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By Tara-Nicholle Nelson | Broker in San Francisco, CA

5 Confessions of a First-Time Home Buyer

I know a lot about real estate - now. But when I bought my very first home, I knew nothing about real estate and hadn’t even starting working in the field. In fact, I was like any other brand-new home buyer out there: fired-up, overeager and completely uninitiated.

So, I made a mistake or two. Or twelve, give or take. Many of these were mistakes I didn’t even realize I’d made until a few years down the line. Fortunately for me, none of my first-time home buying mistakes were disastrous - and fortunately for you, I’m going to share them here, so you don’t have to repeat them!

Here are five lessons I learned in the course of buying my first home, so all you first-timers don’t have to. (Agents and homeowners, please share your lessons in the comments, too!)

Confession #1:  I would never have found my house searching in what I thought was my price range. I started my house hunt pretty clear on what price range I should be searching in, based on what I could afford and how much my lender said I was qualified to borrow. Then, as buyers are wont to do, I began to inch my search price range upwards, looking at homes listed above what I could afford in hopes that I could find a higher-priced (read: better) home, then negotiate my way back down to my target price range.   

In one way, this strategy worked: tweaking my price range upward opened up a number of new properties that I’d never seen before. Unfortunately, the market climate was then very similar to what it’s like now - in my area, it was very common, at the time, for the better homes to get somewhere between 3 and 10 offers. So, I would make an offer on a listing priced slightly above my max, and not only could I not bring the seller down, the home would actually sell for more than it was listed for.

In the end, I tweaked my home search price range a bit below where I’d been looking before, and voila - that opened up lots of new properties, too. But these were properties where I could be very competitive, even against other buyers, at offer prices well within what was affordable to me. One of these lower-priced homes, in fact, turned out to become my home.

The upshot: If property pickings seem slim, tweak the price range you’re using to search for homes - in both directions.

Confession #2:   I had to learn to walk a fine emotional line.  Here’s the deal - at the time, my home was the biggest purchase I had ever made - by far. I was a lawyer, so I’d worked on some major transactions, but still - we were talking about the place where I’d live every day, the place for which I’d be writing what then seemed like a whopping check every month, the place where my kids would grow up, for Pete’s sake! So, I wanted to get it right, like every first-time buyer does.

At first, I did not want to even consider making an offer on a place unless I found everything about it to be utterly breathtaking. I mean, I wanted the place to literally sweep me off my feet, sing me a love song and woo me with rose petals before I’d even give it the time of day.

And I saw homes that did - they seemed perfect. To me and, apparently, to every other buyer in the greater East Bay area, that is: the places I loved beyond all reason ended up being the subject of 10, 15, even 18 offers.

At the same time, my agent showed me this dumpy little house that just did not do it for me. Someone from another era and with a decidedly different design aesthetic than mine had lived there, for sure: there were actually rooms wallpapered - wallpapered! - with roses, bows and kittens. And there was what I liked to call “puke green” shag carpet all over the place. But the layout and neighborhood were nice, it had panoramic Bay Views and hints of hardwood could be seen in the closets.  

But my agent showed me this place at least three times, and at some point, something clicked in my head. I started to be able to visualize how things *could* be in that home, after some work. Eventually, I bought this house -  because it showed so poorly, as a listing, I had zero competition and was able to get it for a song. (It’s the Bay Area, so it was a big, long song, but much less than I’d expected to spend.)

And even more eventually, it became more beautiful and much lovelier to live in than I’d ever imagined it could. But that only happened after much more work, much more money and much more time than I’d ever expected. Without the vision for what could be, I’d have certainly gotten discouraged at some point along the way.

So, yes - it is important to fall in love, before you pull the home buying trigger. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be with the property in precisely its present condition. Ultimately, I realized that your love for either the home or for your vision of the life you could realistically live in that home someday are equally solid foundations for making an offer on a property. At the same time, I learned, it is foolhardy and exhausting to get so emotionally attached to a home that you overextend yourself trying to get it, or have a hard time moving on to the next listing if you are ouitbid.  

It’s a fine emotional line, but one that you have to learn to walk.

The upshot: Don’t make an offer unless you’re excited about the home - as it is now, or as it could be. But don’t get too excited until after you’re in contract and past the inspections and appraisal.

Confession #3:  A “free” agent is the most effective sort. Allow me to be frank: I’ve been called bossy. I know what I like, what I don’t like and how to get it - in every sort of situation. I know the keywords that have proven success getting me exactly what I want from every vendor: from the tailor to the vet to the over-the-phone order taker at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant (“A number 64, please; no tomatoes - pause while they find the “no tomatoes” button; no onions - pause while they find the “no onions” button; substitute shrimp for the tofu.  Thanks!”)

Here’s what I found out: buying a home is simply not like placing an order. And working with a real estate agent is not like working with any other sort of salesperson. Rather, working with a great agent is like a hybrid experience of working with an expert salesperson who intimately knows their inventory and the ins-and-outs of how to make a deal, and working with an expert advisor like a CPA or an attorney, who you pay specifically for their advice, insight and expertise at complex topics that you know little or nothing about.

My agent showed me that little ugly kitty wallpapered house first. Then he showed me the places I wanted to see, we made offers, and I didn’t get any of them.  Then he showed me the puke green carpeted house again.  And then again.  And eventually, I could see what he saw: the massive untapped value. The huge potential. The sound investment and the great place to live that this home ultimately represented for my family.

And so it was that I learned this: if you trust your agent, give them the freedom to show you things that may not fit inside the little, precisely defined box of what you think you want. I’ll go even further - give your agent the freedom to show you things that you don’t think you’d like. Then have a dialogue: ask them to help you see what they see - ask them to make the case for why you should consider the property.  And stay open to seeing things through their eyes - that sort of flexibility can open up whole new realms of possibilities and properties.  (And if you don’t trust your agent, you’re just working with the wrong one. There are plenty out there worthy of your trust.)

The upshot: Stay as flexible as you can, as long as you can. Keep your deal-breakers and must-haves to a minimum to get maximum benefit from your agent’s expertise.

Confession #4: I didn’t do my due diligence.  Now, I was no idiot: I went to all the inspections, read all the reports, asked all the questions. Yet and still, I missed things - a couple of big things.  I’d been told my new home, which was in an unincorporated area between two towns, was in the school district of the closest town - which was a very desirable district. But I didn’t actually call the district to verify this and, as a result, my kids spent a year taking two buses to get to the not-so-great schools of the district we were actually in before I pulled them out and spent a small fortune on private schooling for a number of years.

Further, as I became friendly with the neighbors after I moved in, they asked me how I’d felt about the “tragedy” that had taken place in the property before I moved in, and expressed admiration for my bravery at buying the place. I had no idea what they were talking about, did some digging and found that someone had tragically killed themselves in the home not long before I bought it.

Were these lapses in the legally required disclosures?  You bet: the seller absolutely had a legal obligation to make accurate and complete disclosures on both these points, and didn’t. More importantly, though, these were both things that I could have uncovered quickly myself by simply calling the school district and doing an online Google search for the property’s address (the unfortunate death had been covered in the news which was just starting to be available online). And I didn’t. But that was the last time I ever made those mistakes!

The upshot: Hire the pros for your inspections and such, but ultimately, due diligence is a dish best served DIY (do it yourself).

Confession #5: I didn’t know what was really important to me.  I thought square footage, good views, safety and quiet were all criticaI. I insisted those items were deal breakers - and got them. I also wanted a big yard for the kids, fantastic views and a good commute to a wide variety of areas, but these were a little lower down on my priority list.

In retrospect, I can say that I definitely missed the mark on a number of other things. I thought a safe, quiet neighborhood was great - something off the beaten path. I thought an area with no rowdy school kids around would be ideal for the serenity I sought. So, I bought a home in a neighborhood filled with retired couples, some of whom I still count as dear friends, high on a hilltop with stunning views. I thought I’d be so delighted to take my kids and dog to the park to play that I’d rather have lovely views than a backyard.

Unfortunately, “off the beaten path” translated to “really far from the nearest Trader Joe’s.” And no noisy kids meant that my own kids had no neighborhood friends. Before we even made it to the next autumn, the aging population cause the powers that be to shutter the nearest schools, so we had to bus the kids two towns over to get to our “local” elementary school. And before long, I started my own business, having zero time to take kids or canine to the park, so all of my little monsters spent much more time indoors than I would have liked.

Needless to say, my next home was on a quiet street, just a few blocks away from a bustling shopping district, near the kids’ school - and it had a big backyard, a much more diverse age mix of neighbors and a dog park at the end of the block.

The upshot:  Cultivate clarity about your vision for your life, rather than just the specs of the home you think you want, before you start your house hunt.

The other upshot: Whatever you dislike about your home (and there will be something) you’ll have a chance to correct the next go-round.

All: What lessons would you like to share with those buying a home for the first time around?  Fess up!


By Madelyn Thompson,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 10:21
This was an excellent article. I could really identify with what she said about falling in love with a place and becoming emotionally attached to it. Big mistake and one that I made with my current place. This is good information to have as I get ready to start this daunting process.
By Melanie,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 10:37
Go to the local police department and tell them what address(es) you are looking at and watch their faces closely when they answer you. Their face will tell you as much if not more than their words. This saved us from buying a cute, affordable house in a neighborhood that looked nice at the time but has gone steadily down hill over the past two years.
By Helen Oliveri,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 10:42
Good tips Tara.
By Temara Presley,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 10:52
Nicely written. I appreciate your personal perspective on this, I think a lot of people will relate. One note: as fair as it seems that the seller should always disclose a tragedy, sellers are not required to disclose that information in all states. In Oregon, that is not a material fact - therefore, it is not required to disclose. In fact, as a Realtor in Oregon, I am not allowed to disclose that information to buyers since it does not relate to structure or land. Most of us understand there could be emotional, cultural and sometimes religious conflicts that arise not knowing a homes history. So buyers just need to be aware that if a homes history is important to them, they need to talk to neighbors and call the local police department to do their own research.
By Greg Cook 951-265-4532,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 11:11
Tara, great post! Yes hindsight is 20/20. I'll be sharing your thoughts on my blog!
By Barbara Murphy,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 11:17
Great Post, Tara! For me, room size was a "biggie" -- I couldn't move out of my "tiny-roomed" house soon enough. The other was yard and floor plan. You can't expand a too-small yard, most of the time, anyway (unless your neighbor is willing to sell a sliver and the codes will allow it!), and awkward floor plans are usually too expensive to overcome to be worth it. If your Realtor isn't experienced in remodeling or renovation, have a Contractor give you advice as to what moving walls, expanding closets, etc, will cost before moving forward. Cosmetics like flooring and wallpaper removal/painting can be pricey, but can also be done slowly as the budget allows and you have the opportunity to find just the updates that you LOVE!

~ Barbara Murphy, Broker, Tartan Properties FL
By Carla Stanton,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 11:22
you post the most relevant posts to MY business - thank you thank you thank you!
By Icarus,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 11:28
I gave up a parking spot to bring the cost of my condo down to my price range. It was the boom and the place had everything on my wish list. Parking wasn't too problematic back then though it seems to have gotten worse each year.

In retrospect, I should have borrowed more money and kept the parking spot. I'd still be underwater but the condo would sell easier and with the money I'd save on gas looking for a spot in my zip code, i could even bring it to the closing to make up the difference.
By Nancy Lucas,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 11:31
Hi Tara -- I was editor for "Personal Real Estate Investor" mag - you may remember you wrote for us for a while a few years ago. Now - I am a Realtor. And I love it. These words are so true. People think they know what they want but they don't really. They have to spend the time to look around and look beyond the purple walls, puce carpets, etc. to really see the house. Well stated.
By Jamie Walzer,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 11:32
Great article Tara. On the safety end of it, I would just add to drive by in the morning, after dark, and also on a weekend. Neighborhoods can often have a different feel on different days or times and I find it helpful to know these changes in advance.
~Jamie Walzer, Real Estate Consultant, Nest Atlanta Real Estate Group
By gg,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 11:43
I'm looking for a new house right now and the area I'm looking in has older homes with renovations. I'm worried that scenario could have the drywall made in China and no one will disclose the information. Any advice?
By Ruth Boncorddo,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 11:44
I do most of the things you've said! Everyone thinks I'm crazy because I do intensive Google searches. Trulia is a great online site because on lots of their posts they have a crime map. It's turned me away from some homes! I am now going above my limit of homes that have been on the market awhile and asking them to come down! Thanks for the article!
By Carol L O'Donoghue,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 11:45
regarding confession #4 There is NOT a legal required disclosure for death in the house. That does NOT materially effect the value of the home.
By Landerskm,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 11:50
Great article, but sometimes you don't have time to do your due diligence. I was not that familiar with the city I was moving to, and being my Realtor wasn't from that town (I was looking throughout a County and not just in one town), he wasn't all that familiar with the areas either. I walked through a home, loved it, and submitted an offer all within a few hours. There was no time to do due diligence being there were 9 other offers at the same time as mine (and mine was accepted the day after). I did do some due diligence after the fact, including knocking on doors in the neighborhood, but your lucky if someone actually answers these days. I should have gone to the Police Department and talked to them, but most of the crime maps I used didn't show tons of crime in the area (and none in my actual neighborhood). Little did I know my area was considered a "gang" area (moreso on the outskirts of the gang area, but still). Thankfully, its like we're on our own island in our community and the bad is outside of it, but thats still not a good thing. You definitely learn a lot of should haves after buying your first home.
By David Barr,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 11:52
This blog plays daily on HGTV in numerous programs.....
By Roli,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 11:55
Good one !!
By Jeff Stein,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 11:59
So useful. I'm doing the first home search right now and all 5 points are great. I've also found myself creeping up in price range to find something better. Going back down to a realistic price again. Also, I don't have that vision of what a place can be but luckily my agent and a friend both do. I would add, ask everyone you know who has bought a home their advice and then just take some of the points that make sense for you.
By Candace Taylor,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 12:01
Good post! These days, I won't write an offer until I get a full pest report, TDS, well and septic report (we live in a rural area), and other structural reports. If the sellers won't spring for reports, then they are not being transparent--a critical isse. So, we walk away rather than open escrow and deal with "deal breaking" problems.
By vmowery,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 12:01
Check the police blogs in the area -- will tell you a lot.
By Victoria Kaiser,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 12:03
I literally just bought my first home not a month ago. I was pretty prepared and hit nearly everything on your list. I would add a trip to your local planning office to pull all the permits on the property (I took pictures of *everything*). One trip saved me making an offer on a house with an illegal addition. I would also add to check rates with your insurance companies. Get a home insurance quote, and many companies will let you "test" a new address for auto. Often, that will tell you crime/weather/accident rates and expenses in the area.
By Clinton Scherping,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 12:03
Since you were looking east Bay, you should also have looked for CA earthquake fault maps, and earthquake history. Also check soils types for liquefaction.....including the areas around your children's schools. Big quakes don't happen that often, but if you know the house is too close to a fault, be sure it has been retrofitted. if quake issues have not beed addressed, you can do it after purchase, but use the lack of upgrades as a negotiating point. As for schools....check, and do not accept under engineered schools.
By Ann Steinemann,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 12:30
Great blog full of lots of useful information, Tara. The most important line of the entire article was this:

"The upshot: Cultivate clarity about your vision for your life, rather than just the specs of the home you think you want, before you start your house hunt."

This is something I stress with all home buyers but especially first-timers. It is SO important to look past the "perfect home" ideal that so many carry around with them when they begin their home search. A good lifestyle and community fit is much more important in the long-run than whether the house comes with granite counters and stainless steel appliances.
By Mcnultyt,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 12:33
Thank you for this information. Can you tell me what MELLO ROOS is?
By lorran,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 12:34
Good advice! I moved from and urban part of the Bay Area with city water, sewer and natural gas lines to a rural area with a mix of private wells and a mutual water company, septic and propane. If you are thinking of doing something similar, get experts to inspect these systems. The well/water system inspector should be local and aware of any major issues in the area. Interview neighbors that also use the system, but be aware that if there are problems, they might not be forthcoming.
By Mary Charters,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 12:34
One of my friends wrote an offer on a home sight unseen for his "semi-retirement" home. The house was dead on the bay and had an incredible view. Because the beach town it was located in was over an hour away from me, I was working with another agent there on the sale since I was not that familiar with the area. The buyer, a very saavy person who believes in doing his due diligence, flew in for the home inspection and when it was over he walked the entire street and knocked on every door to talk to everyone he could about the neighborhood. He found out that the house next door to the one he was buying was owned by a gentleman who worked at home, rides Harleys and loves to night fish. His Harley riding friends meet at his house 4 mornings a week to ride together and the noise level made everyone really unhappy. In addition, he kept his floodlights on in the back of his house every night shining on the bay to attract night crawlers so the people close by couldn't sleep unless they could drape out the light. Needless to say, he opted out of the contract based on the home inspection. After selling real estate for 26 years and buying/selling 11 different personal and/or investment properties, I never once thought to do this. A great idea for any buyer to do, especially one moving to a new area!
By Roger Garza, Realtor®,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 12:38
Great post! I'll be glad to share it with my buyers!
By calagal,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 12:38
God Bless You, Tara!
By Dino71390,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 12:51
Well great article but I think the way a female shops for a Home and the way a Male shops are totally different, IE Men are from Mars and wemen are from Venus LOL! But male or femal mistkes are to be made by all. I always ask opinons from both people I dont like and ones I do as and both male and female: it gives me different perspectives to consider and more often than not things I may have not thought of. Just have to refrane from punching someone in the nose so to speak LOL!
By Maritza,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 13:04
I am at this time looking for a house to buy and what you said will help a lot and I am taking time to find what I want for me and my son.
By Micha-el Harbert,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 13:13
We have a 3 day neighborhood review... knock doors you'll find out LOTS... maybe even before you make the offer, neighbors have interesting insights but confirm. Don't forget about the negative Fung Shui ...just kidding.
By Lynne Thompson,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 13:15
Well written informative article. Work with a seasoned professional, a Certified Buyer's Representative, who puts your interests first A realtor who is familiar with the town you're looking to live in is more equipped to provide you with valuable local information. With any buyer client, I will point out pluses and minuses so my client can make an informed decision, and one that is right for them!
By Glennie,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 13:32
You know, I don't know why we bother with real estate agents if they don't have the responsibility to tell you that A: it's not in the school district you think and B: there was a suicide in the home. You get the commission, you're asked the questions...ridiculous.
By Michele Allison-Elwell CBR,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 13:41
Great article. I have buyers call the police and ask about police call log to that street . As a Realtor we can not say what is a "good" , "bad" or u"unsafe" neighborhood" It's really up to the buyer to determine if it meets there needs. Nighttime , weekend and after school hour drive by's help. Google is great too. Most buyers I find are now goggling the property.In Massachusetts if a sellers Is Asked about a death , murder they must disclose. It's always a good idea for the buyers to scope out the neighbors. As a Realtor , I don't feel it is my job, but I think buyers should do it themselves and be very careful and bring someone with them. Nowadays many neighborhoods are not as close knit as they use to be decades ago. Not everyone knows everyone. Some neighbors like to remain private and just smile or wave when the see each other in the driveway or over the fence.
By Edna,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 13:42
Great advice sometimes what we look for is not what we need. And yes I'm just like that bossy and I know exactly what I want and the neighborhoods I like. My family and I have been through a lot of properties but they really don't fill our needs. We are first time buyers, we need 4 bedrooms and a lot of houses only have 3. We finally found a house that its perfect we all like it and we can afford it. But is a Short Sale with Chase Bank and it seems like they want more money but they need to accept our offer because nobody is going to offer more for that house. Hope this time we get through.
By Titus Pullo,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 13:49
This was one of your better articles Tara. Learned something I didn't know. BTW, I didn't know you are an attorney.

I found my dream in Suffolk County Long Island and got it inspected. When I got home after the inspection, I then realized there was so much stuff I wanted to ask him but since I was so "caught up in the moment" I failed.

House buying is definitely emotional.
By Patrick Ciriello,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 14:13
I am in the process of buying a house now. I'll be publishing an ebook about it. LOL
By Matthew Paden,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 14:14
I would love this in a great Marketing sheet that I could hand out and email out ot buyers. This is great stuff.
By Sericksontx,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 14:23
Want to know what paint isn't hiding???? Go in the attic and LOOK around. is there insulation up there? is it spread out fairly even, what do the air duct look like - insulated, CONNECTED? Are there mouse traps? is there a bunch of mis-placed junk? water damaged roofing, can you see light near the ceiling/floor - pests crawl through holes and the light may be their freeway to your troubles.
Check the heater/AC filter. If it looks like death valley and not clean, bet there are other areas that have been spruced up where maintenance has been on the back burner. Ask the neighbors about the area? would they move there again if they were moving today? Look over the fence.
Drive down the alley behind the house - where reality of car junkies, and graffiti may make you ponder - and wonder.
By Mary Albrecht,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 14:35
Nicely written Tara, there's no substitution for trust and Yes we as agents wear a LOT of hats, ,at least the good ones do!
By E Robinson,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 14:59
Well written if this were 2008.
By Bev Giltner,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 15:01
Just FYI, in Colorado you are NOT required to disclose things such as a violent act or other psychological issue related to a property, only those things which are of a material nature.
By Leeann,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 15:01
With regards to #2. In my area there is a lot of new construction. While searching for a home I came across a website devoted to horror stories (with pictures) in relationship to one particular builder in the area. There were many different stories from a variety of geographic regions (DC/MD/VA). After reading that website, I ruled out that builder and began checking the BBB for the records of other builders in the area.
By S.,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 15:07
It depends on the state what has to be disclosed or not...in Florida, you are required to disclose if someone has died in the house and if there is any paranormal activity in the house.
It ALL depends on the area!
By Kathy Schoonover,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 15:17
I am currently working with a first time home buying family. Their number 1 need is how close to schools. Now before I select the showing properties, I must do the schools homework first. The article is very true and most first time buyer's mentality. But I always let the buyers to experience their own rejections first then buyers would be more realistic. California law the death disclosures are within 3 years I believe. I got an offer accepted on a REO listing, by law bank is exempted from all disclosures but the listing agent was told by a neighbor that the original owner had died in the house, then listing agent had to disclose it to me. Buyers cancelled.
By Hal Hovey,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 15:34
Tara, thanks for yet another excellent article. My confession is that way back when I bought my first home, I underestimated how much it costs to own a home that isn't included in your house payment. By the time you fill the house with furniture, buy towels and sheets and window coverings and dishes and a washer and dryer and refrigerator and a lawnmower and a weedeater, ....well, you get the idea!
By Jane Lewis,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 16:01
Great comments. I have only one more lesson-learned. We moved from San Diego, where the climate is drier and hence feels warmer, even at the same temperature. So we were unprepared for the frigid winds off the ocean at Half Moon Bay. What I can recommend to folks moving to this area is that it is very important to buy a property with a south facing yard, on a street that runs parallel to the coast. Our street turned out to be in the path of the winds that fly up the mountain at highway 92. This becomes even more important when one considers that more than half the days here are overcast and gray. With the correction in housing values since 2008, we also would have been better off renting.
By mashy40,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 16:09
Wow!! It strikes me that every area; whether urban, suburan or rural is different. If you know the area, there are some things you might already know: (school districts; utilities etc). If you don't, that is research you have to do. In addition we all have to parse out whether or not the home we are thinking of buying is one we would like to live in. And, can afford to live in. I have found the whole process somewhat daunting. I think the unknowns can outweigh what we know. Especially with older construction. What I have learned from my recent purchase is: location and setting matter. Pick that first. Then, leave yourself enough financial leeway to make changes to the homes construction that might be necessary. I bought a beautiful private yard in a good neighborhood with a smaller, older home. Whatever I might have to do to the home; I will not lose my location or my setting.
By Marylotro,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 16:21
Whether you are renting or buying call the utility companies and get information on what the bills will be like.. They can only give you information on years that the house was occupied but they can tell you when that was, how long the occupancy lasted and how much the monthly bills were. Dont forget to adjust for rate increases. Ive been stuck in homes with super high bills and will never make that mistake again!
By Itsnotme1207,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 16:35
i bought a beautiful first home 2 years ago in a newer nice neighborhood. the only thing i've found that i did wrong is that i underestimated how much house and land i'd need. it's a normal 3/2/2 on .25 acre. i'm now looking for atleat 4/2/2 on 2+acres. didn't know i'd like having kids, wanting more of them and that my husband would also need to change jobs to work at home thus needing an office. it's perfect, just too bad it's too small for us now. i guess that is what happens to lots of people, so atleast i lucked out that there wasn't a problem besides this oversight. i did do alot of homework though before i bought it. great articule!

By Glenc,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 17:37
Use an agent that lives in the type of home you want. This was huge as our agent was a treasure trove of issues that can "break the deal" for this type of house in this location". I didn't realize the importance of this until later. Don't confuse "pest inspection" with a termite inspection. Where I live they are not performed by the same people, in fact they deliberately don't go into each-others territory. We paid for a termite inspection, but given the size of the yard, the amount of neglect, and the proximity to open space an equal risk might just as well be rats, raccoons, deers, and neighborhood cats who like to hunt the nesting squirrels. Know your property lines, ask your realtor, listing agent, especially in a cul-de-sac in non HOA communities..it will help you calibrate your reactions when the neighbors seem to take liberties with their "dog yard", "bicycle storage", and "Holliday decor". What seems like an obvious partition from the street may not be the case on the deed (despite the obvious yard difference or fence line). Getting off on the wrong foot with a new neighbor is a crappy proposition so it's best to get a 3rd party validation. Look under the carpet!...Chances are you're going to replace it and when you do (a week before move in) you don't want to find asbestos tiles that the owner can claim ignorance of. It's worth paying a little extra up front for inspections that concern you specifically, especially when you are in contract and rooting out contingencies. Don't skimp as it's a small percentage of a very large investment. Don't like the fact that the previous owner installed a fireplace insert himself? get a weird chimney guy out and have it inspected too! If you inherit the house from a "proud old do-it-yourself-er" be prepared for some serious WTF moments as you get to know the place.
By nfltetas,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 18:23
Lots of good insights, both from Tara and all those who have posted - many thanks to all those you've helped! I bought my first home 2 months ago, and was fortunate enough to have done *some* due diligence, and 'complied' with some of the recommendations, but not others. So far, I've been extremely happy - we'll see as time goes on! One thing I felt compelled to comment about is the 'death in the property' circumstance - my sale was through a trust, so disclosure was not required, similar to what someone stated about an REO property, however, the gentleman who used to live in the back unit (mine is a 2-unit property) happened to come by the first time we came to see the place, and told us that the gentleman who had owned it had passed in the home (he and the deceased owner were very close - I believe he helped care for the gentleman before he passed.) His passing in the house in no way deterred me from purchasing the home - granted, it was not a suicide, but even that would not deter me if it were a property I truly liked and could envision myself inhabiting. Murder? A completely different story, IF it were due to a home-invasion, or a scenario that indicated the AREA was one subject to high and/or violent crime. Sad as it may be, if it were a situation where, for example, a spouse had murdered her abusive husband...well, judge me crazy/insensitive/whatever you will, that would not deter me, either. Death is a fact of life, and as such, does not creep me out. A high crime/violent crime neighborhood? To be avoided at all costs, even if it means 'adjusting upward' the price range of the homes you're considering! Just my 2 cents...
By Gail Coplin,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 18:56
I bought a 1957 house, sturdy and in a nice area. I got a great deal on it, knowing that the previous owner didn't believe in CAT BOXES, and the oak floors were saturated with cat urine and the drywall could not be saved, and that due to 40 years of this, even the insulation had to be removed. That is not the problem. I closed escrow on it 4 days ago, am having the place renovated, and a representative of the insurance company says they have to do their inspection NOW. At least he won't have to wonder what is behind the walls! The agent and the homeowner are not permitted to see the report, only the insurance company. I have bought many, many properties in the past and have never had this problem. This man says this type of inspection is now the industry standard, and to get insurance I have to comply. So what now?
By Patsy Mclamb,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 22:27
I had about decided on a house in an iffy location, It was charming and the facade and lawn could be fixed without spending too much. now I see I better talk to the neighbors and the police. I saw some neighbors two big burley but friendly men with two big dogs, these were next door right up aganst my carport. I felt heartened by the protection they might offer. They can probably tell me what I need to know before I make an offer. also I need to check the heat pump among other things.
By Linda Jenney,  Thu Oct 11 2012, 22:52
I just want to add that I find Tara's articles must read. So well written and informative. As are the reader comments. Thanks everyone!
By foru2no,  Fri Oct 12 2012, 00:54
Don't trust the property inspection reports, especially if done by the sellers. I once bought a property that had a floor gas heater with a two inch hole in it's chamber. Needless to say, this isn't something that can afford to be overlooked. I would suggest that when it comes to the major systems and components of the house such as the electrical, hvac, plumbing, roof, foundation, etc. that you hire your own trusted property inspector and tell him specifically what you want him to diagnose.
By landes2012@live.com,  Fri Oct 12 2012, 05:02
PLEASE do not forget to do the following:
1. What are property taxes like now vs 5 years ago?
2. Ask about the schools and education available--close by.
3. Research the overall crime (in all types) in the immediate area.
4. Research how many child molesters live in your neighborhood.
5. Drive and look through your targeted area both in the daytime & early evenings.
6. Is house vacant? May be great negotiating tool OR an example of the seller bailing out.
7. What is the percentage of renters vs homeowners in your target area? More renters=more crime
By Scoggins Real Estate Team,  Fri Oct 12 2012, 08:12
Great article!
By Shalu Thaman,  Fri Oct 12 2012, 08:15
One more thing, if you're a first time buyer or even renting; moving into a new area....find and keep...the realtor that uses & shares their experience; thus protecting you by educating you about the pitfalls. This is different from buyer due diligence. As a realtor, I can tell my clients to verify which schools correspond to the home home in question, but can thy use my advice on the intangibles like neighborhood assimilation & the reality of the daily commute vs google maps ? Absolutely!!
By Kelly A Rogers,  Fri Oct 12 2012, 09:56
Look at the potential but be real about what you can do. When I bought my first home, I probably should have just run over it with a bull dozer! Instead, I saw this cute "cottage" that my husband and I could fix up. That is, if we had the money and no children to deal with. If your spouse is not a "fixer-upper" kind of person, find something that does not need a ton of work!
By Milt Steiner,  Fri Oct 12 2012, 10:08
We were looking at a home in a secluded/forested neighborhood. We fell in love with the home but didn't care for the fact that it had 7 different entry points (4 on the ground level) since we had 3 young children at the time. We were about to make an offer when we checked the local "sex offender" registery. Low and behold there was a convicted sex offender living 2 doors away. Needless to say we didn't make an offer. Making sure you check everything is very important.
By Maria Ivanus,  Fri Oct 12 2012, 12:21
Great post and very useful comments. We are buying our first home now and I feel so so confused already. We found this house that I really like ( but now I am not so sure, after reading all the posts here ). At least, after this article, I know what to do to avoid the most common mistakes. thank you, everyone!
By Chip Goodwin,  Fri Oct 12 2012, 12:32
My suggestions from 30 years and 8 moves.... 1) use a realtor that is a go-getter, and is not a personal friend 2) visit the property numerous times night and day and check it out 3) if you plan to move up later be certain the property has wide appeal 4) no matter how nice it is, if you can hear the nearby highway then walk away 5) realize that there are different appreciation values for townhouses, condos, and freestanding homes, check your area 6) we are a mobile society where most families have 2 cars+ so don't buy a single driveway or single garage if there are doubles available 7) if you are new to the area consider renting for 1 year to learn where you will be comfortable 8) don't forget to look up...airplane flight paths can be miserable to live in 9) take a contractor with you if you are considering a re-hab (before you sign)
By Contessa,  Fri Oct 12 2012, 15:27
Another great post from you! I was buying in sketchy neighborhoods so I Googled EVERYTHING--addresses, names of nearby parks, names on the mail that was lying around for the previous owner. It still didn't uncover some flat-out lies that the listing agent told. The result of his lies were that I paid more than I should have, but I LOVE my house because it's in excellent condition relative to its peers in the area, and it's easy to work with--easily accessible plumbing, electrical, etc. A note to Carol: Material fact disclosure and death disclosure are two separate laws, and both apply in CA.
By Rob Brossa,  Sun Oct 14 2012, 10:09
Very honest and insightful Tara, I thought, Location! Location! Location! was the realtor's favorite mantra when it came to buying a home. I can see now that there is more to it than location. I've found citidata.com very useful in searching prospective areas. This site list local employment and crime stats. Sorry, there's no data on green carpets and flowered wall paper.
By Nick Zipperi,  Sun Oct 14 2012, 22:06
I would have to say that I am happy with my first home. I bought the home for the price due to the neighborhood not being the most desirable. I wanted to have some money leftover to upgrade in the future but I know this home could actually be good enough for me for the rest of my life. The home does have some flaws due to being older but it also has upgrades and it is big enough for me.

Sometimes a person has to go through the whole process once in order to learn a lesson though.
By Mark Acantilado,  Mon Oct 15 2012, 06:41
Buying my first home was, well quite fair enough to say. But admittedly, first time is first time. There are things you think you should have done, and things you thought you shouldn't have done before.
By Barb Mihalik,  Mon Oct 15 2012, 10:46
It's been my experience that many first time buyers think they know what they want until they start looking and then lots and lots of things change, especially expectations. That time between fantasy and reality can be a hard nut to swallow. As their agent, it's my job to be truthful and show them properties they can actually afford to buy. I appreciate when first time homebuyers make the effort to take the First Time Homebuyer classes offered by area lenders. They're much better educated and less apt to have pie in the sky ideas about what it takes to get into their first home.
By Sandra Connelly,  Tue Oct 16 2012, 10:36
I would add, see the home at least 2, if not 3 times before making an offer, bring any knowledgeable people to inspect for potential problems (but, don't automatically disregard home unless it's a problem you can't fix or is very major....bring the price down instead), and make sure you have a Realtor that will do a thorough comparable market analysis of sales, including past years' sales in that particular area....within 1/4 or 1/2 mile. A Realtor who specializes in buyer agency will usually guide you with the advice given here. Sandra Connelly, Realtor, ABR
By Marina Rieboldt,  Tue Oct 16 2012, 14:26
What a fantastic article. Many buyers start their search thinking that they know exactly what they want. After looking at many homes and having many offers rejected, they end up giving up some of their "must-haves" and "absolutely don't wants". I think it is important for Realtors to spend time with their clients, get to know their needs and to help and educate them through the home buying process from the initial phone to closing day, and beyond. Marina Rieboldt, Realtor
By Elena Ravich, Manhattan Expert,  Fri Oct 19 2012, 23:20
Great article and excellent points! A good buyer's agents should be able to help their clients to understand better what they are really looking for, help them prioritize what features are more important to them in their dream property, and what things they can happily live without, as well as help them with due diligence and CMA. And off course, devoted agent should be like their shrink and help them keep emptions in tact even when things get complicated and overwhelming
By Mark Acantilado,  Mon Oct 22 2012, 02:10
Though the responsibility of a realtor agent is to help his or her clients in the home buying process, it is not an excuse that the home buyer need not to know or research about the basic or quick facts about buying properties and real estate.
By opondomusa,  Wed Oct 24 2012, 01:49
Great article, especially because it is from firsthand experience.

By Barbara Ann Grady,  Wed Oct 24 2012, 06:56
I will surely send this to clients, so they have the insight this article provides. KUDOS to you, Tara and to Trulia for presenting it!
By Frank L. DeFazio,  Sun Oct 28 2012, 17:46
Great article Tara! It's funny how little first time home buyers know and it's all of our jobs to help educate and protect them!

Frank L. DeFazio
By getcarports,  Tue Nov 6 2012, 13:29
For you, would carports and garages be a deal breaker?
By Lloydprogroup,  Thu May 23 2013, 08:02
Great suggestions! I wanted to add my TWIST to Confession #2: I had to learn to walk a fine emotional line.

I found that i had to NOT be emotionally attached to any home i looked at.

The deal had to be a good value.

I didn't want to be become emotionally attached to a home that I just HAD to have!

This way you don't pay more than you should.

Confession is that this isn't always to do.

EMOTIONS do rule when purchasing!

Lloyd Pro Group | Nationwide Insurance
2980 Cobb Parkway Southeast #172, Atlanta, GA 30339
(404) 892-2864 (404) 892-2572 (Fax)
By Aaron601400,  Tue Sep 24 2013, 08:30
Very informative and worthy post. Thanks for the sharing such a precious updates with us.

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