You’re excited because you just found the perfect home. The neighborhood is great, the house is charming and the price is right.
But if you’re a first-time home buyer, you might find out that the price is pretty far from perfect.
If you’re shopping for your first home, prepare for additional — and often unexpected — home-buying costs. They catch many home buyers unaware and can quickly leave you underwater on your new home.
Expect the unexpected
For almost every person who buys a home, the spending doesn’t stop with the down payment. Homeowners insurance and closing costs, like appraisal and lender fees, are typically easy to plan for because they’re lumped into the home-buying process, but most costs beyond those vary.
The previous owners of your home are the biggest factor affecting your move-in costs. If they take the refrigerator when they move out, you’ll have to buy one to replace it. The same goes for any large appliance.
And while these may seem like a small purchase compared to buying a home, appliances quickly add up — especially if you just spent most of your cash on a down payment.
You’ll also be on the hook for any immediate improvements the home needs, unless you negotiate them as part of your home purchase agreement.
Unfortunately, these costs are the least hidden of those you may encounter.
When purchasing a home, definitely hire a home inspector (this costs money too!) to ensure the home isn’t going to collapse the next time it rains. Inspectors look for bad electrical wiring, weak foundations, wood rot and other hidden problems you may not find on your own.
Worse still, these problems are rarely covered by home insurance. If an inspector discovers a serious problem, you’ll then have to decide if you still want to purchase the home. Either way, you’ll be out the cost of hiring the inspector.
Consider the creature comforts
Another cost is your own comfort. It’s easy to not think fully about what you’re expecting from your new home until after you move in.
Are you used to having cable? If so, is your new home wired for cable? It’s much harder to watch a technician crawling around punching holes in your walls when you own those walls.
And if you’re moving from the world of renting to the world of homeownership, you’ll probably be faced with much higher utility bills. Further, you could find yourself paying for utilities once covered by a landlord, like water and garbage pickup.
The only ways to face the unknown and unexpected are research and planning. This starts with budgeting both before house hunting and throughout your search.
Look at homes in your budget that need improvements, and then research how much those improvements could cost. Nothing is worse than buying a home thinking you can fix the yard for a few hundred dollars and then realizing it will cost thousands.
There’s really no limit to how prepared you can be. Say you find a nice home that’s priced lower than others in the area because of its age. You may save money on the list price, but with an older house, you could be slapped with a much higher home insurance payment, making the house more expensive in the long run.
This is where preparation comes in. Research home insurance and property prices in the areas you’re considering to make more educated decisions before you ever make that first offer.
Clearly define how much you intend to put toward your down payment, and then look at how much cash that leaves for improvements and minor costs, like changing the locks. That way, when you find a house at the high end of your range, you’ll know to walk away if it requires a new washer and dryer or HVAC system upgrade.
Establish a rough estimate for as many costs as you can think of, and be extremely critical of homes at the top of your budget — otherwise, you could easily end up being house poor.
Know your budget and plan ahead. Buying a home is a lot less scary when you know what you’re getting into.