When I began looking for my first home, one of the first questions my real estate agent asked me was: “What type of house are you looking for?”
My reply: “Something that needs some TLC.”
What I saw were dated kitchens, homes with 20-year-old carpet in every room, wallpaper, wallpaper, wallpaper, vinyl flooring, and terrible landscaping. Oh, and did I mention the wallpaper?
When I said TLC, I though of a bedroom painted pink and a kitchen with a terrible border — maybe a dingy bathroom. I did not dream of the yards and yards of shag carpeting and so much wallpaper!
The house I bought was considered move-in ready. It has blue tile flooring in the bathroom, kitchen cabinets from the early 90’s and Pepto-Bismol pink walls everywhere (and I do mean everywhere). I worked for 2 months with my Mom and Dad painting and painting — and still have pink walls in the laundry room and hallway. Oh, and I should mention the dark green carpet that perfectly matches the dark green walls and green curtains that hang in my bedroom to this day.
When I thought of move-in ready, I thought of a perfectly completed house. I pictured crown molding and chair rail. I thought of granite kitchen counters and updated appliances. I dreamed of freshly-painted rooms and spa baths.
In the real estate world, though, that is called just like new. I have learned that a house with funky paint colors and dated appliances is “move-in ready” — and a house with a partial kitchen, gutted bathroom, and a leaky roof is in need of TLC.
Finally, you know you’re in trouble when you go into a home labled ‘As Is.’ That is code for a complete rehab, so be prepared to put in your own ceiling and walls.
The one thing I wasn’t prepared for when house shopping was how much work moving into a new home really is. I have learned that no matter what flooring is down, as the new owner, you will undoubtedly want to change it. Paint colors and wallpaper will all have to go and be replaced by something new.
The work that we put into our first home is determined by our budget and energy levels. I think it is emotional more than anything. I have a nice kitchen for a first house, but it just isn’t my dream kitchen. So, I want to change it.
I don’t think I am alone in this thought process. We all want our first house to be perfect. So, I have some advice from what I have learned:
- Look at the bones of the house. Since you will want to change a lot of it, make sure you like the size of the rooms, the layout, the neighborhood, and the schools.
- Be honest about what you can do. I am a teacher, my parents are retired, and my father has a lot of skills in fixing up homes. I wouldn’t have done as much as I did if I was working full time and I was doing it alone.
- Go slow. Don’t buy a house that needs thousands of dollars up front. The first year of owning a house is hard. People told me that, but I ignored their advice. Trust me: it doesn’t matter how much room you keep in the budget for the unknown. Life happens. Our dog got lymphoma, our township has an occupation tax that we didn’t know about, gas went up, cost of living is higher than before, the electric bill — let’s just say no one could have planned for that one! So, take your time and change the house slowly. Remember you will live there longer than a year.
- Don’t despair. We went through 200 houses (yes 200) before we picked our home. I am glad we did though because I got a great education in real estate. Now, when I pull into my driveway, I know I got the best house in my price range and I got a fantastic deal!
- Enjoy shopping. We got tired of house shopping every weekend. I got tired of seeing crappy houses. I got tired of getting my hopes up and being disappointed. Looking back, though, I learned a lot, we laughed a lot, and I wouldn’t trade the two months of painting for anything in the world.
By the way, did I mention I put ten different colors on the kitchen wall before I picked one? You must learn to be patient!