• Homebuyers

Learn from their mistakes — 10 first-time homebuyer tips

June 13, 2022

We talked to some first-time homebuyers about what they learned after they made that big purchase. Learn from their mistakes with these 10 first-time homebuyer tips.

Unforeseen home problems can be funny — if you're watching them on the big screen with Tom Hanks as we did in 1986's Money Pit . However, IRL, purchasing a home with hidden problems is anything but funny. We talked to some homebuyers and asked them what they wished they’d known before they bought. And because we’re super helpful, we’ve collected their insights to share with you.

1. Order your priorities

Is the home’s location vital to you? Number of bedrooms? Size of lot? Chances are, you won't be able to afford to get everything you dream of (sorry!). Once you determine what is most important, you can hone your search accordingly, so you don’t end up falling in love with a home in a neighborhood you really don’t want to live in.

2. Get more from the seller

Home inspections are designed to clue a potential homebuyer in on any defects or issues with the home that might not have been obvious at first glance. When you get that list of issues, why not see if they’re willing to make some or all of those fixes? Take note: If you’re in a bidding war with other buyers, this tactic could backfire and send the seller to another offer.

Emily B. admits to missing out on this opportunity, “Having both bought and sold, I was asked to fix many things when selling, but I typically asked for very little when buying.”

3. Inspect the landscape

Trees can be lovely landscape additions. Or they can be a new homeowner’s leafy nightmare. Are the roots invasive? Is the tree healthy, or will removal be necessary? Don’t guess on this one, hire an arborist.

Andrew J. and his family got a big, fat expensive surprise when they moved to a forested lot in Maryland. “At about $5k-$10k for large tree removal, we had some rather nasty surprises when we bought our house.”

RELATED: Get to the root of the tree problem before you buy

4. Check property lines

Want to add a fence? Do some landscaping? Build a deck? Avoid legal wrangling later by having a surveyor check property lines before you buy. The seller (and their neighbors) may not even know where the legal property lines actually are.

5. Consider the workload

A house is an investment in time and energy, as well as funds. How big an investment depends on the house. How large is the yard? How worn is the flooring? Is there an irrigation system to maintain? If you want a lot of home improvements, do you have the time and/or money to invest in getting them done? Is a condo or small lot a better option?

Heidi L. was ecstatic to become a homeowner, but the cyclist and busy professional didn’t envision she would spend all her weekends working on her home. Yard and house work and the inevitable necessary improvements were a far bigger commitment than she bargained for. “You buy it and you think it’s easy coasting from there, and it’s definitely not.”

RELATED: We’re piping up about the benefits of regular pipe maintenance

6. Keep schools in mind

If you have school-aged kids, schools will be top of mind. But even if you don’t, the resale value of your home will be affected by the quality and reputation of the school district it's zoned for. 

7. Talk to the seller

We love real estate agents (seriously, here are a bunch of swell ones), but they just don’t have the property knowledge and insight that a seller has, so talk to the seller directly if you can, to get a complete picture of the home.

Andrew J. happened to run into the seller while showing his girlfriend the house he planned to buy and he’s really glad he did. “(The homeowner) went into a tirade about structural damage, the constant water in the basement, that the house was built on a spring and that he was initiating a lawsuit against the builder. He finished by insisting we run, not walk, away from buying the house!”

8. Get intel and paperwork

Do you want to be a sleuth in your new home? We’re guessing no. Getting the low down – and paper work – on alarm systems, irrigation set-up, ethernet locations, appliance warranties and operation, garage doors, HOA rules, even which mailbox is yours can be a huge help. The seller knows it all and you know none of it. So, ask for all that insider intel before you take possession of your new home.

Ksenya G. wishes she had thought to ask for diagrams and details on her home’s irrigation. “We were in our first single family home and it was a pain to figure out the sprinkler system, pipe network and where it drains out. Summer hit after a big winter snow and we had busted pipes.”

9. Find out what's "in development"

How bummed would you be if that beautiful view was blocked an apartment building. Are future developments planned nearby? Is the area zoned for mixed use? Ask around. Talk to neighbors. Google stuff. You don’t want a surprise once you’ve gotten all nestled in.

RELATED: 5 Tips Every Homebuyer Should Know

10. Time your purchase

Are you ready to set priorities for a home search? Ready to make the financial commitment (mortgage, plus taxes, plus applicable HOAs, plus insurance, plus improvements, plus…)? Ready to make the time commitment to maintain a home? Successful homeownership is all about timing, make sure you're ready.

And if you’re trying to become a savvy first time homebuyer, you’re in the right place. Our experienced HIP-qualified lenders and real estate agents can help you avoid rookie mistakes and score a home within your budget using one of our great homebuying programs.

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