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5 Things You Need to Know Before You Buy a Home

For so many people, being able to buy a home is a major life accomplishment. It is a milestone as significant as getting married or having a baby. For those of us who have lived in a major city for much of our lives, the prospect of finally having some space (that doesn’t share a wall with a stranger and is larger than, say, a match box) sounds glorious. And it is. Or it can be. But there are moments when owning a home can be an utter horror.

In the event that you are searching for a home (or if you already own one and feel like commiserating for the next 500 words or so), strap on your seat belt and get ready for a ride. Because home ownership is not all white picket fences and dinner parties. It can sometimes feel more like “Nightmare on Elm Street” with a little bit of “The Money Pit” mixed in for good measure.

1. Contractors

Most of us need them. I, for one, cannot put up sheet rock, demolish a bathroom, or redo a closet. My husband is amazing at many things, but home renovation is not his specialty. So when it comes time to update that god-awful ’70s green tile kitchen of yours, you’ll probably have to turn to a professional. Just be sure to do your homework, get referrals, and meet with several contractors before deciding on one. Get a contract in writing. And most importantly, keep in mind that the time and dollar amount that you are given will not be anywhere near reality. Two weeks can easily turn into four, and $3,000 is more like $6,000. So budget your time and money realistically.

2. Permits

If you are doing work (even if you’re doing it yourself), chances are you need permits from your municipality. These ensure that any major plumbing, electric, or construction are being done to code. Permits can be pricey, and can take weeks (or months!) to obtain, so plan your work accordingly. Also, in order to close a permit out, you’ll need to have the work looked at by municipal inspectors who may or may not work on a part-time basis. The whole process can be maddening. But knowing ahead of time is better than being hit with a fine by the city later.

3. Roots in the Sewer Line

I certainly never knew about this issue prior to owning a home. Our neighborhood (like many across America) has big, beautiful trees lining the block. But those very trees have very big roots that penetrate the sewer lines. Yes, the pipes that carry waste from your home to the public sewer. When the pipes get too clogged with roots, the waste has nowhere to go but back into your house. Yum. The only effective way to deal with it is to have professionals clear out the roots, and then treat the line with chemicals to prevent the same thing from happening again. After that, it’s best to get the line treated annually.

4. Burst Pipes

 Oh this is a fun one. When the temperature dips below freezing, pipes have a funny habit of exploding. The damage can be devastating as water pours throughout your house. In our home, a pipe on the third floor burst and dumped water all the way down to the basement. We were out of the house at the time, and within twelve hours ceilings collapsed, doors warped, and wooden floors needed to be replaced. Your best bet is to drip your faucets when the mercury drops. Some recommend dripping the faucet the furthest from the water boiler, so that moving water will have to travel throughout the house. Homeowners insurance covers burst pipe damage, but dealing with the logistics of getting everything fixed isn’t just a headache, but a migraine from hell.

5. Property Taxes and Insurance

When scrolling through real estate sites in search of your new dream home, don’t just calculate how much you’ll be able to afford in monthly mortgage payments. As a homeowner, you’ll also be responsible for property taxes and homeowners insurance (which most mortgage companies require in order to back your loan). Taxes in some towns are prohibitively expensive, so be sure to factor in these costs when calculating how much you can afford. Chances are, you’ll need a little less house for what you can pay.