This Was the Biggest Mistake I Made When Buying My First Home

This Was the Biggest Mistake I Made When Buying My First Home

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Fiona Tapp
Jul 18, 2018
(Image credit: DreamPictures/Getty Images)

The very first time I walked into the house I now call home, I fell in love. It was in a quiet, tree-lined cul de sac where children played in the streets—yet it was only 10 minutes from the downtown core. I couldn't believe how much space there was: three bedrooms (room enough for possible babies to come), a yard with a deck, a huge finished basement, and even a little lawn where I imagined my husband and I would grow vegetables.

Before walking into that dream house, my husband and I had only looked at one other property. It was dirty and smelled of dogs, so there really was no competition in our minds. It was 2011, and for five years, my husband and I had been living in a small two-bedroom apartment. Buying a house represented the most adult decision we had yet faced as a couple—and we were excited.

Maybe we were even a little too excited. Swept up in the moment, we decided to make an offer for $2,000 under the asking price before we even turned off the street. It was accepted.

It wasn't the space, the basement, or the trees that sold us: It was the laundry room and dishwasher. The apartment we were living in didn't allow us to have a dishwasher in-unit, and carrying our dirty clothes down three flights of stairs to the communal basement laundry was getting tedious. These simple amenities seemed revolutionary.

The only math we did before making the offer was work out how much money we could afford to pay in mortgage repayments. We were ecstatic to find that we would actually save money by owning a house as opposed to renting. Even adding on the condo fees required by the housing association, we were still happy with the numbers.

So we went ahead. We moved in, decorated, had a housewarming party, and even planted some veggies.

Then after a first wonderful year, the condo fees were raised... and again the next year... and every year since. After living there for 4 years, the HOA fees had become so high—almost an additional 50 percent of our monthly mortgage payment—that we worried that we wouldn't be able to sell the house.

Once we had our first baby, we found a whole new love for our home. The spare room was perfect for a nursery, and although we had to baby-proof every conceivable hazard, it was exciting to see our home grow with us: Man caves evolved into kids bedrooms, dining rooms morphed into offices (I started to freelance full-time), and that once-loved garden became overgrown as the demands of work and parenting sucked up all our energy.

As our lives changed, some of our priorities shifted. Now that I worked for myself I didn't need to be so close to downtown and we realized how much more house we could have for our buck if we moved further out of the city.

Now, seven years later, we started to seriously consider selling and had a realtor come to the house to give us an estimated selling price. He dropped some hard truths on us: Our house had originally been overpriced by at least $10,000. If that wasn't enough, houses in our area had been falling in value over the years. If we sold today, we would be lucky to get a sale price of $20,000 less than we paid for it seven years ago. If we had acted with our heads, getting an impartial appraisal and market value report before we had made our offer, we could have either walked away or negotiated a more reasonable price. Rather than representing a profitable investment, our repayments over the years had meant nothing. We may as well have rented.

It seems quite absurd now that appliances of all things would seal the deal and lead us to close on the biggest single purchase of our lives. We should have researched the market value of similar properties in the area to see if the house was listed at a fair price. We love the area, but our condo fees get higher every single year. If we don't sell soon, we could be stuck here forever. And if we do sell soon, it's guaranteed we'll lose money. It's a lose-lose situation.

Have a home-finance story you'd like to share? Whether it's paying off your mortgage early, finding a super cheap NYC apartment, or even smart rent payment strategy, we'd love to hear it! E-mail repitches@apartmenttherapy.com with your story.

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