Survey Reveals First-Time Homebuyers' Biggest Regrets

depressed woman with hands in...
ShutterstockAlmost half of first-time homebuyers in a recent poll said that they wish they had done things differently.
By Emily Heffter

Virginia real estate agent Bic DeCaro has a psychology degree that comes in handy when she's showing homes, especially to first-time homebuyers. They get emotional. They fall in love. They get caught up in bidding wars they can't afford. They make mistakes.

"The big thing is buying for the moment and not looking down the road," she said.

That sums up the regrets of many first-time homebuyers. Zillow surveyed them after their boxes were unpacked and their infatuation had faded. Almost half of them said that they would do things

"It's almost like they rush to the altar just to say they were married, instead of choosing the right guy."

differently if they had it to do over.

Here are their biggest regrets.

Size and Layout: Of buyers with regrets, 62 percent said they wish their homes were bigger or laid out differently. They wish they had bigger kitchens, more storage space or just more space in general.

"Almost always, they outgrow it faster than they think," DeCaro said.

Bobby Harding, a Keller Williams agent in Louisville, Kentucky, says first-time homebuyers think too much about square footage and not enough about the floor plan. "Everybody wants 1,400 square feet, 2 bath, 2 beds ... They're thinking about Mom and Dad's house, a segmented house," he said. Sometimes, they just need to consider something more modern.

The Cost: In the Zillow survey, 40 percent of first-time homebuyers with regrets said they either paid too much or should have put more money down on their new homes. More than a third (38 percent) said that they were surprised by how much it costs to maintain their new homes, and 20 percent were surprised by the cost of closing.

Agent Phil Faranda agreed: "It's simply a matter of not thinking it through enough. They're so invested in the emotions. It's almost like they rush to the altar just to say they were married, instead of choosing the right guy."

The neighborhood: More than a quarter of those with regrets said they don't like their neighborhood.

Patricia Short, a Keller Williams agent in Katy, Texas, advises her buyers to visit potential new homes on a Friday night.

"Friday night is a really good night to drive the subdivision," she said. "Is your subdivision going to be crowded with cars to where you can barely drive up and down the street? They've got their garage doors up, their lawn chairs out and their beer coolers out?"
(If that's what you like to do, she added: "You're home.")

The Yard: Almost 1 in 4 homeowners had a regret about their yard. Of the 24 percent who cited lessons learned, 12 percent wish for bigger yards, and 12 percent wish they had easier yards to maintain. That means you should be realistic about what you want in a yard before you buy. And DeCaro tells buyers in Virginia, "If you're going to want bigger and more outdoor space, you're just going to have to move farther from the city center."

Parking: Nearly 17 percent of first-time buyers with regrets wish they had a different parking situation -- another practical matter that might get lost in the emotional swirl of a first real estate transaction. That's where a good agent comes in, Harding said. He likes to insist first-time homebuyers look at three to five homes, at least. While they fantasize about paint colors and kitchen remodels, he points out problems with floor plans, parking and resale.

Agent Phil Faranda agreed: "It's simply a matter of not thinking it through enough. They're so invested in the emotions. It's almost like they rush to the altar just to say they were married, instead of choosing the right guy."

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted Feb. 27-28, 2014. For the survey, a nationally representative sample of 2,030 randomly-selected adults aged 18 and older residing in the U.S. was interviewed via Ipsos' U.S. online omnibus. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within +/-2.2 percentage points 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire population of adults in the U.S. been polled. The margin of error will be larger within sub-groupings of the survey population. The sub-group of first-time homeowners with regrets in the sample is 348, which has a margin of error of +/-5.3 percentage points. These data were weighted to ensure the sample's regional and age/gender composition reflects that of the actual U.S. population according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

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