The One Question You Need to Ask Yourself Before Buying a House

published Jan 1, 2021
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When Ryan Dibble first toured his home in Seattle a few years ago, the bathroom vanity stopped him dead in his tracks—and not because of its good looks.

The vanity had short legs that created a three-inch gap underneath it. Dibble noticed this weird, no-man’s-land void space immediately and shuddered at the thought of all the nasty bathroom germs and debris that would no doubt accumulate there.

In the end, he decided to buy the house anyway. And guess what? He still hasn’t changed out that vanity.

This experience taught Dibble, chief operating officer at real estate company Flyhomes, the importance of asking a single question before buying a house: Can I live with it for a year?

Homebuyers tend to focus on all the little (and sometimes big) imperfections of a home, or simply on aesthetic choices that don’t match their personal taste. After closing, they immediately get to work hiring contractors, drawing up renovation plans, and spending thousands of dollars changing what they don’t like.

But according to Dibble, this isn’t always the best course of action. Instead, buyers should slow down—way down—and live in the house for a full year before taking action. 

Why? Because it takes time to become familiar with a home and its setting. It sounds obvious, but you really don’t know how your home works and, perhaps more importantly, how you work in the home until you’ve settled in. 

On top of that, there may be unexpected seasonal changes that affect your decision, too. For example, the way the sun shines on your house or yard can change a lot from season to season—if you move the dining room to another part of your house in the winter, you may realize way too late that the sun makes that space unbearably hot and unusable during the summer months, Dibble says.

“You learn a lot living in a home and spending time there,” Dibble says. 

Waiting a year can also help you make savvier, more strategic renovation decisions that will help you get the highest resale value down the road. Taking a deep breath and waiting a year can take a lot of the emotion out of these decisions, which is a really good thing when it comes to your finances. 

“Essentially, we’re able to be more thoughtful about how we prioritize the return on investment that we may get from spending money,” Dibble says.

Many first-time homebuyers—and even more experienced buyers—are spending nearly every penny they have on the down payment, which leaves little money left over for immediate renovations. Waiting a year also gives you time to build back up your savings and keep money in your pocket for unexpected—and costly—disruptions, such as if your hot water heater goes out.

Plus, in the end, you might just forget all about that shower tile you don’t like, the kitchen cabinets that just aren’t your style, or the space under the bathroom vanity.

“Our brains are pretty good at ignoring these things we don’t like,” Dibble says. “These big problems and things we absolutely can’t stand, we get used to them and we realize they’re not actually that important to us.”