9 Things I Wish I Had Known About Owning My First Home (Before I Bought It)

Years before I ever dreamed of homeownership for myself, I was an HGTV connoisseur. In college, I double majored in “Property Virgins” and “House Hunters” and spent hours glued to the TV with my roommate, ogling other people’s granite countertops.

Fast forward nearly a decade, and the time had arrived for me to purchase my own home. (No granite countertops here—my house was more like the “before” scene in an episode of “Fixer Upper”).

Not surprisingly, TV homeownership didn’t prepare me for the real thing. There are lots of lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way.

If you’re gearing up for your own journey into homeownership, turn off the TV and gather ’round. I’ll fill you in on a few things I wish I had known beforehand, and a few surprises (some happy, some frustrating) that I encountered along the way.

1. A beautiful yard takes work

That lawn's not going ti cut itself
That lawn’s not going ti cut itself

mustafagull/iStock

I never met a succulent that I didn’t kill. Even my fake plants are looking a little wilted right now. But even though I don’t have a green thumb, landscaping and yard maintenance are forever on my to-do list.

Each spring, I spray Roundup with impunity, attempting (and failing) to conquer the weeds. My husband handles mowing and edging.

I’ve slowly started to learn which plants can endure abuse, neglect, and a volatile Midwestern climate. I still have a long way to go in my landscaping journey, but all this work has given me a new appreciation for other people’s lush, beautiful lawns.

When you’re house hunting, keep in mind that those beautiful lawns you see—and that outdoor space you covet—come at a steep price. Either your time and frustration, or a hefty bill for professional landscapers, will be necessary to keep things presentable.

2. You might get a bill for neighborhood improvements

Your property taxes should pay for every improvement to the neighborhood, right? Not necessarily.

When my neighbors came together to petition the city for a speed bump on our busy street, the cost was passed on to us homeowners. It wasn’t covered by property taxes, so we got a bill in the mail a few months later. Surprise!

When you’re preparing to buy a house, make sure you budget for homeownership expenses—not just repair and HOA costs, but those pesky fees that crop up when you least expect them.

3. Brush/trash removal? It works differently in every city

You might not be able to just leave your leaves on the curb...
You might not be able to just leave your leaves on the curb…

Instants/iStock

As a kid, I spent many fall weekends scooping leaves into yard waste bags that we left on the curb for pickup. But when I became a homeowner, I realized that my early brush with brush removal was unique to the suburb where I grew up. Every city handles it differently, if the city handles it at all.

In Milwaukee, where I live, homeowners can put leaves on the curb for pickup on designated days. For big branches, you need to request a pickup, or potentially dispose of them yourself. Check with your city to find the ordinances and regulations where you live.

4. You’ll want to clean (or hire someone to clean) your nasty windows

Window maintenance was never on my radar as a renter, probably because I never had more than a few windows in an apartment. But then I became the proud owner of many, many windows—and all of them were coated in a thick film of gunk after years of neglect.

After we moved in, I started to tackle the cleaning on my own. But I quickly realized I was getting nowhere fast, and there was no way I could safely clean the exterior windows up in the finished attic.

So, I swallowed my pride and hired window washers. It was some of the best money I’ve ever spent.

5. You may feel a sudden urge to stock up on seasonal decorations

I never looked twice at a $50 wreath or decorative gourd before becoming a homeowner. Now, I have a burgeoning collection of lawn ornaments in the shape of snowmen and spooky cats. Sometimes I don’t even know who I am anymore.

6. You’ll need to create a budget for Halloween candy

Stock up...
Stock up…

leekris/iStock

At least I did in my Halloween-loving neighborhood, where the trick-or-treaters come out in droves.

I spent upward of $100 on candy my first year as a homeowner, and most of it was purchased in a panic at the Dollar Store after I noticed that our supply was dangerously low just halfway through the evening.

Now, I stock up in advance and shop with coupons to save a few bucks.

7. DIY renovation is equally rewarding and soul-crushing

Maybe just call someone next time...
Maybe just call someone next time…

neirfy/iStock

For the first few months after we closed on our house, my husband and I spent every free hour after work and on the weekends ripping out carpeting, pulling nails one by one from the hardwood floors, and scrubbing away at generations’ worth of grime in the bathrooms and kitchen. It was some seriously sick stuff.

Being frugal and ambitious means we can accomplish a lot on a small budget. But acting as our own general contractors became a full-time job on top of both of our full-time jobs.

Simple pleasures like “having a social life” or “Friday night with Netflix” became distant memories. It’s easy now to say it was all worth it, but at the time, I daydreamed about winning the lottery and hiring a team of pros to handle our rehab.

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8. My impulse to check real estate listings lingered for a while

When I started house hunting, I obsessively searched for new home listings every day, poring over MLS descriptions and swiping through photos. Reaching for my phone to refresh the realtor.com app became muscle memory.

But after we closed on our house, my impulse to follow the market didn’t disappear overnight. Even though I was a homeowner, I also had a phantom limb where “checking the real estate listings” used to be.

A friend of mine put it best when she wrote about the sensation of loss she experienced when she “no longer had an excuse to occupy [her] free time with these real estate apps.” It’s surprisingly challenging to turn off your home-buying brain after months of being on high alert.

9. You’ll never want to go back to sharing walls

I like my neighbors. I like them even more because, for the most part, I can’t hear them. Gone are the days of people above me making bowling sounds late at night.

Now, I enjoy the sweet, sweet silence of detached living—no adjacent neighbors blasting music or loudly quarreling. All the yard work in the world is worth it for this level of quiet.

Source: realtor.com

Home Decor Projects for When You’re Snowed In

Sometimes it’s hard to see the upside of harsh winter weather, especially when snow storms leave you stuck inside. However, you can take advantage of a snow day by using the opportunity to improve your home decor. Here are some simple DIY projects for when you’re snowed in. Ask your children to help out (safely) for family fun time that may add a bit of luxury to your living space.

Decorative Lampshade
Add some pizzazz to a lampshade by gluing an inlaid paper cutout on its inner surface. Use a blade to cut a design from paper (either freehand or from a template), making sure to place a rubber mat down first to protect the surface underneath. With a mixture of 50% glue and 50% water, decoupage the paper cutout inside of the lampshade. Once it’s dry, turn the lamp on and admire the glowing design!

Fabric Wall Art
If you have some bold print fabric, use it to create art that pops. All you’ll need to buy are wooden frames of varying sizes and a hot glue gun. Cut the fabric wide enough so that there will be two inches leftover when stretched across a frame. Cover, glue, and voila! Create a gallery wall to display your new pieces.

Hanging Planters
If you have small planters in your indoor garden, consider hanging them for a fun look that will free up surface space. Simply drill two small holes close to the top edge of the planter. Make sure they’re exactly opposite from one another. Knot a thin but sturdy rope or twine inside each of the holes so you can hang them from a hook. Tip: Install the hook near a window so your plant can still get the sunlight it needs.

Memory Table
Memory tables are a great way to personalize your home. You’ll need a deep photo display and a similar sized coffee table. Using a strong wood glue, adhere the back of the photo display to the table. You can now place objects in the display to create a sentimental scene. Try using objects that are cohesive, such as trinkets and photos from a memorable family trip. You may want to glue the objects in place so they are not disturbed when the table is moved.

If you keep one (or more) of these projects in mind for your next snow day, getting snowed in might not seem so bad!

Source: century21.com

It Just Makes Cents! 7 DIY Home Improvement Projects That Promise Serious ROI

DIY home improvements can be great feel-good projects. You get to learn a new skill, use your hands, and take pride in something you create yourself.

But let’s face it: Your DIY project doesn’t make sense if it won’t make cents. In other words, it needs to pay off when it comes time to sell your home.

“The key to winning the ROI game with home improvement is to take a less-is-more approach,” says Dan DiClerico, home expert at HomeAdvisor.

If your goal is to earn a return on your DIY investment, DiClerico suggests taking on smaller improvements that will have a big impact on buyers.

“Bells and whistles tend not to rank high on ROI,” DiClerico says. “The high-tech home theater might mean hours of fun for you and the family, but it’s probably not going to pay for itself when the time comes to sell.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t outfit your house with the latest technology—if you’re making an improvement that you’ll love and enjoy, go for it. But if you’re looking to roll up your sleeves and tackle a project that will offer serious bang for the buck, try one of these home improvement projects next weekend.

1. Refresh your kitchen cabinets

“If the cabinets are in good shape, adding a fresh coat of paint or stain will dramatically transform the feel of the entire kitchen,” DiClerico says.

Be warned: Even though painting isn’t very difficult, it’s still time-consuming. You’ll need to remove the doors and drawers to ensure a clean finish. “But in terms of skill level, it’s something even novice DIYers can handle,” DiClerico says.

And remember, slow and steady wins the race when it comes to any painting project.

“You could lose some buyers with a sloppy paint job,” says Scott W. Campbell, a real estate agent in Milwaukee. “If you truly want to increase ROI, a good paint job takes time and patience.”

2. Create curb appeal

Making a great first impression on home buyers is one of the quickest ways to boost your home’s value.

“Landscaping and gardening are the biggest ones that also are simple,” says Kendall Bonner, a real estate agent in Lutz, FL. “Curb appeal has a significant impact on buyer’s purchasing decisions.”

Aside from adding tasteful foliage and keeping your lawn manicured, a few strings of café lights can also improve your home’s outdoor space and curb appeal. Don’t forget to paint old fences and prune overgrown plants.

3. Give your front door a makeover

Want to boost your home’s curb appeal but don’t have a green thumb? Spruce up your front door instead. All it takes is a few coats of paint. (The same rules apply: Work slowly and carefully to avoid drips and roller marks.)

“A fresh pop of color at the front door is a great way to enhance your home’s curb appeal for not a lot of money or time,” DiClerico says.

4. Create a backyard deck

“Outdoor living is hugely popular, even more so since the pandemic, since people are looking to expand their home’s usable living space,” DiClerico says.

Creating a new deck is possible to do yourself, but “it’s not for the faint of heart,” he adds, especially if you’re putting in concrete footings for the deck posts. This project is best for intermediate to advanced renovators, and it helps to have a few friends on board to assist.

Keep the design simple—avoid any tricky changes in elevation—and work with pressure-treated lumber instead of hardwoods that are tough to cut and screw into, DiClerico says.

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Watch: In Spite of It All, Summer 2020 Is a Great Time to Sell Your Home

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5. Brighten up the basement

You don’t need to spring for a fully finished basement to appeal to prospective buyers.

“Spraying the basement unfinished ceiling with flat black latex paint can make big difference to clean up a look, and spraying the walls,” Campbell says.

To take your project to the next level, you can add carpeting and adjustable lighting. By cleaning up the basement, you can help prospective buyers envision a space that will fit their needs, whether it’s as a rec room, play area, or home gym.

6. Add more storage

“Anytime you add usable living space to the home, you increase its value,” DiClerico says. “That’s true now more so than ever given all the time we’re spending at home.”

Making an addition to your home might not be realistic. But smaller improvements, like adding a pantry in the kitchen, a new storage unit in the garage, or even closet organizers, add valuable storage space to your home and will pay off when you’re ready to sell.

7. Make small repairs and keep up with maintenance

It may not be as satisfying as tackling a big project, but staying on top of your home’s basic maintenance is just as important and promises serious ROI.

“Many of today’s buyers are staying away from fixer-uppers in favor of move-in ready homes that won’t require frequent repairs,” DiClerico says.

Seemingly small problems like a leaky faucet, loose gutter, or missing light fixture can be a red flag.

“When buyers see things like that, they think to themselves, ‘What else is wrong with this house that I can’t see?’” DiClerico says. “Spending a few hundred dollars on these small repairs will let the buyer know that this house has been cared for.”

Source: realtor.com