My family and I began searching for a house last June. Since that time, we’ve driven into countless neighborhoods looking for a place to grow new roots. A week ago, we found a place that checked off the boxes on our house hunting checklist. We made an offer and signed a contract, but minutes later, doubt began to creep in.
A thought popped into my mind that wouldn’t leave. Were we about to buy the wrong house?
My husband felt confident in the decision, but I had a nagging suspicion it wasn’t the right fit for us. I hate to make decisions, and I convinced myself it was a bit of buyer’s remorse. Once we moved in and updated the paint colors, it would feel just right. Wouldn’t it?
Some houses feel light and airy. This house was not one of them. From the moment I stepped inside, I could sense the darkness. It didn’t have windows on the east or west side of the house, and sunlight only streamed through the front windows. The patio table didn’t have an umbrella attached because sunlight NEVER reaches that part of the backyard.
The front yard was HUGE, but the tiny mound of dirt in the back was small and sloped. Where would we host backyard parties or place a hot tub? Was it even possible? If it was, wouldn’t the space feel cramped and tight?
I called our contractor and asked how much it would cost to place new windows in the house. We also discussed tearing down walls to let light stream from north to south.
Our current house wasn’t perfect on the day we moved in, but I love the way it feels now. “Surely,” I thought, “we can make changes to liven up this new place.”
Bought a House But Not Happy With It
My husband and I spent hours looking over the floor plan. We agreed on what we should change and the order in which we should change it.
First, we’d tackle the problems with the backyard, then we’d shop for a lighter floor color and add recessed lights. Later we’d replace the front stairway and cut windows into the east side of the house. We created a long list of things we wanted to change or fix.
Despite my misgivings, I convinced myself it would work. We know a handy contractor who could make this place look beautiful in no time. The price and location are the most important aspects of owning a home, and both of those hit the mark.
We would work around the tiny backyard and other shortcomings. We are trying to buy in a tight seller’s market, and I convinced myself we had no choice.
The following day our agent called and presented us with a few diagrams of our lot and a conservation easement addendum. It seems the sellers forgot to disclose a rather large conservation area on their lot.
I Bought the Wrong House
Suddenly, that overwhelming feeling returned. I felt certain we were about to buy the wrong house.
It’s a complex situation that we can’t immediately resolve. The sellers don’t know where the conservation area begins and ends. We planned to make changes in the backyard to build a more extensive patio and a retaining wall. If the area extends towards the house, we can’t develop anything there.
My husband and I discuss the details and decide to walk away from the deal. My emotions are all over the place. I’m happy to dump a house that doesn’t feel ideal but sad to walk away from a neighborhood we love. More than anything, though, I feel an immediate sense of relief.
We were about to buy the wrong house.
Will we ever find the right house? I’m not so sure. We’ve toured twenty places, and none of them feel quite right.
Every weekend I strap on two masks, wrap booties around my shoes, and meander through the hallways of strangers. I peek into bedrooms, basements, and kitchens, searching for a place that I want to live. So far, I haven’t found one.
It seems the quest will continue, but deep in my heart, I know I’d rather delay the purchase than end up with the wrong house or, worse yet, a place I hate.
So I return to the drawing board and feel forever grateful that we get another chance at this. We could’ve made a HUGE mistake!
Why Do People Buy the Wrong House?
I know we are not alone in this situation. Homebuyers purchase the wrong house for a variety of reasons. In our case, I felt rushed to make a decision. We want to move before the next school year, and in this seller’s market, very few houses are popping up.
It’s common to make a mistake when rushing to buy. Some buyers don’t spend enough time searching for homes. Others make a knee-jerk reaction for fear that home prices will continue to go up.
Friends of ours made a mistake by buying a house they couldn’t afford. Another bought a house way too far from work. You can buy a home that isn’t big enough for your growing needs or love everything about a place but find out it’s a money pit.
So, how can you avoid these common mistakes?
5 Ways to Avoid Buying the Wrong House
We made an almost irreversible mistake. What should we have done instead?
There are five main ways to avoid buying the wrong house:
- Figure out how much house you can afford
- Decide where you want to live
- Determine what features you want
- Think longterm
- Don’t rush into buying
Let’s explore each of these topics in detail.
Figure Out How Much House You Can Afford
First, take a good, hard look at your finances and figure out how much house you can afford. Many new homebuyers look at places before they run the numbers. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get into financial trouble when you fall in love with a house that doesn’t fit your budget.
The internet is full of online calculators that can help you. To discover your true number, make sure you look carefully at your monthly expenses. Don’t forget to include student loans, car payments, and other recurring costs, including all of those expenses you can’t rein in.
Look over the last few months of credit card bills to get a feel for how much money you spend each month. Most of us spend a lot more than we think we do. Keep maintenance expenses, property taxes, HOA fees, insurance, and other fees in mind. Owning a house is incredibly expensive!
Once you have all of these figures, you can plug them into a home affordability calculator.
After you run the numbers find out if the bank agrees with your financial assessment. Research the terms, interest rates, and debt-to-income requirements for obtaining a mortgage.
You won’t sign up for a loan at this point. You just want to find out if you are eligible to attain one. If you are within thirty to sixty days of making an offer on a house, now is the time to ask your lender for a pre-approval letter. In a competitive market, you’ll need it.
Figure Out Where You Want to Live
Next, figure out where you want to live. We currently live within a mile of multiple grocery stores, drug stores, and a metro. It’s a large community with interconnecting streets and neighbors who live very close to one another. The average lot is less than a quarter of an acre.
It’s an older neighborhood with lots of vegetation and large looming trees that create a fair amount of shade when walking or riding a bike.
It sounds like the perfect place to live, right? It is, except the schools here are not performing well. Their ratings are dropping quickly and show no signs of letting up.
Ideally, we’d like to move into a similar neighborhood with better schools and more space.
Figure out where you want to move. Do you want to live way out in the country without neighbors, or would you prefer a close-knit community where everyone knows their neighbors? How far would you be willing to drive to buy supplies or groceries?
Do you want to live in an urban space with sidewalks or a shady place surrounded by green foliage?
What Amenities and Features Do You Want?
Right now, we live in a 1600 square foot home. The amount of space suits our needs, but the layout doesn’t work well for us. We don’t have room for a shed in our backyard, and our garage is too tiny to fit our car, lawnmower, and bikes.
We don’t spend a ton of time in our bedrooms, but we love to cook together. The cramped sleeping quarters are fine, but our postage-stamp-sized kitchen can’t easily fit the two of us.
To figure out what we want in our next home, we took a good, hard look at our current one. If you are searching for a new house, I urge you to do the same.
Create a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves. Bring that checklist to open houses and modify it as you evaluate more homes.
I am willing to live with small bedrooms, but I want an open floor plan. My husband is willing to forgo big windows and natural sunlight for an oversized backyard. If you are buying a house with someone else, talk through your desires and search for ways to compromise.
Here are a few features to discuss in advance:
- Lot size
- House size
- Floor plan
- Amount of green space (lawn size or number of trees)
- Shady (surrounded by trees) or sunny open lawns
- Privacy or proximity to your neighbors
Think Longterm. Contemplate Your Future
Right now, our kids love to play tag and soccer on the front lawn. One day, in the not-so-distant future, they will drive to their friends’ houses and participate in other activities far away from home.
Do I need a house with a flat driveway where my son can shoot hoops, or will he outgrow that passion? It’s tough to say what the future might hold.
Keep an open mind about the spaces inside and outside of your new home. Will you need extra bedrooms for future children, or will you need less space as your children move out on their own?
Do you need extra space for a home office for you and your spouse? Do you need a large basement where your children can entertain their friends?
If you like to entertain and host outdoor barbeques, do you need a roomy backyard? If you want to take up gardening in retirement, will you need a sunny spot to grow your fruits and vegetables?
It’s easy to think about today’s needs without focusing on the future. Consider both when evaluating a new place to live.
Searching for Neighborhoods
In some parts of the country, you don’t have to worry about the quality of schools. In the Washington, D.C. area, this is not the case. We began our home search by scoping out elementary, middle, and high school ratings on Niche and Great Schools.
Then we started searching for neighborhoods zoned to the top four or five. Rather than hopping into the car, we began our search by zooming in and out of Google Maps. We brought up the map, searched for a specific high school, and started looking high and low at properties within a five-mile radius.
My husband and I want to live in a small community with wide-open streets where our kids can ride bikes without fear of traffic or speeding cars. Thanks to Google Maps, we can quickly rule out homes that don’t have connecting roads and those with busy thoroughfares. We can also map out the distance between grocery stores, gyms, and restaurants.
We circled the neighborhoods that might work and started our search by driving around checking them out. With this information in hand, we can keep an eye out for specific houses that might pop up on the market.
A Perfect House May Not Exist
We quickly realized that a perfect house might not exist. The house with a big kitchen was missing a backyard. The one with a backyard had a tiny living space.
After visiting a few open houses, we created a list of desired traits.
- Proximity to good schools.
- An open floor plan.
- A decent-sized backyard.
- A neighborhood with connecting, walkable streets.
We started looking at new properties with a different mindset. We can repaint and strip wallpaper, but we can’t easily move kitchen appliances or create more space in the basement or backyard.
After nine months of searching for a new house, we’ve accepted the hard truth of purchasing a home in a seller’s market. It may be impossible to find everything we are looking for in our desired price range.
Rushing Can Cause You to Buy the Wrong House
I felt utterly defeated after walking away from the last house, but I’m also thankful we didn’t rush into it. Thankfully, we also have a few more months until the next school year begins.
I’d prefer to move before the end of the summer, but we could stay in our house. We are living mortgage-free right now, so we don’t need to feel rushed to move out.
We are also homeschooling this year and could continue that for a few extra months too. I keep reminding myself that kids are resilient, and they will adapt.
It’s better to wait to buy the right place than rush to buy the wrong house.
Bought the Wrong House – What to Do Now
So now you know how to avoid purchasing the wrong place, but what if you already bought the wrong house? What can you do now?
With a bit of remodeling help, you can dramatically alter the look and feel of a home. I wasn’t fond of our first house, but everything changed after repainting, adding recessed lights, and swapping out old-fashioned chandeliers.
Part of me wonders if I would’ve felt the same way about the place we turned down. Will I regret not buying the house and turning it into a place I love? Were there features and problems I couldn’t fix? I’ll never find out.
If you buy the wrong house, try looking at it from another point of view. What can you change? With contractors’ help, you can knock out walls, replace kitchen cabinets, and radically alter the look and feel of a home.
You can’t change the location or the neighborhood, but don’t give up on a house just because you dislike the interior.
And if you make changes and still hate your house, don’t think you have to stay there forever. If all else fails, you can sell your home.