When I was 18 I had set a goal for myself to buy a house before I turned 25. I knew that part of my ‘American Dream’ included home ownership. I also knew that the wealthiest people I had interacted with had used real estate to accumulate wealth. “They aren’t making more land” was a common phrase I heard when asking for advice. So in March 2019, I signed on the dotted line and became a homeowner. It wasn’t until July 2019 that I moved in to my new house. Now that I have been here for a year, it is time to take a look at the lessons I learned from a year of home ownership.
When I first started looking for a house I didn’t know exactly what I wanted. The plan was to buy a place with my brother, who was also living at home with my parents. We both knew this would not be our forever home, but more of a starter house until we both got married. I was looking for something that would have the possibility for rental income, if we decided to keep it. We live in a relatively high cost of living area so it also had to be something we could both afford. I knew I was going to need a mortgage so I didn’t want something that would be unable to get a certificate of occupancy.
We looked at almost 30 houses in 10 different towns. If this was going to be a house I was going to make into a home, it had to be the right fit. I also was growing in my career so I wanted it relatively close to the main highways, in case my job location changed. We got pre-approved for the mortgage only including my income. I love my brother and the plan was for him to contribute but I wanted to make sure I could afford the house by myself.
Lesson 1: Spend Within Your Limit
When you are buying your first house it is very easy to try and find something that is right at what the pre-approval letter states. This is especially evident for high cost of living areas. Some people also rationalize this by thinking that their income will increase as they get older. It is important to consider all the costs of home ownership when buying a house.
Larger houses have larger maintenance bills and utility costs. Here in New Jersey, property taxes are also a significant cost of your monthly mortgage. It is important to look at all of these costs when you are considering how much to spend. When I only used my income to determine how much we could afford, I still had plenty of buffer room to account for these other costs. This is why it is so important to have a household budget.
Lesson 2: Use Your Connections
As I mentioned before, I saw almost 30 different houses. The realtor I used was actually someone I had worked with through my 9-5. I had talked to a couple realtors and told them what my plans were and some were more gung-ho than others. The realtor I ended up choosing just told me that he is here to support me in the process. That was exactly what I was looking for.
Another connection that I used was for my home inspection. He was fantastic and went over everything in detail with me, in addition to his report. The part that I really liked about him was since he was a personal connection he taught me how to fix a couple things that he identified during the inspection. I even called him when I was at home depot and he advised me on the exact materials needed.
The lesson here is to use your personal connections for the skill sets that they have. Those who like you and care about you will often go above and beyond the basic requirement of their jobs. It is also important to support those that you know in their endevours as well.
Lesson 3: Everything Costs More
When I first moved into my house I had tons of ideas of all these projects I wanted to do. I quickly realized that everything costs more, and requires more time than I imagined. The first project we started when we bought the house was removing all the popcorn ceiling. It took absolutely forever. I thought I was going to be saving money by not replacing all the drywall, and we did. Just not nearly as much when you consider the time investment. Did I mention that popcorn ceilings are terrible?
Lesson 4: Enjoy Yourself
In the midst of renovation projects, moving and general house maintenance it is important to take the time to enjoy yourself. Over the past year some of my fondest memories come from the situations I found most difficult. Having a ‘painting’ party where my whole family was taping and painting the walls. Hosting a house warming party with about 70 of our closest friends and family. Trying to figure out how to replace a circuit breaker with my brother. Opening and maintaining a pool for the first time. The list goes on and on.
Just like every new experience, there will be ups and downs. It is important to take the time when you can and enjoy the moment. Those moments are what changes a house from a place you live in to a home you will cherish.
Home Ownership: A Year in Review
Looking back on the past year it has been a whirlwind. I have gone through other changes in my life, professionally and personally. I can’t believe it has been a year already. Home ownership has changed how I view responsibility for the better. It has also strengthened some of my core principles. I also think it has been beneficial for my relationship with my brother. Hopefully there are many more years of growth and development to come.
Do you remember your first year of home ownership? Let me know some of the lessons that you learned in the comments below!