Buying A House for the First Time

Once we started to actually go through the process of buying a house for the first time, I wanted to share some of the things I learned. I’ve been taking notes on my phone and it’s funny how quickly you kind of get swept up into the process. On one hand, if you’re not buying a house now or soon it’s not even worth stressing over… but on the other hand, I kind of wish I had known some things before getting started. You do, though, quickly learn things day by day because you have no other choice. 😂

So, I knew going into this that buying a house was complicated and would be fairly hard. I actually found it to be way harder than I was expecting at. It’s funny because the minute I’d mention to someone that we were in the process of buying a home, if the other person had been there/done that they would INSTANTLY start commiserating.


Anyway, here’s a pretty good list of the things I wanted to share that I’ve learned/realized while buying a house fo the first time. I’m sure I’m missing some things but this is what I’d tell to a friend 😉

– Take things one step and one day at a time. There is going to be a LOT of information thrown at you and a lot of task items. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the one hundred things you’re ultimately going to have to do before closing day. But in reality, you don’t need to worry about what’s happening a week from now, just focus on what you need to do today. The nice thing about working with a good team of people (attorneys, agents, mortgage companies) is that they do this all day, every day so they can guide you through the process.

– Ask a lot of questions. Everyone you’re working with has done this a million times and it seems easy and straightforward to them, because it’s their job and they know it like the back of their hand. It’s your first experience, so they may say one line, and if you don’t understand? Ask for clarification. I kind of felt like I was constantly asking people to repeat themselves, to clarify what something meant, to walk me through some particular. They can move so fast that I was trying to prevent whiplash and it forced me to stay on top of things. I didn’t want to get “swept along,” I really wanted to understand what, when and why things were happening. (I can’t begin to tell you how important this is. People, even though they’re experts, make mistakes and you’re about to buy a HOUSE. It’s worth getting things right the first time because it could cost you big time in the long run.)

– Write down everything. I wish I had been better about keeping track of questions, answers, timelines, what I’ve done, what I still need to do, etc. At one point, I was re-reading twenty emails to figure out if I had dropped off the good faith check or not. I had been so overwhelmed with details and everything was so fast, that it felt like I was experiencing short term memory loss. Had I written it down somewhere as a “task,” I could have easily seen if I had crossed it off or not. Even if I had just created a log of sorts of everything I had done, what needed to be done, and important things I didn’t want to forget (kind of like a home-buying-specific Bullet Journal). I was a hot mess of emails, and files downloaded onto my computer, and post it notes strewn across my desk. Everything should have been in one place. It would have made the process so much faster and streamlined.

– Don’t get emotional. If I have one piece of advice, it’s to not get emotional. Which, look, I get it, you’re buying a home. I’m not going to lie and say that I was like a stone-faced killer going into open houses, but I tried my best to check my emotions at the door. And when I did get emotional, I would try to recognize it and then put my “rational” hat back on. Beyond even the open houses, it’s so helpful to stay level headed. I did and didn’t through different rocky points, ha. I kept saying in my head that if things didn’t work out, it wasn’t meant to be. Again, I wasn’t perfect, but by doing my best to approach things rationally, I know I made better decisions throughout the process. Instead of getting worked up about an issue, I would go into problem solving mode. “Okay, we can’t close next week? What five things do I need to do right now to help the situation? Move our movers again, contact our landlord, cancel our reserved parking in Hoboken for the move, etc.”)

– You HAVE to be organized. Stay on top of everyone and everything. Pick up the phone and call. Follow up on email. Do it all. I think it’s as important to be the one leading the charge as it is to heed the advice of the experts and professionals helping you. Yes, this is their job. But YOU are the one buying the house. It’ll be your financial or time consuming thing to deal with if something goes wrong. I can’t even begin to tell you how many legit mistakes I caught throughout the process. Some being minor (an extra $100 charge on our closing disclosure statements) and some being huge (like the $50k+ issue that popped up a week before we closed). Honestly, I don’t even want to think about what would have happened had I not caught something. All I know is that I’m VERY relieved I did. For six weeks, I made daily calls to our attorney/paralegal, the mortgage company, and the contractor fixing the issue. I knew which windows of the day they would and wouldn’t pick up the phone (😂) and every day I’d make the phone circle. Sometimes I’d have to do it a few times throughout the day to close all the necessary loops. Every Friday afternoon, I’d write a list of what I needed to do first thing Monday morning and I’d start my phone chain all over again!

If you’re buying the house with another person (like in my case Mike!), I think it makes the most sense for one person to take the lead. Since I have a more flexible work schedule, I could take/make phone calls pretty much every day, which is what ended up happening. I should have been a better communicator with Mike to let him know what happened/what was decided during the day but sometimes I felt like things happened so fast and we were onto the next thing that I’d forget to relay something. Talking though with all of my friends who have purchased houses with a partner, they’ve had a similar experience. Obviously big decisions need to be made together, but for the daily minutiae details don’t necessarily need to be done/made together.

– Know what’s important to you. This sentiment carries over from the house hunting process all the way through the buying process. Be very clear with yourself on what’s important t you. What priorities do you have short and long term and how can you make sure your decisions are aligned with those priorities. For us, in particular, we wanted to be in a town close to Mike’s various family members, good schools (e.g. lower taxes if the private school options were excellent or higher taxes if the public schools were great), at least three bedrooms, resale value of the neighborhood etc. Then we had some secondary priorities that were still fairly important, like being able to walk into the town, a nice basement, etc. As we looked at houses, it was easy to keep in mind what we could live with versus what we really wanted. If something didn’t meet our major priorities, it wasn’t worth exploring further. And I kept these priorities in mind as we went through the buying process (i.e. after we were under contract) like what projects we were okay taking on and what we considered non-negotiable in terms of fixing before closing.

We also had a few “tiers” of prices that I was comfortable with. (The mortgage people will tell you that you can afford a LOT more than what actually makes sense, in my opinion!) I knew the “top” number I’d be willing to go up to if we found an INCREDIBLE can’t-turn-down house and a number that I’d prefer to stay under for a realistic “first” home. I sat down with a pen and paper (literally) one day to reverse compute what kind of house we could realistically and comfortably afford based on what we wanted to pay each month on the mortgage + taxes + insurance, while still hitting our saving goals for the future and having a safety net each month for expenses related to homeownership. It’s worth sitting down with a financial advisor if you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself! Do this BEFORE you start looking at houses. I wouldn’t even open a link to a house that was above my “perfect house” number because what’s the point in tempting myself 😉

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Ashley C

This is such a helpful post for first time home buyers! Hindsight is always 20/20 and I wish I had been more educated on the home buying process before I even started looking. One thing I didn’t do when purchasing my home is work with an attorney or legal professional. It was never even recommended to me to do so, actually. Can I ask what benefits you think you gained from doing so?


To be honest, I assumed we had to 🤣 ultimately I’m glad we did though because we ran into so many issues that they became our liaison between the seller’s attorney and us. They relayed information and negotiated things (like having the seller pay for mortgage rate extensions after the closing date kept getting moved).


I believe it’s a requirement to work with a lawyer in NJ. This is a great post but I would add to it – read everything. The number of times we caught errors in documents from the lawyer, mortgage guy, etc was unreal and would have cost us a LOT of money if we hadn’t checked the math ourselves! They do this all day everyday, yes, but that also means that they are pulled in a lot of different directions and so you can’t count on them to be 100% error-free! Congrats again on the new house.


Some states require you work with an attorney and I believe New Jersey is one of them (my aunt has lived there for over 50 years and my uncle was an attorney in NJ). Other states you do not have to work with an attorney (hello from Texas!).


This is all great info and rings true from my home buying experience. I cannot stress enough how important it is to figure out what you can afford for a monthly all in BEFORE you are approved for a mortgage! We calculated our sweet spot for mortgage + HOA, and were then approved for a mortgage way, way over what we could actually afford. I am so, so glad we knew our “real” number so we didn’t get caught up in what the bank told us we could borrow. In the end, we bought something exactly in the middle of our “real” price range, and it feels so good to not stress about payments every month.

I think it’s also good to have a basic idea of how much renos cost. We got a good deal on our house because it was wall to wall carpeting and showed poorly because of that. I knew installing hardwoods would be less than $20k for a house this size. Our house looks awesome now!


Please do NOT forget that in addition to the mortgage payments that it is strongly suggested that life insurance and disability insurance should be taken out just in case of illness or death so that you do not have to stress about having to sell or leave your home if the situation occurs. There is also title insurance that should have been offered to you before closing. Also the mortgage company should let you know how far down to you have to pay the mortgage to avoid PMI. PMI costs a lot and if you can try to avoid it. Just comments on my experience no response necessary.

Brittany Higdon

Such an exciting and stressful time. I SOBBED at my closing, which was exactly the opposite reaction one is supposed to have. It’s sooooo stressful to sign your life away but so exciting to be a homeowner 🙂


Would love to hear more about buying a house with a non-legal binding partner. I bought my house with my husband, so the legality of who gets what in case someone dies, we split up, etc. is all very clear (as we have already done all that paperwork when we got married). If you buy a house with someone you don’t have that arrangement with, it’s all up for dispute. It’s very important to protect yourself when you don’t (and can’t!) know what the future holds. A friend of mine bought a house with her boyfriend, so they used a lawyer to do paperwork ahead of time to protect what each was contributing, etc. Let’s just say, she’s really glad she did that!!!


It was actually a lot easier than I was expecting. Basically you sign paperwork/agreements beforehand on various scenarios (like what happens if someone dies). Buying a home together IS legally binding so you actually have more protections in place than if you were, say, renting together or living in a house that a partner owned by him/herself.


Such good advice here! Can’t wait to see more of your house tips.

Also – I didn’t get a chance on your previous post to congratulate you!! I am so excited for you and can tell how happy you are in your new home. What an exciting, exciting time!


I would also add don’t stop being organized once you move in with your home’s information. Create a home binder so you have all of your utility account numbers and phone numbers, who worked on your house and when, what improvements you did to your house and their costs, etc. Its easier to go look for a paint color if its in one location than wondering a few years from now, what paint color did we use in this room?

Also – take before photos and then after photos once your rooms are done – so fun to look back on these photos in years to come!


Great advice! I also recommend working backwards when figuring out your purchase price range. I calculated what I could afford in terms of a monthly mortgage payment and also made sure to budget for higher utilities (because the house I bought was bigger than the condo I rented), maintenance savings, and a bit extra to pay on the principal each month to pay off the loan more quickly. I don’t even know how much I was approved for because I just told my mortgage broker the amount of the monthly payment I wanted to make and asked him what the translated into as a listing price.

I would also say, if anyone you’re working with makes you feel annoying for reading through things carefully and asking questions, find a new agent/broker/etc.

My final piece of advice is don’t be brainwashed by HGTV into thinking you can easily and cheaply transform an old ugly property into your dream home! (You can do it fast, cheap, or well – pick two). I started out looking at older homes because I wanted character and the chance to make it my own. I am actually SO happy I ended up in a new-ish build. That’s not to say old houses are bad, I just realize now that I don’t have the time, money, or expertise to remodel a home.


I would also add the importance of getting a lead inspection done on a pre 1970s house. Even if they were renovated, they most certainly still have lead paint many places (radiators, original trim, plaster walls, etc.). If you plan on being pregnant, having kids, or doing any additional work it is helpful to know what locations to be mindful of that paint/plaster be maintained perfectly or that contractors take extra precautions when working on said areas.

J. Owens

Hi there! I know these comments are moderated, and really, I enjoy this blog immensely.

That being said, please try just a little bit harder when writing posts like these. As someone who also just bought their first house, I would give this advice to nobody, because it’s not even helpful!

What about having a house inspector lined up, doing the walkthrough together, even finding a mortgage company?? Even advice on how to even start looking for a house, which neighborhoods to look in, etc. Things like “don’t get emotional” are so UNhelpful, because buying a house IS emotional, and you’re guaranteed to lose your sh*t at least once.

There is a bottomless well of material to choose from in this topic, and this just so lazily scratched the surface that I’m disappointed.

However, congratulations on the purchase, and enjoy settling in!


I personally found all that information readily available and offered by everyone I worked with… I wanted to write a post with the things that I WISH I had known. My intro to it was:
“Anyway, here’s a pretty good list of the things I wanted to share that I’ve learned/realized while buying a house fo the first time. I’m sure I’m missing some things but this is what I’d tell to a friend 😉”
Is there more to buying a house? YES, of course!


All very helpful tips-and SO IMPORTANT to know what you realistically can pay for a house vs. what the bank says that you can! BTW-Where did you get that key chain!!!?? I just bought a house and need a new house key key chain-I LOVE yours!!!


Congratulations on your new home! Will you be doing a post about your experience having a company pack and move you? Reading movers’ reviews are so discouraging—it seems that everyone has a horror story to tell. I’m sooo interested to know if its nerve-wracking or no big deal to have strangers pack all your stuff because we always move ourselves and swear to never do it again.

Ashley M.

I have not yet bought a home, but as someone who is about to move cross-country for the 4th time since 2015 I am so envious you had everything unpacked less than 48 hours after you moved in! You can tell that the home you and Mike purchased is the right fit – everything has its place and you have made the house a home!


As someone who has purchased several houses throughout various stages of my life, I agree with everything you’ve mentioned. This is solid advice for anyone looking at purchase property.

Ashley M.

I can’t wait to see how you decorate your home! You have such great taste, I know it will look great! 🙂


This is such wonderful advice! I went through the process of buying my first home two years ago (at the same time I was planning my wedding…so much stress!!) and I wish I had this guide back then! Speaking as a homeowner, these are great tips and great to try to keep in mind, and they work for buying a house, but also many can apply to planning a wedding too!

Thanks for sharing your experience with this process, I had a pretty stressful nightmare experience buying my first home and I’m glad I’m not the only one! It’s posts like these that are just so helpful and relatable!

Best of luck with the new house, can’t wait to hear more about it in the future!