Ah, the adventure that is creating your first home. The stress that comes with finding it and figuring out all the financials, and the joy of really making it your own. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and if you do it right, an unforgettable one. But it’s harder than it looks, and there are quite some challenges on the way.
Which things should you keep in mind along the way to make sure your first home will be perfect, and every house that comes after it will have a hard time living up to it? Here are 6 tips, tried and tested, or learned the hard way.
Tip #1: Don’t guess and dream: design
Most people wildly overestimate their talents when it comes to their spatial awareness. If you have a house in mind, and are planning to start with a blank canvas or completely redesigning it, don’t just use your imagination of how it could be. Instead, use a house design software, such as Foyr and see what is actually possible.
If you have any idea of what you want your rooms to look like, you don’t need to be or even hire an interior designer or architect to create state-of-the-art mock-ups. Anyone with a computer can create photorealistic renders of their future home, and play around with different looks. In fact, only 17 percent of homeowners actually call in the help of an interior designer.
With 3D design software, you can drag and drop furniture in your soon-to-be-home. Image from Foyr.
From how you can place your furniture to where the light comes in: there’s more to making a room ‘work’ than matching the couch to the carpet. When walking into a room you might have an idea of what would fit, but let’s face it: we’re often wrong. It’s not just about fitting it in, you also need space to walk around.
Apart from the practicalities, this software will also give you a better picture of if your style actually matches the house and the layout. Your design and the space should work together and make, not mask up imperfections and shortcomings.
Tip #2: Pick your battles wisely
When looking at what you want, try to start with the structure and work your way up. Don’t get lost in the details and compromise the space you’ll actually live in for finishes you will only look at.
A polished concrete floor is only great in a room that is actually big enough to use it properly. Spend money on the things that truly matter, and with whatever is left, spice things up. And remember: trade-offs will be inevitable.
Tip #3: Make sure it fits your lifestyle — outside of your home
A perfect first home is not about what you’ve got going on between those walls or even that killer garden — it’s location, location, location. A home is more than a floor plan filled with amenities. It’s a place to live your life from.
Don’t just think about the things you want to be able inside of your brand-new home, but also what you’d like to be doing when you’re not there. The proximity to friends, family, stores and work will always beat an indoor pool or huge living room with an open kitchen — what’s the fun if everyone is too far away to enjoy it with you anyway?
Even a move-in ready property might not be worth it in the long run: sure, it saves you some time now, but it shouldn’t be a deciding factor. Plus, a home that is just a tad far away from everything and everyone, could drive up your expenses in the end.
Tip #4: Make a mood board
Many things are easy to envision and pick. You want a bath. Two bedrooms. You simply need a parking space. But there are also more abstract factors, like the atmosphere and vibe of the house.
Create a mood board with pictures that bring this to life: it doesn’t have to be exact, it should only set the right tone. Then look at houses and ask yourself if they either match the vibe and style, or if you have the possibility to replicate it there.
This especially comes in handy when you are joining forces and are moving in with a partner. Before picking a color for the bedroom or a dining table, discover how both of you are envisioning your future home when it comes to the atmosphere — which is more than just furniture and finishes. Find overlap and spot the differences. Finally, try creating an ultimate, last, joined mood board in which you would both feel at home.
Tip #5: Know your numbers
Getting to the point where you can afford your first home is great. But you might want to plan and budget beyond that point too. To be able to create your perfect dream home, you’ll need to know what you can spend. There are some expenses that come with homeownership that are often overlooked, so make sure to sit down and get the numbers right. All of them.
Your monthly principal and interest payments are, of course, the place to start, but don’t let yourself be caught off guard by the following expenses you should budget for:
- Property taxes
- Mortgage insurance
- Hazard insurance
- Maintenance and repairs
- And many, many more.
When crunching the numbers, reach out to your agent or lender: someone who knows what to calculate and won’t leave anything out.
Then, take your time shopping around for insurances and compare quotes. While it won’t be the most fun activities and you’d rather get back to designing the master bedroom, it will help you make your house everything you’ve imagined. You won’t unexpectedly have to cut back on furniture or reforms you were hoping to make, if your budget is right.
Tip #6: Know you most likely won’t live here forever
A perfect first house is not just perfect now, but also later, when you’re not living there anymore. While we’re all for living in the moment, it can save you a lot of trouble, time and money to think about what your future self will want.
Creating a perfect first home also means taking the future into account. Because chances are the first won’t be the last, and you don’t want to undo all those great memories you’ve built up in your first home with a horrifying period of unsuccessfully trying to sell it — not being able to leave. That’ll leave you resenting that place you created so many beautiful memories in.
Keep in mind that the average first-time buyers will stay in their new homes for 11 years, which is four years fewer than buyers who previously owned a home. Unless you have a very detailed mapped out five-year plan, adjust your plans according to these timelines.
So, be honest: how long are you planning on living here, really, and what will you need in those years? Especially when kids come into play, you’ll need to take into account the space inside the house, but also the proximity to schools. If there’s a reasonable possibility of growing your family, make sure your house is suitable for small kids, and bigger families.
Make a choice that is sensible, today and tomorrow. When thinking about your longer-range plans, also make sure that you have an exit strategy in place. Before falling head over heels in love with that quirky house in the countryside, or that once-in-a-lifetime apartment in the city center, think about how easy or hard it will be to rent it out or sell it further down the line.
Also, inform yourself about the marketability of your house and the possibility of making money of your starter home when you decide to sell — you don’t want to be left without possibilities, or huge debts, when it turns out that you do have or want to leave.
We’ll leave you with this: you’re not alone
While buying and creating your first home might feel like the most independent thing you can do, it is not something you have to do alone. If you feel lost along the way, know that everyone does at some point. It is more than okay and even recommended to change your plans while you’re figuring out what you want and designing your dream home.
So, reach out to experts who have done this before, over and over. It will pay off in the end, and might even leave you with the necessary wiggle room to add those nice finishing touches to your first house.