I was asked to share my thoughts about living in a starter home versus a forever home, what to fix up, how to approach spending, and how to you know it’s your forever home. I’ll talk about my own experience as a gal who has lived in many apartments on my own and bought two homes as a single woman – the townhome turned it into a rental for 10 years, and our forever home we currently live in.
First: Location, location, location
With any property – first or last home, location is everything. Years ago a friend told me how much he hated where he lived even though it was a new condo, he said he hated driving seeing the ugly and depressing neighborhood driving home and even though it was nice and new inside, he didn’t like it.
He told me, “You can always change the inside but you can never move your home.”
And for that reason, I found a neighborhood I loved that I haven’t moved more than a mile away from. I have always paid attention to location when I lived in Los Angeles even in an apartment, I lived in the center of it all, by The Grove, close to where I worked E! Entertainment and then moved a few blocks north in Hollywood right off Hollywood and Highland (the Walk of Fame was steps outside my door).
I like to be in the center of good dining and shopping and close to the airport. I currently live in North Central Phoenix/Biltmore area. I love being 15 minutes away from the airport when traveling was a big part of my lifestyle (it will be that way again soon I hope). For some of you being close to work or your family is important. I would say find the best area closest to those spots then, but if there isn’t one, just find a place you love. I would also say don’t feel pressure to be so close to work because jobs can change!
Your starter home: What to buy, what to fix
If you’re single, or a newlywed, or young, chances are your first home will just be the first – not the last depending on where you are in life. You will probably want a bigger home with more rooms for a growing family, or find a better location to live, or want to be by friends or family as you get older.
If you’re in the building stage of your life where work is life like ages 20 to 30, I would strongly suggest a townhome or condo because owning a single family home can be pricey. Find a property without much of a yard. Find a low-maintenance property because the last thing you want to do is yard work. Worrying about the cost of a landscaper, etc. won’t be fun so try to keep the maintenance as low as possible. There will be an HOA to maintain the property, pool, so find one that’s pretty cheap because it stinks to throw away hundreds of dollars a month that doesn’t help with home equity.
A single family home is a big jump in financial responsibility from renting. You’ll know when you’re ready for the maintenance of a single family home.
Even if you are living in your starter home, you still want to enjoy it. I knew my townhome might end up being a rental one day. Before I moved in, I worked on what bothered me the most that really needed an update – remove the popcorn ceilings, painted the walls, new vents, new light switches, lighting, and changed some flooring and got new doors and door knobs. See the listing photos here (altho this was repainted all white where I used to have the “permanently fall look” at the time).
It was never a guarantee I’d keep my townhome as a rental, it was a possibility. I lived in it for 8 years. I just knew this wasn’t my forever townhome.
I thought about doing a wall cut out but the cost didn’t make much sense and I am not an open concept person. I changed what I could afford, and I lived with what was good enough. Also, if it was going to be a rental, I had to draw the line to know that it was good enough.
If I think about the furniture I still have from the townhome this is what has stayed with me – expensive lighting, such as lamps, and estate artwork. Also my bed frame, nightstand and dresser. That’s pretty much it. But I did take everything with me to the house we live in now and it stayed that way for years until I understood my style, and the right scale for our home.
Now one thing I know is don’t make your home too nice, if you paid at the peek of the market, don’t make it the nicest house on the block because if you try to sell, you won’t get much of your money back, and if you are in a townhome or condo setting and the other units aren’t that nice and your unit is beyond, there’s only so much more you can get for it – unless the location is gold and the outside of the complex is decent.
Just don’t overdo it on the starter home, remember it’s a start and for you to build equity and hopefully make a little money and not throw it away on rent, but you are still using the home wisely as to enjoy it, but save up for the future, which will include your forever home.
Your Forever Home: What to buy, what to fix
Deciding you are in your forever home is a bold statement. Just because you say it is forever, doesn’t mean you won’t change your mind 10, 15, 25 years down the road, you never know what life will throw at you.
Sometimes you won’t even know that your home is your forever home until after you live in it for a few years. When I bought the home we live in today I never thought it was my forever home. I was in my late 20s and I had gone through a broken engagement a year prior and I just wanted a new start of memories to get rid of the bad ones. It felt right to own a single family home, have a home office right off the home entrance (this was when I was a wedding photographer and clients would meet at your home), and I was ready for a yard! I was a crazy stalker driving around every day looking for a For Sale sign in the neighborhood I loved!
I also bought this home three months into Benjamin and I dating and he wasn’t keen on the idea, but I also didn’t ask him – haha! I’ve always been independent in my decision making as a single girl, from college, moving out of state for jobs, buying cars, and property – you do what you want girlfriend, don’t think you need to take anyone else into consideration until they put a ring on it, mmmkay? *wink* Now of course Benjamin loves our home and is glad I bought, and we’ve done a lot to the house over the past few years – because we decided this is our forever home.
How we decided it was our forever home:
- We love the area and there’s no where else I’d rather live
- We discussed if we won the lottery (we don’t play it but you know what I mean) would we move? I said no, I was pretty content! So then we said ok, then let’s make this home really ours, which is why we expanded 425 sq. feet and put in the money into the front landscaping and garage.
We would only move if this area became unsafe in the future.
I suggest living in your home for a year before you make any major changes. I usually say this before planting trees or building your garden beds. This idea also works for the inside of your home too. A year will allow you to realize if you need more rooms, a bigger closet, need a home office to work from every day, or how often you really entertain and host overnight guests.
As many of you know, the home projects for our current home were ongoing from here. We didn’t get new interior doors until 9 years later! But here’s the thing, they just didn’t bother me that much whereas in the townhome I HAD to change them immediately. Expanding our home an extra 425 sq feet, well that’s more useful than new doors – and it freed up Benjamin’s office from doubling as the guest room.
And the appliances, well 9 years later I now, I might want to update what was new at the time – but I am still not in a rush, because everything still works or I wait for the Black Friday sale. We bought a new range hood and dishwasher in the last year, those items were necessary.
Remember that you have your lifetime to make your forever home your dream home. And enjoy the process of decorating and fixing it up!
What I recommend to update before you move in, if these items need to be changed:
- Painting the walls and ceiling
- Flooring and baseboards
- Change out door knobs (replace doors later)
- New air vents and wall switches and plugs (if they were old and yellow)
- One bathroom
Remember only if these are items that you think you will need to update anyway – you should do it before the furniture moves in. The rest can all and will be fixed as you live in it and understand your style.
Paying off your home earlier
So my biggest advice about your forever home is to work on it slowly, don’t go into debt, and if you can, pay it off early. Look for a 15 year fixed mortgage instead of a 30 year fixed – the difference might not be that much in payment. But if it’s significant that you can’t do a 15 year fixed, try to put additional monthly extra you have to put toward the principal to pay it down sooner (even if it’s as little as $100 a month). This will help you pay off your mortgage sooner so you can focus on retirement savings to enjoy that retirement lifestyle sooner than later. Think of the age you are now when buying and when you’d like to not have a mortgage – 50? 60? 70? That might help with putting things into perspective.
OK that’s enough advice for now before I sound like a parent haha! If you have questions I’m always here and happy to give any feedback based upon my own experience. Thanks for trusting me with the advice I give. I would love to hear what you fixed up first in your forever home, or any thoughts or advice you’d give to anyone who lives in a starter home or forever home! xx
Photo by Lory, To Have To Host
Diana Elizabeth tossed out more tops and bought this eyelet top – it’s under $25 at Forever21. She was supposed to do an exchange but came out with a few more things when she left… she also calls Forever21, Forever31 now. Anyone else?