First-Time Homebuyer? 9 Tips From Homeowners Who’ve Seen It All

Buying a home can be a source of new excitement in your life—but it can also be the source of a bunch of new problems. Once you’ve made it through the whole house-hunting process and closed on a home, there’s still plenty to think about, from considering home renovations, to hiring contractors, to dealing with moving expenses. And of course, while you’re handling all of this, you’re still paying your new mortgage every month.

If you feel like you’re the only one performing this juggling act, rest assured that you’re not alone. Last year, a total of 5.45 million homes were sold—it was actually the best sales the housing market has seen since 2006. And 35% of those homes were purchased by first-time homebuyers.

For those looking to buy a house this year, we’ve put together a list of tried-and-true advice from homeowners who’ve already been there. Whether it’s a mysterious closet, untrustworthy movers, or a fuse box that belongs in a museum rather than a house, you might encounter a few twists and turns on the road to making your new house a home. No matter what disaster awaits you, no matter what you find in your new basement, these homeowners have seen it all, and are sharing their experiences so that you might avoid a few pitfalls—or at the very least commiserate.

When it comes to home renovations, expect the unexpected

“Home improvement projects cost twice as much as you think. When we bought our home, it turned out that we had a bathroom that drained not to the city sewer system, but to the backyard. It was added on to the house, and the only reason we found out is because we pulled up the kitchen floor. So, yeah, you never know what you’re going to find. No dead bodies, no stashes of drugs, but…ugh.”

—Jennifer Greenspan, Boston, MA

Recommended: Use this Home Improvement Cost Calculator to get an idea on how much your next renovation project will cost.

“Old houses are more work than you could possibly imagine. Our house was built in 1860, and we had a guy come to replace the electrical. He actually took away our fuse box and brought it to a museum, one they had for the electric company. It’s amazing the place didn’t burn down.”

—David Salmonson, Philadelphia, PA

“If something looks out of place in your house, there’s a reason and it’s never a good one. Usually it’s hiding a structural flaw, or it’s covering up a water stain that you can’t fix. Maybe it’s where the floor was cut away to do some construction project and they couldn’t find matching wood, that type of thing. So be wary of weird closets.”

—Emily Meza, Tallahassee, FL

Related: Want to figure out the value your next project will bring to your home? Check out SoFi’s Home Project Value Estimator.

Make sure you can actually pay the costs

“For the year before you want to buy a house, set aside the mortgage payment every month to see if you can do it, because you need to have your mortgage savings. Separate it out from any other savings you might have. You need to know you’ll be able to pay the mortgage no matter what.”

—Wendy Donahue, Washington D.C.

“Make sure you find out the utility costs of your house when planning your budget. I live in Georgia, so my electric bill goes up and down like crazy because of the summer heat—about a $100 swing between December and July. Knowing the normal utility costs will help you make sure you can pay those bills.”

—Erin Fuhrman, Atlanta, GA

Work with people you can trust

“With movers, do your research on who you’re hiring, because national firms can subcontract out and you may not get what you think you’re getting. My brother once had to sue for this—his movers actually took his stuff and wouldn’t give it back. They wanted more money. Check Better Business Bureau movers [before hiring]. Make sure you’re hiring someone who will do the job, and won’t just take your stuff.”

—George O’Malley, Boise, ID

“It’s more important to have a good mortgage with people you trust than what looks like a good mortgage where the fine print comes back to bite you.”

—Neil Silverman, Denver, CO

“When it comes to contractors, your realtor can be a huge help. Get them to recommend a contractor, so [the contractor will] actually do what they said they’ll do. If your contractor isn’t responding, tell your realtor to give them a call and say, ‘Hey, look, it’s not just your name on the line, it’s mine. So I’ll have to stop recommending you in the future.’ That can make a huge difference for when your contractor disappears.”

—Wednesday Meza, Chicago, IL

“Make sure to get at least three estimates if you’re planning on doing renovations. If you get a bid that’s way below the rest, beware. Some contractors who lowball the estimate you often can’t trust—either they do bad work, or they’ll add on additional costs for ‘unexpected’ problems they just happen to find along the way.”

—Sheryl Geselle, Lancaster, PA


Planning to buy your new home? With these words of wisdom in mind, find out how much house you can afford before heading on the market. A mortgage loan with SoFi can make your dream home possible with as little as 10% down.

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