9 Things to Look for When Buying Your First Home

By Josh Crank, September 20, 2018, Moving

The process of buying a home includes a tremendous amount of work, which makes sense, considering it’s the biggest investment most of us will ever make. This is especially true for first-time homebuyers, who often have a lot to learn about loan terms, property taxes, home inspections and dozens of other unfamiliar topics.

By the time you reach the point in the process when you can actually look at homes, there’s even more to think about. What’s really important? How can you compare two or more homes that you really love? But before you start shopping, there are some more basic questions to answer.

  • When looking for a new home, ask what you can afford and what really matters.
  • Look for features that could save or cost you money on energy, renovations and other long-term expenses.

What to Look for in Your First Home | Bounce Energy Blog

Questions to Ask Before Looking for Homes:

What can you afford? The mortgage payment is just one expense — you also must consider your down payment, closing costs, property taxes, homeowners insurance, renovations, repairs and other costs you never faced as a renter. Make a detailed budget to find out how much you can spend on housing, then work with a real estate professional or financial planner to figure out a responsible price range for your house hunt.

What matters to you? Think less about home features and more about your life — do you want to grow a family? Need a short commute to work? Close proximity to the city? Plans to start a home-based business? Use the answers to these larger questions to guide your house hunting among the homes in your price range. Once you find a home that fits your life, you can always remodel it into your dream home in time.

Features to Look for When Buying a Home

As you start dropping in on open houses and poring over online listings, resist the urge to swoon over simple aesthetics like paint colors, light fixtures and decorative hardware. You can make those sorts of upgrades yourself, often at a low cost. Instead, put more emphasis on the features that will help you save real money — and the shortcomings that could really cost you.

Here are some of the most important criteria when sizing up your prospective first home:

  1. Lot size. You can always add a room onto a house, but you can’t always add a few more square feet to the property. Consider whether the overall lot is large enough to allow your family to grow with the home.
  2. Windows. Old, single-pane windows don’t bode well for energy efficiency. On the other hand, multi-pane windows can help make a home more comfortable while saving money. Window upgrades can pay for themselves in time, but the upfront cost is usually significant.
  3. The roof. Roof replacement is another expensive but inevitable aspect of home ownership. A roof that’s in rough shape could cost you thousands in repairs shortly after signing the bill of sale.

    What to Look for in Your First Home | Bounce Energy Blog

  4. Signs of neglect. If you find your dream home at a price you can afford, feel free to not sweat the small stuff. But if you notice lots and lots of little problems — broken light switches, sticky doorknobs, loose floorboards — they may be clues that the entire home has seen some long-term neglect. In homes like these, the home inspection is especially important.
  5. The building envelope. In home design-speak, the “envelope” is the barrier between indoor and outdoor air. Breaches in the envelope are what we often call “drafts”, and they can be a major drag on a home’s energy efficiency. A small air leak here or there can be sealed without much trouble, but in older homes that have lots of air leaks, upgrading the building envelope may be a huge job.
  6. The HVAC system. No furnace or air conditioner is built to last forever. If they’re especially old or in noticeable disrepair when you buy your first home, you may soon be footing a big bill for their replacement.
  7. Major appliances. This usually shouldn’t be a dealbreaker, as appliances are usually easy (if pricey) to replace. But a home filled with new, energy-efficient appliances can be a big help when you’re adjusting to a new mortgage. They’ll last a while, and they’ll start saving you money right away.
  8. The number of bathrooms. Having too few bathrooms for the size of your family can make the morning rush feel impossible. But with all the plumbing work involved, it can be very expensive to add an additional bathroom to an existing home.
  9. The kitchen. This is another room where major renovations mean major expenses. If you’re a home cook who cares a lot about kitchen features, you may want to weigh them more heavily than other rooms that will be cheaper to upgrade.

When you first find a contender for your dream home, be sure to ask lots of questions and even ask to see documentation to verify things like the age of the HVAC system and appliances. But as you proceed, it’s vital that you eventually enlist the services of a reliable home inspector. Plan to tag along during the inspection so that the inspector can point out potential problems in detail.

If you’re about to shop for your first home, Bounce Energy wishes you the best beginner’s luck!

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