all-white bedroom

Things We Learned from the Mistakes We Made With Our First Home

Every winter, Terry and I seem to be bitten by the decorating bug, and start wanting to make changes around the house. 

This winter has been no exception, and although we’re not doing anything too radical (so no knocking down of walls or ripping up of floors, thank goodness!), the little changes we’ve been making have got us thinking about our first house, and all of the mistakes we made when we were buying and decorating it. And living in it. And selling it. We made a LOT of mistakes with that house, is what I’m saying, and today I thought I’d share some of the lessons we learned from them with you: partly so we don’t go on and make the same mistakes twice (which would be SO like us, seriously), but also so that YOU don’t make them either. So I make the mistakes so you don’t have to, basically: I’m all heart, aren’t I?

Here are some of the lessons we learned from the mistakes we made with our first home…

things we learnt from the mistakes we made with our first home

View the house more than once

We bought our first home having been inside it once, for around ten minutes. At night. When the owner wasn’t actually expecting us (crossed wires with the estate agent, apparently), and was in the middle of dinner when we arrived. Viewing someone else’s home is awkward at the best of times (I can’t even tell you the number of time I’ve almost bought a house I hated, just to lessen the awkwardness…), but this was super-awkward: not only was the owner not expecting us, we could tell he wasn’t exactly thrilled to see us, either, so we got in and out as quickly as possible, then put in an offer the next morning.

It was a few weeks before we were able to move in, by which point we’d almost completely forgotten what the place looked like – which is why were were pretty surprised when we opened the front door for the first time, and discovered that everything in the house was blue. No, seriously: EVERYTHING. Floors, walls, CEILINGS, even. We’d noticed SOME of this during our ten minute viewing, obviously, but the rest was a complete surprise – especially the garden, which we hadn’t seen AT ALL, because it was pitch dark when we’d viewed it.

(Er, the garden wasn’t blue, obviously. It was a MESS… but at least it wasn’t blue.)

(Now I feel I have to add that I have nothing against the colour blue: it’s just a bit much when it’s literally EVERYWHERE.)

(I just know I’ve offended someone with an all-blue house now. I’m so sorry.)

Now, as you know, I enjoy a house with a secret as much as anyone (more, probably), but not so much when the “secret” turns out to be that the ceilings are all blue, and there’s a hole in the bath. So when we bought our current house we viewed it three times, took photos during each visit (with the owner’s permission, obviously), and, well, stalked the place by driving up to it at all hours of the day and night to work out what the area was like, and if we could see ourselves living in it. Look, I’m not proud, but I’m also not ashamed, because if I’m going to be paying for something for the next 25 years, you better believe I’m going to make sure I like it first. And you should, too.

all-white bedroom

Don’t settle

Going by that whole “we spent ten minutes in it, then bought it the next day!” story, you’ll no doubt have concluded we fell hopelessly in love with that house, and just HAD to have it. Actually, though, we were just desperate: we’d been knocked back on several different houses by that point, and had basically just reached the point where we wanted a house – ANY house – and we didn’t much care what it looked like. As it turned out, we got lucky: the house we ended up with wasn’t our dream home, but first homes rarely are, and it was a better buy than any of the ones we’d missed out on, so it wasn’t a disaster. Nevertheless, when we bought our next home, we were determined to take our time and not allow desperation to be the main motivating factor.

This is a tricky one, because with the property market the way it is, you DO often have to compromise on some things – or we did, anyway. To make sure we didn’t make a horrible mistake, we made a list of the things that were absolutely essential to us (the deal-breakers, if you like…), the things we’d LIKE to have, but could live without (or add later), and the things that were just complete fantasy. That helped narrow our search down a bit, because there were some houses we could just instantly rule-out, but taking out time, and refusing to settle for a house that was “good enough” meant we actually managed to end up with a couple of things from our “fantasy” list, which we really hadn’t expected to find – so it pays to wait!

Don’t try to do everything at once

When we bought our first home, we were both still living with our parents, which meant there was no pressure on us to move as soon as we had the keys (or not that I was aware of, anyway: it’s totally possible there were some strong hints that I totally missed…). Because of that, we decided to re-decorate the whole house before moving into it, including ripping out and replacing the bathroom. I wanted to do this, because I had my heart set on moving into a house that was “perfect”, and in which everything was to our taste, right from the start. Now, don’t get me wrong, that WAS pretty sweet at the time, but the haste to get everything done simultaneously made for a pretty stressful few weeks, and we ended up doing some thing we might not otherwise have gone for, just because we got to the point where we wanted it DONE. NOW.

There are some things you DO want to tackle right away, obviously (I could NOT have lived with the bright blue carpets, which stank of dog hair, for instance…), but I also think there’s a benefit to actually living in a place for a while before you decide what you want to do with it. What you THINK you want might not end up being what you ACTUALLY want, and you won’t know that until you try living in it.

white bedroom with pops of colour

Buy the best quality you can afford

Due to the whole “I will replace every single thing in this house, and I will do it all tomorrow” attitude we went into our first home with, we made the decision to replace all of those blue floors with cheap laminate flooring. We didn’t actually WANT the flooring to be cheap, I hasten to add – it was just all we could afford, given that we needed enough for an ENTIRE HOUSE. Of course, it ended up being a false economy: we had to replace it all a few years later, and because we were stupid, and went for MOAR cheap laminate flooring, if we’d stayed in the house much longer, we’d have had to replace it all again. Luckily it was a small house, so we’re not talking huge amounts of money here, but in retrospect it would have been better if we’d learnt the lesson above, and focused on room at a time, buying the best quality we could afford.

With our current home, we still don’t have a huge budget, but we’ve been taking our time and either saving up for the things we want, or finding them on eBay/Gumtree secondhand. (And, yeah, Ikea, but we like Ikea, so…) It’ll take us longer to get things done this way, but at least we (hopefully!) won’t have to re-do it all a couple of years later, so there’s that.

Look at your house through new eyes

This last one IS pretty embarrassing, but once we’d gutted and re-decorated our first house, we basically lost interest in it, and, apart from a few updates, it stayed the same for years. In our defence, we always knew it wasn’t our “forever” home: we had actually only planned to be there for a couple of years, but then Terry got sick, and decorating got pushed to the very bottom of the priority list. The result of that, though, was that when we finally DID get round to putting it on the market, we ended up having to do a LOT of work to bring it up to scratch. Most of it was fairly small stuff, but it all added up to a lot of work, and it was pretty annoying to know that all of those little things we’d been living with for years were finally getting fixed just as we were about to move out.

A family friend of ours once gave us the advice that once a year you should go around your home and pretend you’re putting it on the market, then fix all of the little things that jump out at you when you look at it with fresh eyes. Home buyers are fussy, and I remember there were SO many things about our house that I hadn’t even noticed (or had long ago stopped seeing), which were pointed out by potential buyers – and which we then had to deal with. I think a lot of the time when you live in a house, it’s really easy to become blind to its faults and just disregard them, which means they never get fixed – or they do, but it’s the new owner who gets the benefit from them, not you! We haven’t stuck to this rule as strictly as we’d like, but we have been making the effort to stay on top of all of those little repairs, which makes the house a nicer place to live in, for sure.

white dressing table on white wood floor

Anyone else got any tips/mistakes they’d like to share? 

  • Hi Amber, we only viewed our property for 10 mins and once before we put in a bid. Fortunately we took photos on phone and as it was a new built we didn’t have to worry about previous owners. I can beat you with the blue, when brother in law moved into his place everything (and I mean everything) was a dark dull grey. It like the previous owner wanted to snub out the light and keep it dark – perhaps they was secretly vampire.

    December 2, 2015
  • I couldn’t agree more with making sure that you see the house several times before you commit to it. Unfortunately, where we are the housing market is moving so quickly that you’re forced to make rash decisions on whether you want a property or not.

    This is why we put an offer in on our house after seeing it just the once, at night, as you did. However as we wern’t tied to it until the exchange of contracts, it didn’t matter too much. We visited it several more times (at various times of day) to ensure we still loved it as much as we first thought x

    December 2, 2015
  • Manon


    Ok, I am from Germany, so some of these may not apply. And I think I’ve gone a bit overboard with this comment.

    Always go through a realtor. They will know the laws and which documents are required. They need to be payed, but they do all the grunt work for you do that you just have to sign.

    If the house is older than 20 years make sure you ask when the last renovations where, especially for wiring, heating, windows and the roof. Because these things are expensive, for a lot of it you need to tear open every wall in the house and they need regular replacement (within reason).
    Look at light switches and radiator to get a feeling for their age (depending on where you live there are regulations for this and these change over the years). Check how many sockets are in the rooms.
    If the house is older than 50 years it will probably be charming and has bigger grounds than a new one, but every wall will be crooked. Which can be totally fine unless you want to furnish your rooms with big cupboards.
    Know which kind of heating the house has and check how expansive this will be. If you buy your first house check your lokal prices for water, taxes and garbage collection as well. You need to know what the house will cost apart from the mortgage. Your bank will help you with that.

    Ask for a groundplan and mark where the following sockets are: tv, telephone.

    Bring a folding rule or a device to measure certain walls to check if your existing furniture fits. The measurements on the groundplan can be off a bit, especially if there are toeboards.

    Use the toilet and check the water pressure. You need to like this room.

    Ask how fast the internet is. And check what is available with a provider, you can do this online.
    Check your cellphone reception in the house and garden.

    Ask if the kitchen is included (this is a very german thing).

    Visit the basement (if the house has one) and check the walls for water spotting and mold.

    It’s fine to buy a house that needs some renovations, e.g. a new bathroom. Make sure you have the time to do this and to supervise a contractor (they will need it).

    There will always be some expense you didn’t plan. Don’t pay your last dime for the house, make sure some of your budget is set aside for the unpredictable.

    Ask why the people move, ask about the neighbours. Check where the next post office is, and the supermarket, the next doctor. Make sure it fits your needs.

    If you view the house, come prepared. Have everything on a tablet or printed out. Bring something to take notes. Write down the questions you want to ask. Bring a folding rule or something like that. Bring a camera, your phone is fine.
    Talk with everyone who will live in the house and what their must-haves and would-be-nice.

    If you are in the bedroom, stay quiet for a minute and listen. Can you hear the cars down the street? Is there a school nearby or a church that rings the bell? Make sure you can sleep trough everything you hear.

    The most important thing: Never look at a house alone, if possible bring someone who owns a house or is a very handy person. Because if you fall in love you will go blind, so you need some fresh eyes.

    December 2, 2015
    • Erin


      Lots of good advice in this article as well as this comment! When we bought our house, we didn’t even think to ask about the internet. We are so very lucky as we are the very LAST house on our street to have a DSL connection. The rest of the houses have to use expensive and unreliable satellite plans or something through their cell company (we are in the States, so I’m not sure how this works elsewhere). The guy down the street works from home, and he called the internet providers twice to verify that he could get internet. NOPE. Now he’s suing the internet provider because he recorded them guaranteeing he would have it for work. We live in the boonies, and on the corner of four townships and two counties, so it’s very confusing on our road.

      We also live in a 140+ year old house, which while gorgeous with high ceilings and amazing moldings, has some scary wiring, walls, and other issues. I am married to a contractor so it’s not too big of a deal for us, but if you can’t fix everything yourself, I would recommend something at least slightly newer.

      December 2, 2015
  • We were similar to you in buying our house in that we only had about a 15 minute viewing when it was dark too – eek! Fortunately, the house is only a few years old so there weren’t that many things that could be wrong with it, and now living in it, there are only a few things that need changing. Like your all blue house, we have an all yellow hallway, stairs and conservatory. I don’t have an issue with yellow, but when it’s the first thing you see upon entering the house, it’s just a little bit too much! We’ve now repainted (or partly repainted…when Ben gets round to finishing it!) the conservatory and need to get the hall/stairs done too. There are also a few odd things such as one of the doors having been put on backwards so the light switch has been moved to the other side of the door, and other light switches in the most random places – we’ve been in for nearly 8 months and I’m still hitting the walls when I go through doorways expecting the light switch to be there but it’s actually round a corner on another wall – very weird!
    Aside from that, we got lucky considering the short single visit!

    December 2, 2015
  • This is all very timely for me as I may be buying a house very soon indeed… however I’m going to probably be buying a newbuild, and not only that, but entirely ‘off plan’. Not even a show-home to look at… You have to hope they won’t have painted them all blue though!!

    December 2, 2015
  • Theresa


    Blue is better than butter yellow. Granted, we didn’t have yellow ceilings and floors, but it was on every single wall, including in the laundry room and the stairwell/hallway. Unfortunately, though, my husband and I didn’t have enough money or time when we moved in to paint everything, so it’s been one room at a time.

    December 2, 2015
  • Lauren


    Oh, my friend bought a horrible “fixer-upper” as well. The living room walls were dark blue with light blue sponge paint, the ceiling was light blue with dark blue sponge paint, and even the blinds were original white, with dark blue sponge paint over the top. Luckily it is large with beautiful wooden floors, so once we repainted that room, it was greatly improved. However, the master bedroom was another story.. Three (?!) layers of carpet, soaked in years of pet urine, and the lowest layer of the carpet had to be scraped up from the wood flooring underneath. The door and window frames had hand painted roses all along them. The bathroom had similar painting of ivy. We spent so long scraping up paint and carpet, and choking ourselves with enzyme cleaners.

    December 2, 2015
  • myra


    We’ve recently bought a bungalow that was built 80 years ago, and extended (although we didn’t know that at the time). We visited it several times, and liked the old lady who was selling it. I wanted a house we could move into and put my furniture in and hang my curtains, but my husband liked this one as it had potential (but we don’t have any skills to do any work).
    So how come on these many visits we never noticed:
    the tiny pink bathroom did not have access to a window, and was built between a small porch and the utility room (which is bigger than said bathroom); that some of the electric points did not work, and cables could be seen coming through the floorboards and were attached to the wall sockets; that the concrete drive was built up higher than the damp proof course; the front garden slopes down to the house; the strange guttering downpipe dripping onto the drive (there is no drain); there are two eco-systems in the front and back of the house (reported by our neighbour while it was still summer and we had not noticed then).

    We did notice the damp walls in the three bedrooms, and thought we had sorted this problem, although we didn’t know that the roof or probably the guttering was leaking into the main bedroom and the wetness of one wall depends on how much it is raining that day. Ah well, at least it feels like home now, warts and all, and all the jobs will get done one day (including the dangerous and broken electric junction box from the 1930s). And yes everyone, we did get a survey lol

    December 2, 2015
  • Liz in Paris


    Thank you so much for these tips – I shall bookmark this post. We’ll be moving in the next year or so and have been in the current place for 20 years, so the tips are great for helping us plan repairs etc. before we put it on the market. We’re both DIY virgins so there may be quite a lot to do!

    December 2, 2015
  • Omgosh, my house was a smurf house too!!!! The carpet was a dark blue, walls: blue, tile: blue, exposed beam: primary blue. The curtains were ivory and all the hanging chandeliers and bathroom fixtures were clear plastic. I have no excuse, we saw the house a few times and during the day 😉

    I think the city i live in you have to forget perfect and snatch up what you can afford. A fixer upper is about 500,000 to give you an idea. I was so lucky to get mine less than that so we had money for a new roof, windows, a new kitchen, tile, carpet, and paint. But that meant paying rent and a mortgage together for a few months.

    And trust me, i see everything that needs to be fixed every day. The list of to dos is long. And you would hate my house, its near the hills so lots of spiders 😉

    December 2, 2015
      • Well, i almost stepped on a wolf spider on my way back in the house from the garage, it was about half the length of my foot, and my roommate almost walked straight into a black widow when she opened the front door, it was dangling at eye level…. so not quite touching but enough to be not great. Beginning of bbq season, my job is to clean the bbq free of black widows.

        December 2, 2015
  • TinaD


    Don’t buy a to-be-built house from a floorplan. On our second house, we saw a tiny (small sq. footage) model I liked, a huge model my husband liked but we couldn’t afford, and we “compromised” on one in a floorplan… It turned out to have a great room you could park a plane in, dinky bedrooms, and a master suite where the bath and bedroom were the exact same size. Hard to live in, impossible to decorate, and all because sales-package floorplans aren’t to scale.

    December 2, 2015
  • Trudy


    One day I hope to buy my own house, so I’ll definitely be marking this post! All very helpful tips. One house we moved into when I was a kid, was all green – not a nice green either, a horrid pale green. I have nothing against the colour as a cardigan, but as a wall colour it is terrible. And everything was that colour – walls, cupboards, even the wash line outside! I guess they had some paint to use up 😉

    December 3, 2015
  • I’ve been through what you described. We even put an offer for our first flat even before I was able to see it. We wanted to have a place for ourselves, I had a wedding to plan and hubby (fiance back then) said the flat is what we want. He was right, although we bought a flat that was too big for us and we had to wait for ages to refurbish it.But this is the only way to learn.

    December 3, 2015
  • Aw, this really doesn’t sound that bad (the first one) and it’s very sensible to take your time the second time around. I still marvel at how white your house is though, we just couldn’t keep it clean enough to go all white, I have a hard enough time with a white dress, so white walls and such would be really really hard!!

    I’ll be doing a DIY update on our house soon on my blog, but suffice it to say that we’ve been here for over 2 years now and i still have a bathroom with carpet (euch!) and downstairs the affectionately named ‘avocado suite’, complete with orange wall tiles… We can’t afford to rush, we’d rather save up bit by bit and make sure we do things properly, and with a decent quality that will last years and years. It can be a bit frustrating, but it’s worth making it a labour of love, especially as our house is honestly one we could stay in until we’re old.

    Great tips, I really appreciate your humour on these serious topics (I seem to remember lots about a hallway floor at some point?!)


    December 4, 2015