Holley Hyler is an IT consultant and published freelance writer living in New York.
Can You Avoid Regrets?
Owning property… there is nothing like it. Few joys in life can top that of coming home to your own space, no noisy neighbors above or below you, no odor of someone else’s fish stick dinner wafting through the hallways and common areas. The birds chirping in the tree outside your bedroom window somehow feel more personal to you, since they are on your land.
Someday, the cheerful birdsong is interrupted by a branch that falls and takes out your car windshield during a storm. A repair bill for the broken furnace makes you think that maybe you should have tolerated the fish sticks for a while longer; paying rent sucked, but at least you never had to worry about repairs. These are things you must be prepared to deal with before you become a homeowner. You could choose the most wonderful and newest house, but it would not guarantee that you never face the unexpected.
Looking through the houses available in your area may be overwhelming, especially if you are a first-time homebuyer. I recently went through the process for the very first time and put together a list of things I wish I had considered at the time of buying. I had a great realtor and inspector who addressed all the concerns I was able to think of, but there were some things I did not think much about at the beginning. Unfortunately, they were a big deal to me down the road, once move-in day was all said and done. That said, I do not regret my decision. I bring these up so that you have time to be mentally prepared for them.
1: The Yard
Even though I had never been responsible for any outside maintenance at any of the previous places I lived, I did not feel worried about lawn maintenance and thus did not give it much thought. I briefly noted how big the yards were at each of the houses I saw but did not think beyond their size. This was something I was kicking myself for later.
My yard could probably be considered mid-size and has a significant slope to it in the front and on the side. As I was so preoccupied with the house and making sure that was in order, I did not take much notice of these hills or think about what it would be like to mow them. I did not think ahead to the hot summer days when pushing the mower would be more tiring than usual. I did not consider how nervous I would be navigating the slopes with the mower at first. My trepidation about this has decreased over time, and my fiancé takes care of the hills for me now. Still, it feels like one less thing I could have stressed about, had I been pickier about the yard from the beginning.
If you are experienced when it comes to cutting grass, you may not need to worry about this one. I say it for those who will be responsible for the outdoor maintenance for the first time, who may have never operated a lawn mower before. Take note of all aspects of your yard, especially if you will be its primary caretaker.
2: The Garage or Shed
My experience of garages has usually been that they are a place where things go to sit and gather dust when they are no longer wanted or needed. Most garages make me sneeze. Since I have a strong dislike of clutter (and dust), a garage did not appeal to me. Even with how much snow my area gets, I was willing to clean off the car as I always have since there was no covered parking at my previous apartment.
While I am still fine without a garage—it might be a nice thing if I could keep the clutter under control, but I am not kicking myself in retrospect on this one—I absolutely want a shed. Currently, I keep my lawn mower under a tarp in the backyard and shuffle my other outdoor tools up and down stairs as I store them in the basement (or by the front door if I feel lazy).
The fact is, whether you like it or not, every home is going to come with at least some outside work. If you have enough of a yard to mow, a garden to maintain, or a lot of snow to clear in the winter, having an outdoor shed where you can secure and store your tools will make life a lot easier.
3: Your Schedule and Level of Motivation
If you work full-time or have multiple jobs and responsibilities that you are trying to juggle, this point may be especially important for you to consider. When I went through the process, I was not entirely honest with myself about the time and energy I felt willing to invest in the place.
If your life feels full already, you may want to be selective about the level of maintenance your home is going to require. All houses are work. A fairly stable one will not eat up much of your time, but there will still be days off that you will have to spend on it when you would rather be parked on your couch with Netflix or a good book. Like me, you might look at your laptop or guitar sadly and wave goodbye to them as you go to deal with your chores. If you struggle with burnout from your job or generally, it might be better to first deal with the things that are giving you burnout and come back to homebuying when you feel better and more capable to deal with what may come up.
When I began the process, I was still having significant ups and downs in my moods caused by various things–work, loneliness, difficult relationships. The first few weekends I spent in the house, I was good about taking care of things that had been noted by the home inspector. As time went by, my motivation fizzled. I began a beautiful new relationship and got a kitten. Work got crazier. And now, here I am… thanks largely to my fiancé, the place is not in shambles. I know I could be better or doing more.
If you enjoy a slow pace of life or countless, guilt-free hours to play World of Warcraft and The Sims (nothing wrong with that), you may not want to buy a house just now unless you have a wonderful partner or money to spend on hiring people to take care of maintenance and repairs.
4: Street Noise
I live close to a throughway. I had been concerned about outside noise level from the beginning, but the time I spent in the house on the day I looked at it was not enough to reveal the noisy evils that lurked nearby…
One such evil is the motorcycles that like to go through my neighborhood and down the throughway at ridiculous levels of speed. They sound like a thunder demon ripping its way out of the deepest recesses of Hell – yes, including at 8:05 in the morning. Some throughways have noise barriers, but the one I live near does not. This may be another factor you will wish to consider if your potential new home is near or on a busy street. Also consider whether ambulances and other vehicles with sirens will be traveling the streets near you often.
My neighbors are nice, and I have always had good experiences with them, knock on wood. The noise is caused by people who are not my neighbors and who also don’t care about disrupting the entire neighborhood. When looking at a home, I would suggest asking for all sources of white noise to be turned off so you can stand and just listen for a few minutes. Your realtor won’t look at you like you’re nuts, even if they’re thinking it, because they want your commission and positive review someday.
5: Garbage Pickup
Having lived in apartments for all my adult life, my extent of knowledge about garbage pickup was that I put the trash in a designated place and then it was gone a few days later (or sooner).
My parents did not talk much about the garbage, unless it was to complain about "the city" and how they were handling it. Let's face it: garbage is not a fun topic that we often talk about, so when it comes time to deal with it oneself, we can be at a loss. I thought when I moved in, since I am close to "the city" here, they would be helping me arrange trash pickup. This was not so.
When I called them on the phone, they informed me that I was living outside the city limits and would have to arrange my own pickup. When I was dumbfounded and asked if they could recommend any pickup companies to me, they said they were not allowed to do that. So I took to Google, feeling both silly and highly confused about how life is supposed to work. To make that feeling worse, garbage trucks were zooming around my neighborhood, picking up for those more in the know.
When you move in, the last thing you want to worry about is how you'll get rid of all your trash generated during move-in: the take-out boxes, the other boxes, the things you brought from your old place that you're having second thoughts about. Find out who is responsible for the trash in the area you are moving to ahead of time. Keep in mind that sometimes it can be a week or more before you can start if the garbage company has to deliver bins to you. You can thank me later!
Persist and Make a Decision Anyway
When you buy your first house, you may learn more about what you don't want than what you do want, and that's okay. Knowing what you don't want can be just as useful and help you direct your next search more toward what is ideal for you. Before you know it, you will be in your dream home if you don't lose your gumption after each unpleasant encounter with an unexpected surprise.
Don't be afraid to dive in and get your hands a bit dirty. It is normal to have some fear when you are making a big decision as this. If you can think of any other items that may be good on this list and help others in their search, feel free to leave them in the comments.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Holley Hyler
Anya Ali from Rabwah, Pakistan on June 15, 2020:
Awolesi Abiodun Adedola from Ikorodu, Lagos State, Nigeria on June 15, 2020:
Thanks for the home buying tips Hyler, some homes can really be energy and time consuming when it comes to regular maintenance routine.