Personal Finance

Lessons from buying a home

“Success in life is the result of good judgment. Good judgment is usually the result of experience. Experience is usually the result of bad judgment!” – Anthony Robbins

Three years ago I bought a house and last week I sold it. As of July 31st, I will no longer be a homeowner and I am over the moon about it. That’s not to say that there aren’t a huge number of benefits to owning a home but I’ve learned through my experience how important it is to choose the right home; a home that fits your needs and your budget and one where you can stay for a number of years in order to build equity. I’m a big believer in the theory that there is something to be learned from every experience and I’ve found that the most powerful lessons often come from the toughest experiences. My journey over the past three years has been a tumultuous one and so I thought I’d share some of my lessons from buying a home.

1. Trust your instincts

I knew that my house had the potential to be big trouble the first time I walked through it. I love older homes and I’ve always wanted to take on a “project” but I’ve watched enough episodes of “Flip That House” to know that there are often hidden issues that can dramatically increase your renovation budget. A wise friend told me that the worst thing you can do is get emotionally involved in buying a home. It’s important to separate your nesting instincts from your business instincts and be willing to walk away if the purchase doesn’t make business sense. Unfortunately for me, the decision to purchase or walk away wasn’t 100% in my hands and rather than stick to my guns, I gave in to the pressure from my partner and the Realtor, who insisted it was a great deal, and agreed to make an offer.

2. Find a great realtor

There are buying agents and selling agents. Make sure that the agent you’re working with has a passion that’s fit for whether you’re buying a home or selling one. Above all find a Realtor who you can trust and who you’re confident in working with your best interests in mind. I made the mistake of thinking that because the Realtor we were working with was a friend that she would have our best interests at heart. I was horribly wrong.

As a first-time homebuyer, I really had no idea what was involved in the home buying process or what my rights were. We had only just started looking at houses and the original plan was to spend a few months looking before we actually made an offer. That plan went out the window when, the day after walking through the first open house, the selling agent called my partner and told him there was an offer coming in on the house and if we were interested we should make an offer that day. Our Realtor didn’t research the selling agent to see if he was reputable or research the prices in the area to see if it was reasonably priced she just advised us to make an offer that was a little above the asking price to ensure we got the sale. (I didn’t find out until much later that the offer we made was almost $30,000 more than the sellers had paid for the house 8 months earlier and they’d done nothing to it after buying it to justify the 15% price increase). Not surprisingly they accepted our offer and then the real drama began. The Realtor agreed with my partner that waiving the home inspection in favor of walking through the home with the inspection report that had been done 8 months earlier was a good idea. When we showed up to walk through the house, the report wasn’t available and she told us we didn’t have the option of rebooking the appointment for another day. The offer was firm in April but she didn’t fax the paperwork to my lawyer until the beginning of June (a week before the closing date) meaning we had missed the date for the title search and incurred extra legal fees for the short closing time. When I called to find out what had happened, I discovered that she had moved real-estate offices a few weeks earlier without telling me. It was a disaster but it made me much more careful when I came to selling my house and having worked with an incredible Realtor over the past few months I am grateful for the lesson.

I’ll share the remaining three lessons next week but I think it’s important to note that I’m not sharing my story in order to generate sympathy. I am acutely aware of the fact that I should have trusted my instincts and stood my ground regardless of the consequences and not doing so is a choice that I can guarantee I won’t ever make again. However, I do think that if we can learn from the mistakes of others and in doing so avoid making that mistake ourselves it can help us reach our goals a lot quicker and so I’m hoping that, in sharing my story, I can help others avoid making my mistakes!


  1. Patronized

    Great story Sarah. My spouse and I have a saying that we should ‘always listen to the little voice’ inside ourselves. The little voice will never steer you wrong, especially when it comes to something as important as a home purchase. I also had a realtor try to talk me into offering over a home’s asking price a few years ago. I refused and lost the house to someone else, who had offered $20,000 over the asking price and $25,000 over what I offered! It’s just a house and I soon found another one that was an even better match for our needs.


    We found our house on a Saturday and went through it on Sunday with a realtor. There were two other offers coming in on the house on Monday. We paid $100 over list by removing some conditions. 15 years later, we’re still in the same house. And one of the other offers lives just around the corner :).

    I agree that the realtor makes all the difference. We had a horrible realtor to start with. So I called my sister who works for a real estate lawyer and said ‘just give me the name of someone who actually sells houses’. They managed to nab this house for us, and at the same time sold our previous house – and that was a huge job. Because our first house was a block away from an area that was making the newspapers everyday because they’d built houses on top of a 1940’s dump. Yet the realtor found someone who was already living in the area and had no problem with it – then hand held them all the way through all their financial problems. We’d have neither sold our old house nor bought this one without them.

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