12 Homebuying Myths, Busted
While my time as a homeowner has been brief—a little more than a year—I've become well practiced in busting homeownership myths. Actually, it might be a little more like this: I've become used to having a major reality check.
Recently I wanted to enclose a screened porch with glass windows, thinking it would be a great (albeit expensive) way to add value to my home. But this wasn't necessarily true. A friend of mine recently upgraded her porch only to learn that because the porch didn't have HV/AC running into it, it did not count as additional square footage and did not boost her appraisal value as she had hoped.
The myth—that all home improvements add value—was thoroughly busted.
Intrigued, I reached out to several real estate experts to see if there were any more myths about homeownership. The answer? Heck yes. Keep reading to demystify 11 myths about homeownership.
You Need 20% for a Down Payment
Putting down a 20% down payment is often cited as the golden rule of real estate, but it's not a magic number. While putting down 20% can make you stand out in a sea of offers, in hot markets saving up that much can be like "swimming upstream," says Tammi Lindley, senior loan officer with The Lindley Team at Mortgage Express.
"With today’s average home prices being so much greater than when our parents and grandparents purchased their first homes, 20 percent is a pretty high bar, especially if the buyer isn’t rolling over proceeds from a previous home sale into the new home purchase," she says.
Some federal loan programs can allow homebuyers to put down as little as 3% on a home, and veterans can qualify for mortgages with zero-percent down payments. However, if you do end up putting down 20%, remember that you'll have to pay PMI.
If You Can Afford a Down Payment, You Can Afford Homeownership
This isn't always the case. According to Ben Mizes, CEO of Clever real estate, 1 in 4 homeowners have fewer than $500 saved for unexpected home repairs. This can leave unprepared homeowners financially vulnerable. On average, homeowners spend $2,676 on maintenance and repairs, $6,649 on home improvements, $2,600 in property taxes, and $1,228 on homeowners insurance every year, Mizes says, citing research Clever conducted.
"When you add in mortgage payments, homeowners can end up with more costs than they were prepared for," Mizes says.
Your First Home is Just a Starter Home
New York broker Brian Ma says buyers often believe their first home is just the start and that in five to 10 years they'll upgrade to their dream home.
"The reality is that most homeowners don't upgrade their home purchase, because doing so is cost prohibitive," Ma says. "Besides that fact, closing costs are a sunk cost that you can't recoup, and most homes don't increase in value within such a short time."
While Ma acknowledges there are exceptions, he says many homebuyers don't end up considering another home purchase after their first.
Especially for people coming from urban hubs, there is little knowledge of the true cost of landscaping.
The Landscaping Will Take Care of Itself
Real estate expert Alison Bernstein of Suburban Jungle says homeowners often forget the real costs of having a big backyard.
“Especially for people coming from urban hubs, there is little knowledge of the true cost of landscaping,” she says. “Plants die and need to be replaced, weeds happen, lawns must be mowed and treated, hedges need to be cut back, and more. Some years will be more costly than others, but overall this can become a significant expense.”
I experienced this personally when moving into my own home—it has beautiful fig vines all over the front that were an instant selling point for me. (Major curb appeal!) What I didn’t realize was, those fig vines grow incredibly fast during the spring and summer. I need to have them trimmed about twice a year, totaling about $1,200 annually I wasn’t aware of upon purchasing.
You'll Lose Your House if You Miss a Mortgage Payment
Andrew Healing, editor at REthority.com, reminds buyers that the foreclosure process is long and tedious: Missing a payment is never something you want to do, but if it happens, it doesn't immediately seal your fate.
"While missing a mortgage payment will likely hurt your credit score, banks will typically work with you to get back on track," Healing says. "Foreclosing on your home is inconvenient to banks, so they'd rather charge you a late fee than carry the burden of foreclosure."
Home Values Always Appreciate
It may take years for a home to appreciate significantly, if its value goes up at all, says real estate expert Robert Taylor.
“Homes on the coast or retirement destinations tend to appreciate better, but there are still areas in the U.S. where you can buy homes for less than you could 10 years ago,” Taylor says.
And if you do live in an area where prices appreciate significantly, keep in mind that the reverse can also be true. Taylor points to the recession, when coastal-area homes depreciated significantly.
No one will stop you if you’re absolutely determined to paint your bedroom bubblegum pink, but you can’t necessarily build a new garage or an addition or install solar panels without permission.
You Should Always Wait for Interest Rates to Go Down Before Buying
While it’s worth shopping around for attractive rates, it can be risky to wait for rates to go down if you’ve found a house you really love.
“If you plan to live in your home for awhile, you’ll probably have a rate to refinance when rates come back down,” says Dan Meyer, co-founder and CEO of Pocketdoor, a renovations and home projects app.
When You Own a Home, You Can Do Whatever You Like to It
It’s true homeowners have more flexibility than renters, but there are limits, says Brian Davis of SparkRental.
“Homeowners are bound by zoning regulations, deed restrictions, homeowners’ association rules, local housing rules, or historic home rules,” Davis says. “No one will stop you if you’re absolutely determined to paint your bedroom bubblegum pink, but you can’t necessarily build a new garage or an addition or install solar panels without permission.”
Davis says homeowners need to be prepared to request permits and acquire permissions. And remember, if your home is registered as historic, you will be limited on the internal changes you can make too (yes, that includes bubblegum pink).
YouTube Videos Can Teach You How to Fix Anything
If you’re naturally handy or have a predilection for DIY projects, YouTube can be an extremely helpful resource. But Dallas-area realtor M. Bryce Olson reminds homeowners that there are many things in a home that go far beyond a weekend warrior-type project.
“It’s important to use licensed professionals or at least have them inspect for safety,” Olson says.
Take a water heater replacement, for example: If not vented correctly, it can lead to major catastrophic issues such as carbon dioxide leaking into the air. Save YouTube for something more low-risk, like a makeup tutorial.
A first-time homebuyer on average is staying in a home around 10-12 years.
You Should Buy a Home Based on Schools—Even If You Don't Have Kids Yet
Olson also chimed in on this myth, which he sees commonly.
“A first-time homebuyer on average is staying in a home around 10-12 years,” he says.
While that’s increased since the crash in 2008 (most people only stayed in houses 5-6 years prior to that), a hypothetical child wouldn’t even be in high school at that point. On the other hand, a home zoned for a good school district, whether you have children or not, can help resale value.
Owning a Home Will Save You on Taxes
While it’s possible owning a home might save you money on taxes, it isn’t a guarantee. That’s because the primary way to save is due to itemized deductions for property taxes and mortgage interest, Allec says. If your standard deduction is greater than your itemized deductions, owning a home probably won’t lighten your tax load, he says.
“Here’s the kicker: The new tax law passed in December 2017 nearly doubled the standard deduction for all taxpayers, making it even less likely that owning a home will benefit you tax-wise,” he says.
For 2019, the standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly is $24,400. Unless the sum of a married couple’s itemized deductions—such as property taxes and mortgage interest— exceed $24,400, they will not benefit from those itemized deductions, Allec says.
New Homes Don’t Require As Much Maintenance As Old Ones
“A new home requires equal levels of maintenance as older homes,” says Nick Rorabaugh of Athens, Georgia-based Rev Sells realty group. “But the difference is, a new home’s maintenance is much easier,” he says.
For example, roof maintenance for a new house would involve things like cleaning the gutters or removing broken leaves while an older home (with an older roof) might require professional repairs.
Personal finance expert Jacqueline Gilchrist can personally attest to new homes requiring maintenance, noting that her own new home required repairs in the basement after the foundation shifted and settled.
“New homes are just like any other home,” Gilchrist says. “They’re susceptible to harsh weather conditions, and they could also have hidden defects that are revealed over time.”