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Part I: Shopping & Buying! (The Fun Part. Or... Maybe Not.)
Everyone knows that buying a home is the largest single purchase a person can make in their lifetime, but buying your first home is also one of the most thrilling, exciting, fun, frustrating, difficult and emotional roller-coaster rides anyone can have. Let's face it-- you've got a lot riding on this purchase, and because of that, buying your first home can be a very stressful experience. While many important factors go into the decision of buying a home-- not the least of which are location (and location and location ) not to mention that pesky budget!-- design can be counted among the most important. In fact, design-related issues, such as how updated the home is, the overall visual appeal (both inside and out), and the layout all factor greatly into the purchase. People often have immediate and even visceral reactions to houses or spaces when they first walk into them, depending on the property's design and decor attributes. That said, it’s not surprising then, that sometimes these design-related issues can factor in a little too much to the decision-making process (yes, we just said that!) and end up influencing a first-time buyer into walking away from a great house or even buying a house that may not be the right one for them.
When shopping for your first home and evaluating a potential property from a design perspective, there are a few things to remember...
to that end, please allow us to introduce our 'First Time Home Buyer Design Rules':
#1. Repeat After Us: “It’s Only Paint. It’s Only Paint. It’s ONLY Paint...” (Or Carpet.)
Too often first time buyers are turned off of a property because the seller has painted the walls purple. Or chartreuse. Or whatever colour gets under your skin. Yes, ‘blech-y’ colours can give a room a certain ‘blech-y’ feel, and we all know that dark colours make a room appear and even 'feel' smaller than it really is, but looking past the ‘evil powers of paint’ and training your eye to see the reality of the space (especially when others are unable to) can save you not only heartache but cold hard cash! Likewise a nasty carpet-- don’t let disgusting, dated wall-to-wall turn you off an entire property if the rest of it is right for you. Sure it's gross, but there are plenty of flooring options these days that are a breeze to install and are also easy on the pocketbook!
Conversely, you may walk into a house that appears to have everything going for it. Maybe it's even just been-- gasp!-- completely renovated! At any rate, it looks as bright and appealing as a shiny new, er... nickel. It could even give you that 'too good to be true' feeling. (ie. That house for this price?) If you happen to run across a property like this in your home search, please remember the rest of that old adage-- 'it probably is'. Hold on. Take a breath. It might look like the house of your dreams, but it could also potentially be a nightmare. Do your due diligence and make sure either way. Remember-- good design does not always equal good quality. So don't make a dash for the flash, and don't be fooled by a 'smoke-and-mirrors' reno. A sad-but-true fact in the housing market is that some (and we say 'some', certainly not all) people who are interested in making a quick buck often cut some serious hidden corners while making things look surface-perfect. So buyer beware even those most visually appealing properties!
2. COMPROMISE is the Name of the Game
We know. That’s a hard one to take. After all, you've worked hard scrimping and saving and sacrificing to save up your down payment... so why shouldn't you get everything you want in a home? Good point, but sadly, not realistic. But we can sympathize. We’ve all been there-- you have this dream of your perfect starter home. It’s cute. It’s quaint. It’s cosy. And light, and airy, spacious and everything else you’ve dreamt of... And then you start touring properties and nasty old reality hits you right smack in the nose. And that sucks! But the main point we want to make is that as a first time home buyer, you need to go into the search for your first home with your eyes wide open. Remember, this is your very first step on the property ladder, and you need to think of this initial purchase as an investment in your own future. So be prepared to compromise. Your first place probably won’t be that vision of perfection you have in your head. You might not get that light airy open-plan feel you’re longing for. Or that perfect layout. Or those huge bedrooms and amazing master bath. And you’ll most likely have to play some serious ‘give-and-take’ on one or more of the Big Three: Location, Budget and Layout. Now, we don’t mean to sound like the voices of Doom & Gloom, but the good news is that if you know these things in advance and are prepared to deal with them, you’re way ahead of the game. Just remember that in terms of implementing an amazing design and smart renovations plan after you’ve bought your first home and when the time is right, you will be adding value down the road, building equity, and making your own personal mark on your very first home. That’s some exciting stuff!
When my husband and I bought our first home together (he had previously owned his own townhome) we were a very young couple with a newborn baby boy. I had my nose and my design-standards set quite high, and consequently, was shocked when our meager just-starting-out budget did not buy me the things I wanted. What was up with that? Seriously, was I to be made to endure dusty-rose wall-to-wall carpeting? And walls to match?? (It was the early 90's-- 'nuff said.) And my worst pet-peeve-- parquet flooring in the dining room? (It's a personal choice to hate it). And-- gasp!-- only ONE bathroom? (Horror of horrors!) But here's the thing... in spite of everything that was 'wrong' with the house, the budget fit, and the huge yard coupled with the water-view was too great to pass up, and so we bought it. And, the bonus of all bonuses (if you looked at it with dusty-rose glasses, that is), was that the house had literally just been entirely renovated, top to bottom. (Little did we know that not a whole lot of it was done properly!). Apart from the carpet which, while seriously ugly, was brand-new, and the paint (likewise) and the parquet (which I was reluctantly willing to overlook as I had my fingers crossed for new flooring...), it was liveable and we had bigger fish to fry-- like a colicky baby. So we decided to live in it, as it was, for just a short time. We'd make changes, we said. Sure we would. And soon. Very soon...
Fast forward 8 years and two more kids....
3. Put the Big Idea on the Backburner. Just for a While. (We Know. We’re Sorry.) Or: It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time
So you’ve found a great property in a great location, and you’ve managed to fit it all into your tight budget. Congratulations! You probably also have a few great ideas about what you’d like to do with it. Want to tear down a wall or two? Maybe put the kitchen where the living room is, and add a second or third bath? That’s great, and maybe any or all of those things will add a ton of value to your place, and maybe if you do them you’ll come out a huge winner in the 'equity stakes' down the road.
Or... maybe not.
It’s easy to get carried away with visions of design grandeur when you’ve just bought your first home. Now, we don’t mean to stick a pin in your big ol’ balloon dreams, but our advice to all first time home buyers is this... unless your new home is truly unliveable, live in it for a while. Sure, go ahead and paint. Change the window dressings, and pretty it up so that it feels more like home. Convert the former nursery to your home office, or vice-versa. But live in it for a while before tearing down walls and relocating such major systems as plumbing and electrical. You might find that the ‘idea’ of how you thought you’d live in the house before you moved in is, in reality, vastly different from how you are actually living in the house. You know that plan to relocate the kitchen to where the living room is? Hey, it might not be that great an idea after all. You may be opening a can of worms that you might not want to open. For example, what if the foundation under the living room needs to be re-inforced in order to support the weight of all those shiny new appliances you want to put in there? Or what if all the plumbing needs to be not just re-routed but upgraded to accommodate that fab new sink you want to put in your new island as well as that third half-bath you want to pop in off the entryway? And what about all the electrical? Hmm... that 'great idea' might be something you want to reconsider, because those types of unexpected expenses can add up to Very Big Dollars very quickly.
Oh, boy. Talk about 'Visions of Design Grandeur'. Did I have them, and plenty of them, too! For eight long years... (Ha. Who am I kidding? I still have them!) But life can often get in the way of even your grandest plans, and so I ended up enduring Dusty Rose for a very long time (yes, even the paint!). But the good news is that when the time came to do the big reno, which turned out to be a two-storey addition and full-house reno, we were ready and we knew exactly what we wanted (and, equally importantly, what we didn't want) largely because we had lived in the house for so long. We had figured out what, exactly, was really and truly doable and practical-- for example, I still don't have the home office I always wanted, or a finished rec room in the basement, or the butler's pantry I longed for because they weren't practical or doable and therefore didn't make the cut. While we compromised on a few things (there's that nasty word again) but were able to get in a few cool surprises we weren't expecting-- like a window seat in the new master bath (very luxurious!) and a ten-foot deep wrap-around porch (heaven!). We had studied our house and done our homework, and had even done a test-run with a medium-sized project with the addition of a mudroom at the front of the house and the conversion of our former walk-in front coat closet to a half-bath, with the thinking that if our marriage could survive that, it could also survive the Big Reno! Yeah. Go ahead. Laugh all you want, but there are few things more stressful than a full-house reno-- especially when you're DIY-ing as much of it as you can and living in it with three little kids!
So we rolled up our sleeves. We were finally ready to tackle the biggest, most exciting and frightening project that we had ever undertaken... we had a big idea, the bank's blessing with a new (and slightly scary) mortgage and three little kids, aged 8, 4 and 1...
Stay tuned for Part II of “Buying Your First Home - The Design Perspective”, when we tackle such issues as “DIY vs. Don’t You Dare DIY”, “Beware the Dreaded ‘While We’re At It’” and “OMG, It Cost What??”
Disclaimer: This post content is sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada, however the views and opinions expressed herein represent my own and not those of Royal Bank of Canada or any other party and do not constitute financial, legal or other advice.