As of about a month ago, I'm officially a homeowner. My husband and I laid claim to our own little corner of a building that used to be a pickle factory, and so far, it's been both my greatest joy and the biggest source of stress I've ever encountered in my life.
Most people only like to talk about that first part. It's like when you announce you're pregnant: Before you get knocked up, your friends are telling you what a joy it is to make offspring and how their kids are such a blessing and they wouldn't imagine life any other way. But when you share the news about your own bundle of joy, suddenly those blissful new parents change their tone. "Ha! Good luck ever getting sleep again!"
Buying a house is like that.
Every one of your friends who own their own place want you to be part of the club. And there are a lot of benefits—don't get me wrong. I have so much more space. I can paint the walls whatever color I want to. And I can make plans for, like, 10 years from now and know we'll probably be living blissfully right here in this loft. But some other things about owning are the pits.
The Bad Things About Being a Homeowner
A short list from my really long month.
Things Can Break at Any Moment
Before you close on your home, your lender will likely arrange for an inspection to determine if there are any pressing repairs that need to be finished before the sale, or factored into your contract. Our inspector warned us about the 12-year-old air conditioner—still doing just fine, knock on wood—but the weaning washing machine, about 20 days from deciding to leak all over the laundry room, evaded detection. So, yeah, we had to unexpectedly replace the washer in the first month. All you can really do is shrug, then continue to save for unpredictable repairs.
HOAs are a Blessing and a Curse
If you're buying a condo, like we did, there will be something called a homeowners association that collects fees from residents of the property and uses those funds to take care of the building itself (and sometimes pay utilities like trash, water and sewer). Coming from apartment life, it's nice to know that certain things are being taken care of outside of our four walls. But monthly HOA fees won't cover everything. When the roof springs a leak—like ours has (I'm telling you, it's been an expensive month)—the HOA will issue an assessment, which means that the residents pool together to pay for the repairs. The leak isn't affecting our unit, but we're part of the HOA, so we're expected to pay up.
You Can't Know or Predict Everything
My husband and I are impulsive people who know what we like, so I'm actually not surprised that we bought the second home we saw. But whether you make an offer on the first place you see, or take months to conduct a thorough search to find the perfect place, there are still things about your home that you're going to learn on the fly. For instance, I've learned that there's no easy way for drivers to deliver packages to the people in our building. And more often than not, those packages get left out in reach of the elements, resulting in me having to ship two very soggy books back to Amazon.com.
The best thing you can do to really understand what it would be like to live in a place is to talk to neighbors and even the seller. This package problem wouldn't have changed how I felt about buying our loft, but I wish I could have started working on another plan for shopping online before we moved in.
It's Not the "Investment" It's Made Out to Be
Our total mortgage payment is a comfortable amount higher than our rent payment was here in Atlanta. But at least now we're not throwing away money in rent, right? Wrong. Well, mostly. More than 75% of our mortgage payment is money we'll never see again—premiums for our insurance company, taxes to the government and, in the largest part, interest to our lender.
Even though right now it feels like we're chipping away at an iceberg of a loan with a small spoon, the distribution of our mortgage payment will change over time, and hopefully we're here long enough to see some real lifts in our loft's value. But if you think the transition from renter to homeowner is going to be a big boon to your net worth overnight, you might consider sticking with your landlord a little longer.