“House Hunters” first premiered in 1999 when I was 12 years old. I devoured episode after episode. And since they don’t teach you these practical things in school, I thought I had learned everything there is to know about home buying from the popular HGTV show.
But fast forward 18 years: I got married, then pregnant. Suddenly I was eager to trade the nearly-windowless rental basement my husband and I considered home for one we could call our own. Somewhere we could build equity.
So off we went—we met a realtor who showed us three houses, we agreed on one and we signed on the dotted line. Right? Wrong… so, so very wrong.
It turns out “House Hunters” told me many lies about buying a home over the years. Though I knew it was a highly-staged reality TV show, I still thought that it was a pretty accurate representation of touring houses and working with a realtor would be like. So, as a favor to all the other confused viewers out there, may I present to you the seven things “House Hunters” didn’t tell me about buying my first home:
1. You’ll look at 101 houses before you find the right one
You can look at Zillow and Trulia until your eyes bleed, but realtors will narrow those options for you. They know what’s really out there, and they know what’s worth your time. But real estate agents are not miracle workers. You will not be presented with three very good options, one of which you are guaranteed to secure as your own. It’s way more likely that you’ll walk into dozens upon dozens of homes before you find one that’s right for you. Which brings me to my next point …
2. Once you find your dream home, you’ll lose it
There are no guarantees in home buying—ever. Once you find a house you love, a simple phone call won’t verify that it’s yours. More likely, you’ll wait weeks to find out you were outbid or discover something suspect during inspection. When you lose said house, your mom will tell you, “Don’t worry, everything happens for a reason.” You won’t believe her (even though she’s probably right).
3. You’ll have to hand over all of your most personal information at a moment’s notice
When things finally come together, be prepared to hunt down and then scan what seems like hundreds of documents—I’m talking months’ worth of pay stubs and bank statements that detail every penny to your name, tax returns from the past few years, marriage certificates… the mortgage lender is going to want it all. “House Hunters,” on the other hand, will lead you to believe you meet for drinks at the trendy neighborhood watering hole to sign on the dotted line.
4. Be prepared to beg, because you will beg
Did you forget to pay your Bloomingdale’s credit card one time a couple of years ago because the bill went to an old address? That’s going to show up on your credit report, and you’ll have to write a letter to the mortgage broker to explain your delinquency. “House Hunters” lets you think that being pre-qualified means the money is yours. It’s not—you’re still at the bank’s mercy.
5. Going over budget is really not a good idea at all
On “House Hunters,” couples often view and settle on homes outside of their budget. They briefly consider how this will affect their monthly payments, but don’t seem all that stressed about adding an extra $25,000 to their homeowners’ loan. There are so many things wrong with this line of thinking: Mainly, owning a home is not as simple as handing in a rent check at the beginning of each month. You need to leave a little cushion in your bank account—in fact, you’d be wise to choose a house a little under budget. If both the oven and the refrigerator break the first day you move in (and they will), it’s up to you to pay for replacements.
6. There are hidden costs. Very, very expensive hidden costs
My husband and I crafted this big spreadsheet that detailed all of our expenses — car payments, how much we spend on groceries — and even tried to predict new expenses — how our electricity bill may skyrocket, the daycare costs associated with the new baby. We were so proud of ourselves! We had the money for a down payment and we knew we could swing the monthly mortgage payments within a certain budget. What “House Hunters” forgot to tell us? That we’d also need about 3% in closing costs. Even on a Waco, Texas budget of $100,000 that’s an additional $3,000 upfront in fees for lawyers, appraisals, inspections and more. Your mortgage isn’t gonna pay for that!
7. Moving in takes a lot longer than three weeks
Maybe you’ll get lucky and find a turn-key home within your budget, hire movers to unpack your boxes, and be ready to host a cocktail party for all of your friends and family in your perfect home three weeks later. More likely, you’ll be knee-deep in paint, dust, and moving boxes for months. I unpacked my last box more than seven months after we moved in. A year after moving in, I still have painter’s tape hanging in the guest room, because I lost interest in repainting the trim. But, hey, we’re getting there… and this is no episode of “House Hunters.”