Real estate

Learn from first-time home buyers’ biggest regrets

June 10, 2014 at 12:43 PM ET

Virginia real estate agent Bic DeCaro has a psychology degree that comes in handy when she’s showing homes, especially to first-time buyers. They get emotional. They fall in love. They get caught up in bidding wars they can’t afford.

They make mistakes.

Rookie mistakes? First-time home buyers sometimes have regrets.
LARRY DOWNING / Reuters
Rookie mistakes? First-time home buyers sometimes have regrets.

“The big thing is buying for the moment and not looking down the road,” she said.

That sums up the regrets of many first-time home buyers Zillow surveyed after their boxes were unpacked and their infatuation had faded. Almost half of them said they would do things differently if they had it to do over.

Here are their biggest regrets.

Size and layout

Of buyers with regrets, 62 percent said they wish their homes were bigger or laid out differently. They wish they had bigger kitchens, more storage space or just more space in general.

“Almost always, they outgrow it faster than they think,” DeCaro said.

Bobby Harding, a Keller Williams agent in Louisville, Kentucky, says first-time buyers think too much about square footage and not enough about the floor plan.

“Everybody wants 1,400 square feet, two bath, two beds …. They’re thinking about Mom and Dad’s house, a segmented house,” he said.

Sometimes, they just need to consider something more modern.

The cost

In the Zillow survey, 40 percent of first-time buyers with regrets said they either paid too much or should have put more money down on their new homes.

More than a third (38 percent) said they were surprised by how much it costs to maintain their new homes, and 20 percent were surprised by the cost of closing.

Of their lessons learned about costs, 20 percent wish they had negotiated more on price, and 14 percent wish they had shopped around more for a mortgage.

The neighborhood

More than a quarter of those with regrets said they don’t like their neighborhood.

Patricia Short, a Keller Williams agent in Katy, Texas, advises her buyers to visit potential new homes on a Friday night.

“Friday night is a really good night to drive the subdivision,” she said. “Is your subdivision going to be crowded with cars to where you can barely drive up and down the street? They’ve got their garage doors up, their lawn chairs out and their beer coolers out?”

(If that’s what you like to do, she added: “You’re home.”)

The yard

Almost 1 in 4 homeowners had a regret about their yard. Of the 24 percent who cited lessons learned, 12 percent wish for bigger yards, and 12 percent wish they had easier yards to maintain.

That means you should be realistic about what you want in a yard before you buy. And DeCaro tells buyers in Virginia, “If you’re going to want bigger and more outdoor space, you’re just going to have to move farther from the city center.”

Parking

Nearly 17 percent of first-time buyers with regrets wish they had a different parking situation — another practical matter that might get lost in the emotional swirl of a first real estate transaction.

That’s where a good agent comes in, Harding said. He likes to insist first-time buyers look at three to five homes, at least. While they fantasize about paint colors and kitchen remodels, he points out problems with floor plans, parking and resale.

Agent Phil Faranda agreed: “It’s simply a matter of not thinking it through enough. They’re so invested in the emotions. It’s almost like they rush to the altar just to say they were married, instead of choosing the right guy.”

More from Zillow:

Money Talks, But Creativity Can Seal the Home Buying Deal

More Buyer Mistakes — and How to Avoid Them

Planning Your First Home Buying Experience

Emily Heffter, a reporter and writer for Zillow Blog, covers celebrity real estate, unusual properties, and other real estate topics. Read more of her work here.

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