Buying your first home is equal parts exciting and daunting. There are all the pieces of the financial puzzle to figure out, and then the actual house itself and everything that makes it feel like the right place for you. By no means is this a decision to jump into without careful consideration, so this is what we’re diving into today.
My personal goal is to educate my clients on the pros and cons of buying their first home, so this week, I’m bringing on Rebecca Harmon and Michael Meerovich to shed some light on their experience. They bought their first home in Chappaqua in 2017, and life has certainly changed for them in the last four years, so I thought I’d check in with them to share what they’ve learned since.
Join me on the podcast this week as Rebecca and Michael share their valuable tips and advice as first time home buyers. They’re emphasizing the key pieces to take into account and how their experience has changed over the years, and I hope this episode clarifies the choices you’ll have to make when purchasing your first home.
If you enjoyed today’s show, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a rating and review to let me know and help others find Your Real Estate Connection in Westchester. Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to subscribe, rate, and review!
What You’ll Learn from this Episode:
- Why home buying is all about trade offs.
- The changes Rebecca and Michael made right away when they moved into their home.
- How they feel about their home four years on.
- What Rebecca and Michael are doing now to make their home feel more their own.
- Rebecca and Michael’s practical tips and advice for first time home buyers.
- The financial considerations they feel they didn’t take into account.
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
- If you enjoyed today’s show, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a rating and review to let me know and help others find Your Real Estate Connection in Westchester. Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to subscribe, rate, and review!
- I’d love to hear your opinion on this topic, reach out to me via text message at (914) 659-6200 or email me!
Full Episode Transcript:
Welcome to Your Real Estate Connection in Westchester. A show for people looking to buy or sell homes in the Northern Westchester County area. Join local real estate expert Harriet Libov as she shares her professional advice on the local real estate market, connects you with knowledgeable community residents, and gives you helpful insights behind the home buying and selling process. Now, let’s dive into today’s episode.
Buying your first home is very exciting but also quite daunting. There’s the financial part, getting preapproved and understanding how much you can afford and how much you’re willing to spend. Learning about the cost of running a home on an annual basis, and thinking about a first car or second car for the suburbs. All pieces of the financial puzzle.
Then there’s the house itself. What town is the right community? Is it realistic that you can get the house you want in the community you choose? Will you be okay with the commute to work? Is it a house you can grow with, or do you want to buy a house that fits your needs now knowing you will upsize at a later point?
My personal goal is to educate my clients about the pros and cons of each home, the tradeoffs. Urge them not to be swayed by décor or staging but truly look at the function of a home, the curb appeal, the amount of home, the light, the land, the location. I want them to think very carefully before diving in.
I thought it would be interesting to talk to one of my buyers three to four years out after buying their first home and hear what they have to say. Were there any surprises that they wished they knew about prior to moving in? Are they happy with the community they chose and the layout of their home? Do they wish they bought something more move-in ready versus a house they could update?
Today you will hear from one of my clients who has been in her home for a few years. I’m looking forward to hearing her thoughts so I can share with you what I learned from them and with my future buyers. I’m always learning. I hope you will learn something today too that will resonate. So let’s settle in and begin the conversation.
This past weekend I took out two new buyers. One set of buyers live in the city in a rental, and want to be out in a few months when their lease is up. This market does not have a lot of inventory to see now. So I didn’t have much to show them. Both husband and wife work full time and started their search in earnest about 10 days ago when they contacted me. They have a one-year-old so getting in before the school year is not a concern for them.
Neither husband or wife grew up in Westchester, but they absolutely believe that they can find what they’re looking for here in northern Westchester for the money they have to spend. They are liking what I’m showing them, and they have a generous budget but are not concerned with buying their forever home. Yet we’re learning together how important location is to them, how much land they really want or need, and how much work they want to do as two working parents.
They are very willing to get in the car right away and see what comes on the market. They’re doing a great job doing their due diligence. We are working as a team to find the right compromise. It’s always about tradeoffs in every price range. No house is perfect for you unless you build it yourself or you renovate it.
Another family who toured with me this past weekend also lives in the city. They are planners. Their kids are school aged, and they own a large apartment. So space is not the issue. School and logistics are just plain difficult in the city, and they are very seriously considering suburban life for their family.
They know the space they need to live comfortably. When we went out looking, they learned they wanted a quiet street and no road noise after seeing a few really nice homes near busy roads and the noise was a dealbreaker for them. Also, they want to keep the property taxes in a reasonable range.
Their plan is to look this summer and fall, learn the market, and then list their apartment in early 2022. They’ll buy a home in the spring of 2022 to be in their new home for the school year in September. Two very different scenarios but each with the same goal.
I love working with buyers to buy their first house. I want them to really get that good feeling when they walk in the door. To feel that they can see themselves living there, and that it checks off enough boxes to make some tradeoffs. I want them to feel secure that the home is a good investment for them, and want them to see value based on our experience working together and my professional opinion.
When I came home from showing houses and thought about this episode, I thought it would be interesting to speak with one of my clients who has settled into their home for a couple of years. Hear about what work they have done to make the house their own, and if they are happy with their home. The location, the size, the style. If there is anything they wish they had done differently.
Rebecca Harmon and her husband Michael found their first home in Chappaqua in 2017 with me. Rebecca grew up in Rye Brook. So she wanted to be close to family, and Chappaqua had the older charming houses that she was yearning for. The house that Rebecca and Michael purchased gave them that special feeling as soon as they walked in the door. It felt much like an antique home even though it was built in 1952.
It has a beautiful piece of land and gardens with a pool. It was a friendly transaction as the previous owners were very attached to their home, and they were so thrilled to find buyers that loved it as passionately as they did. Rebecca and Michael are now starting to think about a renovation and possibly an addition to their home four years later. They had no kids when they bought their home, and now have two children. So life has changed. Let’s hear what Rebecca has to say and how she is feeling about her home choice four years out.
Harriet: Hi Rebecca.
Harriet: So glad you could join me today. I’m really thrilled that your husband Michael is also joining us. That’s an unexpected surprise. So thank you for that Michael. It’s so hard to believe it’s been four years since you bought your new home. A lot has happened for you in four years, but it’s hard for me to believe it’s been four years.
So I’ve been talking about first time home buyers. When everybody’s looking, they want to paint, they want to do the floors or freshen the carpet before they move in if their budget and their time allows and make it their own. Yet it’s always interesting in my opinion to live in a house first to determine what your priorities are and what work you want to do first. What changes did you guys do right away when you moved in?
Rebecca: So the only thing we did actually before moving in was we had a larger septic change installed. The inspection revealed that the tank needed to be replaced.
Harriet: I remember that.
Rebecca: Yeah. Anticipating that we might want to expand the house one day, we had the current one replaced with a larger one.
Harriet: That was smart.
Rebecca: Yep. Other than that, we didn’t do anything before actually moving in.
Harriet: Well, you loved what was there.
Rebecca: We did. Within the first couple of years, we did some of those minor refreshers that you mentioned. So we took down some wallpaper, and we repainted. We took up some carpeting and had floors restained. We replaced the stair runner. We swapped out some light fixtures, changed out hardware in the kitchen. Stuff like that. The only other thing was the big thing which was that we renovated our pool. That started out as more of a necessity than anything the coping was cracking. Leaving it would have caused much bigger damage down the road.
Harriet: Right. It’s usually how it starts.
Rebecca: Right. So we overhauled the pool and added fencing around the whole property. That’s what we did within the first couple of years.
Harriet: Do you have any words of advice about that to first time homebuyers? Are you happy you lived in the house first to prioritize everything?
Rebecca: Yeah. I think that we really feel good about having done it that way from my perspective, and I think Michael agrees, but you can chime in. If the house is livable, I feel like it makes sense not to rush to do those things immediately. You don’t want to spend a ton of money, in my opinion, that you may knock down.
Harriet: Or then buy furniture and it’s the wrong color and then you have to paint it again.
Rebecca: Right. You don’t want to put a lot into a room that you then need to make into a nursery. Or now being faced with this pandemic outfit a whole guest room that then you realize you need a second home office.
Harriet: Who could have known?
Rebecca: Right. So I fully agree that living in a house can really clarify what things you can and can’t live without and what your priorities are, and how we use the house and realize what works and doesn’t work in your day to day. So for example, our staircase down to the basement where our laundry is is really narrow. You can barely fit down holding a laundry basket.
Harriet: Yeah, we didn’t do that on the inspection.
Rebecca: No but it drives me crazy. I would want to widen that staircase. That would be like sort of a priority as odd as that sounds.
Harriet: Right or buy a smaller laundry basket.
Michael: That’s not an option with two kids.
Rebecca: The room we hang out in the most is this little den that we use. We don’t use our big formal living room. The den is kind of we’re growing out of it. A big priority would be like a bigger family room for us.
Harriet: Right. Right. Okay, so.
Rebecca: Do you have anything to add?
Michael: Yeah. I mean I think some of those little things you mention make sense, even just logistically. If you’re going to restain the floors because you don’t like them, it’s obviously a lot easier to do that before you move the furniture in.
Harriet: Right. It’s a big job.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. A lot of the time you have to be out of the house for two days because of the smell. So from that aspect, if you know you want to do something like that it probably is easier to coordinate if you can. I agree in terms of prioritization and obviously budget is probably most people’s biggest constraint when it comes to these things. You don’t necessarily know how you’re going to live in the house and even how that’s going to change over time. So it is good to get a sense of what is your priority after living there because it may be different than what you thought when buying the house.
Harriet: Right. You bought your home with no kids, and now you have two. The function and space is very different with a family. So what’s next on the horizon for you guys to make it your own?
Rebecca: So yeah. As I mentioned above, I think a big priority for us is an expanded family room where we all can hang out and watch TV.
Harriet: Off the kitchen?
Rebecca: Yeah, off the kitchen.
Rebecca: We would also like to build out above that and make a true master. Because right now we don’t really have that. We don’t have like a double master bath and closet. So we would like to make that. To have four bedrooms upstairs in the event that our family expands anymore, that would be nice. We’d love a designated playroom ideally upstairs for the kids because right now we mostly use a finished basement. Finally, we would love to have a dedicated mudroom where the kids can come through and take off dirty shoes.
Harriet: Okay. These are all definite homebuyer requests and desires that my buyers come up with. Your street is gorgeous. I mean you fell in love with the street when you did. Certainly, it will hold the renovation when and if you do it. As you visit friends in the community, how do you feel about your choice of Chappaqua and the street and location.
Michael: Yeah, I think for a choice of our street, I mean that was one of the main things that attracted us to the home. We really bought it for the property and the location. We love the house. We knew it wasn’t perfect in terms of everything inside and the layout. Our rationale was like Rebecca mentioned, over time those are all things we could change or add to the house. We can’t change the street that it’s in or the community that it’s in.
So we’re very happy with our neighborhood, our neighbors. It’s a small neighborhood, but our neighbors are super friendly. Dropping off gifts to us when we had our newborn.
Harriet: Oh, that’s so nice.
Michael: Yeah, it was very sweet. So far, we love Chappaqua and going to things like the farmer’s market. It was kind of interesting. At first you mentioned when we moved in, we didn’t have any kids. So it took a little bit of time I think to really start feeling like we fit into the family because kids, I think, are a very natural way to meet people and connect.
Harriet: Connect, 100%.
Michael: So now that we have a two-year-old, we’re starting to get a little bit more engaged with activities, meeting other folks, and definitely loving our choice.
Harriet: Right. Okay great, great. You were both pretty emotional about wanting to love that feeling of your house when you moved in. Rebecca, I know you grew up nearby. Michael, I don’t remember where you grew up.
Michael: I grew up in Bucks County. So in the suburbs.
Harriet: In a house. Okay. Bucks County is gorgeous. I would kind of put that on par with Westchester in terms of the appeal and the types of interesting homes. So you guys were really wise about how a home lives and your priorities in terms of the land, the street, the pool. Do you have any practical words of advice for a homebuyer looking back that you didn’t think about? Do you feel like you really gave it the thought that you needed?
Rebecca: I feel like we thought long and hard about it. I think we were coming from Brooklyn. So we considered do we want to buy something in the city, or do we want to make the move to Westchester? I think lots of people, in my experience, wait to move out to buy a house, but we did it before. Kind of having made that financial decision.
Harriet: You are so lucky you did.
Harriet: Because you didn’t get caught up in this craziness.
Rebecca: Yeah. So as you said, having grown up in Westchester I had a sense of the areas, of the different towns in Westchester. The area I grew up in I felt was a little bit more suburban, less rural. I wanted a little bit more of that country feel, which I feel like Chappaqua offers. I also wanted a little bit more of a vibrant community. I grew up in a small town that didn’t really have a town per se.
Rebecca: Schools were a big consideration for us. I knew the reputation of Greeley. It comes at a price with taxes, but if you’re planning on sending your kids, I think it’s worth it. It’s worth it for us.
Harriet: You came from a really good school district, but a very small school district in comparison to Greeley.
Rebecca: That’s a good point that we thought about in terms of the opportunities for athletics and for arts that Greeley offered that such a small district that I came from doesn’t as much.
Rebecca: We also thought about the commute from the city. For us at the time, we were both commuting for work. Now that might be a different consideration given that we are probably not commuting as much if at all. So would we have thought about looking farther away from the city if we were buying today? Maybe. That’s a consideration to think about. We took into account commuting distance from the city when we were looking.
Harriet: No. I think there will be a day when we’re all commuting again. You’re not far, but it’s not like you gave up the country feeling with your commute I would say. So that’s really good. All right. Any financial considerations that you feel you missed that you didn’t take into account. You’re smiling so.
Rebecca: This is Michael’s area of expertise so.
Michael: I’m the budget guy in the relationship.
Michael: I don’t know if we missed anything, but I think in terms of just advice. First of all, definitely plan for the unexpected in terms of repairs and things. They will happen. Even our house I think relatively speaking was in pretty good condition. Owning a home means you’re your own super, right. No one’s going to come in and fix things.
Harriet: Stuff happens.
Michael: Stuff happens.
Rebecca: I mean yes, we had to replace our water heater, but then the really unexpected. A tornado ripped through two years in, and we had thousands of dollars’ worth of tree repairs, damage in our yard.
Michael: Right. So definitely plan for that. If you do have things in mind…
Harriet: Don’t plan for tornadoes.
Michael: Well, yeah. Don’t plan for tornados. Well, you never know these days. Whatever you do have in mind for work you’d like to do on the house or repairs. From our experience especially in Westchester and I think especially these days. Whatever you have in your head as what you think it will cost, double or triple it. Everything is much more expensive than you thought.
Harriet: Right, right. So leave a good safety net there is what you’re saying. And cars. I mean, you know.
Harriet: It all adds up. It all adds up. Well, this is great. Thank you so much. Really helpful. I think you really covered it. I thank you so much for joining me. I can’t wait. I know you’re thinking about a renovation. So please feel free during the process to reach out to me. That’s something that it all continue after the purchase.
I want you to make sure whatever you’re doing is a good investment. You’re going to probably, just having done this myself, have two or three options on how to do it, the expense is going to be different on every option. Certainly, I’m happy to look at it from an investment point of view down the road.
The good news is the appreciation you’ve had buying before COVID is huge. So you do have good room there. Interest rates have gone down since you’ve purchased. So that’s all good. Okay. Thank you so much.
Rebecca: Thank you.
Michael: Thank you Harriet. My pleasure.
Harriet: Have a great day with those two kids.
Rebecca: We will.
Harriet: Hopefully when this craziness stops, I’ll come by and see you in Chappaqua.
Rebecca: We hope so. That would be wonderful.
Harriet: Okay. Feel free to reach out anytime.
Rebecca: Will do. Thank you so much.
Michael: Thank you.
Harriet: Okay. Bye.
Rebecca: Bye Harriet.
Harriet: So what’s the key take away of today’s episode? There are always tradeoffs, pros and cons, to every home you look at in every price range. Ultimately every buyer’s purchase will account for those tradeoffs. In today’s seller’s market, buyers are being asked to make decisions very quickly and pay a price significantly above the list price in bidding wars. They really can’t participate in that type of situation unless they really know what they’re looking for and what they can afford.
Rebecca and her husband Michael bought their home in 2017, and did not have to act so quickly with such certainty. They did do their homework and knew when the right home came along, and still are very happy with their decision. Not everyone buys their forever home when they make their first purchase, but you want to know that you’ll be happy there for many years to come and will be able to make improvements, if necessary, that will feel good to you in the end.
I hope this episode will clarify for first time home buyers the choices they will make when purchasing their first home. Budget, commute, location, how much yard, privacy, style, and function. I think Rebecca brought up valuable points for a buyer to consider. I hope you did too.
Next episode will focus on the luxury home market in 2021. It’s been the fastest paced luxury market I’ve been in my 20-year career. Thanks for listening and have a great day.
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