Buying your first home is a lot of things all at the same time. On the one hand it’s a highly rewarding adventure, providing you with a new level of freedom and space, while on the other it’s a constant learning experience that will test your patience, wallet, and home improvement skills. Year one is typically where you’ll feel most like a fish out of water.
But don’t let that deter you, future homeowner. Every first-time buyer has felt the way you’re feeling right now, and soon you’ll realize the journey wasn’t so scary after all. Get ready for the uncomfortable and unexpected by doing your research, preparing your finances, and using your time effectively. We know the challenges, so we built this first-time homebuyer guide to help you stay out of trouble.
Pay close attention.
Bluntly put: never remove your subject to inspection. Not that you were considering it, but we really couldn’t put together a guide about ways to alleviate first-time homebuyer headaches without mentioning the absolute fastest way to a headache (or in this case, more like chronic migraines).
It’s important to note that home inspections always find issues, so go into your walkthrough knowing there will be improvements needed. Bring a notepad, make a deficiency list, and after the inspection do the necessary research to find out what you’re in for. Then from a place of distance review what you’ve found and decide whether your dream home is still your dream home.
There goes the neighbourhood.
Once you’ve moved in, you can update a lot of things about your home, but sadly there’s no updating your neighbours. If you’re serious about a property, pay attention to the homes around yours and the area in general. Are the backyards tidy, or does it look like you’re moving in next to a junkyard? Do you hear the freeway, or three aggressive dogs ramming against your fence when you step outside onto the patio? If you’re buying a condo in a wood frame building, how loud are those footsteps from above?
Take everything into consideration, and stroll through the neighbourhood at different times of the day once you’re getting really serious about a home. The last thing you want to do is find out that you’ve moved next door to a house that parties all night long every Friday and Saturday night - unless you love Tiësto, too.
Look up, down and all around.
Every new homeowner notices the floors, the tile in the bathroom, and the countertops. But too often, the outside of the property isn’t given enough attention. This is where new homeowners often encounter headaches after moving in, and if you know what you’re looking for before you
buy, you can save yourself some problems.
Beautiful, yes. An absolute pain to have on your property, also yes. If you’re a first time homebuyer you probably haven’t experienced the joys of replacing your roof, or raking twice a week from September through December. Be warned, trees are a hassle and getting them trimmed is pricey. You’ll save yourself a lot of work if you choose a property that doesn’t require you to have an arborist on speed dial.
No one knows who’s responsible for repairs, no one has to contribute, and no one likes broaching the subject. Fences are the Wild West of home improvement projects, you’ll be relying on your neighbours to split costs with you, so get your sales pitch ready.
Or - consider a home with new fences. Headache, solved.
Gutters and downspouts.
Every BC resident learned what the term “atmospheric river” meant last year, and it wasn’t half as much fun as it sounded. Gutters and downspouts can cost thousands of dollars to replace, and you’ll want to make sure they’re in good shape to handle the amount of water that your home deals with every year. If they’re bent or cracked, make sure you know they’ll likely need replacing soon. Take this into consideration when you’re making an offer.
Don’t pay to heat the neighbourhood.
Make sure your future home’s windows are good enough to keep the place warm. Look for double pane, triple pane, or even better yet Low-E windows. It makes a noticeable difference both on the utility usage and your general comfort during the winter.
So many people buy in the spring and summer months and don’t realize how cold a home gets until it’s November and they’re wearing two sweaters. Windows are expensive, and backordered, so you’ll save yourself a headache if the home you buy is already energy efficient.
Show me the money.
You can, and should, shop around for mortgage rates.
View shopping for interest rates more like speed dating and less like your anniversary dinner.
The bottom line is you save a ton of money if you find a lender that’s offering even a fraction of a percentage point less than someone else, so make yourself several appointments and get down to brass tacks quickly when you meet with a lender.
One more thing on the subject of mortgages: do your research. Don’t just go with a fixed mortgage or a variable rate because your dad recommends it. Choose based on your research so that when interest rates do or don’t move, you learn and grow from your decisions.
Give yourself some breathing room.
If you’re considering draining your bank account to purchase a home, consider lowering your budget. Problems arise with homeownership, so be sure you have money set aside for emergencies. Here are a few things to set aside money for, before the movers come.
Don’t sleep on transitional costs.
To put it mildly, paying rent and a mortgage at the same time isn’t ideal. Try to time out your move if possible so that you won’t be double-dipping into your savings.
Movers themselves can also be expensive, so call around and get a quote from several reputable companies, or consider renting a truck and doing the move with a few buddies to save some money. Don’t forget to bring pizza and beer.
Settled costs are a thing, too.
You might think you have all the furniture you need, but you’re quickly going to find that your home needs some pieces to make it feel, well, like home. Create a list of the furniture you need and assign a budget to each item, then make a plan to purchase those items on a schedule so you’re not overwhelmed upon moving in. Having a plan is going to take the pressure off.
Tools and yard equipment are another expense that can add up quickly, especially for people moving from a condo to a detached home. Get the items that you’re going to be using frequently first, and borrow from friends and family whenever possible. It will make your trips to Home Depot much less expensive.
Patience is a virtue.
For any home improvement projects you’re considering, just remember to be realistic with both time and money. It’s not a stretch to say that almost all renovations cost more and take longer than your initial plans, especially given the current supply chain issues and labour shortages.
Be patient with your plans, and remember that the adventure of being a new homeowner is going to take you to amazing places, even when it feels like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. You don’t need to, and shouldn’t, tackle every project right away. Go slow and do things properly - just keep putting one foot in front of the other.