Prior to completing the process of moving into our new home new home, I wrote two articles covering what I consider to be a lot of good tips, info, and ideas on how to buy a new build home. Now that we’ve been in the home for a full week, there are a few more things regarding this process I’d like to share as well.
If you haven’t read the first and second articles, you can find them here.
Your Home Is An Investment. Period.
It’s very important that you don’t allow the glamor and romance (which is definitely there and should be enjoyed) get in the way of you viewing your new home as an investment. Unless you are of retirement age and/or are so content with this purchase that you plan on having your ashes put on the mantle place, you must view this as merely a seven year stepping stone towards the home that you really want to live in for the rest of your life. With that in mind, here are some things that my wife and I did that I know will help our home stand out among others that will be for sale seven years from now when we’re ready to build the dream mansion.
Upgrade, Upgrade, Upgrade
Our home builder offers a lot of different upgrades. Upgrades cost money, for sure, and the last time I had a home built, I didn’t take advantage of these options. But, I’m telling you now that you should take almost every single upgrade that you can possibly afford. With our deal, part of the incentives was almost $6,000 of free upgrades, and we spent every penny and then some. Don’t worry, the extra money you spend will be part of the sale price and not have to come out of your pocket, so do spend it! Get the top of the line appliances (we got all stainless steel); get the top of the line carpet and pad; get every possible light fixture set up for ceiling fans; add extra cable and phone jacks anywhere they might possibly come in handy for someone; take all the tile you can get, unless you plan (as we did) on ripping out the entire downstairs flooring and having it custom tiled the day you get the keys; get the largest A/C unit they offer, with heat pump; get pre-wired for the alarm and garage door opener, and get pre-plumbed for a water conditioner; take the stoned in fireplace; take the masonry on the outside of the home; if there’s a lot with trees, take that one; and any other upgrade they have that your gut tells you will appeal to potential buyers in the future. If you have to, in order to afford the upgrades, downsize the model that you are choosing and take one with a few hundred less square feet, just so you can afford the upgrades.
Make plans well ahead of time on what modifications you’re going to do once you have the keys in your hand. My wife and I already knew that we were for sure going to have the entire downstairs tiled, as well as the upstairs bathrooms, with ornamental inserts put in in a decorative pattern. So, we bought the tile months ahead of time when it was on sale, and had the tiler lined up several weeks before we closed. The money we were saving up had the tiling budgeted in, so we had it all arranged to give the tiler the key the same day that we received it. All went very well, and now we have flooring that nobody else does!
We also contacted several water conditioning companies and had them give us bids, as well as a company to install the garage door opener and one to do the alarm system. so within less than a week after we moved in, we had all of these things taken care of. Why the rush? Because we’re human, and humans tend to think that they’ll eventually get to it “very soon”. The problem is that so very often “soon” never comes, so we made ourselves do it right away. Definitely no regrets here.
Hire a Mover
If you’re like my wife and I, you’ve probably moved about a hundred times in your life already, at least. And I bet I can safely say that not one of those moves was probably enjoyable to you. It always involves rounding up whatever friends you can, renting a UHaul, and lots and lots and lots of “making like an ant”, and carrying things back and forth, back and forth. Well, neither of us had any intention of going through that again, and so we got a quote from a moving company and budgeted it in to our savings. To give us maximum affordability, we also started literally two months ahead of time packing things into boxes and moving them into the room nearest the front door. The front room became our storage room, and as the weeks passed that room became filled with furniture and boxes stacked from floor to ceiling. Why? Because movers charge by the hour, and the easier we could make it for them to pack it up, the less time it took. Additionally, we decided that a new house should equal a brand new start, and we sold a LOT of the big stuff. Two queen size beds, one of the kids’ beds, a couch and loveseat, a kitchen table…sold them all. We went through our house at least three times and put usable items out on the sidewalk for people to take; and they did! We purged ourselves of everything that wasn’t absolutely necessary and/or that we didn’t feel would be a good fit for the new house. By doing this, we managed to move a four bedroom, 2500 sq foot home into a 3 bedroom, 2100 sq foot home at a total cost of $540, including a $90 tip for the guys! It was well worth it, let me tell you!
Getting Your Deposit Back
Historically, nobody gets their full deposit back when moving from a rental, and most don’t even get half of it back. Well, my wife and I got all of our deposit back, plus an additional $60! Essentially, the plan here is to do what your momma always preached to you: “keep up instead of catch up”. When my wife and I moved in to our rental, our mantra that we always preached and practiced with ourselves and all 13 of our kids (yes, 13) was: “Keep the house landlord-ready at all times!”. What this meant was that we took preventative actions, such as laying a long strip of cheap hallway plastic down in the high traffic areas from day 1. We also kept on top of the kids about keeping their personal spaces neat, correcting them whenever we saw them rubbing hands on walls and the like, and we enacted the rule from day one that no shoes would ever be worn in the house. By maintaining a mindset of keeping the house in a state that, if the landlord were to show up he would not be displeased with us, we had very little to do by way of repairs and the like when it came time to move out.
Because we really really wanted to get our deposit back, and we knew that we had been maintaining the house as if it were our own, we also did this: we called the landlord when we gave him our 30 day notice and asked him outright, ‘what do we have to do to the house in order to get our deposit back?’. His answer was, ‘take out the checklist we made when you first moved in that noted any issues with the home, and make sure that there’s nothing additionally wrong with it’. Simple enough! So, we did. We spent ten bucks on a gallon of paint that matched the wall colors, bought two small sponge rollers, and we spot painted the house in areas of high wall to hand traffic. We removed staples from the girls’ posters and put putty into every single staple hole we could find; we hired two young lady friends of ours for $125 to come in after us and clean the house from top to bottom; and we made sure the yard was cleaned up and groomed. By doing this, our landlord was more than pleased at our final walk through, complimented us on having been really great tenants, and handed us back our deposit, in full. Oh, but I said we got an extra $60, didn’t I? The extra money came by way of improvements we made to the home and left for the next tenants. I simply prorated the value of those improvements (ceiling fans, a small brick outdoor fireplace patio, a garden box that we built) and asked him to buy them from me at their current value, which he gladly did. It was my first rewarding experience as a renter, but it wasn’t luck of the draw, it was because my wife and I had been proactive from the beginning, always thinking ahead and knowing that we would one day be moving out.
Our new home came with all appliances except for one: the refrigerator. Now, the existing applicances I mentioned we had upgraded to the stainless steel ones, so we needed a refrigerator that would match. My wife being the most passionate about refrigerators, she had her heart set on one that was in the $2000 range. Since this is a new house, and since we will probably be leaving the fridge behind as a selling point, we decided we’d spring for it out of the money we had saved for this purchase. We shopped around, and it was when we got to Lowes that we decided this was the place to buy it. The salesman there was just amazing. The fridge my wife wanted was actually about $500 more than our budget allowed. JP (our salesman) being the awesome man of integrity that he is, told us that he would go ahead and give us a ten percent discount right off the top, and that this same fridge would be going on sale next week for an additional ten percent off. If we bought it, he said that he’d call us next week and we could get the additional ten percent off as well. This total of twenty percent off put the refrigerator exactly within our budget! To make things even better and give us a little more breathing room, JP had us apply for a Lowe’s card to put the purchase on. We applied, holding our breath (because I have an ex spouse who after several years has still not refinanced my old house in just her name, so every time she makes a late payment it goes on my credit!). In a few minutes the nice young lady at the service desk whom JP had introduced us to had us a card with the whole purchase put on it at twelve months no payments and no interest. She said the system had said that we had only qualified for a few hundred dollars, but she managed to get it up to $2600! That lady (and JP) are definitely being invited to our house warming party next month! So, we got the exact fridge we wanted and didn’t have to spend a dime. They delivered it the next day and we simply adore it. P.S. JP did call me the following Thursday to tell me he hadn’t forgotten, and that he had already taken off the additional ten percent from our Lowe’s card. If you’re shopping for appliances in the San Antonio area, hit Lowe’s at The Rim and ask for JP!
The New Lawn
Here in south Texas, there really isn’t a lot of dirt to speak of; in fact, the substance that our foundation was poured onto was a lot more like cement than any kind of earth. This is a good thing for the foundation; bad for any kind of plant that isn’t native to this area. So, one thing that my wife and I did was to sneak in one day during lunch, just after the topsoil for our lawn was spread, but before they actually laid the sod. We picked up a $50 bag of lawn fertilizer and a couple of spreaders from Home Depot and fertilized the soil pretty thoroughly. I can’t say for a fact that it made a difference (maybe they just gave us great sod), but I can tell you that our sod took off incredibly fast compared to the neighbors and is now, three weeks after being laid, thick and green. I recommend that you give the same kind of pre-treatment to your new lawn as well.
We’ve now been in our home for a little over one year, and it has been fantastic. In order to increase the value of our home, we stained the back patio and built a small deck around it. We have also installed ceiling fans in almost every room, gotten creative with the interior painting, and are preparing to do some major landscaping just as soon as the weather cools down enough. Sounds like work, I know, but in actuality every drop of sweat and every dollar I invest in home improvements is a rewarding and satisfying sacrifice that will come back to us in the form of a high return on our investment. If you haven’t already purchased your own home, I can’t recommend it enough. Just be sure to educate yourself, rely on recommendations, and do the necessary legwork and research to ensure that each step of your journey is calculated and purposeful. Happy home building!