One of my first paying jobs was helping my father clean and fix up his rental property each time renters moved out. I learned about the nature of people from rental agreements — lots of renters see a damage deposit as a free pass to do whatever they want to the place. I’d fixed a lot of damage in that house, so I figured I knew what to expect when my father decided he wanted to sell the house and I convinced him to sell it to me.
We hammered out the details over dinner — he’d put my name on the mortgage along with his so I could keep the 2.8% fixed rate, he wouldn’t help me financially with paying the mortgage or making repairs, and he would let me have the house for the remainder of the mortgage. His exact words, after we sealed the deal with a handshake and a hug, were “That house is your problem now.”
I moved in November of ’07 at age 22, armed to the teeth with cleaning supplies and air fresheners, with money set aside to start on all the renovations I wanted to make. A month of cleaning and airing the place out, and I was ready to start those renovations.
Then the pipes in the attic froze and burst — three times — until we found a good, honest plumber. Then I ran out of propane and needed to fill the 300 gallon tank; turns out that’s much more expensive in the winter. Then the septic tank overflowed and needed pumping. Then the pump to the well broke. Then I learned the term “property tax,” and finally accepted that I was not prepared for what I had undertaken.
Since that rocky start, I have become extremely organized. I fill up the propane tank every July and keep my eye on the gauge throughout the year. I have a date in 2012 to pump the septic tank. I’ve started a “shit happens” savings account. I even got a filing cabinet. And, despite his desire to see me deal with the house problems on my own, I am very grateful to my dad for answering every stupid question I’ve had and giving me a heads up on the property tax thing — even if he still makes fun of me for sputtering out the words, “Property tax? Doesn’t the government know how much money I’ve spent on this place already?”
Of course, if you’re not the type that thoroughly enjoys learning by trial and error, I recommend doing research before committing yourself to buying a home. Here’s what I needed to hear prior to getting my house:
Get a non-romanticized view of the home.
In other words, before getting caught up in what you can do, understand what needs to be done.
- Are there foundation cracks or leaky windows? In my case, the plumbing/propane/septic issues drained what I had saved for the fun stuff.
- Are the heaters and stove electric or propane? Is it running on a well or city water? It makes a difference with how you budget.
- When was the last time the pipes or water heater were replaced? Is this an expense you should be prepared to cover?
- How new are other features of the home? Is the roof old? What condition is the siding in?
- Can you deal with the ugly tile in the bathroom until you can definitely afford to renovate?
Look into the area
- What are the property taxes in the area?
- How much are utilities and what’s available in the area? (We are still waiting for super high speed internet.)
- How’s the neighborhood? Will the neighbor’s dog chase after you when you go on your morning jog? Do they have loud parties?
- Is there a home owner’s association? If so, what are their rules and regulations?
And, for your own sanity, start up a “shit happens” fund. Now.
Homies, when you bought your first place, what would have been helpful to know?