Pssst! 10 Secrets for Making Your First Home Purchase a Success

a couple embraces, looking at their home

We talked to some first-time homebuyers about what they wished they’d known before they made that big purchase. Learn from their mistakes with these 10 first-time homebuyer tips.


Back in 1986, Tom Hanks and Shelley Long got a lot of laughs for their comedy about buying a home that seemed like a great deal, but proved to be a real Money Pit. And while the story makes for great entertainment, purchasing a home with hidden problems is anything but. We talked to some homebuyers and asked them what they wished they’d known before they bought that first one. And because we’re super helpful, we’ve collected their insights to share with you.

  1. Prioritize

Most of us can’t afford to get everything we want in a first-time home purchase. (Sorry, did we just crush your dreams?) So, it’s important to think about your priorities. Then stick to them. Is the home’s location vital to you? Number of bedrooms? Size of lot? Once you determine what is most important, you can hone your search accordingly, so you don’t end up falling in love with a home in a neighborhood you really don’t want to live in.

  1. Ask for more from the seller

Home inspections are designed to clue a potential homebuyer in on any defects or issues with the home that might not have been obvious at first glance. When you get that list of issues, why not see if they’re willing to make some or all of those fixes? Take note: If you’re in a bidding war with other buyers, this tactic could backfire and send the seller to another offer.

Emily B. admits to missing out on this opportunity, “Having both bought and sold, I was asked to fix many things when selling, but I typically asked for very little when buying.”

  1. Hire an arborist

Trees can be lovely landscape additions. Or they can be a new homeowner’s leafy nightmare. Are the roots invasive? Is the tree healthy, or will removal be necessary? Don’t guess on this one.

Andrew J. and his family got a big, fat expensive surprise when they moved to a forested lot in Maryland. “At about $5k-$10k for large tree removal, we had some rather nasty surprises when we bought our house.”

RELATED: Get to the root of the tree problem before you buy

  1. Hire a surveyor to check property lines

Want to add a fence? Do some landscaping? Build a deck? Avoid legal wrangling later by having a surveyor check property lines before you buy. The seller may not even know where the legal property lines actually are.

  1. Consider the workload

More than a mortgage payment, you have to invest time in maintaining a home. How large is the yard? How complicated is the landscaping? Is there an irrigation system to maintain? If you desire a lot of home improvements, do you have the time and/or money to invest in getting them done? Is a condo or small lot a better option?

Heidi L. was ecstatic to become a homeowner, but the cyclist and busy professional didn’t envision she would spend all her weekends working on her home. Yard and house work and the inevitable necessary improvements were a far bigger commitment than she bargained for. “You buy it and you think it’s easy coasting from there, and it’s definitely not.”

RELATED: We’re piping up about the benefits of regular pipe maintenance

  1. Schools matter

Even if you don’t have kids or plan to have them, the resale value of your home will be affected by the school districted it is zoned for. 

  1. Get the real inside scoop

We love real estate agents (seriously, here are a bunch of swell ones), but they just don’t have the property knowledge and insight that a seller has, so talk to the seller directly if you can, to get a complete picture of the home.

Andrew J. happened to run into the seller while showing his girlfriend the house he planned to buy and he’s really glad he did. “(The homeowner) went into a tirade about structural damage, the constant water in the basement, that the house was built on a spring and that he was initiating a lawsuit against the builder. He finished by insisting we run, not walk, away from buying the house!”

  1. Collect the paperwork

Do you want to be a sleuth in your new home? We’re guessing no. Getting the low down – and paper work –on alarm systems, irrigation set-up, ethernet locations, appliance warranties and operation, garage doors, HOA rules, even which mailbox is yours can be a huge help. The seller knows it all and you know none of it. So, ask for all that insider intel before you take possession of your new home.

Ksenya G. wishes she had thought to ask for diagrams and details on her home’s irrigation. “We were in our first single family home and it was a pain to figure out the sprinkler system, pipe network and where it drains out. Summer hit after a big winter snow and we had busted pipes.”

  1.  Find out what’s coming

Are future developments planned out your back door? Is the area zoned for mixed use? Ask around and find out. Talk to neighbors. Google stuff. You don’t want a surprise once you’ve gotten all nestled into your new place.

RELATED: 5 Tips Every Homebuyer Should Know

  1.    Wait until you’re ready

Are you ready to set priorities for a home search? Ready to make the financial commitment (mortgage, plus taxes, plus applicable HOAs, plus insurance, plus improvements, plus…)? Ready to make the time commitment to maintain a home? Successful homeownership is all about timing, make sure your timing is right.

And if you’re trying to become a savvy first time homebuyer, you’re in the right place. Our experienced HIP-qualified lenders and real estate agents can help you avoid rookie mistakes and score a home within your budget using one of our great homebuying programs.

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