5 Helpful Pieces of Homebuying Advice I Got from My Dad and Brother

published Dec 14, 2020
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In the fall of 2005, I purchased my first home in Birmingham, Alabama. Aside from graduating from college, it was my proudest accomplishment to date.  At the time, I had a media management job at a large nonprofit and I was working 60 to 80 hours a week, so it often felt like I only came home to shower, change clothes, and sleep. But just turning into my driveway never failed to bring a smile to my face.

My path to homeownership wasn’t typical. The year I was born, my parents built a spacious home that I was in no hurry to leave. I lived there into adulthood (and in another home that was in my family), so I never experienced renter life. This set me up for one main goal: to buy a house that was pretty much a smaller version of my childhood home. 

When I decided I wanted to become a homeowner, I turned to two of my favorite people: my dad and my brother. They’d both bought homes before, and I learned a lot from their experiences. My father passed two months before I closed on my house, which made closing a bittersweet experience, since he never got to see the home. Still, their invaluable homebuying tips have stood the test of time. Here are some of my dad and brother’s nuggets of wisdom.

Credit: Terri Williams
Terri's first house in Alabama

Your first house is not your forever home

When I was searching for a house, I had a laundry list of must-haves. However, both my dad and my brother had a Mark 4:28 perspective: First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear. In other words, my dad used to say, “Your first job wasn’t your dream job, and your first car wasn’t a Porsche (which is my dream car!), so why would you think your first home should have to check every single box?” I think this is a good policy, though I was pleasantly surprised that my house did check most of my boxes.

Never buy the best house in the neighborhood

I bought a just-built house in a new subdivision. The homes there were almost identical—except they were available in different colors of brick. However, my brother’s philosophy has always been to find a fixer-upper in one of the best neighborhoods. This is another strategy that he has employed with great success. Note: When it was time for me to buy a house, he shifted gears and recommended that I get a move-in-ready home! That’s because I knew nothing about maintaining houses—I would always call one of my two favorite guys for help. At the time I was shopping for a home, my brother was a fire captain with a wife and three kids, and he made it clear that he would not be available to renovate someone else’s home.

Brick houses are the best houses

My dad was a firm believer in purchasing (or building) brick homes. He thought that brick provided a classic look that was unmatched by any other type of exterior material. He also liked the fact that brick is durable and low maintenance. My brother has purchased three homes in his lifetime, and both the second and third purchases have been fully brick homes. So it was settled: I knew that I wanted a full-brick house as well.

Decide what’s most important

Although my dad thought my first house didn’t necessarily have to be my dream home, he felt that I should prioritize what was most important, and ensure the house met that criteria. My top requirements: a full-brick exterior, an attached garage, two bathrooms, a laundry room. Luckily, my house met all of those requirements.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

“Look at the total amount, not the monthly amount,” is perhaps the best advice my dad gave me when it came to financials. He compared the home buying process to buying a car: if the salesperson says the car is X thousand dollars, you’re going to say, “Nope, I don’t want to pay that much.” When they tell you the monthly payment, it looks more manageable, right? But don’t forget that you didn’t want to spend that much. This same theory applies to buying a house. An extra hundred dollars a month can get you into a bigger or nicer home. My dad would say, “That’s an extra hundred dollars every month for years and year and years.”