4 Things To Consider When Buying Your First Place


By Julie Winsel

It’s part of the traditional American dream: the house with the white picket fence, preferably somewhere that’s green, according to Aubrey from Little Shop of Horrors. Having your own house means you own all the walls and get to hang things and paint to your heart’s content. It means you can landscape, plant trees, and put anything you want in the garage.

It also means that you’re likely going to be stuck somewhere for at least five years. Any less and you might take more financial hits than you’re prepared to endure. And if you’re going to be living somewhere for five years, especially if you’ve been apartment hopping every year previously, you better be sure you are buying a place you’re going to love and be able to thrive in.

To figure that out, ask and honestly answer the following questions:

Where do you want to live?

It’s true what they say: location is everything, especially when you’re figuring out a place to live. If you’ve been living in the area already, consider what areas or neighborhoods you don’t want to live in, and also, where would be the most ideal. While you’re looking at houses, ask the realtor about the neighborhood. Often they have an inside scoop on neighbors or if any development is being planned for the area.

Once you’ve narrowed down your preferred location, it’s less overwhelming and easier to narrow down the hundreds of listings.

What do your next five years look like?

Five years seems to be the magic amount of time to live in a purchased house. Shelling out the kind of dough needed for the closing costs and down payment usually significantly affects your finances. Having that kind of impact more than once every five years is not the best idea, especially if you’ve only recently started your career. Five years of residency also lets you put enough equity into your house and refinance out of the mortgage insurance that comes with an FHA loan.

If you have any inkling of potentially leaving the area for whatever reason (to be closer to family, job promotion options, etc.) and are set on living in a house, I would recommend renting a place instead. Wait until you’re willing and able to grow some roots before committing to full-on buying.

It’s important to also consider what could happen in your life in the next five years. While it’s impossible to predict everything, there are some big decisions that determine if you should buy a house and how big of a house you should buy. Do you plan on expanding your family in the next five years (including children, animals, or roommates of some kind)? Do you plan on becoming an RV or boat owner and would need space to store it? Keeping the size of the house or yard you could need in the coming years in mind can lessen a lot of future stress or pressure to move again.

What can you afford?

Know your range and what that range means for your area. My house appraised at $230,000, which means it’s a decent first home for my area. My house in a bigger city might appraise at a much higher cost because of its size and location. Knowing about the area and what certain prices mean for the quality and size of your home is important in determining what you can afford.

As with all things, it’s important to know what would be a realistic chunk to take out of your pocket for closing costs and the down payment. Because we bought a new home, we were able to save a couple thousand in closing costs which typically are between two and five percent of the total cost of your home by negotiating with the builder. Still, we paid nearly $9,000 in costs when buying our home.

You must also consider the monthly costs of owning a house, which differ from what you’re expected to pay when you rent. These not only include trash, recycling, water, and power, but also maintenance and upkeep. We’ve only lived in our house for six months and we already know we’re going to have to re-sod our front yard because of the type of topsoil our house sits on and it’s not covered by our warranty. Ownership and upkeep of a house are expensive, so you must know what you can afford in all stages of making a house your home.

What are your deal breakers?

Before you start looking, know what you do and don’t want in your house. How many bathrooms do you want? Bedrooms? Do you want the master to have its own bathroom? If it’s a two-story house, how do you feel about the master being on the main floor? Do you want your kitchen and living room to be open to each other? What size yard do you want?

Make a list of the things you absolutely need in a house, what you’ll walk away from, and where you’re willing to compromise.

As you look at houses, be honest with what you see. If something bothers you now about the house and you haven’t even bought it yet, don’t buy that house, even if it’s an easy fix. You may even find red flags you didn’t know were an issue until you saw them.

When buying your first place, be it a house or a condo, it’s important to know if you’re even willing to commit to a location for five years and if you can afford it. Once you’ve established those, you can decide what you do and don’t want in a place to live and thrive.

Julie is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty On Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click HERE.

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