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Last updated: October 7, 2019 • Family Tips for Real Estate, First Time Home Buyer

What are You Willing to Compromise in Your First Home Purchase?

Whenever we talk about first-time home buyers, we talk a lot about their sacrifices and very little about their compromises. For them, the ideal house is the one that fits their budget and requires very few adjustments. HGTV’s Property Virgin’s Host, Egypt Sherrod takes first-time home buyers through multiple properties, trying to draw from them what exactly they are looking for. The show begins in the same way each episode does, with a consultation between Sherrod and her clients, as she queries them on the most important features in their wanna-be home. When buying a house, some want hardwood floors, some need four bedrooms and two full bathrooms, while some request Sherrod to find them a master bedroom suite.

Then the fun begins. With Sherrod and her clients traipsing from house to house and neighborhood to neighborhood, Sherrod manages to check off most of the things on her client’s wish list. As the show progresses, one thing becomes clear: first-time home buyers have fairly high expectations.

An initial dip into the housing market is shocking. The prices seem too high, the square footage too small, the amenities sorely in need of updating. Prospects have a hard time swallowing the bitter truth: starter homes are merely adequate. A dream house is usually the second or third house down the line when buyers have a little more experience and wisdom under their belt, not to mention capital.

As Sherrod leads her clients through the string of properties, she gently explains that they will not get everything they desire (usually), and a majority of clients take the news in stride, turning introspective and thankful for the chance to own their own piece of property. Have you asked yourself the same question? If you were to work with a real estate agent, what might your list contain, and what items on that list would you be willing to let go?

Giving up yard square footage

green outdoor place for children

Yards are very important for families with children and for those who would like to entertain and throw parties every now and then. However, since we spend most of our times indoors, first-time home buyers may compromise on the size of the back yard in order to get a larger gross living area. In warmer regions, in the South, yards might be more valuable as buyers tend to spend more time outdoors, so a generous back yard would provide enough space for an in-ground swimming pool.

While everybody would like to have more fun at home, some of us would rather eat healthier. Consequently, a larger yard will be the best place to have a few raised beds for growing vegetables at home. Moreover, you may want a larger garden to install a few high tunnels and grow more products such as vegetables, herbs, and flowers. If your yard is bringing you an extra income, you shouldn’t compromise on it.  

Compromise over the interior design

black and white living room design

If you really have to make a compromise under your budget’s restriction, do it for the things that can be changed, like the interior design or floor plan. Walls can be moved or removed completely, painting the walls will completely change the feeling of the house, and later, you can even add an accent wall or a mural by a local artist. Floors can be replaced as well, either with hardwood floors, bamboo floors or foam padding, if you plan to have a home gym.

Basements can be remodeled and upgraded to be suitable for renting or for an in-law suite. A dining room can be included in the kitchen and have an eat-in kitchen instead. You can survive without a bathtub in your bathroom. And you can install a fireplace anytime you want. So as you can see, these aspects are not of the utmost importance when buying a house.

Giving up square footage in the gross living area

key on a map

First-time home buyers may be tempted to look for larger homes that are way over their budget. But the larger the home, the more maintenance it demands. It takes more time to clean, and as we all know, cleaning never ends and is a constant activity. So, there must be a balance between location, school district, and your daily commute to your work. You may prefer to live in a smaller home, in a better school district and closer to your job, than to spend the equivalent of a monthly payment on commuting.

Keep in mind, also, that the square footage and the assessed value have a bearing on the property taxes. Larger homes might carry larger property taxes. The same is valid for the cost of homeowners insurance. Moving to a larger home as your family grows is smarter than investing in a lot of square footage from the beginning. Selling a house while in a mortgage is not unusual, either. However, don’t expect to recover the entire cost of your home improvements.

Things you should not negotiate

interview or dialogue

1. Location

Real estate prices are tightly linked to locations. You cannot change the location of a house. So, if you know exactly where you’d like to live, then stick to your plan and wait for the right property to pop up on the market. It could be an REO. It can be a house that needs to be sold during probate. Or it may even be a foreclosure. Chances are that these properties will sell for less than the market price. The most important thing is to talk with your real estate agent about your desired neighborhoods and focus on them.

Another important aspect would be to not choose the location just to impress your friends and family. Don’t stretch your budget and be realistic. You don’t have to keep up with the Kardashians. Don’t buy in an expensive area just to be close to some friends or relatives either. Just because you live next door doesn’t mean that you will spend more time together. Of course, if you have a toddler, being close to your parents or in-laws could help you save money on babysitting.

2. Parking

It seems that everybody has a car nowadays. There were 272.5 million cars registered in the US in 2017, according to Statista. If you have two cars and only one garage, will it be easy for you to maneuver them? Can you park on the street? Do you have extra land that you can turn into a garage or a parking place? Some gated communities or HOAs might not allow you to turn your lawn space into a parking place. So if you need a two-car garage, don’t settle for less. But what if you ditch the car and rely completely on public transportation? Or, even better – start cycling! A bicycle stand takes up a lot less space on your driveway. On top of that, cycling is great for burning calories.

3. School district and universities

The quality of the schools nearby should be important whether you have children or not. And if you didn’t know, school districts drive the real estate market nowadays and have the power to maintain the value of the homes in their neighborhood. Good schools attract families like a magnet. Sooner or later, you will be happy that you didn’t make a compromise with regard to education. And another great advice would be to request a map of the school district you are most interested in to check its boundaries. You should do this before you even make an offer.

If you plan to have a rental unit in the basement, you may also want to live close to a University. Students are always looking for affordable student accommodation. So, be as close to the campus as possible if you want to get a tenant in no time. Besides, surrounded by so many young people, you will feel younger, too. Isn’t that exactly what you want?

4. Commute time

young man at the rail station

When it comes to commuting, how long is too long? If you don’t mind commuting to work, you have access to more affordable housing options outside the city. However, when you choose a 30-minute commute, stick to it. Otherwise, you will allow yourself to fall in love with a fairy house that is one hour away from your job, doubling the time you spend driving or changing buses and trains. When you purchase a house, you want to spend as much time as possible enjoying it – decorating, renovating, improving and upgrading, until it becomes the way you like it.

5. Built quality

Don’t buy a property which is insecure. A home inspection will usually reveal any structural problems or issues that you don’t see with the naked eye. Fixer-uppers might be a good deal at first but might cost you in the long run. Check the building materials used, ask about the roof, the plumbing and sewage, the electricity and so on. Depending on the location, you may also want to find out if the house is in a region prone to wildfires, tornadoes and other acts of God. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! You can even check how many insurance claims the previous owners had made. However, examine the house carefully and pay attention to any improvisations that could pose a risk.

Don’t shy away from green building materials, either. How will the homes of the future look like? Nobody knows, but one thing is for sure – they will be more environmentally friendly. So, when you see a house built with straws, recycled plastic, structural insulated panels (SPIs), insulated concrete forms (ICFs), HempCrete or stone, don’t think twice! Add it on the watch-list. Competition for this type of homes will be on the rise in the future. Regardless of the building materials, it is always important to have a home inspection to make sure that the house is up to code.

6. Safety

When you invest such a huge amount of cash, safety becomes a priority. As a first-time homebuyer, you get to choose the neighborhood. Talk with your neighbors, meet with a local policeman, and look at statistics regarding violence and crime in the area. Are there graffiti on the walls? What about drug consumption in the neighborhood? And if you’re worried about your kids’ safety, locate sex offenders by entering the address on familywatchdog[dot]us. Don’t rely only on smart home devices. An alarm system is of no use when burglars can’t be identified.

When you walk into a negotiation as a first-time homebuyer – and let’s face it, “negotiation” is the epitome of the home buying experience – come prepared with a list of items you feel okay compromising on, and you will not be as disappointed, nor let down at the close of the transaction. You might also find new ways to solve your unique needs in a new home. If the kitchen isn’t big enough, for example, and not an eat-in like the one you’ve envisioned, maybe you can feed your family in the dining room? If the master bath doesn’t have a Jacuzzi tub, can you make do with a luxurious shower? Permitting yourself to let your guard down so you can purchase a stable house in a desirable neighborhood (even if you have to give up a few things), is really a reward unto itself.

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