I bought my first home in my early 20s.
Honestly, it wasn’t because I had done a lot of research into why homeownership was right for me. It was more to avoid having to move back in with my grandmother Big Mama.
I was living in an apartment and quite satisfied with renting. If something broke, I could call the landlord to get it fixed. I didn’t have to mow a lawn or clear snow in the winter. If I wanted to relocate to another area, I could easily move.
But Big Mama was not having it. Renting was not wise, she kept saying. I was paying about $400 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in West Baltimore. (Yes, I’m that old.)
“Hey, Big Mama, how are you doing today?” I would start a conversation.
“You still throwing your money away?” she would reply. Every. Single. Time. For the one and only year I rented.
At one point, as I got close to signing a new rental agreement, Big Mama insisted that I either move back home with her or buy my own home. I could not move back in with her and be awakened at 6 a.m. because she worried I would be late to work. I didn’t have to be at work until 10. Big Mama was a force of nature, and you did not defy her.
And that was that.
I became a homeowner. I took advantage of a first-time homebuyer program in Baltimore and bought a $50,000 two-bedroom, one-bath condo.
Everything turned out just fine. In fact, that condo was the saving grace for my disabled brother, who moved into it when I married and moved out. Because the mortgage was so affordable, my husband and I could easily make the payments for my brother, who couldn’t work.
But don’t do what I did. You should buy your first home when the time is right. It shouldn’t be because someone else or society is pressuring you to buy.
And as a homeowner — one condominium and two custom-built houses later — I know you better be ready for this responsibility mentally and financially. Right now, my husband and I are in the 14th year of owning our latest home. And the upkeep is driving us mad. Last year, we had to replace the air-conditioning system. There are some windows that need an upgrade. Our sidewalk is cracking and needs to be redone. It’s like our house is throwing a tantrum.
Buying your first home is a decision that must be done with a lot of thought and research. So, with that in mind, for the Color of Money Book Club for this month I’m selecting “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (Three Rivers Press, $20) by Ilyce R. Glink, a syndicated columnist and real estate guru.
“Even seasoned homebuyers don’t remember to ask every question they should,” Glink writes. “And in real estate deals, those unasked, unanswered questions are the ones that cause the most trouble.”
In the fourth edition of this book, Glink has added what she calls the “fast pass” section. It’s nine questions to answer even before you start looking for your first home. Here are a few.
Should I rent or buy? “Just because you have (or think you have) the down payment cash available and interest rates are still low, doesn’t automatically mean you should buy your first home right now,” Glink writes.
And, can I just say, renting is not a waste of money. You are getting a roof over your head.
How much should I spend versus what banks say I can afford? “Your real estate agent may deny it, but there’s a lot of pressure in the home-buying process to spend more than you should.”
When you see this book, you might balk. It’s big. In fact, it’s big enough — 456 pages with the index — that you want to be careful not to drop it on your foot or your cat. Still, don’t be intimidated by the material. Glink does a good job of chopping it up into very readable sections.
Buying a home is one of the biggest decisions you will make. You need to know what you’re doing and if you’re doing it for the right reasons.
I’m hosting an online discussion about “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” at noon Eastern time on April 5 at http://washingtonpost.com/discussions. Glink will join me to respond to your home buying questions — and you don’t have to be a first timer to get answers.