Buying your first house is a pretty big step and for me, there was an "I want it to be perfect" thing in my head that got me distracted. I spent money on new furniture when I should have bought used or thrifted for the budget I had and I wanted to get everything right away, so that it was 'ready and finished' to show to friends and family. Buying furniture and decorations for a new home is expensive, even if you're thrifting-- try to pace yourself and look for the right things, not just the instant option that comes along.
In the end, I gave away or sold all the new furniture I bought in 2003 and switched to vintage for the most part. It's so much more me and it's been a hobby and adventure to find the right things to make my house a home :)
** Check out the post below for another Q&A and Winner!
ETA: Ashley chose the Home Ec Subscription for her prize :)