It’s hard to believe that six, short months ago, I made the biggest financial decision of my life: buying a house. There are still days when I pull into the driveway, look at my little, raised bungalow and think to myself ‘Wow, this is mine’. That thought is usually followed by something along the lines of: ‘I should shovel the snow off the deck’ or ‘Crap, I really need to clean the gutters’. The extra maintenance and responsibilities aside, I am in love with my house. For me, buying was right – I had a 20% downpayment, renting wasn’t going to save me any money, and I spent a lot of time crunching the numbers to make sure I wasn’t going to cripple myself financially with all the extra costs associated with homeownership. I am happy I bought a house and got some first hand experience in what buying a home entails.
Looking back at my home buying experience, there are a few lessons I learned that I’d like to share.
- Be Patient. I looked at 10+ homes during my first trip out with my realtor. A month later, I was still looking and visited a place that was better than the rest I’d looked at. It was better, but not great. What really stuck out in my mind at the time that it was simply just a little better than the others. I was starting to get frustrated with my house search and I wondered if that house would be the best I would be able to afford and find. I visited that house three separate times, but each time I found more and more things wrong with it. I decided to wait and see what else would be listed; I wasn’t getting booted out of my old place, so there was really no reason to rush a decision. About two weeks later, the bungalow that I now own, was listed. It was a much better house for me than the other one. I am glad I didn’t let my impatience cloud my better judgement and I am much happier in my place than I think I would be had I bought the other house.
- Inspections are Important. You’ve probably heard by now that you should absolutely get a home inspection if you’re buying a house. I agree, but that’s not the inspection I’m talking about. I’m talking about the buyer inspecting the house a final time before the closing date. I asked my realtor if I could do a final inspection of the house after the previous moved out and before the closing date. My intent with this inspection was to make sure that the appliances and other chattels (as outlined in the purchase agreement) were still with the house after the seller moved out. Everything agreed upon was still there, but unfortunately, so was a lot of other stuff. I can appreciate certain things being left for the new home owner, like extra paint, the leftover floor tiles and rolls of paper towels. What I didn’t appreciate was the garbage; three old cathode tube tvs; knick knacks; a shed full of toys; a headboard with no frame; towels (ew ew ew); four electric kettles; and a seemingly-myriad of things I can only describe as stuff that was left for me. By the time I finished looking through the house, I was almost seething. I told the realtor that I was not satisfied with the condition of the house and that the stuff needed to be cleaned out. The next day, I was happy to see the previous owner back at the house with a trailer behind his pickup. Of course, some stuff was still left and I ended up taking 4 loads of junk to the dump on my own dime. I am still finding stuff too, like the last owner’s dirty, smelly hockey equipment…but it could have been much, much worse.
- Sell yourself when shopping for a mortgage. The best thing I did when I was shopping for a mortgage was critically examine how I might look financially to a mortgage broker or a bank. I knew how my credit report looked and what kind of shape I was in financially. Then, when I went to a mortgage broker I was able to show the broker I deserved a lower interest rate. I then turned around, went to the bank, told them why I deserved a lower interest rate and told them what the broker offered. I went back and forth between the bank and broker until I had a rate I was satisfied with, and all it took was a little self-shilling.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Once I got possession of my new house on the closing date, I made a to do list. It took up four pages and included everything from ‘Rip out the fugly drawer liners’ to ‘Rip out bathtub’. Not surprisingly, I freaked out, overwhelmed by my to do list. When I stopped hyperventilating, I ripped up my to do list. All the little things, like broken light switches, thermostat covers coated in painted and ugly drawer liners, weren’t really that important. I had bigger jobs to take care of so why worry about a broken light switch. Save the little stuff for a rainy day, my Dad told me. I am getting around to all the little jobs, but they’re not worth getting all worked up about.
- Get a good lawyer. I am so glad to have a good lawyer. My cousin had an awful time when he was buying his house, mostly due to a crappy, dishonest and unprofessional lawyer. I was looking to avoid that stress, so I asked everyone I knew about their lawyers. The lawyer I went with received glowing reviews and I had a good feeling after I met him. Having a good lawyer came in really handy when there was a bit of a hiccup with the property taxes. Turns out the previous owner forgot to pay one of the tax instalments (unbeknownst to me), so when I saw the amount owed when the tax bill came, my eyes nearly fell out of my head. Before long, I was on the horn to lawyer to get his take on the situation. He agreed something was wrong with the bill and he called up the seller’s lawyer and the township and got everything squared up. What I really appreciated was that he was very prompt in dealing with the issue, returning my calls and that he stood up for me.
There you have it, my top five lessons in home buying. Overall (or should I say, so far?), I’ve had a really positive experience. Do you have any lessons from your own home buying experience? If you’re not a home owner, what lessons have you learned from renting?