Q: Would you and John consider posting a home buying guide or list of tips for first time home buyers? We are out on the hunt for our first place and we’re looking for something that has potential, like your home, but maybe needs a little work and updating. I have read countless articles on things to look for, but I’d be really interested to read your opinion, because you’ve definitely found a great home and done a terrific job of taking it to it’s max potential! -Erin
A: Good question! One of the hardest things about finding the right house is that there’s no such thing as the perfect one. It’s all about picking the perfect house for you, so figuring out how you’ll use a home before you buy it is the challenge. Our biggest tip would be to sit down for hours, maybe even days and talk about what you’re looking for in a home. Not how you’d like to use it if you were a debutante, but how you’ll really use it on a day to day basis (for example, you might have lofty dreams of entertaining droves of people but you have to look deep inside and be certain that’s really how you’ll live before you snag the house with the giant formal dining room instead of the TV room that might get eons more use). In our case we opted for a house with two living areas (a living room and a den) so we knew we’d have space to spread out as our family grows.
You’ll also want to take things like your children or your pet’s habits into consideration (will you want a mud room to keep their things organized?) and your own lifestyle (will you want a computer counter in the kitchen with a chair and room for a laptop since you often cook and surf the web at the same time or is that an upgrade that you’d pay for and never use?). All these decisions can be easily organized in a must-have, and a would-be-nice-but-not-necessary list to guide you in your search. For example, these were some of the things on our must-have list:
- nice location/neighborhood
- good schools
- private backyard
- at least three bedrooms
- at least one and a half bathrooms
This was our would-be-nice list:
- wood floors
- a fireplace
- basement or attic storage
- front porch
- bay window
You can see from our list above that we didn’t have things like new granite counters and curb appeal on our list. This is because after a few long what-we-really-want chats we decided that we’d like a fixer upper that we could mold into the perfect house for us instead of paying for someone else’s upgrades that might not necessarily be our style. This allowed us to snag a house that was almost 25K less than our budget (so we had some money leftover to put into renovating our new house into our dream home). So if you’re looking to do the same thing, we’d suggest asking your realtor to show you homes that don’t have any obvious structural issues, but could use some cosmetic updating (this means that a bit of elbow grease and maybe a bathroom or kitchen redo will take the old clunker from ick to ooh-la-la).
You’ll definitely want to steer clear of homes that have more obvious issues (for example, a house that has sustained flood or fire damage can turn into a money pit once you inherit it and realize there’s a lot more to repair than initially met the eye). And of course getting a thorough inspection before you move in (which will allow you to withdraw your offer if the house is too much work) will help you uncover issues that may have alluded you otherwise). On the other end of the spectrum, you might know yourself well enough to be certain that you don’t want to deal with the headache and stress of a renovation at all, so an updated kitchen and new windows should probably be on your must-have list, so you’ll end up with something that wows you from day one.
Asking yourself how your house can work the hardest for you and your lifestyle before you buy can really make or break your choice. It’s the difference between purchasing a house that would be good for the joneses or good for you and your family. For example, maybe hardwood flooring and granite counters aren’t really your cup of tea, but you do laundry five days a week… choosing a house with a spacious laundry room might just be the thing that will have you thanking your lucky stars for years to come. We actually picked our house due to the lot that it was on. We loved the location and the schools (two extremely important things to consider when looking to buy) and the private backyard complete with 9′ privacy hedges and a half acre woods beyond ensured that we could enjoy a serene and secluded existence (and our future babies could play all day back there without worry).
We were hardly wooed by the house itself. After all, it looked like this…
But we could see beyond the bad wallpaper…
…and the green toilet and the empty rooms to see that it had good bones and a lot of our would-be-nice features and then some! It not only had a sunroom with three full walls of glass and gorgeous private views but it had two working fireplaces, basement and attic storage space, hardwood floors in about half of the house, and a sweet little front porch. So even though it also had terrible floral wallpaper, giant ceiling fans dwarfing almost every modestly sized room, and a whole host of other grievous features (have you seen the stove-microwave combo along with the faux-brick backsplash that we inherited?)…
…we knew that some paint and a save-for-it kitchen remodel would take our home from caterpillar to butterfly.
In thinking about how we live we also appreciated the abundance of common space in such a small footprint. Although our home is only 1350 square feet, it still has a back patio, a sunroom, a den, a living room, and a front porch for reading, relaxing and enjoying some downtime- which will really come in handy for our future kiddos who want places to play together (or hide from their annoying siblings). We also liked the layout with the bedrooms on one side of the house (which feels more private) and the more open living areas on the other side of the house. It just made sense when we walked through it, and although we made plenty of changes and it certainly didn’t have it all (we would have loved if our master bedroom was on the back of the house instead of the front), it’s still the perfect house for us.
Taking the time to write out the cons of a house that you’re thinking about purchasing can also be extremely eye-opening. For example, these are some cons that you should probably disregard because in under $100 and an afternoon, you can usually remedy them:
- the walls are bright pink/green/yellow etc
- there’s an ugly light fixture above the dining table or in the bathroom
- there’s hideous wallpaper with clowns/flowers/fruit on it
- there’s ugly furniture or clutter on every surface
By contrast, these are a few cons that might take a substantial investment on your part to rectify, which might be just fine with you if you’re going into the process looking to redo things, but if you don’t have money leftover for renovations you’ll probably want to avoid these cons:
- the bedrooms are far apart (not on the same floor, etc) and you’d like them together
- the kitchen is a lot smaller than you’d like
- there’s not enough room for your existing furniture
- there’s hideous flooring throughout the home that needs to be replaced
- the aren’t enough bedrooms, bathrooms, or living spaces
Keeping the cons in mind as well as the pros should really help you evaluate whether you’ve found a nice house for someone else, or a nice house for you!
And here’s an after-you-move bonus tip: we would suggest waiting a bit to take on any major restructuring right after you buy your home, just to give yourself time to settle in and be sure that you’ll really use that dining room turned library or that you truly want to sacrifice the family room for a bigger kitchen. Chances are that your initial instincts were right on track, but we actually didn’t think about widening doorways for about 6 months, so if we started our kitchen reno as soon as we moved in, it wouldn’t be half as open and airy as it is today. John and I intentionally lived with our house as is (we just painted, but didn’t make any structural or layout changes) for almost a year until we were confident that we wanted a bedroom more than a formal dining room (you can read more about how we majorly restructured our home’s layout to work for us) and we were certain about what we wanted (and didn’t need) in our new kitchen. Hope it helps! Happy house hunting…
heather s. says
One of the things I always laugh at when watching HGTV is that people pay too much attention to the furniture in the house rather than the house itself. The furniture isn’t going to stay but the countertops/flooring/layout/etc. *are* so pay attention to the home more than the goods that are filling it.
One of my good friends bought a house mainly on how it was decorated and the wall colors but when she moved into the house she was oddly shocked that there were holes in the walls from the pictures that needed to be filled (and no paint to fix the holes!) and her furniture didn’t look the same in the house.
I say definitely have a list of things you want/need/would like but when you actually walk through the house pay close attention to the HOUSE not the decor/furniture/wall colors.
I was just thinking this morning (after hearing more a friends recent plumbing nightmares on their new house) that there isn’t a good place to go to for what first-time home buyers should look for in a good house inspector. The problems my friends are experiencing should have been caught by the inspector. Do you have an advice on the home inspection process? Maybe worth a separate post?
Christin M says
I look forward to reading your blog everyday! Great post with some very useful information to keep in mind when my husband and I look for our first place to own. Thanks for sharing.
I bought my house when it was vacant. This should not be a big deal right? At least you are not making a decision based on someone else’s furnishing. However, it is a small house, and the front door opens directly into the living room…which also has a fireplace, entry to the dining room, and another door. Furniture placement has been insanely difficult, and I have normal (not oversize) furniture.
Also, you really need to look deep within your soul and evaluate if you are going to be ok with renovations. Even if you know you are not a DIY-er and do not intend to lift a finger yourself, you are going to have to locate, hire and supervise everything that is done. This was probably my biggest mistake… knowing that most of the problems were cosmetic but not getting my head around the time and hassle of doing something about it.
Don’t let yourself in for more maintenance and renovation than you want AND have time for. Sounds obvious, but a cool yard can be a pain in the butt if you’re just not into yard work.
Don’t start with stipulating number of bedrooms, square feet, etc. First make a list of the things you want to do in your house: entertain inside, entertain outside, cook, sleep (for each person, but don’t say bedroom yet), watch movies on a giant home theater, rehearse your band, do woodworking projects, host overnight guests often, grow orchids, etc. Express “the art of living” as you would love it. Only then, consider the kinds of rooms you need, how many, how should they be connected and flow with each other.
Get as much easily accessible storage space as you can afford.
Kristi W. says
I wanted to throw in my two cents for Erin. When we started looking for our first home, we were also looking for a fixer-upper. We saw some pretty nasty places that would have been a ton of work (which we thought would be fine since we are young, eager, and willing to work hard). However, we ended up buying a place that was move-in ready and we *thought* only needed a few minor changes and projects. What we’ve learned so far is that almost every project is more work than we anticipate. And almost every project takes longer than we planned. It takes patience and perseverance for sure. It’s ok since we love our house and love working on it, but we often think about how lucky we are that we didn’t buy one of the really rough houses we looked at earlier. We had never done a home remodel before, and so we didn’t know what was in our skill range, realistically. Plus we’re newlyweds who work full time and also go to grad school, so it would be tough to fit all the house projects in our already-busy schedule. We would have been in way over our heads in one of the other houses (that needed serious renovating).
But our house is a perfect in-between. We are still adding value to our house by finishing the basement (and probably adding another bathroom), and also adding to its aesthetic appeal with cosmetic changes and decorating. So my advice to Erin is to really think about what kind of improvements they can do themselves, how much it will cost, how long it will take, and make a realistic time frame and schedule for it. Good luck with house shopping, Erin!
Great advice! I second your thought on settling into the house a while before making any changes. We tried to get our entire 1200 square foot condo painted and recarpeted (in 2 rooms) in a week, and made some serious missteps. Nothing that a new coat of paint wouldn’t fix, but it’s taken nearly 3 years for us to get to the point that we could identify the flaws we could live with and the ones worth some investment to fix.
Another tip — walk around your new neighborhood at night before you buy. This is especially important to city dwellers, but the last thing you want is to move into a new home and feel uncomfortable running errands at night.
Jenny @ Words On Wendhurst says
Great post with lots of good tips. We did the same thing, made a must-have list and stuck to it, looking beyond cosmetic imperfections. And boy did our house have a lot of them.
Question about your kitchen: I think I remember an old post about the brick backsplash being actual brick, and Sherry having to chip it off. What was the best way you found to remove that stuff? Our bathroom is covered in semi faux brick, and someday we are gonna have to remove all of that when we remodel.
It was actually a brick facade backsplash (thin brick fronts were attached with grout and thinset like tiles so it was a major headache to chip off). Removing them created a completely uneven, holey surface, so skim coating the marred wall until it looked smooth again was definitely a necessity. It wouldn’t be a bad project to hire a handyman to help out with if you don’t have any prior experience since wonky walls really take away from the polish of a renovated space (maybe you can do the demo but bring in an expert to apply smooth and even skim coating?). Hope it helps!
City Chic - Jamie says
This is great advice! One mistake I felt I made in buying my first home was not thinking about resale. In my case, I knew I would only be in the home about 3 years and I was a single person. So for me a one + bedroom home with no garage was no problem. However, I have since gotten married and we purchased a home together (considering many of the things on your list) and now are stuck with my old house. Luckily we have been able to rent it out, but I never dreamt how hard it would be to sell it. The market is tough and it’s hard to compete with the larger homes that are abundantly available. So lesson learned, if you don’t plan to be in a home long-term, think about how the resale will be and don’t pick it just based on your present criteria.
Great post. My husband and I bought a house last April that was “move in ready” and, indeed, all we did upfront was change the paint color in the guest room and install some window treatments. Now, a year later, we’re repainting the common living areas and have sold our old furniture to justify buying some new things better-suited for the style of our 1940’s colonial (we came from a modern, airy condo with huge rooms and big ceilings). We also did some cosmetic work in the master bedroom and are about to change the configuration of our yard (more grass, fewer bushes). I can’t stress enough about WAITING — a lot of our ideas came to us over time, and now that we’re implementing these plans we’re thrilled with the results. Figure out how you’ll actually use the space BEFORE you change it up!
Well written. When I bought my house, I forced myself to look beyond the cosmetic stuff (pink carpets throughout the house, dining room with wood paneling, wallpaper with hearts and cows, bright pink bathroom)and focus on the house’s potential. The minute I walked into the kitchen with the lineoleum floor and wallpaper with hearts and cows, I knew I found the house for me. It had good bones and didn’t need any major work. With a bit of paint and elbow grease, we turned our house into a home. Also we’re in a great neighborhood on a dead end street, which meant minimal traffic.
I agree that making a list of what’s important (including what you can and cannot live with) and researching the neighborhood are key!
GREAT advice! We approached our house hunting in a very similar way. The big benefit that we noticed is that you can move through houses quickly when searching. If you have a clear set of must haves, you can quickly move on the next house if your realtor shows you something that doesn’t work. We walked in and out of some houses in a blink of an eye because we just knew the space wouldn’t work but that gave us time to spend in houses that did have potential.
I’d also suggest printing out the info sheets on each out (or have your realtor do it) and take copious notes of each house with potential. If you see more than a few houses in one afternoon, things can get blurred together. This will help in your pros/cons list and when deciding which house to revisit.
Good luck with the search!
Nicole B. says
Great post! We are currently selling and haven’t had much feed back. What we have gotten is mostly cosmetic and stuff we aren’t willing to replace currently (like our carpeting which is covering some great wood floor that needs some serious refinishing) but would be willing to negoitate about. Also, we live in the city so some complaints have been about the city-ness of it…. really make sure that you are looking in the right area for you!
We always look for things that we need vs. want and we have a list of things we can give up with out hesitation. We have figured that SPACE is more important than how the house is finished.
PERFECT timing for this article! My fiance and I are looking for our first house. We looked at some places on Sunday that we thought would be nice and needed just a “little” work. Needless to say, they all were ones I didn’t need to go farther than the living room to know they weren’t the ones for us. UGLY is one thing, damaged and destroyed is another!
What great advice! I agree with B also, it would be nice to se the neighbourhood you are moving to trough your own eyes. those real estate agents have a tendency to put a bit extra icing on the cake.. lol
Those are some great tips! Thanks, youngsters :)
A note on the home inspection: Make sure you are there!!
My husband and I walked around with our home inspector for 3.5 hours and it was the best decision we ever made! It is our first house and neither of us are particularly handy (yet!!!) so we were able to learn things about our home that we never would have known to ask about. John (our inspector) was really great about explaining how to maintain/repair different parts of our home as we went; showing us where things like the water shut-off valve were. DH even went under the house with John and John showed him what types of problems to look for. It felt like “House Owning 101”! The best part is the 25pg report he gave us with pictures and descriptions of all of the house’s problems and recommendations for repair – we are slowly working through the list!
You hit it right on the mark with your suggestions. Keep up the good work.
Great advice. A house is such a personal thing, and thinking long and hard about how you will use the space and about what your parameters are for renovation is really essential. For example, lots of people like open floor plans and the greta room concept. For us, though we both need our own offices (both of us work from home a lot) and we like to be able to separate noisy from quiet things (I have really sharp hearing so the tv room needs to be far away from both my office and the bedroom). We also like having a tv room as opposed to the tv in the living room, so when we were looking for our house, a room for the tv was also a must. Knowing how you live and use space is very very important.
Also agree on living with the house for a while before making changes. Your perception of space and its use changes as it becomes yours and you will make better decisions over time. While we came in and stripped hideous wall paper and painted right away, we let ourselves get used to the house as our house and did larger projects a few years down the line.
Finally, do be honest about yourself and renovations. They are messy and chaotic and if you don’t do that well, you need to plan for managing that. For example, I can only deal with shear chaos in one space/room at a time–anymore than that is overload for me. So big projects need to be planned carefully so that I can have the rest of the space be in control. For a long time, I really beat myself up for being so unable to adjust to chaos; now I accept it and I am far better able to manage the process of renovation.
We are closing on our first home later this month and are thrilled. One thing we learned to do was to confirm which schools our future children will be doing, we found that the listings were sometimes out of date and they would have ended up in no-so-great schools. Even though we don’t have children yet, we know that schools make a big difference in resale value.
One question, can you recommend a site, a book or do an entry on basic maintainance for new homeowners? I am scared to death we are going to forget/no know to do something basic that will cause us big problems in the future. I would love a general schedule– replace filters every three months, do x to hardfloors once a year, etc.
Good question! We don’t actually know of a site or book with that info offhand, but perhaps our readers can chime in with recommendations? Also I’m sure a trip to Barnes & Noble will produce tons of options just by flipping through a few books until you find an easy homeowner’s manual with basic maintenance reminders. Hope it helps!
Thanks for such great, uncomplicated advice.
I am still a few years away from buying my first home but I still like to read up about it as much as I can :) I feel like – in general – the amount of advice on home-selling (both on tv and the internet) exceeds the amount of info on home-buying… so thanks for some great ideas!
I especially liked your tip on putting down your needs / wants, etc. in writing. I think this one tip would be especially beneficial to me. I usually have a pretty good idea in my head about what I want, but I can sometimes be swayed away by glittering baubles (fashion over function and all that!). So it will be especially important for me to write down exactly what I need / want so that I have a concrete plan when I finally take the plunge; and every time I find myself swaying – I only have to look at my list again to re-affirm. If its just in my head, I might overlook it by deeming it unimportant in light of pretty, but function-less feature.
Jen Z. says
This is a great post!
We bought our house 2 years ago. We saw the potential or should I say my husband saw the potential at the time (I really liked another house). But in the end, this house had the potential we were looking for. We are in the middle of remodeling our Den, we also have a Great Room. This was important to both of us because we have large families. But it’s a long road and a road that we are still going down. It’s our Home now….well almost our home. I still have some of the previous owners taste to get rid of. One day it will happen. Be prepared for all of this before you buy that fixer upper. If you aren’t handy and don’t have the extra money to pay someone to do it for you, it will be a very long road. We have finishing touches to put on every room, but we are almost done. ;-)
Thank you for answering my question! You brought up some really great points- and it could not have come at a better time because we’re really narrowing our search and getting ready to put in an offer. Thanks for all the advice!!
And just one comment to dcfullest- who asked about a schedule of homeowner’s to-do lists: my husband scoured our local library and after reading a few and picking his favorite reference- he’ll be ordering a copy from Amazon. Can’t remember the title- but maybe looking in the library will help you too. My personal choice (although sure it’s a little over-the-top with the perfectionist type stuff) is Martha Stewart’s book called Homekeeping- a good guide to learning to clean/organize a home and keep everything ship shape.
When I was looking for homes, I was looking for potential and the quality of the house. I must have went through about 25 houses that were way over priced! I will say, I didn’t want a house that had brand new stuff. I wanted to put my own touches on it.
Sierra Nething says
My hubby and I finally bought our house and close escrow just over 2 weeks ago. We searched for our house for 10 months. We made 14 offers on different houses and kept getting overbid. We were even offering more than the cost of the house! Southern California real estate is insane right now. We ended up getting a house that is a HUGE fixer upper. We thought it was mostly cosmetic, but turns out there is quite a bit of structural damage as well. 3 hours after we got the house, my hubby noticed a leak behind the bathroom sink and tried to tighten something to fix it. Well, something snapped and water started shooting out of the wall for a good 5 minutes straight. It took everyone about 5 minutes to find the main water line turn off valve which ended up being broken, so then we had to find the plan B turn off valve in the street. By the time the water finally got turned off, half my house was flooded. We had to immediately rip out carpet, carpet pad, tack strip, and baseboards, soak up all the water, and put fans on for 2 days straight to avoid water damage. So much for a little cosmetic fixer upper. Get an inspection and immediately fix everything they tell you. It could save your house from a major disaster. Now that the flood drama is gone, we are doing all our fun renovations. replacing light fixtures, painting, re-flooring, yard work, electrical work, adding recessed lighting, knocking out uly built in 80’s style entertainments center, etc… It’s a lot of work, but we couldn’t be happier because it’s ours. Just plan of spending double the amount of time and money that you think it’s going to cost you, because every project you do leads to another project. Happy house hunting!
Oh my, Sierra – what a story! So sorry to hear about your flood, but I’m glad you’ve moved past it to your fun renovations now. Your advice that projects take more time and money than originally planned is a tip we’re very fond of passing along, so thanks for reminding everyone!
Kim Hannemann says
Sherry, you did a really good deed today by posting a down-to-earth guide for first-time or any-time home buyers. You did a second good deed without knowing it when you mentioned almost in passing about using a Realtor – your best resource for not only finding a home, which is relatively “easy,” but navigating the purchase and everything that goes with it. I have a coterie of inspectors, mortgage professionals, contractors and others who have done my clients a whole world of good, and my knowledge and experience trumps anything one thinks one can learn on the Internet.
Here are a couple of my favorite Books/Manuals –
Cheap and good: Readers’ Digest New Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual http://www.amazon.com/New-Complete-Do-Yourself-Manual/dp/0895773783
Funny as hell if you can find it: Dave Barry’s The Taming of the Screw (illustrated by Jerry O’Brien) http://www.amazon.com/Taming-Screw-Dave-Barry/dp/0878574840/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1246463443&sr=1-8
If your readers would like a good agent in the Northern Virginia area, let me know! ;-)
You guys seriously rock the roll with advice. You should have your own website or something. :) Loved this! So very helpful as we get ready to look for our next house after having outgrown this one with expecting #4. Thanks for the awesome tips and encouragement! Good stuff.
My husband and I received the Better Homes and Gardens “Big Book of Home How-To” as a housewarming/wedding gift and it’s quite the lifesaver. Sometimes we have to google a project to get a bit more detail, but for day in and day out home fixes, this book is key. And its HUGE. :)
GREAT advice article! Very well written with good tips and considerations! I do have a question – in your kitchen, was that a stove top fan over the counters????? If so, I’m sure that was VERY interesting (shocking) to see when you first visited the home. LOL
Take care – Teesha ;-)
Yep that was a combo over/stovetop + vent + microwave. All in a glorious puke green color. The microwave was so ancient that you had to turn a dial to set the time, which was then counted-down using one of those old-timey flip clocks. We knew it was getting replaced ASAP!
All of your advice, as usual, is spot on. The only thing I would add (and to second Kim Hannemann above) is to find a realtor you trust and feel comfortable with who is also familiar inside and out with the area(s) you’re interested in. (And I’m not a realtor myself, nor am I being paid by any Realtor-y people to plug them:).) We’ve bought and sold three houses thus far in a seven year marriage (I know! Yikes!) and this last time, we lucked into the best realtor I’ve come across yet.
She really got to know us and our wants/needs and did SO MUCH legwork for us (after, of course, we presented her with our must-have/would-be-nice list). She also recommended an inspector who was phenomenal, people who refinished our floors much cheaper than other options, and got us in touch with people for lighting and electrical needs, among other things. She worked so hard for us and made the home-buying process a breeze. I wish everyone could find a realtor like her and have a similar experience!
Beth @ 321home says
The list is a big thing, definitely. Unfortunately, I didn’t really know what should have been on my list until AFTER we’d bought our first house. How could I have known beforehand that I’d want___ or wish the ___ was bigger, etc.? We’re now in our third house, and I lo-ove it. It took 6 months for me to find something I loved. My husband was like, “find something already” but I figured I’d rather be in an apt. I didn’t like for a few more months than in a house for years that I didn’t like.
But here’s my scoop on the list. I had my list with my “must haves” my “would be nice” and my “make sure the house doesn’t have ___.” Then we found two houses that were almost identical. The first one had one more room than the other – right between the garage and living room/kitchen that would have made it the perfect office/dump-all-your-stuff-when-you-get-home-and-close-it-off-to-the-world-and- no-one’s-the-wiser space. That was what I was looking for, that extra room. The other house didn’t have that, but due to that missing room, had a TON more light coming in. We went home that night and wrote our pro and con list for each house. The first house had the longer pro list, but, for me, the light was a STRONGER pro. I decided I’d sacrifice the space and take more light. That was over five years ago, and I have NEVER regretted my decision. So make your list, but you may not necessarily go with the one with the most pros, but the one with the strongest pros.
That’s my 2 cents. :-)
Visit the house at different times of the day and on weekend and week days.
So if you are close to a school you can see what it’s like when school’s out and parents and buses are carting kids away.
If you are on a busy street or near the highway, visit during rush hour.
Also, ask to see the current utility bills. I wished I had done that.
We just bought our first house. We did the same thing you did with a list of must haves & would like to haves.
We looked at over 60 houses (had 2 deals fall through) and ended up with our dream house — a 1961 ranch.
I will say that fixing flooring you don’t like is a project, but well worth it. We invested in hardwood flooring for then entire home and saved a ton of money by installing it ourselves (with the help of a very handy dad!)
Being able to see beyond blue shag carpeting, blue curtains and blue paint helped us to obtain our dream home for a fraction of the price of others in the neighborhood!
Sherry mentioned layout was important to them, which is hard to alter (unlike paint or ugly light fixtures). Another thing to consider is light. We knew we wanted lots of natural light, which can be hard to add.
I definitely second the rec to wait a while before making big changes. We didn’t have money to start renovating when we first moved in, and a year later I’m glad we didn’t b/c our ideas have changed drastically since then.
Once you do start big projects, make sure to enjoy even the small spots you’ve already fixed up. It makes the whole process a little less overwhelming.
One more tip – take your time. We spent 9+ months and countless hours looking for a place to buy, which was frustrating. But, we’re glad we didn’t buy the first place we liked, since we realize now it would have been a bad fit. Good luck!
Thought I’d throw in my two cents, since my boyfriend and I have just bought our first house (we officially close in two weeks). We were looking for something similar: a house that we can put our own stamp on and add value to, but not a dump. We managed to find a great little house with good bones but lots of opportunity for updating, and it is actually in the same neighbourhood that we were living in already. My advice is to know what you’re looking for (we talked A LOT together about what we wanted in a house), yet remain open minded. Try to find something that has been reasonably well-maintained and cared for with good bones, so you can spend your time and money on the fun stuff. Look past aesthetic stuff that can easily be updated, like ugly wallpaper or light fixtures. And finally, location is important, because that is one thing that can’t be changed.
You can follow our house-buying/renovation adventures on my blog: http://ournewnest.wordpress.com/
Great question, great post, and lots of great tips on here! I definitely agree that thinking and talking about what you need and what from a house is paramount – know what you can compromise on, and what you just can’t live without (or with!). And location is a big one as well. I just wrote a post on some tips for first time home buyers , which you can check out on my blog.
Everyone has great tips, so I’ll only add this. Often times, with all the HGTV shows, Decor Blogs, Pottery Barn magazines and our friends even seeing how we’ve been able to do all our own home improvements, they go into house hunting thinking they can buy a fixer upper and *just* do it themselves as well. The truth is it’s a lot different once you’re faced with it so pick a house that is GOOD as is. Don’t walk into it thinking OH we can do this and this and this. Painting is one thing. A kitchen reno (which we’re doing now on our own) is a whole other animal. In addition, we have a full time job (plus commuting), so it doesn’t happen over night. We were without a kitchen sink for weeks!
I second, a good inspector. We had a really good one recommended by a friend. He poked and prodded everything. Don’t skip the appraisal either.
Also, don’t get pressured into buying a house you can’t comfortably afford. My friends had no clue about insurance, the way interest is accounted for on the mortgage, real estate taxes (we live in one of the highest tax states). Whatever that number is in the end, remember that your raise may be 3% a year, but your real estate taxes can and WILL only go up.
Love the chandelier make over! Quick question. I plan on doing this with my chanelier, however painting it black. The socket covers are currently beige. I have looked everyone for black ones but can’t find them. Do you think I could spray paint the current ones black as well cause it might looks funny with the clear round bulbs. What do you think? Thanks!
Yup, as long as you’re careful not to get spraypaint into the part where the bulb connects to the chandy, spraying the socket covers should work (and look great). Hope it helps!
Love your blog! We are young newlyweds who recently purchased our own fixer-upper. I love the design and color palette of your house. Our house came with darker brown stained trim and doors in rough shape (from wall paint to nicks and dents) and I’m in the process of painting it white for a lighter, less dated look. Problem is, sometimes it is flush against the wall, and in other areas the trim leaves a slight gap creating ugly paint lines. How did you undertake your trim projects? Is it just better to replace? I’ve used tape, smaller brushes, etc. Help!
We’re all about using whatcha got so don’t rush to replace that trim. You can save it! In your case we’d suggest getting the wall paint color and smooshing it into all those gaps with an angled brush (without worrying about getting it on the trim. Then let that dry and go over the trim with this fabulous brush. You’ll get a clean and crisp result every time. Hope it helps!
Your blog was recommended to me by a friend in the Richmond area, as my boyfriend and I are in the process of buying our first house (the inspection is today!). I just wanted to say thanks for all the great tips so far. The house we are buying (as long as everything goes through) has had all major updates done, and your site makes me excited to spend time on all the fun stuff with decor. We will also be putting in a new patio, so I’ll be back for sure. Thanks!
Andrew W says
My wife and I took this process to an effective, hilarious level. We made a spreadsheet of every characteristic a house could have, and then, separately, we ranked each characteristic. With those ranks, we could match up everything we agreed was important and discuss everything we didn’t see eye-to-eye on.
It turned out we were already in 95% agreement. But the best benefit turned out to be having a document we could refer to as we look at houses, making sure we focused on what was essential in a house rather than getting distracted by something exciting but not a priority.