If you’re looking to purchase a home to live in, this is the place to start. If you’re looking for an agent to talk to or work with, go to our Agents page — just a reminder that all of our agents love answering questions and there is never any obligation or fee to talk to us! You can also directly contact me if you need help in matching up with an agent.
Car Analogy, Feel Free to Skip!
If you’re willing to patronize an analogy, I promise I’ll get to the point soon after 🙂 When a person buys their first car, it’s not just about the reliability, gas mileage, size, and price. A lot of different things can come into play, like needing to understand the responsibilities and costs of car ownership, or considering future life dynamics that might inform the current decision. Is there a partner in the picture that can’t drive a stick shift? Maybe that means you definitely buy the manual 🙂 If there’s potential for a job change in the future, a car with really good gas mileage might be the best. If there are two children in the family and two more on the way, then maybe it’s a good idea to look into the minivan.
In the same way, buying a house isn’t just about getting the right number of bedrooms with a new roof, or just making sure the finances are handled properly in order to close out the purchase. It’s also about making sure the home buyer is ready to face the challenges of home owning, and also able to choose the house based on future dynamics they might not be thinking about.
Basic Home Buying
Every home purchase requires shopping for a home first, which entails nailing down a neighborhood, setting up showings, wading through all the differences in each house, figuring out one’s budget, navigating bidding wars, negotiating home inspections, and satisfying all the requirements for closing out a mortgage. After purchase, you then have dynamics around dealing with neighbors or condo associations, how much to save for potential large repairs, basic home maintenance, and whether or not to spend money on improvements.
Challenges of Home Owning
From septic systems and wells to condo associations and noise ordinances, the range of home ownership issues can be incredibly daunting especially for the first timer. Every choice can feel fraught with risk, especially if one’s savings rate is $1,000/month but a new boiler can cost $12,000, or a new roof $15,000. But there’s a lot of services in place for buyers in navigating these dynamics.
A home inspection is a great way to learn about home ownership and even better, it’s like getting a 2-hour presentation on the actual house you’re buying. Your real estate agent is also a really good resource, and their broker (me!) is always a wealth of knowledge since I’m always compiling information from all of our agents and my own experiences. Sometimes customers feel shy about bothering their agent after closing on their property, but it’s really important to understand that our services are never ending–closing is just another date in a long timeline of the client-realtor relationship. I find that constant contact with a home owner during their ownership helps me keep learning and growing, while also giving the client access to the most up to date house technologies, service provider options, and market dynamics.
For example, having a strong customer base at Lembu gave me the privilege of starting Lisse Services due to the current trend of people being unable to find handypeople and minor renovation help. Being informed of all the dynamics from my agents also helps me stay on top of various home improvement options such as Mass Save grants and loans and other low interest finance options for repairs and renovations.
Deciding on a Particular House Based on Future Dynamics
This is my favorite category when it comes to choosing a house. For example, if a client can choose any of three units in a new condo-ized triple-decker, which unit should they choose? The penthouse is a no brainer for me personally due to the extra light, fresher air, and nobody stomping over my head. That said, if the plan is to have a couple babies in the next five years, and this purchase is a 10-year purchase, I would undoubtedly take the 1st floor in order to prevent fatalities of toddlers falling through a screen window, in addition to the more minor inconveniences. Speaking of inconveniences, here two riddles I love to use to illustrate these points with clients and agents alike:
Riddle #1: What do you do when you live on the third floor and you have a 3-month old, a 3-year old, and four bags of groceries AND there’s no parking? Answer: You carry the 3-month old up two flights of stairs while seriously encouraging the 3-year old to walk up the stairs after you. Then the 3-month old goes into the playpen and the 3-year old gets the iPad. After that, you walk a block (or so) to your car to grab the groceries, but it’s going to take two trips. Meanwhile, you leave your kids by themselves on the 3rd floor apartment with thoughts of house fires, accidents, and neighbors calling social services crossing your mind, but you try not to worry about it.
Riddle #2: What do you do when you live on the second floor, you’re super laid back, you have a big presentation at work for which you have to wake up at 6am, and your upstairs neighbor comes home at 2am walking around with his dress shoes and wakes you up. You roll out of bed to get a glass of water, walking barefoot, go back to your room, when someone starts pounding on your door. It turns out it’s your downstairs neighbor who’s infant just happened to wake up when you were walking to the kitchen, and they’re furious with you for being so noisy. Answer: You use all your calming techniques so you can fall back asleep in order to salvage your energy for your big presentation. And for the next month you try really hard not to be bitter about being stuck between a rock (dress shoes at 2am) and a hard place (baby waking up and being blamed for it), and you spend more hours than you can count daydreaming about living in a single family home.
Other dynamics that are important to think about are future repairs. I usually say that a 25-year old un-renovated home is a money trap. Everything from boilers to roofs to windows and kitchens and bathrooms have about a 25 year life. If a place is 25 years old, it’s going to need everything replaced in the next 10 years of your ownership, assuming that things were super well maintained and last longer than average. The cost can really add up! Sometimes it’s better to have an 80 year old kitchen that’s been well maintained because the construction materials are simple and everlasting, while the style can be timeless and you can keep it the same for another 100 years.
Same thing with a 40-year-old boiler–some of the really old boilers, because of their inefficiency, can last virtually forever. So while you’re losing a lot of money on utilities, like $200/month or more, you’re at least not having to deal with a surprise $10k replacement cost. Of course, you don’t always have to go original historic, keeping to places that have been renovated in the past 10 years or less is also a safe way to mitigate large future costs. That said, I generally recommend having enough cushion to cover an average of $400-$500/month for repairs and maintenance in the long term.
The most important dynamic in buying a home is finding joy in the process. Nothing better than seeing dozens of houses and taking a moment to understand the purpose of a particular layout, the history of an old home, and to daydream about how this new place could fit your life better than your old place. It never gets old for me, I even see houses while on vacation whenever I see an interesting place with a “for sale” sign in front!
The agent-buyer relationship is so important to this aspect of home buying. You should feel comfortable with your agent, never judged but periodically confronted by truth, and above all else, be able to find an agent you trust and know that they have your best interest in mind.