What I Wish I Knew as a First-time Homebuyer

April 05, 2018

Looking for some financial advice of your own?

We can help. Click here to get in touch with your local branch.

Buying a home for the first time can be a bit of a rollercoaster. For many people, finally kissing those rent cheques goodbye and choosing a place that you can truly call your own is equal parts exciting and scary. Making the leap into homeownership comes with big rewards and big responsibilities—and like most things in life, the key is knowing what you’re getting into and being prepared (#adulting). We chatted with five first-time homebuyers who have gone through the process, lived through the stress, and faced the challenges head-on. They’ve shared their home buying wisdom and lessons learned.

Five Lessons from First-Time Homebuyers

1. You may need to compromise.

For Amanda and her husband, Matt, buying a home in their city was all about the price and the opportunity to sell within five years. Since they couldn’t afford their dream home right away, they knew they had to be flexible.

“I wanted to stop paying rent and invest in my own home, but we couldn’t quite afford to live in the neighbourhood we wanted long-term. Instead, we bought a sweet downtown house that offered the opportunity for quick wins through easy renos that would allow us to make some money on the re-sale  re-sell a few years later.”

Compromise was key for Kate too, as she looked for a condo within walking distance of downtown.

“When you’re just starting out with your first home, you might have to weigh all your options. After looking at over 25 condos, I decided to buy one of the original units my REALTOR® showed me. It was just outside of the area I wanted, but had the esthetic features I was looking for—and most importantly, it was in my price range. Your first house may not be your dream house and that’s okay!”

2. Be prepared for a counter offer.

After spending months searching for a home that was within walking distance to downtown, Trina and her partner, Mark, found the perfect spot that fit in their budget. They made an offer—but were quickly countered.

“We were so happy when we found the place and finally decided to make an offer. But that high quickly came crashing down when we found out there was a competing offer. It was one thing we were not prepared for and I remember feeling horrible. Our agent sat us down and essentially told us that we needed to figure out the absolute most we’d feel comfortable bidding. Her point was that even if you lose the house by $200, you have to be okay with your decision.”

Thankfully, Trina and Mark didn’t let their emotions get the best of them. Working with a financial expert, they were able to come up with a new offer that they could still comfortably afford.

“Settling on our absolute limit was pretty tough—especially when you’re dealing with numbers that are so big over such a long period of time. Mix in a sense of urgency, competitiveness, and a healthy dose of reality that you’ll still need to pay the bill in the end—it was stressful to say the least! The key is to not panic and to still make sure you’re sticking within your budget and not stretching yourself too thin.”  

3. Be aware of the extra expenses.

When Mather bought his home in a seaside community, he was focused on ensuring he could cover the down payment, mortgage payments and utilities. He cautions that there are other expenses, both as part of the home buying process and afterwards once you move in, that should be considered at the outset.

“A lot of people forget that there are extra steps as part of the home buying process that can add up—things like home inspections and legal fees. I found the months after the big-move were expensive too. Most people end up sprucing up their new space—it’s helpful to budget for things like new furniture and home repairs. Trust me, you’ll be glad to have the extra cash!”

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that you may need to save up to style your new place. It’s okay if your kitchen doesn’t look like a Pinterest board right away. These things take time—and budget.

4. Location, location, location.

In Stephanie’s words, “buying a home is a marathon, not a sprint.” Her priority was picking the right community for her family—and that’s exactly what she found in her local suburb.

“Take your time and visit a lot of homes. Only then will you determine what is most important to you. Remember that location matters. You can change a lot about a house, but you can’t move it! For me, it was about finding a neighbourhood that suited my family and lifestyle. I knew I wanted a place that was close to a great school for my daughter.”

5. Find the right team.

Having experts on your side your side can go a long way in easing some of the home buying stress. Amanda suggests looking for a REALTOR® and financial expert that you feel compatible with.

“Ask people who are similar to you in personality, values, and style for recommendations on the best partners to help you through the process. Working with people that understand what you want and are able to advise you in a way you’re receptive to is hugely helpful. Take it from someone who got it wrong the first time—I can’t stress enough how essential a good “fit” will be with your REALTOR®, lawyer, and mortgage advisor. They make what can be a stressful and confusing process so much smoother,” says Amanda.

Once you’re ready to get the ball rolling on the house hunt, arming yourself with the home buying basics is the best place to start. Our First Timer's Home Buying Guide can help. And for honest financial advice when it comes to buying a home, book an appointment with your local credit union today.