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Taking the Home-Buying Plunge Young: Millennials Weigh In

by Molly Sprayregen
Friday Oct 27, 2017
Taking the Home-Buying Plunge Young: Millennials Weigh In

Buying a home can be daunting, especially if you're young.

Twenty-somethings (many of them new to saving and some carrying student-loan debt) can be intimidated by the sheer amount of money and paperwork involved in home-buying. And there's a vast amount of conflicting information online.

"I think a lot of young buyers get a lot of bad information," says Chicago-based Realtor Matt Laricy, who suggests going to a real-estate agent for reliable information.

Other 20-somethings who have taken the plunge - some with outside financial help, some without - also have advice to share. Here's some of what they've learned:

SWEAT THE DETAILS
"Stand in the bathtub before you buy the house," says Alyssa Bear, 28, who owns a home in Iowa with her husband. She had a home inspection done, and was sure to check every faucet and even turn on the oven before agreeing to purchase her home. Yet she wishes she'd been even more thorough.

She discovered a crack and leak in the bathtub upon stepping in to take her first shower after moving in. Had she known about it in advance, she says, she would have insisted that the previous owners fix it.

McKensie Kahnweiler bought a condo in Chicago at age 25 and sold it four years later, in 2015. She adored it, but regrets not looking more closely into the parking situation before buying.

She also urges buyers to check the quality of windows and appliances. Make sure, she says, "that you're not buying into a money pit."

Getting a professional home inspection is a standard and vital step in buying a home. Consult experts and do research to make sure you hire a reputable inspector.

YOU'LL NEED MORE MONEY THAN YOU THINK
Emily and Brian Townsend, 28 and 27, own a condo together in Chicago and were surprised by the many unforeseen costs during the buying process. They found themselves stressed as they pulled together money for closing expenses.

According to the real-estate website Zillow, closing costs, which may include fees for appraisal, origination, underwriting and more, can add up to between 2 percent and 5 percent of the cost of the home, which can mean several thousand added dollars.

There is also the cost of maintenance. Alex Garza, 27, another Chicago condo owner, emphasizes the importance of keeping an emergency fund.

"If I do have a large expense that I need to take care of, I've got that fund there to help me feel secure," she says.

And on the subject of money, keep a paper trail. The Townsends used gift money from special occasions, like their wedding, to help purchase their home. The bank wanted proof of how they got it.

"They will question where every penny you make comes from," Brian says.

BE HONEST WITH YOUR AGENT
"You don't need to be polite," says Zoe Polk, 26, who owns a condo in Boulder, Colorado. If you don't like a property, tell your real-estate agent. "We're talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars of your money, and you definitely shouldn't settle," she says.

Bear returned to examine and explore her home several times before making an offer. Her agent assured her that was OK: It's a huge decision. She needed to be sure.

THE DECORATING FREEDOM IS AWESOME
Many young homeowners say that one of the best things about owning is the freedom to make the space feel truly theirs.

"I can do whatever I want to it, it's mine," says Garza. "I can put holes in the walls, paint whatever color. I installed window treatments."

UNDERSTAND ANY HOMEOWNERS' ASSOCIATION TERMS
If the property is part of a homeowner's association, take time to understand the fees and member requirements.

"Having to deal with the fact that everyone in the building is responsible for common areas has been the only drawback," says Garza, who recently had to contribute to upgrade her building's elevators.

Polk's homeowners association's fees in Denver total over $300 per month, but she feels it's worth it.

"Think about what you get for it," she says. "Like you don't have to do any landscaping - all those things you don't think about."

BEING A LANDLORD IS HARD
Polk recently moved, but decided to hang on to her property and rent it out.

"I thought, once I find someone and they sign the lease, it's over and then I just cash the check for the next 12 months," she says.

She didn't realize how many issues, large and small, would be hers to deal with. "I'm responsible for (my tenant's) well-being in the apartment, so it's a little bit of pressure," she says.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Kahnweiler loved that her Chicago condo was near her favorite stores, events and restaurants. "That is, in my opinion, the most important thing," she says.

Laricy agrees. He says many young homebuyers are attracted to the "glitz and glam" of shiny new kitchens and bathrooms rather than to where a home is, and how that suits the owner's lifestyle.

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