5 Unexpected Lessons When Buying a Home (From People Who've Done It Before)

Around here, I've developed a bit of a reputation. As " Rachel the Renter" I entertain my co-workers (and you!) with a variety of renting anecdotes and horror stories. But the truth is, I do want to eventually break up with my landlord and explore a monogamous relationship with a mortgage broker. I know "Rachel the First-Time Homeowner" doesn't have the same alliterative ring, but I'm sure we'll all survive.

Thing is, there's lots more at stake than just a change in status from renter to homeowner. Like so many (if not all!) first-time home buyers, I have no earthly idea what I'm doing. Sure, I can read up on all the buying and finance advice we offer here at realtor.com. Of course, I can consult with my real estate agent and my mortgage broker. But if there's one thing I keep hearing from those who've forged the path ahead of me, it's that when you buy a home for the first time, you're constantly faced with things you didn't know you didn't know.

So, before I embark, I thought I'd minimize some of those surprises and take advantage of my home-owning co-workers' experience. They shared these personal anecdotes of surprises they encountered on the road to homeownership. I hope this will help prepare you -- and me -- for what lies ahead:

Mortgage meltdown

Takeaway: Don't count on your mortgage until it's signed. And make sure you double-check your property assessment.

Count your costs

Takeaway: Go over the closing costs with your real estate agent and take notes on what to expect. You'll see these costs itemized again and again, so best to get familiar fast.

Budget time and money for repairs

Takeaway: You can't foresee problems that might arise during the inspection. You might be able to negotiate with the sellers, but you'll want to have enough money left over after closing for any unexpected repairs. Be prepared to walk away from your dream home if needed.

Multiple visits are OK!

Takeaway: Look as many times as you need. This is the place you'll call home, after all. Even in a competitive market, a second look could end up giving you the edge. (And while you certainly don't want to harass the seller, don't be afraid to personalize your offer with a letter describing any details about you, your family, and why you love their home. It could be enough to sway the seller in your favor.)

Learn (and love) thy neighbors

Takeaway: Your community is often as important as the home you're living in. Take a good look at the neighborhood, and don't be afraid to ask the neighbors questions. These people could become your babysitters, your carpool buddies, and your closest friends over the years.