12 Things Every First-Time Homebuyer Needs to Know
3. Improvements/repairs on an existing house will cost more and take longer than you think - We had thought about buying a ‘fixer-upper’ since I like to do the work and know how to do it. Figured if we saved $30-$50k on a place because it needed work, we could put that difference back into the place and make it awesome. I’m so glad we didn’t do it. With our schedules and how things worked out financially, we still wouldn’t be moved into a ‘fixer-upper’. I have learned that everything needs to be multiplied by 2 or 3 to get an accurate estimate. If you think it will take 4 days to do something, plan for 8-12. If you think it will cost $1000 to do an upgrade or repair, plan for $2000 – $3000. For example, I planned on ripping up our bathroom floor, replacing the toilet and vanity, and reglazing the tub over a 4-5 day period. 2 weeks and a couple of days later, I was about 90% finished that that is where it has stayed because the budget was eaten up. You never know what you’ll run into… our subfloor was totally broken/rotten plus the plumbing needed work. Didn’t know that until I got into the project. So give yourself extra time and extra money… you’ll need it.
4. Find out what the walls are made of - We didn’t even think to look at this or ask about this. Turns out, our house has almost all plaster walls. Good for sound and look… TERRIBLE to repair, replace, and/or fix. If I knew this place had plaster walls when we were looking at it… I would have, at least, researched what it would take to repair/replace them. While I really like them for their sound deadening… it take about 3 times as long to fix them (and the previous owners weren’t very careful when they were moving out). Some people only like plaster, and I can see why… but when we gut the room that is the office… I’m putting drywall up… not plaster.
5. Just because it is a 3-prong plug doesn’t mean the electrical has been updated or proper grounding wires have been run - We knew this going in that the electrical box had been updated but new grounded wires hadn’t been run to all the rooms. Its not a huge issue and it was something I thought I could remedy fairly easily as I’m handy and know a good electrician (thanks Chris!). I point it out, though, just to keep in mind.
6. Check to see if there is insulation in the exterior walls - I know this sounds completely crazy… but (I didn’t know this before we bought the house) insulation in the walls of a house didn’t really become common place until the mid to late 1950′s. Our house was built in 1946 and it actually has zero insulation in any wall in the entire house. Having the walls as plaster helps out, but all exterior walls are very cold to the touch in the winter and, according to Consumers Energy, a little over 50% of your heat loss in a house comes from uninsulated walls, floors, and ceilings. Our last gas bill almost gave me a heart attack. We can have the walls filled with insulation, but it will cost something like $1.75 per square foot of exterior wall.
7. Finished basements are nice as long as the ceiling isn’t drywalled - Our basement is finished and looks really nice. My biggest concern when we were going to purchase the house was how I was going to run cables and wires for networking and such… but figured it would be something easily compensated for with a little work. Turns out… that drywall ceiling is pretty much the ‘bane of my existence’ in this house. I can’t update anything… no networking cables, no new electrical… nothing. Basically the floor joists run perpendicular to the direction I need to go… so to run a cable across the house from the electric box… I would have to cut 8 holes in the drywall and drill 10 holes through floor joists. Pain in my butt! When we redo the basement this summer or fall… I’m pulling down the ceiling and putting in acoustic panels.
8. Watch out for the incompetent ‘weekend warrior’ for a previous owner - I have probably said the statement, “What the heck were they thinking?!?” (sometimes substituting ‘heck’ for a myriad of other terms) approximately 100-150 times since moving into our house. The previous owners, I think, believed that they were fantastic do-it-yourselfers… they sucked. If you find something in the house that is half way done or just ‘good enough’ there will be many other things in the house that are the same way. In the house we bought, it was nothing major and our realtor pointed a lot of them out… but some of the houses we looked at were totally ridiculous.
9. Meet the neighbors before you buy, they know everything - I thought my dad was crazy when we would go look at a house because he would head right outside and go knock on one or both of the next neighbor’s doors. Funny thing, though, they knew everything about the house, what had been done to it, its history (sewer backups, roofing problems, etc.) and we got a lot of good information about what to expect from hearing about the previous owners. Plus you learn if the neighbors might be kinda crazy. The best house in the world can be ruined by the worst neighbors in the world.
10. Get a home warranty – This is usually a pretty standard thing that sellers will toss in to help ‘sweeten the deal’. If they don’t though, ask for one or purchase it yourself. It is usually for a very small premium, but it can save you a ton in the long run. After we moved into our house, the fridge literally quit about a month later. Instead of paying for the full repair, we paid the $100 deductible, saved about $120, and I didn’t have to do the work! If, after the weather gets warm, I hit the A/C and it doesn’t want to work… $100 and it either gets repaired or replaced. Totally worth it. Most sellers will add a home warranty if you ask for it.
11. Check the sewer line – If you are moving into an older house in an older neighborhood. Check to see if the sewer line from the house has been upgraded or repaired. My wife and I are currently dealing with this problem as a section of the line was totally destroyed by roots. The previous homeowner never had a big problem with it, of course, but now we are looking at the possibility of having to dig up our backyard and pay about $2500 to cover the repair/replacement. This repair is not covered by the home warranty as it falls into the grey area of not being part of the house and not part of what the city maintains. Would we have still bought the house if we knew about the problem? Probably, but the purchase price would have gone down.
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