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First-Time Homeowner Pitfalls to Avoid

After closing on a new home, and the keys are in your hands, you may find yourself confronting one of these common new homeowner pitfalls. From maintenance mistakes to underestimating the financial needs of your new home, here's a list of hurdles, along with tips on how to overcome them.

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The Goldilocks Dilemma

According to a recent analysis from CNBC, the biggest regret of new homeowners is buying a home that is either too large or too small. Whether you can’t find the room you need for your family, or you realize that you’re paying for square footage you don’t use, having a home that doesn’t meet your needs is a recipe for frustration.

Avoid this homeowner issue by buying for what you need, not what you think you should need. Of course, you can always consider an addition, or use these 15 ideas to make a small room look bigger to expand the feel of your home.

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No Emergency Budget

Making the shift from renting to owning can be an exciting way to build long-term wealth, but it also carries certain financial burdens of its own. In addition to a mortgage, taxes and insurance, homeowners also need to set aside money for repairs and maintenance. Often called ‘carrying cost’, these ongoing expenses are simply part of home ownership. You can build these funds gradually, but if your home’s purchase price leaves you with nothing in the bank, you’ll be in trouble if an emergency occurs during your first months of homeownership.

Avoid this issue by keeping an emergency fund (many experts suggest between $2,000 and $3,000). Another approach is to invest in a home warranty. And of course, DIYers can keep an emergency home toolkit ready to go.

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Put-a-sock-in-it duct tape drainPhoto: Courtesy of Structure Tech

Weekend Warrior Residue

Just because you are a smart DIYer who does your research (at sites like Family Handyman), that doesn’t mean that every homeowner is as responsible. Some poorly planned home repairs are simply band-aids, and while they need to be addressed, they aren’t anything to worry about immediately. Others, however, are time bombs waiting to go off on the unwary new homeowner!

Avoid this problem by pushing your home inspector to look closely at any home you’re considering for purchase, and by not ignoring any signs of sub-par craftsmanship. This Family Handyman article demonstrates some of the shockingly poor maintenance nightmares you might encounter.

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Mountains from Mole Hills

A house is a major purchase, and any residential building is filled with hundreds of spots where something might have less than perfect finish. Sooner or later, you’re going to find an issue that has slipped past you, your Realtor and your home inspector. If your first reaction is to panic, don’t worry: that’s a perfectly natural reaction. But take a deep breath, step back and really examine the issue. Is the issue as serious as the DIY homeowner nightmares discussed earlier? Or is it as minor as a stuck deadbolt? It’s understandable (and maybe unavoidable) to be worried about your new home, and most homeowners will have an “oh, no!” moment or two after moving in. The trick is to have a reaction that’s in proportion to the problem. (And in the meantime, here’s how to fix that stuck deadbolt!)

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Not Being Involved in the Home Inspection

You may have noticed that the last couple of tips have referenced a home inspection. That’s because you absolutely should have any potential purchase inspected, even if you have DIY experience or construction experience. A second pair of eyes is invaluable even for the most experienced of home buyers. If you stop to think of this, it’s true of every field: A novelist depends on an editor, a hall-of-fame ballplayer depends on a coach, and a smart DIYer depends on a home inspector when buying a home. Use this checklist to be sure you get the most out of your home inspection.

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Misjudging Your Ability to Live in a Construction Zone

This is a problem especially common for homeowner members of the DIY community. No matter how much experience you have working on small projects or working on other people’s homes, the first time you begin a major project on your own home, you’ll have to deal with sleeping and eating in a construction zone. You may think this is no big deal, but everyone has their own line where the mess is “too much”. And if you have a spouse, then it’s pretty much a guarantee that your line is different from theirs! Avoid this pitfall by planning ahead, and deciding how you’ll protect your home during remodeling.

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Knowing Just Enough to Be Dangerous

The DIY experience is wonderful, and it allows people all over the world to experience the joys (and occasionally frustrations) of creating and maintaining their own projects. But there are still some tasks that should be handled with caution. You may still be able to tackle them yourself, but as a new homeowner, you owe it to yourself to do all the research needed to make sure you’re making smart choices. How to avoid this pitfall? Dive into research and training, either with the extensive archive of Family Handyman articles or with a trusted pro.

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Buying the Most Expensive Home on the Block

Trendsetting is good in many situations, but not often in real estate. If you do have the biggest or most developed home on the block, you’re setting the bar for sales price. When it comes time to sell, you may struggle to find comparable sales, since the other homes in your neighborhood will be selling for less than your home is worth. Most experts advise avoiding this situation entirely. If it’s too late, or if you simply fell in love with the home enough to not care, consider putting more effort into improving the landscaping, rather than continuing to improve the interior of the home.

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Not Researching HOAs

Homeowner Associations (HOAs) govern almost 20% of American residences. While most homeowner associations are perfectly fine, there is a minority that give the organizations a bad name. Look for negative coverage in the local press, and if possible ask a sampling of neighbors to find out their impressions of the organization. Should anything raise red flags, give some serious thought to what you might be committing to. And if you’re not sure about the importance of researching your potential HOA, check out these Homeowner Association horror stories.

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Not Researching the Area

Noise level and commute time can vary wildly depending on the time of day. If you’re going to be arriving or leaving home at a certain time, check out the traffic around then. And see what the neighborhood is like after dark. You might find that the quaint little taproom down the street hosts all-night karaoke. The presence of traffic or a little noise may not be enough to prevent you from buying, but you’ll be much better situated to deal with it if you know ahead of time what you’re getting into. At the very least, you’ll already be planning how to soundproof your new home!

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Buyers Remorse is Inevitable

There’s almost no way for a new homeowner to completely avoid buyer’s remorse. The little pitfalls that come with buying a home can be stressful and drive you crazy. The good news is that it’s all worth it! For all of its challenges, home ownership can be mentally and financially rewarding. No matter how stressful it gets, don’t forget that you’re not alone! The Family Handyman community of DIY enthusiasts is here to help you on your journey. If you’re ready to read further, here’s a great place to get started: 13 Great Tips for New Homeowners and First-Time Home Buyers.