Buying Our First House: Five Lessons Learned

A huge thanks to Dave Ramsey’s ELP program for sponsoring this post. If you’re thinking about buying a house, check out his free Homebuyer Guide.

Buying Our First House: 5 Lessons Learned | JustAGirlAndHerBlog.com

It’s hard to believe that we just celebrated our *sixth* anniversary of living in our current house. Where did that time go?! While we don’t plan on it being our “forever home,” this little townhouse will always hold a special place in our hearts because it was the first home we ever purchased. We moved here when Connor was just a few months old, so it’s the only house he remembers. We brought Caleb home from the hospital to this house. We’ve had birthday parties, major milestones, celebrations, and made endless memories here.

As I think back to when we first purchased our home, there are several lessons that jump out at me that I’m thankful we didn’t have to learn the hard way. We were so young, but thankfully we had some great people guiding us along the way, and our first purchase was a successful one. I thought I’d share some of the most important things we learned so hopefully you can have a great first (or next!) home buying experience as well!

1. Do the math.

This is a biggie. Before you jump on the real estate sites and start looking at houses, take a detailed look at your finances. Use your bank statements to help you figure out how much you’re spending each month (or just look at your budget if you have one) so that you can get a realistic picture of what kind of mortgage payment you can afford. Don’t forget to factor in additional expenses that come along with home ownership like maintenance costs, HOA fees, homeowner’s insurance, and utilities. Maybe even try living for a few months like you are paying those higher bills. (Take the extra money and put it in a savings account– you’ll build up your savings and test out life with your new mortgage payment at the same time. Win-win!) Many times banks are willing to pre-approve you for more than you should actually be spending, so figure out a realistic number for yourself and hold to it throughout the home-buying process. The last thing you want to do is to be house-poor!

Buying Our First House: 5 Lessons Learned | JustAGirlAndHerBlog.com

While buying a bigger place was appealing to us when we were hunting for our first house, I’m so thankful we stuck to our budget and purchased conservatively. Having a smaller mortgage and therefore a lower all-around cost of living has allowed us to have more flexibility when it comes to changing jobs. When unexpected expenses pop up, we’re not in a panic since we’re living beneath our means. We are able to build up our emergency fund and long-term savings accounts more quickly. So while admittedly, there have been times I have been frustrated by our “small-ish” house, there have been many, many times where I have been thankful for the “small-ish” mortgage that comes along with it. 🙂

2. Make a priority list.

Sit down (with your spouse or significant other, if applicable) and make a list of all of the qualities you’d like your new house to have. Once you have everything listed out, arrange the list in order of priority, with your non-negotiables at the top and more flexible items toward the bottom. While it’s likely that you won’t get absolutely everything on your list, it helps to go into the process knowing your must-haves so that you’re not wasting your time looking at houses that won’t meet your needs in the long run.

Buying Our First House: 5 Lessons Learned | JustAGirlAndHerBlog.com

Donnie and my list included things like “great neighborhood, at least three bedrooms, and close to family, church, and work,” all of which we ended up getting. But the list also included “single-family home, updated kitchen, and two-car garage,” which didn’t end up happening. In the end, though, the fantastic location and price of our current home won out over some of the things that were further down on our list, and because we knew what our priorities were going into the search, we were able to recognize this house as the “winner,” even though it didn’t fulfill our entire wish list.

3. Get an incredible real estate agent.

I can confidently say that we would not have snagged our current place without our amazing real estate agent. Not only was he very knowledgeable about the ins and outs of real estate in our area, but he was also incredibly connected, and we were actually able to put in an offer on our house before it officially hit the market. Being that houses in our neighborhood typically go quickly AND it was a very motivated seller, we may have ended up in a bidding war or may not even had the chance to make an offer had our agent not been so on top of things.

Buying Our First House: 5 Lessons Learned | JustAGirlAndHerBlog.com

Not sure where to find such a stellar real estate agent? Well, it just so happens that my most favorite financial guru, Dave Ramsey, has already done all of the hard work for you. Dave has a group of real estate agents in his Endorsed Local Provider (ELP) program that he has handpicked based on their outstanding qualifications, so you know you’ll be working with someone who is trustworthy and will work hard to get you the best deal out there. If you hop over to his site, you can find the the ELPs in your area who can help you successfully navigate your home purchase.

In addition to connecting people with the best of the best real estate agents, Dave has also put together a comprehensive Homebuyer Guide that you can download for free on his site. It covers everything from the essential tools for getting great real estate deals to choosing the home that is right for you and making an offer; it is a must-read for anyone looking to purchase a home in the near future.

4. Don’t judge the book by its cover.

Our first house hunting experience definitely taught me to go in with an open mind! This house was anything but move-in ready when we purchased it. Take a look:

Buying Our First House: 5 Lessons Learned | JustAGirlAndHerBlog.com

{Dining Room}

Buying Our First House: 5 Lessons Learned | JustAGirlAndHerBlog.com

{Living Room}

Buying Our First House: 5 Lessons Learned | JustAGirlAndHerBlog.com

{Kitchen}

Buying Our First House: 5 Lessons Learned | JustAGirlAndHerBlog.com

{Master Bedroom}

Pink walls (and ceilings), stained carpet, outdated fixtures– this place had it all! The bones of the house, though, were wonderful. We may have had to do a little creative thinking, but since we were able to look past all of the things that were wrong cosmetically and picture the house’s potential, we were able to score a really great deal. (And we’ve had tons of fun fixing it up and making it our home together over the past six years!)

5. Get an inspection.

Look past the cosmetic elements, but definitely, definitely do not bypass the inspection! A house could look perfectly normal as you’re walking through it and end up having major issues that a trained home inspector would detect. You do not want to be stuck in a house that is in need of significant, expensive repairs.

Buying Our First House: 5 Lessons Learned | JustAGirlAndHerBlog.com

There was another home that we looked at and really liked during the search for our first house, and we ended up finding out later that when someone else put an offer on it and had it inspected, there were some structural issues that we never ever would have known about simply by looking around ourselves. I know buying a house is expensive and it’s tempting to save a few hundred dollars by skipping the inspection, but it is totally not worth it down the road. Get an inspection– you’ll thank yourself later!

 

We certainly got an education when we were purchasing our first house! I could go on and on with the lessons we learned, but these are the biggies. 🙂 House hunting can be such a fun and exciting process when done the right way, so be sure to get those ducks in a row before you jump in. Work out your budget, create your list of priorities, and download Dave Ramsey’s Homebuyer Guide— then start searching for the perfect home for you! And whatever you do, enjoy the process. It almost never works out exactly the way you think it will, but all of the bumps in the road might just end up landing you exactly where you’re supposed to be. Happy house hunting!

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A huge thanks to Dave Ramsey’s ELP program for sponsoring this post! For more information, see my disclosures here.

18 Comments

  1. Hi, Abby ~ Such good points to consider when making a huge purchase like a house! We learned a couple of these the hard way! For us, the most important one is to have a good real estate agent and to make sure you ask questions if you don’t understand something! I also really appreciate your attitude toward your home: you know it’s not your forever home, but you’re so grateful for what you have. I love that!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      I agree! I great agent is priceless! Ours was a gem and it made all the difference! Hope you have a wonderful week, Tiffany!

      ~Abby =)

  2. Such great tips!! It can be so easy to get caught up on the cosmetics of a house. Really, those can all be changed and made pretty. If the house isn’t sound then it will be a disaster and a lot more money to fix. Does this mean you are looking for your second house? Have a great week!
    Shonee
    http://www.hawthorneandmain.com

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Lol! Not quite yet! We still have some projects to finish in this one before I feel like we can move on. 🙂 I was just looking at your kitchen befores and afters this morning and am so amazed at the transformation! You guys did an awesome job! Hope you have a wonderful week, Shonee!

      ~Abby =)

  3. Holly Laurel says:

    I’ve been planning to start saving more for a down payment, but the housing market where I live (DC) is just outrageous. (Here’s hoping for a transfer to a cheaper state by the time I get that $$ stacked away!) I think the real estate agent is the point that needs to be emphasized the most – most of the ones I’ve worked with before (pre-DC) really have no interest in getting you in the right house; they just have an interest in getting you in *a* house. I’d finally found one I liked and started looking around, but then came the cross-country move. ;P They’re out there, but finding the right one can take a lot of searching.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      I totally agree! The agent makes a huge difference! Best of luck with your saving/ eventual house hunt, Holly!

      ~Abby =)

  4. This is so perfect. My hubs + I started the house hunt, we’re in LA + with a horrible agent we spent two days seeing beautiful homes in some of the WORST areas because he could not care less where we ended up. Wow. Such an eye opener. Agents are a dime a dozen, + most of them could care less what kind of area you end up in.

    Now we’re looking at switching states because it’s so expensive here, which is freaky, but I’m totally going to check out the Dave Ramsey people {because I trust you!} to see about finding a reputable agent 18 hours away! 🙂

    xx

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Oh no! I’m so sorry you had to go through that! Hopefully the relocation goes better for you! Dave only picks the best, so you’ll be in good hands! Have a wonderful week, Kate!

      ~Abby =)

  5. Reelika @Financially Wise On Heels says:

    These are such a good examples and points to focus on. And the preparation phase should start as early as possible. Besides, it is a huge financial responsibility that takes about at least 15 years to pay off. Great advice!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So true, Reelika! I think sometimes people are so excited about getting into a house that they don’t spend enough time on the prep work and are kicking themselves later. :-/ Hope you’re having a great week!

      ~Abby =)

  6. Hey Abby,

    I just heard you on Entrepreneur on Fire and you were great. My wife and I have been homeowners for almost a month and parents for about the same! What a crazy few weeks. I agree 100% with your list. We had an amazing real estate agent and we snagged the house before it was put on the market. We later found out a lot of people were interested in the house, one even had cash ready. I look forward to reading your blog.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      WOW! Congrats on all of your exciting news lately!! What a fun time for you guys! Thank you so much for popping over from EoF! Have a wonderful weekend!

      ~Abby =)

  7. Hannah@SeeingtheLovely says:

    Thanks for the great tips, Abby! My husband and I are thinking about buying a home in the next year (super exciting!) but I will definitely keep these in mind, especially #1! I never want to get stuck with a house that is a burden to live in because we can’t afford it!

  8. The Tie Dyed and Tattooed Mom says:

    Thanks for sharing Abby. Definitely things I want to keep in mind when I get here and I definitely trust your teachings 🙂 Your home is looking better and better

  9. Completely agree, great information.

  10. Sell my house Corpus Christi says:

    Thanks for giving information. For Buying my home I don’t now where to start. Your blog really help me to start my process of buying my new home.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Yay! So glad it was helpful for you!

      ~Abby =)

  11. Richard Snyder says:

    Thanks for the Tips.

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