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…
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.
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.
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.