5 Tips for Prospective and New Home-Owners

Our empty dining room after early renovations.

Our empty dining room after early renovations.

This weekend will mark the one-year anniversary of moving into my first house. To celebrate, here are some lessons from my first year of home-ownership — things I wish I knew going in.

1. When you’re looking for a house, be flexible.

We had specific criteria when we were house-hunting. We wanted a nice family home that was:

  • newly renovated
  • on the subway line and close to our jobs
  • fully finished in the basement (because we were moving my in-laws in…but that’s a whole ‘nother post)
  • …and, of course, within budget.

The house we ended up with, after viewing quite a few and rejecting many more listings, was:

  • unrenovated — some parts were done in the ’80s, others not at all
  • not on the subway line and no closer to our jobs than our previous place was
  • not fully finished in the basement
  • within budget (whew!).

But it was also:

  • unmarred by cheap renovations that ignored the age and character of the house (we saw lots of these)
  • on a dedicated streetcar line — not quite the subway, but close
  • big enough so my in-laws could live on the main floor, my significant other and I could live upstairs, and we could co-habitate without stepping on each other’s toes too much.

And…the truth is, logical or not, we kind of fell in love.

Our poor real-estate agent was flabbergasted when we bought the place.

So…what about all our initial criteria? Do we regret going off our list and buying the house we did?

Not even a little bit.

As you can see by the bullet points above, we dug deeper, identified the reason for each of our criteria, and found another way to meet them.

2. Renovate before you move in.

This was something we did right — and we were so glad we did. The renovations weren’t extensive, but they would have taken a lot longer if we’d been living there. It was painful to hand over the keys the day after closing, but a lot less painful than dealing with dust and paint.

We’ll do more renos in the future, but I’m glad we did what we could up front.

A tip for renovating — hire a general contractor who can oversee and coordinate specific workers like electricians and flooring companies. That way, the headaches are mostly his (or hers), not yours.

Another tip — if at all possible, even if you don’t do anything else, redo surfaces and a few cosmetic things. Get the floors refinished, the walls painted, or new light fixtures put in. The place will feel a lot more like yours.

3. Having an outside is more work than you think.

Sure, you’re mentally prepared for the recurring chores of mowing in summer and shovelling in winter. But there are bound to be other things that pop up, from a collapsing fence to rampant weeds. Those take a lot more thought and time and effort, especially if (like us) you don’t have a clue what you’re doing.

4. Remember to have fun anyway.

While you’re busy weeding and mowing, plant a few vegetables or flowers so you’ll have a reward later. Even if you’re not the decorating type (and we are so not), if you have to buy a welcome mat to scrape dirty shoes off, buy a funky one instead of a basic, utilitarian one. Paint one room a strong colour just because you can.

5. Think long-term and short-term.

Assuming that you’re planning to be in the house for more than a few years, remember that you have time. You don’t have to get it all perfect in the first month or even the first year. Things will happen little by little, and that’s okay.

Sometimes short-term solutions are okay too — for example, don’t live without a patio set just because you’re dreaming of an expensive one. Get a cheap one now so you can enjoy your patio while you’re saving up.

Your turn! If you have a house, what did you learn as a new home-owner? What do you wish someone had told you?

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3 responses to “5 Tips for Prospective and New Home-Owners

  1. Yep, I completely agree with points 2 and 3 in particular. Pretty much the only renovating I did was before I moved in. 10 years later I am STILL planning to renovate the bathroom and kitchen! And I never did paint the bathroom, because I was always intending to gut it.

  2. Ellen, it’s a lot harder to think about renovating while you’re living in the space, for sure! I have plans for my bathroom and kitchen too, but they’re not the priority and won’t be for a while. Possibly quite a while. 😉

  3. Oh, Eris, but I hate renovations…

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