Realtor.com quoted me in Buying Your First Home? Better Make Sure It Has These 4 Things. It opens,
Finding the perfect starter home is a journey as well as a destination. You’ve got to know what you want, then adjust expectations to meet the reality of the market. In the end, you don’t have to settle on your “forever home”—just a place you’ll call home for at least five to seven years.
But that’s a long time in homeowner years, especially if you wake up each day in a place you wind up hating.
“You want to buy something that’s going to last,” says Carol Temple, an Arlington, VA, Realtor® who loves helping newbies find their first home.
So how do you know what’s going to stand the test of (a decent amount of) time? You’ve never done this before. You’re taking a leap of faith that you have the money, skills, and temperament to maintain the biggest purchase of your life so far.
We know—it’s scary. And overwhelming. But there is a foolproof formula to picking the right starter home.
1. Manageable monthly expenses
If you’ve been renting all your adult life, you’ll be surprised by how much owning a home actually costs. There’s a mortgage, real estate taxes (usually wrapped into your mortgage), insurance premiums, utilities, and the drip-drip-drip of maintenance costs. And here’s the fun part: All these costs usually increase with time!
“New homeowners are often not aware of how expenses can add up when they own a home,” says David Reiss, who teaches real estate law at Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, NY.
When calculating how much you can spend on a house, figure in all these costs, and then add a little more for unexpected expenses. Like replacing LED lightbulbs at $20 a pop. Or hiring a pro to prune that gorgeous oak in the backyard. Or maybe replacing your Grand Palais range that spontaneously combusted.
Make sure your final choice truly fits your budget. Got it? That may mean buying something smaller, older, or farther out than you originally intended.
2. Low maintenance
Maintenance costs are the great unknown in homeownership—the older the house, the more it will cost to keep running. So unless you have the handyman skills and desire to fix whatever comes up, it’s better for your starter house to be newer construction (less than 10 years old).
You may even want to consider brand-new construction, which costs more but whose parts are typically covered by a warranty. Standard coverage would be a one-year warranty for labor and materials, two years’ protection for mechanical defects—plumbing, electrical, heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems—and 10 years for structural defects.
Whether you buy a new or existing home, don’t forget to hire a good home inspector to thoroughly identify potential problems.
“Even if the home buyers are handy, they may not want to be spending their time up on the roof looking for a leak or in the basement up to their knees in water,” Reiss says.