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Courtney White and her fiancé saw one house after another go under contract before even having a chance to see the property during their house hunt earlier this year.
After finally buying a house in Durant, Oklahoma, White says she feels like she settled too soon. “It was like, oh here’s a house we semi-like — we better put in an offer or it’s gonna go,” she says.
Now, she says it just doesn’t feel like a home to her. Even the pool, which initially attracted them to the house, feels like more of a bother than what it’s worth. “It’s nothing I can’t live with,” she says. But she has “a whole list of things I want to remodel, which pretty much adds up to the whole house,” she says.
Lauren Carlton and her husband, Joshua, bought a home in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, in December 2020. They say they’ve dealt with many unexpected challenges such as plumbing issues.
For homebuyers in a hot market, this can be a relatable experience: 43% of homeowners have at least one regret about buying their home, and that number jumps to 64% for millenials, according to a recent Bankrate survey.
Homebuyer’s remorse may be difficult to avoid entirely, but there are things you can do to minimize its impact. With the right approach, you can avoid major issues and be prepared to handle the challenges of homeownership. We talked with three homebuyers about their recent experiences buying a home, so you can be better prepared to navigate similar challenges.
How to Avoid Homebuyer Regrets
Buying and owning a home can be a rewarding experience, if you prepare ahead of time and take your time in finding the right place for you. Before you jump into becoming a homeowner, it’s worth learning from the experience of these buyers. Here’s their advice:
1. Patience Is a Virtue – Especially in Today’s Market
Throughout the pandemic, homes have been selling quickly, and that has made it difficult for buyers. “They want you to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a house and you literally have a week to make your decision, it’s a little mind blowing,” Carlton says.
White even felt rushed during the walk-through of their house. Their Realtor said to be careful what they talked about on the tour because the home had Amazon Ring security cameras, which pick up audio. “So we kind of just went through really fast and we were kind of weirded out a little bit.”
Have patience. It’s OK to take more time to make such a huge financial decision.
Even if the market in your area is moving quickly, being patient can help you avoid all types of problems, big and small. “Definitely be patient. Don’t rush into things,” White says. “Make sure you’re looking at all the small details and thinking about what you want.”
Being patient also means you may have to walk away from a deal you once felt good about. First-time homebuyers GiGi Thomas and her fiancée had put an earnest money deposit on a new build in the Dallas, Texas, area earlier this year. With only weeks left before closing, they noticed red flags. Much of the house was being built with cheaper materials; the baseboards, interior doors, and kitchen cabinets weren’t what they expected. During their last visit to the home they discovered the cabinets were made of particle board, a less durable material than wood. “They never told us in the beginning … they’d only say hey, you got wood cabinets,” Thomas says. “You don’t think [they’re] faux wood or particle board.”
The problems only got worse from there. An electrical conduit leading to the island in the kitchen was exposed. Thomas says she consulted with an engineer who said it wasn’t up to code and it should have been buried deeper in the concrete slab. After doing some research on the builder, Thomas says she found a number of lawsuits and complaints against the builder for shoddy workmanship. Thomas and her fiancée cut ties with their original builder and are now working with a new builder that they feel much more comfortable with.
The good news for prospective buyers is that there are indications that the housing market is starting to slow down, slightly. Throughout next year, experts forecast a seller’s market will remain, with prices still increasing, but somewhat better conditions for buyers. So you may face less intense bidding wars and have more time to wait on the right deal for you.
2. Work With People You Trust
Whenever you’re buying a home, working with a team of experienced professionals will help you steer clear of major regrets. Choosing the best mortgage lender with an experienced loan officer can help you evaluate all of your mortgage options and choose the best one for you. A knowledgeable local real estate agent can help you find a property that meets all your needs and negotiate with the sellers. An industry professional can help you find answers to the homeownership questions you didn’t even know you needed to ask and avoid all sorts of problems down the road.
This is even more important if you’re building a new home. “There’s a lot of different processes that you don’t even think of that you have to pay attention to,” Thomas says. Thomas feels she can trust her new builder because they’ve been upfront with everything from the get-go. The builder explained to her that the quality of some of the framing materials hasn’t been the same due to supply chain issues. “The fact that he was open and honest about that really made me trust them,” she says.
By switching builders and working with people she can trust, Thomas believes she’s much better off. “I dodged a bullet with this one.”
3. Plan Ahead and Stick to the Plan
“If their mortgage payment is taking up an unhealthy portion of their income from the get-go, that’s going to put them behind the eight ball,” says Jeff Arevalo, a housing counselor at GreenPath Financial Wellness, a nonprofit HUD-approved agency. “That’s going to … typically cause some problems right from the start, which don’t have to happen.” Everyone’s situation is different, but he recommends aiming for spending no more than 30% of your income on housing.
Aside from a homebuying budget, you’ll want to have a well thought out list of your “must haves” and “would like to haves” in a home. While you’re creating this list, it would be helpful to talk with owners about their experience. A massive backyard may be great for the dog and kids, but what’s it like to mow all that grass every week during the summer?
It can even be helpful to scrutinize your own plan and priorities throughout the process. White says the reason they chose the home they did was because it had a swimming pool. “I thought if we had a pool … I would be in it every day, it would be used a lot,” she says. But the pool has turned into more of a headache than anything. White says she’s swam in the pool maybe twice since they bought the house, and it takes time and money to maintain.
Be realistic with your budget and really think about what you want in a home before bidding on a property. White says she wishes she knew how much of a pain swimming pools were before settling on this property.
4. Don’t Skip the Inspection
In the fight to get an offer accepted, some buyers may agree to skip the home inspection, which typically is not required by a mortgage lender. A home inspection is vital for flagging major issues, such as a bad roof or structural problems. Without an inspection, you could be putting yourself at risk of needing to pay for these types of expensive repairs later. Carlton says she’d rather pay more to rent, than buy a house and skip the inspection.
The Carltons’ home inspector didn’t identify any major issues, but he did flag the plumbing. “He didn’t think the plumbing was done by licensed professionals,” Carlton says. The Carltons wanted to send out their own plumber to inspect the plumbing, but the seller offered to send out a plumber instead. The seller’s plumber didn’t identify any problems.
A month after the Carlton’s moved into their home they started to notice a sewage smell. Eventually, they discovered that a pipe under the home was installed incorrectly. For weeks their wastewater and sewage was emptying into the crawl space under their home. They ended up paying around $1,000 out of pocket for the repairs.
If they could do it over again, Carlton says she wouldn’t have settled with letting the seller choose a plumber to inspect. She recommends you find your own independent professionals to inspect the property. But overall, she was glad they had an inspector take a look at the home before they closed.
5. Expect the Unexpected
Big ticket items that can quickly drain your bank account, such as structural issues or a roof replacement, will hopefully be identified by an inspector before you make the purchase. But even with a thorough inspection, there are likely to be issues you won’t uncover until you’ve lived in the home. “You can test drive a car, you can’t test drive a house,” Carlton says.
With that in mind, it’s important to have savings set aside for unexpected expenses. “You got to budget for the known, you got to budget for the unknown,” Arevalo says. You may be able to put off remodeling an outdated kitchen, but at some point you’re likely to need to pay for emergency repairs that can’t wait.
Depending on the time of year you purchase, there will be certain aspects of the home you won’t know until months later when the seasons change. The Carltons bought their home in the winter, and ran into problems as summer rolled around. The air conditioning unit started breaking down once they started using it more heavily. Their home warranty has covered some of the costs, but Carlton says it will eventually need to be replaced. They also realized that at some point they’ll need to pay to have the thermostat moved because in its current location the home isn’t being cooled evenly. “The bedrooms will get really, really cold from the A/C and then the living room kind of stays hot with the way the house is laid out,” Carlton says.
Despite the challenges — the known and the unexpected — many homeowners say it’s a worthwhile commitment The Carltons estimate their mortgage payment is roughly $500 less per month than renting a similar home, their utilities are cheaper than their previous rental, and they’re building equity in the home. Every time I make a mortgage payment I imagine myself filling up the walls with our money, she says. “When you make your mortgage payment, the money’s not actually just going out the window.”
But it’s important to understand the commitment you’re making by becoming a homeowner.
When something goes wrong, there’s no landlord to call and you’ll be the one footing the bill. “We do love the house. We do enjoy it,” Carlton says. Owning a house is a lot of responsibility, “it’s just one thing after another … so you have to take that into consideration,” she says.