5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Buying My First Home

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Everyone makes rookie mistakes the first time they buy a place. Even as a real estate broker, there are some things I look back on and simply shake my head (my first deal was also my first home…needless to say I wasn’t a pro). While some mistakes were costly, others forced me to adjust my lifestyle. So, what do I regret not knowing? A bunch of things that could’ve been avoided.


1. I wish I knew you didn't need to borrow the full mortgage amount you qualify for.

It goes without saying, but just because you can spend money doesn’t mean you should!  A lot of the time, you’ll get pre-approved for much more than you’re comfortable borrowing. In that case, it’s crucial to figure out a budget and work with that number. Don’t feel pressured to spend more! Also, don't forget to think about the other things you're saving for—a new car, that instaworthy trip or an addition the family. Don’t sacrifice living your life to buy a home you don’t feel you can afford.

Rule of Thumb: It’s whatever you’re comfortable with, but some people say to borrow 15-20% less than your approved amount.

2. I wish I knew the true costs in replacing and repairing home items.

While we caught items that needed repairs during the inspection, I had no idea how much some of those issues would eventually cost us. It’s pretty easy to gage the cost of replacing a water heater or an air conditioner—just look on sites like Home Depot. When it came to a defective sliding door that we later found out was custom made…let’s just say that cost a lot more than a pretty penny once you factored in ripping the old one out, labor, installation and hauling the old glass door away. 

Pro tip: Do your research. Take measurements if needed, and don’t feel weird about it—you’re buying your first place! If you can’t figure something out, ask your advisors (broker, inspector, attorney, etc).

3. I wish I knew you shouldn’t use all of your cash for your downpayment. 

Always, always plan for the unexpected. Each home has its own personality, and unfortunately, you don’t really learn about that personality until you live there…for a while. Or if you’re like us, you didn’t budget that a sliding door would cost a couple thousand more than you had anticipated. Leaks happen, appliances break, and overtime things wear down, so make sure to be prepared. 

Also, closing costs. In addition to your downpayment, you’ll be asked to pay for fees for the loan, taxes, title and more. Sadly, some lenders forget to tell buyers this (seriously...), so make sure to ask! 

Rule of thumb: Budget to spend about 1% of your purchase price annually for home maintenance

4. I wish I knew how important association documents actually are.

If you’re buying in a condominium building (a gated community or anywhere with an association), you will be handed a slew of documents to go over before closing on a home. Those documents will include rules and regulations, budgets and a lot more, and while I think most people know they should look through all of that information before buying, many don’t. 

By not doing your homework, you’re missing out on information like whether or not you should expect a special assessment (an additional amount to your monthly HOA payment that can last years). Maybe the building doesn’t allow pets, and you can’t fathom a life without them. But really, you’re buying a home…probably do you homework. 

Real life example: Between a roof leak and an accidental fire, my building has been through a lot in the past few years, and some residents have moved in without really going over the association documents before closing. The amount of regret they have in buying in the building is high to say the least. From the special assessments and other headaches, they’re already looking to move after only a year of living here. 

5. I wish I knew the area better.

So, I live next to Wrigley Field, like the Major League Baseball team the Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field. While that was a total selling point in purchasing our current condo, there were a lot of things I did not think about, and I really, really wish I would’ve been even more familiar with Wrigleyville before settling on that location. For one—just how bad traffic would be. You might say, “Well duh, Kourtney.” Yes, I’m aware I was an idiot too. To be fair, my only experiences of game day were via public transit & on foot—not by car. From the thousands of people and vehicles, things can get absolutely insane here in terms of congestion. And don’t even get me started on the street closures. Overtime, I’ve obviously learned to adapt (like leaving at least 30 minutes early if I’m driving to an appointment), but boy, there were definitely some rough days. 

While I’m sure that doesn’t exactly relate to most of you, my point is that every home and neighborhood has it’s quirks. I encourage you to check out the block or area that you’ll be living in at different times of the day and on different days of the week. If you see a neighbor on the street, ask how they like living there. If you’re in a condo building, chat up a resident in the elevator. Maybe you'll learn you’ll be living on a main school route and the light down the street is the worst, or maybe you find out the building's management isn’t great. Either way, really try to find out what living in that community is like. 

What do you wish you knew before buying your first home? What pieces of advice helped you? Tell us in the comments below!