Jason Robie: First Timer Follies

I tend to be a bit persnickety about details when it comes to going someplace new. When we were traveling, it was very frustrating to not know how the light rail payments worked, how late the busses ran, how parking worked and a myriad of other unknowns. Although some of that is the excitement of travel, I would have been less stressed had I done a bit more homework. Standing in front of a subway terminal written wholly in Arabic while others are piling up behind me is akin to a few nightmares I’ve had in the past.

Buying (and more importantly “owning”) a home is a similar foreign landscape. All of the excitement of owning your first home, planning for your renovations, getting things “just right,” can all go a little more smoothly if you heed a few tips along the way. Just like with traveling, some of the fun in home ownership is the discovery process and the excitement of learning new things. Our goal today is to help you avoid a few missteps that could save you time and money.

This coming week, my honey and I are making a long-overdue trip to Ikea. She got a gift card for her birthday and we just love walking around there and finding new ideas for storage and organization. The first caution for new homeowners is to hold off on furnishing your entire home in the first few months. It may seem annoying to have to watch the new season of "Game of Thrones" while sitting in camping chairs in the living room, but the reward will be worth the sacrifice.

Live in your home for a number of weeks and start to get a true feel for where you “live,” move, work, eat, entertain, etc. Furnishing a home too soon tends to mean you are just aiming to fill the space and make it look more “normal.” My advice is to “stay weird” for a while, and you will soon realize what you “need” for furniture and where you want it to go. This also tends to hinder those knee-jerk decisions to purchase crappy pieces because you feel rushed. Take your time, buy good-quality furniture and you will be far more pleased with your home in the end. Plus, you likely won’t have to repair that punch-hole in the wall from when you were trying to build that worthless piece of garbage from that big box store.

The difference between my “receipts” folder and my honey’s is vast. I really only keep receipts and manuals for things that cost over a hundred dollars or more. I have a feeling she has her receipts from that pack of peanuts she bought at the baseball game last night! The reality is, she is the smart one! (Yes, I can happily admit that!) When it comes to buying anything for your home, keep the receipts. While you may want to forget about the fact that you just dropped $200 on a new garbage disposal, that little paper trail will come in handy down the road. Not only will you be happy you have that if there is a warranty claim necessary, it is great to have those in the case that you’re selling the home. The new buyers will love the fact that you have those receipts (and manuals) and your real estate agent will appreciate the proof of value for all those new appliances you bought.

Chances are good that you’ll want to do some remodeling, repairs or general upgrades to your awesome new home. My simple advice here is to do a little (a lot of?) homework before you get started. “New homeowners should understand the ROI of any repairs they make as well as the full scope of the project they are intending to tackle,” notes Badger Realty agent, Don Lapointe. He continued, “Many projects, especially in older homes, tend to uncover other issues along the way. Before you know it, you’re in way over your head and way over your budget.”

Don is spot-on with this one. It is not uncommon for a project to quickly creep well beyond the intended scope if proper research is not done up front. Of course you can always be caught off-guard and things will surprise even a pro. The lesson here is to do your due diligence and get a full understanding of the potential issues. At least then you are prepared to call in the professionals or patch up what you’ve started and move on to something more budget (and skillset) friendly.

Our last tip for today ties back in to our first tip. Instead of purchasing the cheapest (insert any tool here) you can find because you are trying to save money, invest in something that will last. I’ve never had lots of “spare” money and we never did growing up either. But one lesson mom taught us was to “save my pennies” and purchase items of good quality that will stand the test of time. As a mother of two boys, she knew the perils of buying cheap jeans, sneakers, socks, etc., because we would simply wear through them in no time at all. She quickly learned that buying higher quality items would last us longer and save her money in the long run.

The same goes for tools and other mechanical items around the home. Buy a good quality, name brand drill, saw, lawn mower, snow blower, etc. when you are in the market. Those products not only tend to be built better but they will also come with longer warranties and a company that will stand behind its products. The up-front cost is a bit more and will sting a bit when you lay out that cash, but the long-term benefits will far outweigh that initial hit.

Buying your first home is simply awesome. Heck, buying any home is a great experience. You finally have free reign to decorate, furnish, fix, remodel and upgrade to your heart’s content. Here’s hoping these quick tips will help you avoid some of the hiccups that first timers make. Now start doing your research and I’ll see you in the organization department!