This week I launched our series So You Want to Sell your House, and it inspired me to pull together this related post about the two big mistakes we made buying our current home. I love my house. I often remark to my husband out of nowhere; "babe, I just love our house." I love the arched open doorways. I love our giant yard. I love the quirky late sixties midcentury modern style. I love the beautiful hardwood floors. I love the location. I love the amount of light our living room gets despite gloomy Vermont winters. I don't regret buying our house at all, but in hindsight, we made some huge mistakes when buying this house, mistakes big enough to be worth mentioning in hopes we can save someone else the same troubles.
1. We skimped on our inspector: When we bought our first home, we spent $2000 on our inspector. He spent hours walking us through every aspect of the house. He pointed out trouble spots the sellers would legally need to fix to sell the home to us. He went over every system in the house and what kind of maintenance it would need and how to do it ourselves. He gave us an idea of how many years the furnace and roof each had left before we would need to replace them. He then compiled all of this into an in-depth report, complete with color photos, that we could keep forever as a detailed homeowners manual.
When we bought our second home, we put too much stock in the fact that the building was up to city rental code, and we had too much faith in the homeowner, who appeared to take great pride in the work he had done on the house. The house seemed to be in much better shape than our first one, and we let our guard down and went with an inspector who was a friend of a friend who gave us a great "deal" and inspected the house for $250.
This inspection was handwritten, didn't involve us at all, and he reported no real issues with the house, with the exception of the deck needing refinishing, which I did last summer. When we received the report, a binder of carbon copies, we knew we weren't getting the same product as our first inspection, but we (overly) trusted the building codes and homeowner and proceeded with the sale. Now two years later, we are wading into over $15K of necessary improvements, many of which we weren't prepared for because the inspector didn't notice the issues. If we had been fully informed, we could have negotiated for a price adjustment or repairs before the sale, and at very least we would have been prepared for the work our home now needs.
You may be saying to yourself "but how could your awesome realtor let you make such a huge mistake?" And therein is our other big mistake:
2. We didn't use a realtor to buy our home. The house was for sale by owner, and if you as the buyer use a realtor to help you purchase a home that isn't listed via MLS, you have to pay them out of pocket, as opposed to buying a listed house where their fee is covered. In hindsight, it would have been 100% worth the money to have our real estate agent representing us in this transaction. We were overwhelmed by all the legwork we had to do, and the negotiations that were left to us and the homeowner. It was awkward because the homeowner was selling the family home that he had memories in and pride in having fixed up, so we didn't push at times when we probably should have; we needed a buffer. We got bogged down in months of legal issues with missing permits, and we had to sort all of that out with just our lawyer and the seller's lawyer. We ended up having to rent what was about to be our home while we waited for the sale, because the sale of our first home went as planned, and we needed somewhere to live. Buying a home is almost always stressful at some point, but it could have been a lot easier if we had contracted our realtor to help us with the sale. Even when a house is For Sale By Owner, it's still totally worth it to have a realtor represent you.
I hope this little PSA is helpful to you. When you're buying a house always get a good inspector, don't be overly trusting in your negotiations, and get yourself a great realtor!
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