Ready to Buy a House Together? Here’s What You Need to Know

A scene from The Money Pit.

The most exciting part about saying “I do” is building your life with the person you love the most. But what does that mean for the newlyweds when it comes to actually creating a home together?

Purchasing your first home can be exciting, overwhelming, and sometimes incredibly frustrating. It is sort of like finding your perfect match—you’ll most likely have to go through a lot of options, before finding the one. But sadly there isn’t a matchmaking app for this search yet, you’re left with Houzz or StreetEasy, where one can swipe right and left with abandon.

For those about to take the plunge into homeownership, we sat down with Over The Moon bride Tania Isacoff Friedland, a top New York City-based licensed associate real estate broker at Brown Harris Stevens, to get the inside scoop on the do’s and don’ts when it comes to first time homeownership—so you can avoid ending up like Tom Hanks wrapped in an oriental rug and stuck in a hole of his own making in the Money Pit.

Here she shares, in her own words, her pro-tips for taking that next step (which might feel like a huge leap!). 

Start by making a wish list. “Determining your ‘must haves’ and the things you can possibly live without is essential,” Friedland explains. “Your wish list will serve as a set of guidelines, but will ultimately evolve over time as you see properties and learn more about yourselves. There’s usually one thing on that list that I like to call the ‘wow factor.’ Don’t give up on it but be flexible as you might be pleasantly surprised about something else on your list. Some home features to consider are ceiling height, closet space, outdoor space, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, laundry, additional storage in the building, and the flexibility of space.”

Chemistry is important when selecting a real estate broker. “Your home is likely the most expensive purchase that you will ever have to make so take the time to find the right broker,” Friedland says. “Not only should they serve as a trusted fiduciary and advisor in this incredibly important financial decision, but you will want to work with someone who will listen to your needs, guide you, and give you candid advice. If you and your broker aren’t on the same page, don’t waste any time and find someone else with whom you click.”

Educate yourself on the market and see as much as possible early on. “Not only will this help you to prioritize and edit your wish list, but it will also allow you to determine where you can unlock value in your search,” she adds. “As you go through the process you’ll find that there are always compromises, especially in New York City, but don’t be discouraged or give up too soon. Hold out for that one special feature because you can always change stylistic elements to make the home more relevant to your taste and style.”

“I always send my buyers a few outside the box’ ideas to explore,” Friedland says. “I find that this always helps them to identify a home with that “wow factor” feature that seals the deal for them because the property most likely also has characteristics they’ve compromised on and wouldn’t have previously considered.”

Location, location, location! Friedland’s biggest piece of advice is also the golden rule of real estate: “Don’t ever sacrifice on location as that is always the most important thing when it comes to resale value.”

The question of renovation is always a big one. “Some first-time buyers like the excitement and challenge of customizing a space to their own specifications. But no one wants to overpay for someone else’s work,” she cautions. “When I’m working with a buyer who wants to take on a project, we always focus on homes that require a bit of imagination and are priced accordingly. If you’re planning to do a renovation, identifying a property with flexible space is really important. For example, utilize closet space to enlarge a bathroom, add a washer/dryer or a powder room. If you’re purchasing a larger apartment, you might also consider using a staff room off the kitchen as an additional bedroom/office space or combining it with the kitchen to create a large eat-in kitchen for easy everyday living.”

Many first-time buyers, however, don’t have the time or energy to renovate and will therefore pay up for modern conveniences in a home that has been recently updated. “One big misconception when purchasing a home in a new development is that you can move in with your suitcase and toothbrush in hand,” Friedland adds. “However, don’t be misled as there is always work to be done aside from decorating. For example, you will likely have to outfit all of the closets and wire for audio-visual technology.”

Think long term. Buying/selling real estate has ancillary costs associated with each transaction (such as transfer taxes to the city and state, attorney fees, brokers fees, capital gains taxes, etc.). “Plan to hold your property on average for at least five years and take into account how your needs may change over the next few,” she suggest. “The real estate market is never linear and always experiences cyclical changes. Since you don’t have a crystal ball that will predict where the market will be when you decide that it’s time to sell, hold your home for long enough so that you’ll break even, or better yet, come out ahead.”

Losing a property is often a blessing, so don’t be discouraged. “As disappointing as it may feel when you miss out on a property that feels “perfect,” just remember that there will always be another,” she says. “As cliché as it sounds, things work out the way they’re supposed to and when you close on the home that’s meant to be yours, you won’t look back. Trust me!”

As was the case with your partner, you should fall hopelessly and helplessly in love. “When you find your new home, you should immediately feel a spiritual and emotional connection,” Friedland adds. “It should be a place that feels glamorous and chic, yet also comfortable and cozy. Your home should be a place where you can envision hosting friends and family for a casual cocktail or a holiday celebration.” 

Lastly, don’t forget to have a little fun. “Use the search process as an opportunity to dream big!” Friedland says. After all, a little real estate porn never hurt anyone!