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Rock the House-iversary: Tips for first-time homebuyers

Thanks to Dave Ramsey’s ELP program for sponsoring this post!

Six years! That’s how long we’ve left our master bathroom unfinished. I mean, that’s how long ago we bought our house. (Here’s our house story and what it looked like when we bought.)
We were such babies then! What did we even know about anything? NOTHING. We knew nothing about anything, so we signed up to be responsible for a ramshackle foreclosure with poop smeared in the carpet, and celebrated when they let us buy it!
Now that we’re old and so very wise, and we know all the things about everything, I’m sharing my sage advice on buying your first home. Okay, maybe not. But we have learned a couple things, and if you’re a homeowner, I hope you’ll share your tips in the comments too!

What we learned about the buying process:

  • Get a good real estate agent
    Y’all, I have no patience for the HGTV shows where the real estate agent tries to talk the buyers into spending every single red cent the bank says it will loan them. I wish there was a “smack” button on the remote that I could press and it would just slap the real estate agent, gently but firmly.

    Find a real estate agent who has your best interests in mind. We used my mom, because hello, her only ulterior motive was trying to find us a house RightNextDoor to her. If you’re house hunting and your mom refuses to get her real estate license just so she can help you buy (the nerve!), start with an Endorsed Local Provider through this link. They’ll recommend someone who lives near you and who has the heart of a teacher so you end up in the right house at the right price.

  • Buy within your budget

    Because our goal was to pay off our house very quickly, this is how we decided how much house we could afford. We calculated the total mortgage amount assuming:

    • A maximum monthly payment of 25% of our take-home pay, so if you take home $3000 a month for example, that’d be a $750 monthly payment. (We were both working at the time, but we were living on one income as “practice” in case we had babies and one of us decided to stay home with them. So we calculated our max monthly payment as 25% of one income. That gave us the future flexibility to quit one job if we wanted.)
    • No more than a 15-year mortgage
    • With a 20% down payment.

    You can play with the fun little calculator below to get a very rough idea of how much that would be for you. (Click on “monthly payment,” plug in 1/4 of your income in the box and change the “program/rate” to “15-year fixed” to see what that number would be for you.)

    That number for us was about, oh, half of what the bank said we could “afford,” but buying very conservatively made it possible for us to pay it off quickly. People will think you’re crazy for buying less house than you “can,” but when those mortgage payments are affordable for your income and you get it paid off in 15 years or less, you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank sock store.

    Having a required payment that’s only 25% of your take-home pay also leaves room in your budget to handle things that go wrong. The A/C goes out or you need a new water heater, and you don’t have to decide whether to eat or pay your mortgage. ‘Cuz I really like to eat.

  • Inspect that junk
    I know that when you’re already spending more money than you’ve ever spent in your life, it’s super tempting to surpass the home inspection. Everything looks great! What could go wrong?!


    My dad is a home inspector, so he’s always telling me about the straight-up CRAY he has discovered in houses that look completely normal. In one case, the gas from the furnace was venting inside the attic. So if the unsuspecting home buyers had turned on the furnace, the house would’ve burned to the ground. In another case, the house had no septic system: all the plumbing pipes just went right into the floor of the house to nowhere. (It was a flip and the investors were either crooks or delightfully stupid.)

    SO often, you can recoup the cost of the inspection by negotiating with the sellers based on what the inspector finds. It’s totally some of the best money you can spend.

  • Just say no to PMI!
    Private mortgage insurance is what you’re required to pay if you don’t put down a big enough down payment, usually 20% of the purchase price. That can be as much as $1,000 a year for every $100,000 you spend on a house that you’re just throwing away at nothing. If you’d saved up a down payment before buying, you could avoid that PMI, and put all that extra money on the mortgage to pay off your house faster.
    money flying out the window
    Super-helpful stock photo of money flying out the window. I felt like we needed a photo right about now. (source: shutterstock)

    (And if you currently have PMI but you’ve paid down your house enough that you could refinance, consider this a friendly nudge to go do that! I think it’s really easy to get carried away with saving money on little things, like clipping a $1 coupon, but neglecting the HUGE ways to save money, like refinancing to get rid of PMI.)

Enough with the nerdy stuff!

Let’s talk about the fun part of home-buying: what to look for in a house. Now I’ll just go ‘head and confess: sometimes late at night, when the kids are asleep and the house is quiet, I get on my laptop and secretly… house hunt. We’re still years away from moving, but I’m not going to let that stop me from daydreaming and getting emotionally attached to houses I can’t have.

Must-haves: These are the things we didn’t really think to look for in a house but now we appreciate/are spoiled with:
(List of house priorities are different for every family, of course, but this is what we’ve found we love.)

  • Walk-in garage.
    In our part of the country where it’s hilly, there are lots of homes with drive-under garages, so the garage is under the main level and you have to walk upstairs after you park your car. The convenience of walking right into the kitchen from the garage rocks. We’ll never, ever buy a house with a drive-under garage.
  • Driive-under garage vs walk-in garage

    home photos from here

  • Convenient laundry room.
    Our laundry room is right in the middle of all the bedrooms, so there’s no hauling laundry baskets across the house or downstairs. SO SMART.
  • Laundry room makeover on a TINY budget at View Along the Way. Come see more at:

  • Tons of natural light.
    There are some things you can do to trick your house into looking brighter, but there’s just no substitute for a million windows!
  • Living room sofa

  • Level lot.
    Because our yard is level, we can use all of it. That’s not so easy to find in the Atlanta area, so we’re very grateful! (Of course, we completely rednecked-it-out, but alas.)
  • Nailed it: back yard inspiration

  • Great location
    I mean, everyone knows that, right? But I think when you’re in the throes of house-hunting, it can be easy to fall in love with the bigger/better house that’s in the less-good location. We really didn’t think about and value location as much as we should have, but fortunately we landed in a good spot regardless. What I appreciate about our neighborhood is:

    • It’s quiet — no yappy dogs, habitually blaring speakers or road noise
    • Lots of tall trees, curvy roads and peaceful farmland nearby
    • Quick hop to the grocery store.
  • Easy layout
    You can change just about anything you don’t like in a house, but when the layout isn’t easy to live in, you’re looking at major reno work, headaches, and a life of regrets. (Okay, hopefully it won’t be as dramatic as that.) Find a house with a layout that works for the way you live your life, and all you’ll have to do is change surfaces, paint colors and finishes.

    Do you like how easy I made that sound? Just a quick snap of your fingers and the finishes will be updated! Easy peez!

On the other hand… stuff we didn’t care about.
I have to believe that the average home-buyer doesn’t decide what they’re buying based on the paint colors like they do on House Hunters. I just need to believe that, regardless of whether it’s true. Paint is so easy to change! If you can have a little vision, you can save GOBS of money by buying a house that needs a little work. Here are the things we didn’t care about when we were shopping:

  • Paint colors.
  • State of the appliances. (When you’re spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a house, appliances are a drop in the bucket. Get a house with a good floor plan, and buy new appliances if necessary.)
  • Popcorn ceilings (Easy fix! Here’s how.)
  • Wood finishes. (Our railing was an ugly blonde wood but it didn’t take much to make that over. Post on that here.)
  • Lighting. (Look past the boob light! That’s an easy update.)
  • Holes or damage in the sheetrock. (Seems intimidating to patch sheetrock, but you can do eeeet! Tutorial here.)

Obviously what’s important to you in a home will probably be different than what’s important to us, but I’d recommend making a list of your must-haves, your nice-to-haves and your deal-breakers, and relying heavily on that. Get a good real estate agent who understands your priorities, and know when to settle (with paint colors and finishes) and when to be picky (with layout and location).

Lemme just say: if you’re getting ready to buy right now, I’m totally jealous. House hunting is super fun! (I get emails from readers who are just buying all the time, and I get super giddy on their behalf, every time. I’m probably more excited than they are. There’s just so much promise in a new-to-you house!)

Great tips for first-time homebuyers!

I’m dying to hear what you think! What are your non-negotiables? What tips would you give someone who’s about to buy for the first time?

This post was sponsored by Dave Ramsey’s ELP program, but all opinions are my own, as always!

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  1. Very good information. I hope I get to put it to use some day soon. I couldn’t agree more about how annoying it is watching House Hunters and hearing buyers complain about paint colors, drapes, carpet or furniture. I gave up on that show but I guess they’re still doing that.

  2. Sometimes, I’ll go with J and his clients to look at houses (because, duh), and get SO FRUSTRATED by the people that won’t jump on a house because of the paint colors. Annnnd end rant. 🙂

  3. I think one thing that helped us was that WE told the bank how much we wanted to spend instead of letting them tell us how much we COULD spend. I think our loan officer was weirded out when I kept clapping my hands over my ears when he tried to tell us, but he eventually got the picture. 😉

  4. Just the thought about moving to another house makes me sick. It would probably be different if my hubby would DIY the way yours does.
    You guys are also so awesome at budgeting.

  5. I’m with you on the *slap* button on the remote! Why haven’t they invented that yet?? I can’t stand it when I see people house hunting on HGTV and they don’t want to paint or anything. It’s ridiculous! It’s paint, people!

    On a more serious note, great tips! I will say that in our area (Boston) getting a house you can afford and only spend 25% of your income can be pretty difficult. We’re very close to that and feel very lucky for it. I also didn’t have 20% to put down and we paid PMI for the past 3 years (yuck!), but we were lucky enough to recently refinance and gained the 20% equity in our home (sweat-blood-and-tears equity I like to call it) so we refi’d out of PMI for good! We did opt to go back into a 20 year fixed because the extra money we are saving from PMI and the lower mortgage rate is going straight to the bank to save for our HUGE kitchen reno we have planned. I don’t plan on taking out a loan for that work, so this will help us afford it faster. After that, we’ll refi again into a 15 year and work to pay it off as quickly as you all did. Hopefully that’s a reasonable plan to you financially savvy folks!

    Love your posts as always! You never fail to get me to laugh out loud!

    • Not a criticism, but a question. Why would you refi again to a 15-yr (unless the percentages go down) when you could just do a bi-weekly payment and pay extra on the interest? I ask because I have a 30-year mortgage on the house I had when I was single. It was the only way I could do it. We now rent it out and I pay extra on it bi-weekly. If I have it figured out correctly, we should have it paid off in 15 years total (that’s two years from now) instead of the original 30-year term, unless we go all out like Kelly and her hubby did.

  6. Great tips! I’d add:
    Agent – Yes, yes. A good buyer’s agent is worth their weight in gold, especially for a first-time buyer.
    Inspection – Meet the inspector at the house. He/she is working for you and should take you through their findings on-site, once they’ve completed their work. Some sellers already have an inspection report in-hand, and that’s good, but I’d recommend having your own inspector.
    Location – Test drive your commute to work/schools at your real commute times. Consider a night-time visit to the neighborhood if you’re concerned about noise.

  7. You have some great tips but unfortunately you missed the mark on what most young people can afford much less save. Unless you have family that will lend or give you the 20% down it is hard to come up with that big of a down payment. Both my children are college graduates but are having a hard time with the current job market and affordability to just live day to day as are many of their friends. I think the “American Dream” is much harder to attain for the younger generation. You were certainly fortunate to have family members that could help. I agree, buy within your means, not your dreams- that can come later!

    • Oh we had zero financial help from our families – either with college expenses or with a down payment. We saved everything ourselves, by living on much less than we made. We rented for 4 years, lived off one income and saved the other. I totally believe it’s better to rent than to buy a house you can’t afford.

      • Can I get an AMEN!!! We bought our first house at 21 & 23. No financial help at all. AND we had a 3-year-old, whilst living off of one income. We had only been married 4 years (almost 5) as well. We have a large beautiful home. Its all about saving, living humbly, and setting goals. It can be done

      • I’m with you! We put ourselves through college, bought our own house and paid off our loans early, too. Now the question is, do we help our kids through college or expect them to pay for themselves? Would I have learned how to be this responsible with money and worked as hard at college if someone else was footing the bill? And sometimes, in this economy one might have to move or take a less than ideal job to get started in the work force. My first job as a college graduate was a job at the Dairy Queen! (I have a teaching degree but needed an income to get me through summer.)

        • I was very lucky and my parents paid for college, but the flip side of that is that I was put on an “allowance” at an early age (1st grade). I had a certain amount of money and was in charge of my own lunches. I either had to make my own or spend my money. As I grew older, I was put in charge of budgeting for other things as well: clothing, personal care items, any extras I wanted, etc. I got my first job when I was 13 or 14. My husband graduated college with a lot of debt and less money sense. We are now buying a house at ages 23 and 24, and have paid off about $20,000 in student loans since we graduated in December 2012 because of budgeting like crazy and working extra jobs as necessary.

      • Data (and life) supports that gen x will be the first generation to not be better off than the one before it.; however these great tips are presented in enjoyable format.

  8. Great post! We celebrate our 2 year house-ivesary next week, time flies!! I totally agree with the not buying more than you can afford philosophy. I was super lucky and married the thriftiest man around, and his scrimping and saving during his early twenties allowed us to make a big down payment to avoid that pesky extra 20% insurance payment ( called CMHC fees here in Canada, but same thing I think) which is huge. We ended up building our house which has its pros and cons but was the only way we could get the big lot / privacy we really needed (for my sanity) within our price range. Some tips that I would add for anyone going through the process is to go see tons and tons of different houses of all types. It will help to really narrow down what you want / need in a house. The other important thing we learned was to shop around for the mortgage to get the best interest rate and terms. For example, we went with a bank that allows us to do up to double our payment each time, along with up to 10% of the remaining mortgage each year as an “anniversary payment “. Some banks won’t allow this or will penalize you for trying to pay the mortgage off faster. Also, biweekly is the way to go!! It shaves a few years off right off the bat. We hope to follow in your foot steps and get ours paid off within 6 years. Here’s hoping!!!

  9. I agree a home inspection is a must AND be sure the Inspector you choose is ‘detail-oriented’. After several real estate transactions, I have been surprised by things missed. Specifically, on an older house we sold. We were not hiding anything so when post-inspection, I noticed an issue with the kitchen sink plumbing, I asked the plumber to look at the drain. Uh, part of the pipe broke out with basically a tug! Yes, we had it repaired and made note to self: Not all inspectors are the same–choose well!

  10. Love all your tips. We were super conservative when buying, but of course CA pricing is crazy as it is. You are so right that finding a good realtor. We had to switch mid-way because we had one that was so condescending and kept wanting to push us into certain neighborhoods. uggg. The next one was much better, but I have to say, I have yet to find one with SUPER negotiating skills. They have too big of an interest in closing the sale rather than getting a good price that they will use, shall we say, certain tactics. Doesn’t work on me of course… but it’s a drag to have to go through the motions…

  11. I couldn’t agree more with your post. We were in a dilemma with buying our house because for the same money we found houses that went down in square footage. Our house was built in the 80’s but we don’t care it has great “bones.” We live in a neighborhood that is awesome for our kids to grow up and convenient to the schools and grocery stores. We did have to have PMI but I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will be able to refinance soon and do away with all that junk! Love your posts! Keep ’em comin’!!

  12. Great tips! Love the back yard inspiration/nailed it photo! I feel like that is usually how it goes for me… but hey, at the end of the day, I’d love to have any pool! 🙂

  13. We had a drive under garage in our last house; they’re the worst! I was sort of felt like we were tricking our buyers into getting the house in spite of it. I think I’m weird because I actually miss having a laundry room on the first floor, though; we used to fold all our laundry while we watched TV at night. The obvious solution is a TV in our bedroom, of course….

  14. Great tips! About houses with lots of windows – this is a great feature, as long as the windows are in good condition. We are getting quotes for replacing our windows and they are much higher than we expected.
    Also, remember that your real estate agent works for you. We have used the same realtor for our last two home purchases and we really like him and would use him again, but when we were negotiating on our current home we went against his advice (and saved a few thousand dollars). We really had to be firm and tell him what we wanted him to do. He might be the expert but it was our money.

    • I love that advice about your realtor! You’re right about the windows too. We replaced all of ours after we moved in, and when we were looking at window prices, I did wish for a bit that we didn’t have so many! 🙂

  15. Brittany G. says:

    Kelly, if I may ask, what is your motivation for home-hunting down the line? I just imagine if I’d transformed each room in my current house into my dream version of those rooms, it’d kill me to leave! Although I know you two have the talent to do it all again! Just curious 🙂

    • Great question! It is 100% about getting more land. We’ve always wanted to have some acres for the kids to explore, and a little more privacy. I love our house and if we could just pick it up and move it to a larger lot, we would totally do that! There’s definitely a part of me that is already mourning the idea of leaving behind all the work we’ve done. It’ll still be years away, though, so lots of time to enjoy it still!

  16. Great list! I would also like to add: Don’t forget to open closets and look at space! We recently sold our first house and I was amazed at how many people didn’t open closets that weren’t already open or didn’t look at the garage until we pointed it out. These weren’t just people who came through an openhouse, but people who came for a second look, etc.

  17. Happy House-iversary!! Great tips you’re sharing, and I so agree about the 20% down and buying less house than the banks tell you can afford. I think saving 20% is still attainable. Sometimes expectations aren’t realistic though, expecting to be in their dream house by age 25 without having scrimped and saved – it’s too easy to buy the newest generation iPhone or go on a weekend getaway than it is to save that money for something in the future. It just takes awhile to get there and in this instant gratification world, people sometimes don’t have the patience and don’t want to hear that, but I believe it still can be done. You two are living proof! We had saved the 20% also but housing prices in our area boosted our income-to-mortgage ratio to be about 35% of our income. That has decreased over the years as we make more to a little less than 25% now. Your list was similar to our list too, and we also wanted to be in a good school district for our son and near my parents. I also love house hunting and sometimes we go to open houses just for fun still! I was hoping that image was money flying INTO my window. That would make my day.

  18. Awesome tips! My husband and I are looking to buy a house in the next year or so, and this is great info!!!

  19. Great information! We just bought our first house, and I would add study, study, study! I feel like a lot of people go into home buying thinking they can afford more (DC is so expensive), then miss great opportunities because they are convinced there is something better…then spend the next months looking for that house they missed out on. And being prepared for everything you’ll have to do in the process makes it so much less stressful (I think having a good agent takes care of that moreso than studying).

  20. I love your blog! I’m getting married in October, and trying to help my mom remodel her house in the process of trying to save for my own, and this blog makes me think anything is possible!

  21. The biggest thing that my husband and I learned was don’t go too big too fast. We just graduated college, we were big dogs now, and we were buying the best house we could find. While the house we bought was fairly small, the sticker price was larger because of where we bought. If I had it to redo, I would have bought farther out of town and something that needed a little bit of work with a lot smaller of a price tag. PMI is a killer. Stay away from it! It is eating us alive. And, if you buy new construction, be sure to pay extra into your escrow account. We didn’t know that our taxes were being estimated on the land only, not the new house, until we received a letter stating that our escrow account had an $1100 shortage that we have had to pay.

  22. Such a great list! We are hunting right now. I’ve had a hard time finding anything I like. I don’t care for all brick houses, and that’s pretty much all there is where we live. We’ve thought about buying land and building, but there isn’t much available. What’s out there is either WAY expensive or junk. We just found a sweet (not brick) farmhouse in a good location with a beautiful acre lot, but… it has the drive-under garage. I’m really debating about whether or not that’s a deal breaker. Our kids are school-aged, so I wouldn’t be carrying any babies up and down the stairs, and the basement is where we would set up an office/school room where they could leave their backpacks and do homework. So… anyway… I really really really want to 100% love this house. I think *maybe* we could get used to the stairs. Right? Say yes. I need someone to tell me it will be ok. 🙂

    • Haha! We have a drive under. We live in a townhouse with a 2 car garage (and a basement- super rare). I don’t mind the steps at all and I do have a baby to carry. When we buy a single family house it will most likely be a level garage to the first floor but this works for us. Also I can park out front and unload groceries to the main floor 🙂

  23. great advice for first-timers. and i’m with ya about the smack button for hgtv. can we ask for that? i feel like their screening process for realtors and families could use some work too at times. like who are these crazy people who must have exactly 3 fruit-bearing trees in the yard as well as demands for a gourmet kitchen “babe, I need one” when they’ve never cooked before. smack smack

    • Exactly 3 fruit-bearing trees! Hahaha!!

      • I can’t stand how the shorts sales close in a month (or so it seems). We were under contract for a short sale for 3 months and the bank was ridiculous! 1 phone call on hgtv and they’re all moved in. Very unrealistic!

  24. Great post. I kept nodding as I was reading. My biggest advice is to set some cash aside. A big down payment is super important. We were fortunate that we had enough money from our first house (which we’d paid off in 4 1/2 years) that we could put 25% down on our forever house and still have a big chunk of money to help us do all of the fixes that were needed to make our fixer-upper habitable. Unfortunately, those fixes didn’t include an attached garage. That’s definitely on the must-have list. In fact, it’s tops on the reno list above kitchen, bathroom and master suite.

  25. So useful tips even could be used in abroad. We´re looking for a house on yhe coast but you are absolutely right about location. We should pay attention not only to a house size )

  26. Brilliant Kelly as ever!
    I live in London and the housing market is INSANE. But we got the house, hope to move in by end July.

    We went with location over everything else. So the house needs a lot of work, we are talking new roof, walls to go in, massive folding doors across the back, new flooring in every room, new kitchen, new bathroom, all new bedroom furniture, my husband is 6’5 and thinks the doorways and stairs are low so I have to raise all the lintels and maybe move the staircase too -we are talking THE WORKS!

    Luckily we can afford the work, and could afford to do it all within 6 months financially, but WHERE THE HECK do I start?

    Can you fly over? I need you. Even if it’s just to hold my hand and drink wine with me when I want to strangle Mr R.


  27. These are really smart tips. All of them. I agree with everything – and deem it true that you do KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT EVERYTHING/ Happy housiversary.

  28. Great info! We just purchased in December and that pmi had us sweating. Fortunately we didn’t have to pay it and I can’t remember why?! But it had something to do with the type of loan we chose. We didn’t put 20% down but we did put some down. We also own another house so we didn’t have “selling” money to put down. I still believe that buying is better over renting any day!

  29. I so wish I knew then what I know now. I understand the constant house hunting, I still do it now when I’m a renter. We got our dream home 25 years ago, location, site, size, all good. Then 15 years later our one year new business flooded out, re-fied to save the business and lost the house four years later. (Because we were self employed terms were awful.) If only . . . . . . .

  30. melissa pearce says:

    Hi Kelly! Love this post. Idk if you recall, but we moved around the USA for over a year with CFA before settling in coastal GA, and we are finally buying a house! Heading up to ATL sometime in the next couple months for an IKEA trip and wondered if you had any pointers on good thrift stores in the area? (Where we live, they’re mostly outrageous antique stores — and CL is nutso here. I frequent yard sales, but with a newborn it’s tricky.) Thanks!

  31. Good pointers! We are working on buying our second house and that first house of ours really taught us some lessons. We were able to change every single thing about it if we wanted to, except location. I was hesitant to buy it in the first place because it was right on the golf course, but it had everything else we wanted (great bones!) so I looked past that. It was easily the most stressful part of living there especially because, even though we had a face, golfers would climb into our yard to find balls. It was terrible. We’ve been looking for our second home for a year and location is now at the top of our list! Also, we were dumb and thought appliances lasted forever….until our hot water heater busted. Now we are planning on having everything bust within the first year so we will have the cash on hand if it does happen.

    • So smart! I don’t think anyone really understands the importance of location until after they buy their first house and are stuck with it!

  32. Brittany Davis says:

    This post could not have come at a better time! We literally just put in an offer for our first house yesterday!! I’m soooo nervous and excited and anxious and thrilled all at once! That’s normal though, right? May I ask, how many houses did the two of you look at before finding yours?

    • Yay, congratulations!!

      We were living out of state when we were house-hunting, so we took one trip up for a weekend and looked at every single house that fit our specifications. I don’t remember how many, but it was just about as many houses as you can see within 2-3 days. None of them were right so we went back home and just shopped online. We found this one online and put in an offer site-unseen. 🙂

  33. Such a great post! All that nerdy stuff is super important! You explained it perfectly!

  34. I have a few ideas I would like to share. House Hunters should be outlawed. Also, the term ‘man cave’. I would love to have that ‘smack’ button when someone on the show makes a decision on a house because it is/isn’t ‘great for entertaining’. Are they serious?!? Just how much entertaining do they plan on?

  35. Oh, one more thing. If you are planning on buying a house with a basement, try to plan a walkthrough after there has been a lot of rain. Or, even if the house doesn’t have a basement. Pay attention to how a house and the property handles drainage from torrential rain.

  36. I loved your ‘must haves’. I totally agree with the PMI avoidance. We made that mistake with the first house and have not done that in the last two houses we have purchased. The second big one was LOCATION! We were totally smitten with our first house and did not realize that our property value was going to be so affected by the area’s decline. Never strive to buy the prettiest house on the street. My other non negotiable would be two bathrooms. If you are able, I would say buy a house with at least 2 baths. It is not only functionally better for most, but also usually has better resale value.

  37. As a Realtor, I very much appreciate this post. Very well written! I literally cringe when I watch HGTV house hunters. (Also because I know it’s staged) But it is seriously nothing like the actual process. It’s a huge dis-service to people who have never bought homes before, because they get SO overwhelmed. My area of focus is with first time home buyers, and I love it. I love teaching them all about how truly great home ownership actually is.

  38. So inspired by your blog! My husband and I also bought a major fixer upper and now I am publishing my journey as a house-owning-diy-er (who is young and inexperienced in all things house and blogging…yes, a baby) on my own blog. Thanks for all the amazing tips and inspiration!

  39. Also…please make certain the “Mineral Rights” are included with the house purchase. Always have an inspector check over the house before closing the deal.

  40. “I have to believe that the average home-buyer doesn’t decide what they’re buying based on the paint colors like they do on House Hunters. I just need to believe that, regardless of whether it’s true.” –> Sadly Virginia it is VERY true 🙁 Having been a Realtor for over a decade and one that’s been on House Hunters a few times I can state that most buyers (90+ %) out there have absolutely, zero, zippo “Vision.” What they say and what they mean are sometimes two different things. They say they want the best value but when you show them a fixer upper that needs basic cosmetic upgrades (paint/carpet etc) and would give them the best bang for their buck they look at you like you are out of your mind and think of firing you because you don’t ‘get them.’ … you end up giving them what they want, an overpriced shiny new penny (new build) in the outskirts of town or a remodeled home that 20 other people have already thrown offers at and are in a bidding war. If real estate has taught me anything, it’s that the average American does not live within their means or even wants to.

  41. We FINALLY purchased our first (together) home. It took us 3 years to get the financing. We were working w/a family directly so no agent involved. The house is a manufactured home. Very nice, several stick built additions, garage, 2 acres, quiet area, shop, and all on one level; YEAH love that!
    The reason it took so long was that 1) we didn’t have a great credit score and in order to purchase a manufactured home you have to have a good credit score. 2) the foundation had to be completely redone (middle of winter, December at Christmas time) because it had not been done correctly the first time. 3) the loan company that we worked with didn’t communicate really well, we had to do most of the contacting and finding out what was happening. (we had to work with this company as they were the only one that would do a loan on the manufactured home). It was a royal pain. We LOVE this house, love the location and the rural neighborhood.
    I suggest to anyone looking at purchasing a manufactured home to do their homework before making the offer. We were desperate at the time because we were being evacuated from our apt because of renovations. We paid for an appraisal 3 times, a home inspection 2-3 times and the foundation was not found on the first inspection. Understand that this is not a “trailer” it is a beautiful 4 bedroom home w/a foundation and the only tell tale sign that it is a manufactured home is the label in the cupboard of the laundry room, which, by the way, DO NOT remove or paint over at any time. It is crucial to any resale of the property.

  42. We are in the middle of buying our first house (approved, just waiting for our USDA loan- ugh! Torture!) It was so bittersweet to find the house we wanted because I thought it was so fun to go and check out lots of different houses! It is such a fun process.

    Finding a good team and asking about the people we are working with has made this process really smooth for us. This hasnt been half as bad as everyone makes it sound.

    One thing that I loved was that our real estate agent had us look at alot of houses and then take us back to our top 3 and let us really spend some time in them. After looking at them again, I fell in love with what was our #3 choice which is the house we are waiting for. It was really simple things that tipped the scale. The house we thought we liked had fruit trees (which is alot of effort in my opinion) and when we were in the back, we discovered that a grooming shop was our neighbor and we could hear dogs wimpering. No thanks!

    Our real estate agent told us that so many couples are looking for the same level of home that their parents worked 30yrs to achieve. Im so excited to have a house that is already nice, but has room to improve.

  43. Haha! I love the humorous spin you put into this very informative article…especially about the HGTV “smack” button and your pool house! Great article!

  44. I wouldn’t mind a drive-under garage 🙂 It isolates home from the ground and you don’t have to use so much energy to warm it up 🙂

  45. I wouldn’t consider this beaten up. This is something I’d consider a dream home, re doing. Our first home doesn’t come near to that size or the beauty. I’m pretty sure the rest of America’s doesn’t either…

    • It is not beaten-up anymore, but it was in really rough condition when we bought it. We’ve spent the last six years fixing it. It literally had feces in the carpeting. Everything had to be torn out and started new.

      • That definitely makes a difference! But a great foundation. What’s your advice for home owners starting out that aren’t able to attain that level of square footage but are buying fixer uppers?

  46. My biggest suggestion would be document everything!!!! We just bought our first house and were mislead, lied to, have undisclosed water damage, mold, and a house that is not up to code (and we had an inspection done and went through the best real estate company in the area). So now we are in the middle of a law suit and are incredibly grateful for text messaging as most of the conversations with our realtor was via text, so when I was told to document everything it made it thatch easier.

  47. jackie angela says:

    I found this article at a perfect time. I am beginning to look for a home in the Atlanta area, as well. Is your mom still in real estate? I really need to find someone who has my best interest in mind, particularly because I am a first time home buyer.

    Thank you!

  48. Great article! I laughed out loud, so many of these things are so true for us right now! We are in the process of closing on our first home, and I’m relieved to find that other people feel like we do. What a crazy process!

  49. My deal breaker when buying our second home was a functional front entry with storage. I live in Canada and our weather can be quite mucky for most of the year between rain and snow so a hall closet right at the front door was a must for me. Our first house had a coat closet in the basement (it was a raised bungalow) and I was always too lazy to walk my coat and boots all the way down those 6 stairs to put them away so there was a constant explosion of outerwear at our front door. Not a good first impression when new people come over :). I agree with you on the natural light, our new house has cathedral ceilings in the main living areas and 2 stories of windows so I never have to turn the lights on during the day.

  50. Just wondering if you are planning on buying a home on septic instead of sewer do you need to have a separate inspection for that? I love all your ideas. They have really got me thinking about what’s important to us when buying a house. Cosmetic things can be easily fixed but the location of the garage and other things in the house are not so easy to deal with. Thank you you for putting this out there!

  51. I really Like it… Nice JOB!!!

  52. I see what you’re saying about the PMI, but I’m spending 12,000 a year in rent which is money that I will never see again. If you don’t have enough for the 20% down payment, wouldn’t it be better to flush 1000 dollars down the drain a year in interest instead of 12,000?

    • Candy Reid says:

      Thanks for the information. I hate PMI but I could never come up with the 20% down payment unless I totally quit eating, and living all together. I have had 2 homes one we sold because we outgrew it. Had the kids. The 2nd one I was unemployed for 4 years so we went through foreclosure. Now we are getting in a position to buy again. So of course I look everyday on the web for a house but I have to continue to wait until we get more debt paid off. Patience is not my favorite thing as my husband and I are in our early 50’s and we have 3 grown boys still with us. This economy sucks!

  53. If you are buying a house that has been sitting vacant (foreclosure, estate) get the sewer line flushed before you move in. DH and I learned that the hard way. When the house sits vacant and water is not flushing the pipes, waste will harden in the pipes/sewer line. When you start using everything again the waste water will start backing up. In our house it began coming out of a basement toilet all over the floor. It was disgusting. So save yourself the headache and get it flushed out.

  54. Thanks for sharing this advice on buying a house! I am considering buying a house for the first time, so I am a little bit nervous about the whole process. Hopefully, I can get a really nice one within my budget with the help of a good real estate agent. They’re the ones who are able to help you find all the best listings!

  55. I would add that both partners need to be on the same page. We moved into our house when I was 30 (a stay at home mom with 2 kids) and he was 35 (traveled 3-5 days per wk for work). It is a trilevel and in a great neighborhood. I was not my first choice but that one sold fast. I thought the house would be one we lived in for a few years and then moved up. We paid off a 30 yr mortgage in 10 years. HUGE MISTAKE. Every time I would bring up moving my husband didn’t want to have to pay a mortgage again. 38 years later we are still in the trilevel. The stairs are killing me and now the only way I will get out of this house is feet first.

  56. Tara Milligan says:

    Great advice! Our laundry room is in the basement and the bedrooms are on the second floor, so that means I get to schlep clothes up and down two flights of stairs if we want them clean. One of my top priorities the next time we buy a house is a much more convenient laundry area!

  57. We paid for an inspector & HE LIED ABOUT EVERYTHING!!! Said there were no big problems & named off a few very minor things. We had no idea what to do about it, so we didn’t do anything. Our 1st house is a money pit!! Overpaid & in 1st months had to come up with $7,000 to replace the “great” roof!! KNOW BEFOREHAND WHAT TO DO IF THIS WERE TO HAPPEN TO YOU!!

  58. Loved your insight and comments!

  59. I love how you calculated the amount you wanted to spend on your mortgage. I think the biggest mistake first buyers make is falling in love with a house and going over budget.

  60. Great advice! Our laundry room is in the basement and the bedrooms are on the second floor, so that means

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