There are many people that want to own their own home. It is deeply ingrained into most American’s from the time they are small that they should work towards homeownership; this inculcation comes from school, friends, media, and so forth, but wherever it comes from, it is strong, and it grows up with the person until they too march into a real estate agent’s office and begin their search. It is not a bad thing-- it is a beautiful thing in fact, but it is sometimes jumped into without a proper knowledge of what is to come. Many people think that they will find a house, sign for a mortgage, pack up their apartment, and then set up shop in their new home to carry on with their usual life. This is only partially true. When you make the move from apartment to house, your life changes. There are changes in your time, there are changes in the amount of space you have, and much, much more. Just to give you a heads-up to what is to come, the following are some brief examples of changes your life will take and issues that may need to be explained about homeownership.
What are the differences in space that should be expected?
There is no doubt that there are space differences between apartments and houses; apartments are designed to fit a lot of stuff in a small area, whereas houses are designed to be more spacious and comfortable. In most cases, houses are going to be larger than apartments, but that isn’t always the case. The average apartment in Boise is about 400 to 1,000 square feet in size while the average home in Boise measures in at about 1,500 square feet. This makes for a difference of 500 to 1,100 square feet which is significant and phenomenal when you are moving, but that is just the average size. There are homes in the valley that are small with less than 1,000 square feet making them the same size as a large apartment. In some cases, you could even lose space when upgrading to a house, depending on the size of your former apartment. So, be sure to take size into account, it may not be much more room than you think.
If you do end up with a home that is larger than your current living space, then you will experience an interesting phenomenon. Most people that move into a larger space will unintentionally buy more stuff to fill the new space. All of their current possessions were collected to fit into the apartment you were living in, but now, in the new environment, they may seem sparse. This causes people, at an almost imperceptible level, to buy more things until space is filled to their desired ratio of space to stuff. This isn’t a problem, just something to be aware of.
What are the differences in the cost of living?
The cost of living in an apartment vs. the cost of living in a house are completely different-- and it will change depending on the house you buy and what neighborhood it is in. This is due to several factors: mortgage payments, utility bills, and property taxes.
Mortgage payments are not like rent; they are flexible and you can set them, however, high or however low you like, which is nearly impossible to do with a rent payment. They are also different because a mortgage payment takes you one step closer to owning the home, whereas the rent payment only allows you to live there for another month. The reason why this is significant is more evident in the long run. For example, if you lived in your home for 15 years and paid off your mortgage you would own the home for the amount it was listed at plus the amount of the loan’s interest (for the sake of an example, let’s say it comes out to $200,000) and you get to keep living there and don’t have to pay anymore. However, if you live in an apartment for 15 years you will have probably paid about the same amount as you would have on a house (maybe a little less, let’s say $175,000), though you still have to pay to live there, and you could get evicted eventually.
What is the average price difference between a mortgage payment and rent?
In the Boise area, the approximate average monthly rent for an apartment is $950. That is a great price, not to high, not to low. However, even though you’ve paid that amount you still don’t own anything, so it is not a very effective use of your money. With mortgages, however, the average price is somewhere around $1,000 and $1,200 which is not that different than the cost of rent. The only real reason that it is higher, though is because of mortgage insurance, property taxes, and the interest on the loan.
What will be in my house when I move in?
It is safe to assume you won’t get more than a dishwasher, A/C unit, and an oven/range combo in any house you move into. Unlike apartments that are completely furnished, houses are bare. You will need to buy a microwave, a refrigerator, and washer and dryer set which all cost a pretty penny. It would be best to have a bit of an extra fund tucked away for when you move, that way you can get the appliances you need. Sometimes, the appliances can be negotiated as part of the sale of the house. This is not guaranteed to happen, but it is possible.
When shopping around for appliances, be sure to not only find ones that are good quality and a good price, also search for the ones that are energy efficient. Having the newest and best refrigerator and washing machine are great, but if you can’t afford the electric bill to run them, then they aren’t worth it. One tip for shopping for appliances is to look for products that are labeled with a blue Energy Star logo. These appliances have proven to be energy efficient by the Energy Star organization (which is an objective 3rd party). Using an Energy Star certified product will mean that not only will you be saving yourself money, but you will also be lessening your carbon footprint.
What should I expect of my neighbors?
A neighborhood is a completely different atmosphere than an apartment complex. For one, there are fewer people. For two, the turnover is not as frequent. When people rent an apartment, their lease is for 6 months to a year, and not many people stay for more than 2 or 3 of those, but, when people buy a house, the mortgage is for 15 to 30 years. Granted, people don’t always stay in their homes for very long, but many plan to -- especially in a well-established neighborhood. This means you will want to cultivate a good relationship with your neighbors as the relationship, bad or good, will go for a lot longer than one with a person down the hall.
Another thing about neighborhoods that should be addressed is homeowner’s associations (or HOAs). An HOA is the self-governing part of the neighborhood. All the neighbors vote on who they want to make and enforce the rules and then those people who are elected do just that. These homeowner’s associations can be simply involved in the neighborhood watch and the neighborhood picnic, or they can be involved to the point where there is an overabundance of rules.
What kind of maintenance will I need to be aware of?
When you live in an apartment and something breaks, you call the landlord; the landlord then either hires someone to fix the problem or comes down herself or himself to do it. You don’t have to lift a finger, all you do is fill out the work order, and they magically appear and fix the problem . . . This, unfortunately, doesn’t happen when you own your home. When you own a home, you are the landlord and maintenance and repairs are your problem. Things like holes in the wall, mold, broken cabinets, and so on, are all your responsibility and, if you don’t keep up on the maintenance, then you will soon be over your head in the repairs department. Just remember Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” and this is never truer than with houses.
What about parking?
Parking is, in some aspects, easier and less of a problem when you own your own home than when you are in an apartment. Apartment complexes usually only allow you a specific number of parking spaces, and if you need more, you will be fined for them. With houses, though, you not only have the driveway, but the part of the street that is in front of your house, and any garage space or covered parking that you have are also available to you. Granted, you will want to keep them down to a minimum as your homeowner’s association might have regulations as to how many vehicles you put in front of your home.
Another great thing about parking though is that, for short periods of time, you can usually keep an RV or camper on the road which is something that would never fly at an apartment. If you want to keep your RV or camper long term at your home, you can always lay down some concrete in the front for it to park on (which would cause you to sacrifice part of your lawn) or open up your fence to allow it to park in the back.
What should I expect when it comes to working with front and backyards?
Yards are great; they give you a place to play, relax and enjoy the great outdoors. They also give you space to work on hobbies or projects that might need more space, and they can also be a place for vegetable or Zen gardens. However, they do take a lot of work to maintain. At your apartment complex a professional landscaping crew probably took care of the lawn and other public areas, but at your house, those are your responsibility. Now, you can hire someone to take care of it, or you can do it yourself, either is fine, you just need to remember that nothing will happen with it if you don’t get the ball rolling. This includes mowing, trimming, weeding, watering, leaf raking, and snow and ice removal.
Now, in some places, a professional landscaper will be paid for using the homeowner’s association dues, but that is hard to come by.
What about pest control?
You could have your home sprayed every few months, whether by a professional or with store-bought solutions (as long as you follow all safety protocols). This will cut down on the amount of pests you get and, if you notice anything larger than a spider, call a professional.
Whether you call a professional in the first place, or if you start doing it yourself, you get to call the shots. If your home has cockroaches then you can customize your pest defense for cockroaches; if your house has a gopher problem, you can hire someone who deals with gophers and not worry about having your home being defended from a generic host of attackers.