Something I keep seeing asked broadly on social media again and again right now is, “What do you wish you had known before buying a home?,” “What do you wish you had known before buying a home in DC?”
From Facebook groups to Twitter to Instagram stories, it seems everyone is putting this question out to the world, hoping for a response that will tell them to pull the trigger (or not to pull the trigger) while interest rates are super low…not to mention most of, particularly city dwellers, are starting to feel the pinch of wanting a bit more space.
So what do I wish I had known before buying a home in DC? Oh, where do I even start…
Look, I love our condo. We’re not going anywhere and the plan is never to sell it, just to hang on to it as a rental. However, if I were to go through the process again, I have a few thoughts on what we did right, what we did wrong, and what I simply wish I’d had a little warning about.
What I Wish I’d Known Before Buying a Home in DC
I’m going to give advice and also contradict myself in one fell swoop with this. We did not stretch our budget and that’s always my #1 tip to friends who are looking. If you’re buying with a partner, buy something you can comfortably afford on one salary. If you’re buying alone, aim for closer to 20% of your income — completely ignore that 30% benchmark you’ll often see thrown out there. However, I do sometimes wonder whether we could have bought something just a bit bigger. Like one extra closet or a small den is all I’m talking. I am glad, though, that Adam insisted we go for two full bathrooms instead of settling for 1.5.
Have a significant repair fund ready. This is something I always warn new homeowners because I could probably count the number of friends on one hand who didn’t have a several thousand dollar unexpected repair within a month of moving in. I don’t care if your house is new, old, or renovated. It’s going to have issues. And, if you live in DC, they’re probably going to be sewage related. I don’t want to even tell you how much we’ve spent on repairs since April 2019 but it’s basically equal to a down payment on a house in a smaller city.
Disclaimer: not my building below, just a photo I snapped on the Hill while walking one day!
Along the same lines, know that an inspector may not be able to turn up everything that’s wrong with your new place. Unfortunately, I have no great advice here. Just don’t be surprised when issues arise later on.
Yes, there are situations where you may be under the wire to find something but, in general, you should feel empowered to take your time. We took two years to find our place and have felt good about where we are for the most part (well, except when we were spending all the money on bringing it up to code). I do have friends, however, that made quick decisions and regretted it. Take your time to figure out what you want and wait to find it.
Don’t get caught up in the emotion of it all and end up paying more than you should! We didn’t get the house on the first offer made…and I’m okay with that. But I definitely had the moment of thinking, “I’ll bid whatever I need to in order to get this place!” Thankfully we didn’t. So, remember to keep your rational brain turned on. Don’t get caught up in the moment. And wait out a bubble market if you can.
Know the neighborhood before you buy. Drive by the location at night. Drive by it in the morning. Walk around on the weekend. We did NOT put offers on some places after visiting in the evening. I’m a city girl through and through and if a neighborhood seemed too quiet at night, I knew I’d be uncomfortable walking around. Location is more than just whether the block is pretty or “in-demand,” it’s the overall vibe and energy. You want to get an idea for this before you pull the trigger on purchase this big.