The First-Time Home-Buyer’s Guide | Part III

Unexpected Challenges & Final Thoughts

In 2019 my wife, Joslyn, and I set out to build our first home together. It was a process that was uniquely challenging and one that gifted us with a few valuable lessons. In an effort to share our journey with other first-time home buyers, I chose to document our experience in a three-part series titled “The First-Time Home Buyer’s Guide.”

Click here for parts one and two where I explore down payments, selecting a lender, creating a savings plan, and more.

To close out the series, I’d like to reflect on some of our unexpected challenges and offer my final thoughts on reaching this major milestone.  

Additional Expenses and Considerations

To be honest, we did not know what to consider when buying our first home. As we have progressed along this journey, things have come up that we did not foresee. I had been told that buying a home is always more expensive than you think, but it was not until I experienced it for myself that I learned just how true that statement is. It is always a work in progress, so naturally additional expenses will come up continuously. 

Home-Related Expenses (Landscaping, Home Repairs, Taxes, etc.)

The house that we bought was new construction, so we were fortunate to bypass surprise expenses related to repairs that often pop up with existing homes. However, even new builds require the purchase of some higher priced items. For example, we needed to purchase a new refrigerator, washer, and dryer. Landscaping, on the other hand, was included in the build.

Last fall, we installed gutters, and this year we are focused on finishing our block fence. We have received a quote on the fence, but due to supply shortages we are currently waiting for it to be finished. I’m excited to have the fence completed to better accommodate our rescue dog, Missy, because while Joslyn and I love her, she does not listen very well and likes to wander on her own. Our house is also located next to a neighborhood walking path that draws foot traffic from time to time, so the added privacy will be a great benefit.

Furnishing and Decorating

This is still a work in progress. Our previous apartment was half the size of our new home, so we need more furniture and artwork for wall coverage. We are also trying to create a nice guest bedroom for visitors to enjoy. I am not one for decorating—I just like to have a clean and tidy place, which made moving difficult because there were boxes everywhere.

Building vs. Buying

While out house hunting we found a floor plan that we really liked but that had an incredibly steep driveway. We contacted the builder to see what we could do and they informed us that they had additional plots of land in the same area and could build the exact same house on a flat piece of ground. We also liked the appeal of having a brand-new house that had not yet been occupied, so building vs. buying was a fairly easy decision.

If You Had to Do it Again, Would You Still Choose to Build?

This is a tough question. When you build a new home, you have the luxury of being in control. With that control, however, also comes the responsibility of working directly with the builder and their subcontractors. The price range we were in was a little nicer than an entry level build, but it was certainly not up to Parade of Homes standard. Since the house was being built locally, I would say that we stopped at least once a week to check on the progress. To be fair, it was a construction site—but it was not kept to the best standard. Beer cans, coffee cups, and various other trash was left at the site, which was tough to see inside of your future home. With a move-in ready home, what you see is what you get.

Additionally, after we moved in we found various things that were not quite up to standard. With a newly built home, you have the opportunity to address these issues with the builder, but communicating these concerns can certainly become taxing. They have already made their money off of the build, thereby removing incentive to return to make repairs or correct mistakes. Going back and forth on these issues has made the move-in process feel like it is taking longer because we do not feel settled quite yet.

Selecting Building Materials

Since we had asked that the house be built as an exact copy of another house, there wasn’t much that we had to do in terms of selecting building materials. However, if you are building a home, I would encourage you to ask for an itemized list of materials that will be used to ensure that you receive exactly what you have paid for. In some cases, you may be promised a certain type of material or appliance but in order to increase their profit margin, the builder may opt for cheaper materials. It can be frustrating to get the information you need, but if you decide to build a home you deserve to get what you pay for.

Weather Delays

I can only remember one time that construction was held up due to the weather, which was in January when we got snow. The builder had just put up the forms for the foundation and was about to pour, but due to the weather, they had to wait about a week or so. We began the process in November of 2019 and, at that point in time, the builder told us the house would be completed by the end of June 2020.

Additional Factors and Expenses to Consider:

Homeowners Insurance

This type of insurance protects your home’s structure in the event of a devastating loss, such as a fire or flood. The cost to insure your home will vary.

Mortgage Insurance

This type of insurance protects your mortgage lender in the event you are unable to pay back your loan. This is often required when your down payment is less than 20% of the cost of the home.

Cost of Living

It’s important to consider costs outside of the price of your actual home. What is the cost of living in your desired area? Will you have a long commute to work? Are grocery items more expensive in certain neighborhoods?

Location

Your desired school district, proximity to stores and hospitals, whether you would like to be near family, etc. should all factor into your location selection. 

One Year Later: What We Would Have Done Differently?

After being in our house for a year now, it is finally starting to feel like home. While it’s taken longer than anticipated to get to this point, I would not do anything differently if I had the chance. There are many things that I learned throughout this process and it was not without growing pains, but things have worked out well overall. No project is ever going to go perfectly to plan, so the best thing to do is to simply start the process and take it day by day. 

Brent Schafer

Wealth Planner, HFG Trust