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  • Writer's pictureCarly Hanson

6 Things I Learned as a First-Year Homeowner

No matter how much research you do about buying your first home, it's hard to truly know what to expect once you work up the courage - and funds - to follow through. With the one-year mark of homeownership behind me, I've learned a lot. Good and bad. Here are my biggest takeaways for those who might be stuck:

1. If you think your move-in budget is enough, think again.

My intention here is to sound more realistic than pessimistic. People certainly warned me about all the additional costs that come with buying a home, but it turned out to be more than I expected. Whether those costs come from the actual home-buying process (appraisal, inspection, closing costs, home warranty, etc.) or things you need once you move in (furniture, technology, dishes, cleaning supplies, etc.), you'll be watching your bank account slim down dramatically in a short period of time.

I personally set aside enough money for my down payment, plus about an extra $9,000. If I could do it over again, I'd probably bump that number to $11,000 or more so I would've had a thicker cushion of savings left over. Of course, everyone's budget will vary depending on location, house cost, potential repairs, and a slew of other factors. No matter what yours is, it can't hurt to wait a little longer and save a little more, because once you buy, you can't go back.

2. You might have less free time.

Sometimes my boyfriend and I reminisce about a simpler time when he rented an apartment and I lived with my dad a few minutes down the road. We would wake up late at his place on the weekends, watch our favorite shows, order food, talk for hours, go out with friends and get the picture. While we love living together in my house now (with two dogs, I might add), there's inevitably less time for fun and relaxation for several reasons:

  • There's always - and I mean always - cleaning to do (nothing new for some people, but transitioning from an apartment to a house certainly makes a difference).

  • Depending on the elements in your front and backyard (rock, grass, trees, plants, pool), there may be constant maintenance. When I bought my house I had not one, not two, but three palo verde trees on my property, which shed tiny leaves and needles incessantly.

  • We cook more; there's more room for it and it's a great way to save money to put back into the house or pay the mortgage off early, but it does occupy a sizable chunk of the day - followed by even more cleaning. Yay!

  • We do home-improvement projects that we would never invest in (and might not be allowed to do) if we were renting. While those projects can be very exciting, they're also a time suck.

3. You'll always be renovating or redecorating.

Some people are more interested in home improvement and decor than others - I definitely belong to the interested group. However, I also belong to the be-sensible-with-your-money group, which means I don't move forward unless the funds are in my bank account already.

Sure, it'd be great to update the house all at once, but it would also require a large loan I'm not willing to take out; the inevitable result is some elements of the house are going to be updated years after others. I haven't even come close to putting my own twist on each element, and I'm already spotting things I did a year ago I'd like to tweak. For example, I furnished and decorated my guest room this month after it sat practically empty for a year. Between my itch to buy decor and my mom, a fabulous interior designer, assisting me on the shopping trip, we created a beautiful guest room. I was so happy with it that I wondered what I could do to zhoosh the master bedroom, but then my sensible-with-money self figuratively bopped me on the head.

Especially for people as particular as me, it's a never-ending cycle of decorating and re-decorating. However, I still wouldn't change it for a couple of reasons: One, I'd rather accommodate my bank account than my love of new, shiny things. Two, do-it-yourself projects can be a rich source of fun memories with loved ones, like the shopping trip I took with my mom to get this room done.

4. Your house envy might kick in.

When I lived with my parents, I never found myself thinking, I'm so jealous of those countertops, or I wish my bathroom were that big. I've never been the type of person to compare my life or possessions to someone else's, but I found myself having these thoughts once I was settled in a home of my own - probably because I felt it was a reflection of me. Now that I've had time to think about how ridiculous those concerns were, my advice is: If someone's newly renovated mansion on a mountaintop makes you feel inadequate about your three-bedroom house built in the '70s, remind yourself that you've taken a massive step forward in responsibility and financial independence. It's time to be immensely proud of yourself, and there's no need to compare your home journey to anyone else's. Plus, some people who look like they have it all might be swimming in debt to maintain that image. You never know.

If those thoughts ever claw their way into my head these days, I immediately think of the things I love about my house. I turn that house envy into house pride, and it really helps.

5. Mortgages suck, but not as much as rent.

I'm happy to say I've never given a single cent of my money to a landlord. I lived with my dad through college, then socked away enough savings for a down payment during my first year working full-time. I was lucky enough to have a parent who didn't charge me rent in my adult life because he understood the value in what I was working toward. Now, there were absolutely times when I was tempted to throw my plan out the window and rent an apartment because it just seemed easier. It would've meant less square footage to take care of and a smaller commitment in general for my busy life. Most people, including my parents, reminded me that I had a straightforward opportunity to buy a house, and I'd never be able to get it back. If I had made the move into an apartment, it would've been immensely harder to buy a house one day because I would've needed to save up money in addition to paying rent and all my other bills.

Sure, it stings a little each time my mortgage payment comes out of my bank account, but it's also gratifying because I'm always one step closer to owning my house. Everyone has to pay to live, whether it's a mortgage or rent. The only difference is one of them helps your financial situation, and the other helps your landlord's.

6. The pros easily outweigh the cons (at least for me).

You might be looking over the points from this post thinking, um, no they don't, but it's true. The first four takeaways can be a bit of a drag overall, but owning property is worth it, and then some. Saving up money for years, sweating through home improvements, shelling out cash for unexpected repairs - it's all worthwhile because you'll have a place you can call your own; a place that'll be a serious source of financial independence as the years go on.

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