7 THINGS I LEARNED BUYING MY FIRST HOME

photos of champagne bottle, two glasses, and two sets of keys

If you follow my Instagram at all, then you know that my husband and I bought a new house at the end of last year. Well, a townhouse to be exact! It’s all very cool and I’ve had such a great time getting settled in to my new favorite place in the world.

Even though my husband did have a condo before we met, this is my first property purchase and my first time dealing with a home renovation as well. I’m planning a separate post about our little renovation journey (which we haven’t quite finished yet), but in the meantime, I thought I’d share a few things I learned throughout the home-buying process. 

1. Don’t rely on online mortgage calculators to set your budget
Searching “how much home can I afford?” is probably the first thing that any potential homebuyer does, but it’s simply not realistic. Each time we filled in the required info, every single calculator estimated that we could afford a home nearly 50% more than our final budget. These formulas are wildly inaccurate because they don’t take into account all of your monthly liabilities or savings goals. Could we technically afford more home? Sure. But then we wouldn’t be able to still save as much as we’d like. In the end, we came up with the amount we were comfortable paying every single month, and worked backward from there.

We were also lucky that our realtor was one of our best friends so he connected us with a great loan consultant. Having honest conversations with our lender really helped finalize our budget.

2. It’s beyond important to understand all the costs
I’ll admit that I was pretty naive about the total upfront cost of buying a place. Sure, I knew about the down payment, but I didn’t fully understand what “closing costs” actually entailed. All those line items really add up quick: the inspection, the title transfer, the fees to the lender, taxes, etc. It was quite a shock.

The other thing that really surprised me was how the HOA would figure into the closing costs. Yes, I knew we were buying a place with a monthly fee. What blew me away was the fact that our association required six months worth of fees up front … six months! That’s a big chunk of change! Sure it’s great that we don’t have to pay our HOA fees until summer, but it still hurt in the moment to write that check. Thankfully, my husband was well aware of these possibilities and made sure our savings goals and budget took this stuff into account.

Here’s a sneak peak at our refinished fireplace and hardwood floors. Yes, it’s the same fireplace and floors you can peep in the featured photo above. Quite a difference!

3. The process will move slowly at first, then terrifyingly fast
We’d been saving for years and keeping tabs on the local housing market for almost as long. We diligently monitored our credit, limited our big purchases, and were methodically growing our savings. Honestly it felt like we were prepping for ages.

At the insistence of our realtor, we made sure our pre-approval was in order before we checked out a single open house. But just getting started with our loan consultant was a serious undertaking. We had to provide tax returns, pay stubs, employment confirmation letters, plus statements that showed the balances on our checking, savings, and investment accounts. It took time to compile all that information and certain items, like the employment letters, needed a longer lead time because of my husband’s HR department.

But when we were actually ready to buy, that’s when things got crazy. We saw our house, saw it again with our realtor, put in an offer, had the seller counter, then we agreed to meet in the middle – all within 36 hours! It was nerve-wracking and stressful, but very exhilarating!

4. Open houses are weirdly awesome
Open houses are the absolute best way to help figure out which amenities and features are must-haves and/or deal-breakers. There was this one neighborhood in particular that we thought we loved, but after an afternoon of checking out properties in that area, we knew we couldn’t deal with the traffic or parking situation in the long-term. It did get a little frustrating seeing a lot of duds, but I told myself that figuring out what we didn’t want was just as helpful as knowing what we did want. Plus, I loved seeing how other people had decorated or designed their spaces.

5. A financial buffer will keep you sane
No one wants to be in a situation where every last cent from the savings account is gone, so it was important that we had a decent amount of money set aside for after we actually signed on the dotted line. There’s the money that goes directly into the new home of course (down payment, closing costs, etc), then there’s the money that goes towards the logistical part of moving, like still paying rent and furnishing the new place.

We had a great relationship with our landlords so they knew we were looking to buy. They were very flexible about us breaking our lease and we were lucky to get away only having to pay both rent and a mortgage for one month. Not every landlord/tenant arrangement is so amicable and I can’t imagine the added stress of having to pay rent for more than a couple months. If you’re dealing with a more traditional property management company, breaking a lease could be a major hit to your budget.

The cost of furnishing our place was also way more expensive than I estimated. And I’m not talking about taking all my Pinterest inspo to decorate the whole house; I’m talking about just enough basic furniture so I didn’t hate life – a new bed and mattress, some dressers, nightstands, and a couch. I knew roughly what I wanted beforehand and having a separate budget for furniture was definitely helpful. Even so, it was still tough on the wallet to purchase everything all at once.

6. Small renovations and adjustments are inevitable
Even if you think it’s turnkey and move-in ready, there will still be work to do. And I’m not even talking about major renovations; that’s a whole different conversation. For example, we changed out the hinges and knobs on every door in the house. It came out to like 15 doorknobs plus two or three hinges on each door – more time and more money. We didn’t *need* to update the doors, but we wanted to. And honestly, it’s the small touches like doorknobs that make a house feel more personal and finished. Somehow our to-do list seems to just keep growing!

7. Trust your gut
People will say that buying a house should be a logical decision, not an emotional one, but at the end of the day, the right house will *feel* like the right house. The property we bought ended up being the last open house we visited after a long day of house hunting. We were running late, the open house was about to close, and we considered just skipping it. Once we walked inside, there was just something that felt so right and so familiar. We loved it because it felt like home.

signature line that reads: love, Mila