Home buying: What if what’s right for our budget isn’t right for us?

Guest post by Brony
Screen shot 2013-03-19 at 12.35.43 PMMy boyfriend and I decided to buy our own house. We knew it was going to be difficult, but we didn’t think it would be this difficult. We had found the perfect house — it’s in a great neighborhood, beautifully updated, and the best part is it’s selling for less than it was worth. Awesome! But, not exactly. The inspection report was filled with repairs and replacements needed that will cost us around the same as the down payment!

Suddenly my boyfriend wants a townhome, or a small house as a starter home, or even a condo. while I’m worried about getting a good investment, because I know we probably won’t end up staying longer than five years in a townhome or a condo as we hated apartment living.

Sharing walls is not the long-term solution, but is it the short-term solution? Should I be more worried about what’s right for us, than what’s right for my wallet? Or would what’s right for my wallet eventually be what’s right for us?

Help me, Homies! -Brony

Comments on Home buying: What if what’s right for our budget isn’t right for us?

  1. My boyfriend (now husband) and I were in a similar situation a couple years ago. On our budget, we could afford super cute little houses that need a LOT of work, or condos that we wouldn’t be staying in for more than a few years because like you, we hated apartment living. We ended up waiting to buy. It ended up being worth it because a year and a half later, we could afford a house that needed minimal work, and would be a more permanent solution (we still plan on moving in 7-8 years).

    Waiting a bit might not be the solution for you, and if not, I suggest you follow your wallet first, heart second. Maintaining a house takes a lot more money than we originally expected, and there are things that inspectors do not find! Also, it really depends on your area when it comes to investments. Selling our house in 5 years would get us our money back and then some, because of how our market is. Some markets haven’t rebounded to that point yet. This ended up being long, but I hope it helps 😀

  2. First off, you can ask the seller to fix those items as a condition of sale or give you money towards closing costs that covers the amount of the fixes. If you’r 100% in love with the house, this would be the way to go imo.

    My husband and I recently purchased a home, and we propbably have spent an additional $5,000 in improvements and repairs as well as buying some of those essential items like a lawn mower that you don’t need in an apartment but are necessary in a home. We feel that the money is an investment into our comfort as well as potentially the resale value down the road.

    It may be that you need to wait to buy so you have enough savings for a down payment AND to fix up a house–even if it means letting this home pass by. This was hard for me because I wanted to get OUT of our apartment about a year after moving in. Waiting and saving was totally worth it because even after the down payment and immediate improvements and repairs, we still had a nice chunk of savings for emergencies (like when our hot water heater broke over the holidays).

    Good luck!

    • You can ask for the seller to do this during closing negotiations, but in all likelihood, the price of the home reflects its condition. They’re totally within their rights to make a counter offer that says they’ll do none or very few of the repairs you ask (depending on legal requirements of the state–usually they’re only legally obligated to make the home safe to live in.) It’s up to you to decide if the counter-offer is acceptable.
      I point this out mostly because when you’re at that stage in buying, a lot of buyers find themselves really attached to the property. If you choose to make an offer with a list of repairs or a discount you want to cover repair costs, you need to be totally emotionally ready to walk away.
      And I’ll go a step further to say–them agreeing to do the repairs and doing them well is a totally different thing. We made an offer that asked for a laundry list of repairs to be done; his counter-offer agreed to do just a handful of them. We took the deal. When we did the final walk-through, we noticed that while he’d done everything he said he would, it was all pretty crap work. If they’d been major repairs, we would’ve found ourselves in a potentially annoying, drawn-out legal battle.

      • ” We made an offer that asked for a laundry list of repairs to be done; his counter-offer agreed to do just a handful of them. We took the deal. When we did the final walk-through, we noticed that while he’d done everything he said he would, it was all pretty crap work.”

        This exact thing happened to me, and now we need to do over what the sellers cheaped out on. It sucks, but in the end we still got an amazing deal on an amazing house. So be prepared for the possibility of having to do all those repairs yourself even if the sellers agree to do it (and enjoy if they do it right).

        Also try not to schedule your final walkthrough while your home inspector is on vacation. Oops.

      • There are two great ways around that whole thing:
        1) Show the sellers the estimates of costs for the work from qualified contractors *you* have chosen and ask for that money as a credit towards your purchase price, or
        2) Have the sellers open an escrow account specifically FOR these repairs. Checks from that account go directly to your contractors, and if there’s any money left over, the seller gets it back.

        In both cases, the contractors are chosen by you and not the seller, avoiding the possibility of Uncle Jed and his Secondhand Screwdriver taking on the repairs.

        Yes, the seller can say no, but in all likelihood, by the time you’ve had an inspection done and all that, you’re pretty far along the process and the seller won’t want to lose the deal.

  3. When my husband and I bought our first house, out budget was pretty limited. We really wanted a house with a yard for the dogs though and renting would have have cost more per month than a mortgage, so we bought (didn’t hurt that the government was doing the 8k first time home buyers credit at the time either). For us, staying within our budget was more important than finding the perfect house. We didn’t want to buy a house and then have no money to you know…feed ourselves. Sure, I would have loved a mid-century house in our ideal neighborhood with tons of character and all the important repairs recently completed. What we got was a small new construction house with no character in a nice neighborhood that was just outside of where we really wanted to be. It wasn’t perfect, but it needed no repairs and we spent the first week painting every room in the house a different bright color, hanging up our favorite art and buying funky decor that fit our personality. The outside of the house wasn’t us, but the inside was and we loved it. We also knew that we wouldn’t be in the house forever, which affected our overall thinking.
    I think you have to consider both your budget and what you want, decide which is most important and then compromise. If you can find a house/space that is good enough and then make it your own, to me, that’s a pretty good deal.

  4. Well, first I would ask myself…how URGENT are the repairs and replacements? Are they major issues such as foundation cracking? Leaking roof? Leaking anything? Mold? Or are these repairs and replacements things that are minor issues that can be taken care of over time?

    I would also look at the price in comparison to other homes in the area. If the price is significantly lower…then the owner has probably priced the home to sell saying, “We know the roof needs replacement…we’ve adjusted our price to reflect that”. If not, then I would look at what you can put into your terms for the seller to cover. It’s not completely up to the buyer to cover all costs. You can request the seller to repair/replace some things…but depending on what it is and depending on the attitude of the seller…they may not accept.

    Make a pros and cons list. YES this house might be everything you wanted. But if it comes with a hefty fixer-up cost…then it might be in your better judgement not to buy. Can you keep looking? Is it imperative you MUST buy now? My (now) husband and I spent over 2 months buying our first place (a penthouse condo) because we wanted something that suited us perfectly. Perhaps right now is not the time to buy for you.

    Another thing you might want to consider is making some sacrifices. Do you NEED to live in that area? Do you NEED a modern/updated house? Can you get something just outside that area? Can you get a starter home that you can slowly work towards updating and modernizing?

    (I’ve bought one place already, and my husband and I will shortly be selling and buying again in the next couple of months.)

    • I totally agree. The house I bought a few years ago had a very long list of problems, but we have been putting a bunch of them off, and only repairing the important ones. In our case, the inspection didn’t lead to a significantly lower price because most of the problems were visible by people touring the home, and thus it was already built into the market price.

      The upside is that by fixing the important (and not-so-important) problems as we have the money, we’re going to recoup much of the cost when we sell.

      If ALL the problems are super-important and have to be fixed right away, and you don’t have the money, then this might not be the house for you. On the other hand, if you can negotiate down the price or get some cash or repairs from the seller, then this might work out.

      • First off, kudos to being hesitant and thinking this through thoroughly! Buying a home is a huge investment, and like previous posters have said, there is seemingly always something that ‘needs’ to be fixed / done on it.

        As a continuation to these thoughts.. if you’ve found the ‘perfect’ home, yet you have a huge list of hesitant ‘buts’, maybe this isnt quite the home for you.
        What I mean is, absolutely when we bought our 1st home we were like “AHH! REALLY?? They’re letting us buy a house?? Can we even handle it?? We’re that grown up??”. When we found the one we eventually bought, it had (almost) all the things we were looking for and the downsides to it we could live with.

        There are hundreds more homes, and if you can wait to find one that suits you better / are more comfortable with, all the better! At least now you know more what you’re looking for and hopefully that will make a more streamlined search. Good luck!

  5. The first year or two in a new house is always expensive compared to renting, so factor that in. From buying yard maintenance equipment to painting walls to needing new lightbulbs or curtains, you’ll be making a million trips to Home Depot just for basic stuff that you didn’t have to think about when renting.

    So if the house already stretches your budget past breaking due to important repairs, well, you might *really* be hurting financially. As another person said, make a list of pros/cons, & if possible, add a dollar amount to each of those items.

    I wouldn’t settle for a house that irritates you tho. Why commit so much money & time to something you know, going in, is not making you happy? No one house will be perfect, but if you hate condos/townhomes, do not buy one ‘just’ to buy something. And yeah, they tend to be crappy investments, but I tend to not think of a home as an investment — it’s the place you live so most important, you should feel comfortable with the place.

  6. Do your research on the real estate market and the values of condos vs. single family homes. Condos took a massive hit and it might be 10 more years before they recover. Unless you plan to stay in your condo for 10 years, you might lose money if you try to turn around and sell it in 3-5 years. Even a fixer upper single family home purchased now, should slowly gain value from this point forward.

    In this market, it’s probably the best investment to get into a cheap single family home in the neighborhood you like, even in a fixer upper, and just stay there for 10 years and take your time doing improvements. That will be the best return on investment. This applies to pretty much every city/state in the U.S. The glut of condos built left a lot of vacancies and they simply aren’t worth anything. (Says the girl whose condo is now worth only 40% of what we paid for it…)

  7. My realtor was a friend of the family, and she leveled with me when I waffled: “There’s always another, better house out there.”
    If you have reservations about a property, I’m betting that you’re going to find another perfect home before you know it.
    In the meantime, sort through your home expectations and wants. Are you dreaming outside of your budget? When I was looking for a house, I found that the houses I really wanted to be in were about $50,000 out of my budget. By sacrificing a second floor (stairs are a key element of my Barbie Dream Home fantasies for some reason) I found a home that was honestly better than anything I could’ve imagined myself living in. And I found that I’d been drawn to houses with flashy elements (new light fixtures! a yellow Great Room! beautiful tile! updated bamboo flooring!) rather than actually good houses.
    My realtor shared another secret: if they’ve recently updated their home in some way, consider that they might’ve just been slapping a coat of paint on a huge turd.

    • Totally true. Lipstick on a pig and Flipping are huge right now. If you smell fresh paint, be suspicious. Often times they are trying to wow you with paint or new appliances ($3k), to distract from major repair issues ($30k).

      It’s best to befriend professionals (inspectors/ realtors) who can see through the lipstick and honestly assess the house. If they are paid, well, they might not be working in your best interest. Especially realtors, their job is to sell.

  8. When we bought our house, it was far from ideal, but it was in our buget and many of the things that need fixing can be put off (replacing 50 year old tile). We still have the original 1950s fuse system, and because we aren’t huge on electronics, I’ve only blown the fuse once or twice the couple of years we’ve been living there. I love our house, it isn’t perfect, but it has a nice yard for the dog, and enough room for the two of us. Yes it would be nice to not live on the corner of a busy street, but that is something that helped us get a good deal. The house is not our permanent house. It is a 5-10 year house, plus it is cheaper for us to own in our town then it is to rent. Yes buying is not cheap, but think about it this way – instead of paying someone else’s mortgage, you are paying your own mortgage.

    Also, another thing to think about, if you are going the route of FHA – there are FHA loans that allows for an additional loan to pay for necessary repairs.

    Either way, keep looking! I have a friend who was continually putting offers on houses for over 6 months before he found his house. It is the nature of the market, if you aren’t comfortable with living in a townhome/condo, just keep looking. Eventually your home will find its way to you.

    • We did similarly. Bought a house that is within our means and fully functional, but doesn’t have the updates. The kitchen works, but is ugly. We will gut it– someday. In the mean time, we love living in a house we own and gardening and raising chickens. And, most importantly, it is a house we can afford, and still do other things with our lives- like travel and host parties.

      We are in a low-end house in a fairly moderate-to-high-end neighborhood, but we can walk to transit and services.

      Someone said to me, when we were house hunting, that you don’t want to buy someoneelse’s problem. If the house needs too much work, it isn’t for you. Buy one that will work for you.

  9. Good advice from everybody. It is easy to fall in love with a house or even the idea of buying a house but home ownership is going to be way easier and more pleasant if you do the whole thing within your financial means, well within your financial means.
    We bought almost two years ago and one priority for us was that we had at least $10,000.00 in the bank incase of emergencies. Our first year in the house, our bedroom closet got mould in it over the winter and I got sick most of the winter. We hated the carpet in that room so we renovated the room to deal with the mouldy closet and the gross carpet.
    In the bonus round of renovating, we found the room had two layers of everything. Someone had put down stick on tiles under the carpet,they didn’t even sweep first, my husband spent ages scraping up tiles that had nails, hockey cards, and pennies under them. There were two layers of drywall to pull down, that is tricky, you can’t get a hammer through two layers, and the shitty little mould maker of a closet was built to withstand a nuclear war.
    Then in the midst of renovating we found ANTS, like a million little evil easter bunnies running around our ripped up bedroom with eggs in their mouths, we had to have the whole house sprayed.
    So now the bedroom is renovated, ants and mould are gone Yay!
    The washing machine died next, in an epic ending I might add, I tried washing a lamb skin throw that a friend gave me and it exploded and the washer died, it looked like we killed a Wookie in there.
    This year when we returned from a surprise birthday trip to Vegas, we discovered a leak in our roof over our bathroom. We have patched the roof until the weather improves and we will start getting estimates on a new roof this summer.
    There is always something to fix when you own a home, it is not all upgrades and making it camera ready, usually it is the mundane stuff that is going to eat up your money.
    The back up money we had in the bank has saved us from going into more debt to fix the random things that have come up.
    Make sure that you can afford to not only buy a house, but fix and maintain a house. Don’t spend every last dollar you have buying a cute house that you may end up hating because you drown in debit trying to fix it.
    We approached buying a house in a very practical way, we knew we needed to have money in the bank for repairs because shit happens and I hate feeling financially stressed. We bought near the neighbourhood I really wanted to be in because it is was less expensive, we bought a super small house so we could afford to heat it in the winter.
    We are very happy to have our own home but I would have been miserable if we didn’t have the back up money to maintain it.

  10. We bought a fixer upper house last year. We knew that it needed lots of work (including new sub-floor in the kitchen and an almost total re-wire) and because it was a foreclosure there was no chance of the owner doing the work prior to selling. So we low-balled our offer, by the amount that we figured our repair work would cost. The market here isn’t exactly recovered, and the bank took our offer. If they’d said no, we would have been disappointed, but would have found something else instead. Maybe you can do the same…offer less than the asking price with the idea that you’ll be doing repairs. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no.

    Ultimately only you and your partner can really make the decision that is best for you. Here’s my two cents, though: I would NEVER buy a condo/townhome. I would rather live in a fixer-upper that was less than ideal and do the work a little along than take out a mortgage on what is pretty much an apartment but without the added benefit of making the landlord fix things. I don’t know where you are, and of course it is highly dependent on where you live and what things are like there as far as what is true for your situation. Here, where we live, everyone I know who bought a condo as a “starter” home is still living in it way past the time they planned on selling and upgrading because they can’t sell, and they’re pissed at themselves. The value of those kinds of dwellings, at least here, is questionable and my poor little brother is completely upside down in his condo and can’t even move and use it as a rental because his homeowner’s association forbids it. His options are, sell it for way less than he paid (which won’t work because he still has a mortgage) or keep living there. He and his wife want to start a family, and being stuck in that tiny place is a serious setback for them.

    If the financial situation is such that putting down a down payment on the house you want (or doing big repairs) is cost-prohibitive for you right now, my advice would be to keep renting and saving till you can get the house of your dreams instead of taking on a mortgage for a condo with the idea that you won’t be staying there long. Otherwise, you might end up stuck there longer than you plan on.

    • I completely agree with this entire comment. Coming from someone who bought a “starter home” that I now hate, also take into consideration the fact that if you do buy something you don’t absolutely love, you’ll have to sell it in just a few years. Selling houses isn’t easy. You risk losing money (potentially a lot of it), and you have to go through the stress of selling the property, dealing with people trudging through your home and belongings, etc. etc. And those people will see what you paid only a few years ago through public record PVA sites… and they don’t care how much you put into fixing this thing and that thing… they’re going to offer you something similar and you’re out any repair money, too.

      • Ultimately I think that it depends on where you live (condos here aren’t the greatest and homeowners associations that run them aren’t either) and what kind of person you are. Some people are apartment people. My best friend is from New York city and she’s lived here in the sticks for years and she still hate having the responsibility of a yard and being so isolated from her neighbors. She would totally be someone who would be able to buy a condo and live there and love it forever.

      • Yeah, I think it really depends on the condo and location! I, too, cannot see myself ever buying a condo, because the condos in my rural Midwestern locale are ugly nightmares with crazy association rules, and none allow pets. In Seattle, I’m going to bet that you have a lot better condo options. It’s great if it works for you, but comparing condos in different locales is tricky because it’s almost like apples and oranges.

    • I think it depends on the type of “condo” you have. The formal definition of a condo is basically a place where you own the structure, and the association is responsible for the land and maintenance of it. We just bought a detached condo–we share no walls, but we do share a driveway with three other houses (traditionally, this is called a “motorcourt”, at least in the States). Our place is 2200 square feet and it has a yard. As for Homeowners Associations, at least in southern California where I live, there are plenty of single-family homes that have homeowners associations and cities that have master homeowners associations. As for resale value, it really depends on where you live–in southern California, condos resell well, especially in the market we’re in. I’d so some research on resale in your area.

      As for the original post, my suggestion is much like everyone else’s–find the place that will fit your needs for awhile. Traditional condos and townhomes wouldn’t work for us, but this one did. Also, we moved into new construction, which for us made sense–we moved a bit farther from where we work, but we were able to get a house that was 1,000 square feet bigger than what we could find closer to work, and we still came in $20K under our max budget, even with all the crazy options we got. There are still plenty of things to pay for the first few years, but it’s not major maintenance (i.e., we have to landscape our yard; towel racks; closet organization; and other things to make the house ours).

    • I love my condo! Sure, we have shared walls, but it’s basically just a two-story house with neighbors on either side. And our own little yard, and our own garage with laundry. I like having grass for our dog but I don’t wanna cut it myself, and there is no way I want to be responsible for maintaining a pool, so the HOA is great in that way.

      If you’re looking at a condo I would definitely encourage you to be aware of what kind of shape the community is in overall, because that will affect your resale value. Our HOA is in good financial shape, and they keep all the maintenance up to date. Last year they had the exteriors of everyone’s houses repainted (we voted on the color scheme), and got new back gates for everyone’s yards. More projects that that I didn’t have to take care of myself! 🙂

  11. What we’ve found, after having bought and lived in two homes over the course of our relationship, is that everything costs more than expected. Even a place that seems like it doesn’t really need work will still have things that need fixing or updating.

    We have some dear friends who bought a place that they could only barely afford – they had to have one of their mothers cosign the loan. Now, whenever we all go out together, they’re arguing over which of them is going to pay for dinner, since they’re both so strapped for cash. It has obviously put lots of pressure on their relationship.

  12. Another thing to consider when you are deciding what you can afford is maybe just one of you should buy the house under one income. Or both buy the house, but still make sure you can buy it without both incomes. If something happened to one of you, or if someone lost thier job, or if you decide to have children, you wont ahve to worry so much.

  13. Take a goooooood look at that inspection. An inspector’s main job is to cover his/her own ass in case you get sue-happy. Look at what is listed as a safety issue vs. “needs attention” or “needs improvement” or whatever. For instance, stuff like loose live wires is actually a thing you need to deal with. Plumbing falling apart is a thing you need to deal with. But our inspection also listed “uneven stair heights at the patio” as an “extreme hazard” and advised “extreme caution”. Do I really consider that one something that needs to be dealt with, now or ever? No. It’s listed so that I don’t sue our inspector if I trip over the stairs.

    Read every piece of that report. Call your inspector (he/she is available for questions about his/her work) and get recommendations as to what is an actual necessity and what is just a suggestion or a non-important note.

    Then get real estimates. The house we are buying needs to have all the water lines into the house replaced with copper (it’s original 1906 plumbing, ew)… sounds expensive, right? Nope- around $2000, and that number includes installing several other plumbing-related things, too. You may be surprised that some of the seemingly big-ticket items will end up less expensive than you think.

    Many companies will do these estimates for free, and others will credit an estimate charge towards the work they do. Then you can take all these professional estimates and go to the seller with a request for credit/repair, as mentioned above. Good luck!!

    • Just curious, can you sue your inspector? Ours missed sooooo many problems, and every contractor we had in for a minor fix uncovered major issues (inadequate wiring in the kitchen, plumbing not properly connected, the AC not actually cooling). It’s probably too late now, but that guy did such a bad job! The only big thing he caught was a crack inside the chimney, and we were able to get a $4000 credit towards the repair taken off the purchase price.

      • YES! I had a friend sue their inspector for failing to properly inspect their septic system that had significant issues shortly after they took ownership. They were able to get back the cost of having the issues resolved. I don’t know about things like the AC or inadequate wiring, but theirs was on the level of core livability and they were successful in their case.

      • Depends where you live. My aunts inspector didn’t catch some major issues and when the house started to show its problems (pot lights falling from the ceiling because they were improperly done, permits not completed, etc.) all she could sue the inspector for was the cost of the inspection. She successfully sued the seller for some fraud but still spent way too much on hidden repairs. Always check with the city that any work permits taken out have been completed, and if there are lingering doubts get a second inspection.

  14. My dude and I have started to talk about buying a house. This is the very beginning of the conversation for us and it’s probably going to be a year before we’re even there (my job is currently temporary but hoping it will become permanent).

    Definitely take into account your priorities and what would make a house better than where you are right now. We’re renting a house which we would have the option to buy but we will be thinking that through pretty carefully. We’re in the process of selling a house that my husband used to live in that we were renting out because I really did not want to live in it. He bought it relying upon someone else’s help with mortgage and the area is icky and size does not work for us.

    We love the area we are renting our home in and it’s a pretty high priority for us to actually make the leap to buying. We know what the cost of the house we are in and also know very well all the work it needs to make it something we would want to own rather than rent. The statement that there are always things that need fixing is so, SO true. We’ve repainted a lot of the rooms and the last repaint involved fixing large cracks. We need to repaint the bathroom again as there is no exhaust fan and even with a dehumidifier we have some mold spots on the ceiling (which we kill with spray since the mold-killing paint didn’t stop it from happening) and peeling/cracking paint.

    Also consider the impact on your life that those projects will have both in terms of what you may have to give up to pay for them but also the temporary changes while they’re fixing. Is your bathroom going to be ripped up? Will you have to deal with holes in your walls? Do you have to be out of the house or can it be a slow project that happens a bit at a time?

    As you can see, I’m kinda on the fence at the moment myself.

  15. I can sympathize. My then boyfriend (now husband) decided he was sick of throwing away rent money and bought a small and fairly crappy condo (on his own) a few years ago, before we were married. It’s great that we own property now, but he’s been living here five years and the place is still underwater, and until the market picks up again, we’re stuck here. I can’t wait to be rid of that place. Hopefully the market will pick up, we’ll be able to sell it, and get something better *crosses fingers*

  16. If you are not planning on staying forever, why buy a house in the first place? I know owning a place is way more common in the US than it is in Germany, but I am puzzled why that would be the case. If you rent a place, you hardly ever have to worry about repair costs and such, and in my opinion as long as you are not planning to stay somewhere, this more than makes up for being your own landlord. ^^

    • Not sure how it is in other countries, but often it’s less expensive to buy a house than it is to rent, repairs included (assuming you don’t buy a fixer-upper), not to mention you get more breathing room. Yeah, we have to do our own repairs, but we’re paying less every month for a much larger space, and now we have a yard, a garage, and we can paint all the walls any color we want, without having to answer to a landlord or wait on maintenance to get to our unit.

      In the end, not having to deal with the issues of apartment life outweighed any repair costs for us.

    • Yeah, a lot of areas in the US don’t have very robust rental markets. We’re fortunate to live in an area where renting vs. buying pretty is pretty comparable, but I used to live somewhere where it was next to impossible to find a house to rent.

      This is too bad because I think Americans and the American government put way too much emphasis on home ownership, but we just don’t have the broad rental market to sustain the alternative.

  17. Normally, I would advise frugality in this situation. Buying a house is a really big decision and you need to have the funds to make those repairs now and in the future. You can always wait until you have more saved up for downpayments, incidental home-buying costs and home repairs.

    However….the housing market is on the rise in many places and you can find interest rates in the 3-5% range. If you can afford it at all, buy now before interest rates go back up. Several commenters are correct-there are always going to be repairs. Always. I never could have known by looking at my home 4 years ago that we would need a completely new fence by now. If you’re never going to be able to afford those kinds of repairs, don’t buy. But if you are going to buy at some point and you think you can stretch it, now is the time.

  18. When my (now) husband and I bought our house, we knew going into the search that we are not the type of folks for a starter home. Neither of us wanted to be in a house that within a few years might be too small when we started our family. Not knowing what the real estate market would be like for sellers in the future, we didn’t want to get stuck in a house that no longer suited our needs but that we couldn’t sell, like some people we’ve known. We wanted to buy a house we love and that would suit our needs for years to come so we could stay there basically until we die (the alternative will be for my grandchildren to haul my ass out, but by then packing will be their problem and not mine). To do that, we figured out what our budget would be and looked for houses that were at the top end of what we could comfortably afford on our current budget. One week before our wedding, we found the house we wanted, made an offer, and closed a month later.

    Our house, being almost 100 years old, did have some repairs that needed to be made and that were listed in the inspection report. Some that were issues of safety (like having the chimney lined and getting a radon remediation system installed) we asked the sellers to take care of — and they did, probably because once those types of issues are known, even if we had walked away they would have to have been disclosed to other potential buyers, who would probably walk or ask for the repair anyway. Others we figured we could do ourselves (fix the banister on the basement stairs, get a fan installed in the 3rd floor bathroom). Our inspector was great – he gave a priority level to each item in the report so we knew which stuff we wanted to take care of instantly and which stuff it would be a good idea to do, but that weren’t urgent (turns out that fixing that back doorbell is something I’ll probably die without having seen to — and I’m ok with that).

    My advice would be to think about where you want to be in a few years, or even a bunch of years, and try to decide if buying a house now will help you get there, and if you can comfortably swing it. I know lots of people who buy starter homes and are really happy with their decision, but for us it just wasn’t the way. Also, there are websites where you can enter your city and what you pay for rent and get back information on average mortgage payments vs. what you’d spend on rent over 30 years. The trend seems to be that in an urban area, where home prices are high, it’s generally still more cost-effective to rent, while in suburban/rural areas buying will save you money over the long run.

  19. We had that exact experience (beautiful updated house we loved with an inspection report a mile long) and ended up in half a duplex. It’s SO much better than apartment living. There’s a firewall between us and our neighbor so we can’t hear a thing. There’s no yard, but the location is better than any apartment we’ve ever lived in and there’s a huge park three blocks away. We can put up wall-mounted shelves without worrying about putting holes in the walls, paint to our heart’s content, buy a fancy washer and dryer and think of it as an investment rather than a waste, etc etc etc. We bought the house planning to live here 5 years or so, but after only 3 months here I can see us staying for 20 years.

    I found a list the other day we made at the beginning of our house hunting that described our perfect house. The house we ended up in doesn’t have several of the things I thought were top priority, but I still love it. The process of looking at houses really clarified for us what we really needed in a living space, and what looked nice but, in the end, wasn’t worth paying for.

    • We bought a duplex with a huge yard, and it’s awesome. You can’t hear the neighbours unless they are outside, and it fit into our budget really well!

  20. I too can sympathize. My husband and I have been house hunting for 2+ years and have physically gone and at least driven by over 100 listed houses. We’ve put offers in on a few, and were even under contract on one….but had to back out when the already-iffy fixer upper costs started to stack up more and more each time we learned something new about the house. We’re limited not only by our budget, but by our location. Because o his job, we have to live within 8 specific towns that he patrols for his job…6 of which are coastal towns, which means $$$. We’ve scraped by flying under the cost of rent by house sitting for an old lady for six months, then living in a camper virtually free for another six months, and now we have a super low rent tiny apartment that we plan on being in until we buy something.
    Our land lords, who own 250 acres of beautiful coastal land where we’re living now, have graciously offered to sell us about 5 acres to build on, for far less than what the lot would sell for on the actual market (but still more than we would have liked to spend), and offered to use his excavating equipment to help us do foundation work, septic, etc. It is a tremendous offer, but even so…after the cost of the land and building, it would be at the very top end of our budget. So….we have to decide if it’s worth it to us to max out completely…but be in the exact brand new home that we want on a great lot in a beautiful location that’s 15 minutes to Popham Beach Maine (downsides besides maxing out? I hate new houses (no character) and geographically the location is far from work and family). Decisions, decisions….

  21. I bought my first home last year and there wasn’t much in my price range that didn’t have at least one major downside. I chose to sacrifice square footage to get the updates I wanted. No house will ever be perfect – just decide what compromises you’re willing to make. I don’t regret my decision for a second and living in a tiny home (750sq.ft.) has forced me to be much tidier, implement better storage and live with less – all great things.

  22. My husband is a Realtor, but for the first five years of our relationship, we rented. **Gasp** Inorite! His ex got the house in their divorce and I moved to the state we’re in now to be with him. Renting worked.

    About two years in I really REALLY wanted to buy a house but when the housing market crashed, what do you think happened to Realtors? Along the way, we could have bought a condo or a ‘starter’ home, but we weren’t that interested in temporary ‘fixes’. We toughed it out in an apartment we HATED and were finally able to buy our dream house (100+ year old farmhouse on 2 acres).

    Waiting worked for us and I’m glad we did it. If we had bought something we weren’t in love with, we probably wouldn’t have been able to pull off getting our farm.

Join the Conversation