Today is the 4 year anniversary of my becoming a homeowner for the first time. I wanted to share some of my thoughts on this whole adventure of being a homeowner.
If you rent then you can just call up the management company of your apartment complex and demand that a broken appliance is fixed/replaced at no cost to you. As a homeowner you have to take care of this yourself. This may seem like a disadvantage, but it has been my experience that most apartment management companies are clueless when it comes to maintenance. Better to do it yourself.
It has been my observation that when you rent an apartment, you aren't really part of a neighborhood. Due to the very 'fluid' nature of apartment living, you often don't know your neighbors. This can lead to a kind of apathy about who lives nearby and what they are doing. Who cares if they drive a piece of junk, eyesore of a car? It isn't your neighborhood. Home ownership is a different beast altogether. You have just bought this home that you will likely be living in for 15-30 years. That means you and your neighbors are going to be living next to each other for a long time. It pays to know your neighbors and get along with them. You are stuck with each other for the long haul. Since you plan on staying in this place for a long period of time, you tend to care much more for the appearance of the neighborhood as well. Hence the rise of homeowner's associations. These groups keep people 'honest' and keep the riff-raff from ruining the neighborhood.
Yes, owning a home is more expensive - considerably so. Many people don't realize just how much money it costs to maintain a home. I've found that owning a home can cost twice as much as an apartment per month. I feel this is worth it, though. When you are renting an apartment, you are basically throwing large sums of money away for little to no benefit. When you own a home, you are essentially making a long term investment. With real estate values rising as they have in the last few years, this is a VERY good investment. In the last 4 years I've owned my home, the cost of similar houses in my neighborhood has nearly doubled! Show me another investment that lets you double your money in 4 years! Plus, with the great number of tax benefits of homeownership, it can largely offset the additional costs of home ownership over renting - especially if you are single. Being able to deduct the interest on my mortgage every year, singlehandedly puts me over the standard deduction on my taxes. This leads to some great potential for itemizing expenses on your taxes and ending up with a nice refund check. I've gotten sizeable income tax refunds every year that I've been a homeowner. If you are preparing to buy a home for the first time, I strongly suggest you discuss this with someone who already owns a home first. They can give you a better idea of what the costs can be in owning a home, over and above the costs of renting.
Living in an a apartment can be a very restrictive thing. In the last apartment I lived in, they had rules against pets. You had to leave a non-refundable pet deposit of $200 or more if you wanted to have a pet - even a small, clean animal such as a cat. When I was growing up, I never had a pet, and I always wanted one. In an apartment, I couldn't really do this. In a home, I could. After buying my home, I finally went out and got a pet, and I love it. Pets are a wonderful thing that I recommend to anyone. (Just don't go nuts and adopt your own personal 'zoo'.) It's a wonderful feeling to know that you can do anything you want to your house (inside anyway) without anyone telling you that you can't do it. If you want to paint the walls purple, or whatever you are free to do as you please. Many homeowner's associations have strict rules about what you can do to the outside of your house however. These rules exist in order to maintain the consistent appearance and high property values of the neighborhood. Would you want to live in a neighborhood with that one house that is overgrown with weeds, is painted purple, and has several cars up on blocks in the front yard? I think not.
Choosing your home
My advice here it to take your time. I spent a good six months looking at hundreds of houses before I found the one I liked and ultimately bought. Every house I looked at had it's redeeming qualities, but there was always that one thing that I didn't like. Don't be afraid to turn down a house because of that one thing you don't like. You are going to be living there for many years, so that one small thing can rapidly turn into a big thing if you buy the house despite it. A friend of mine once told me that you will know the house you want instantly. You will fall in love with it on first site. That was how I felt with the home I bought. It was by far the best place I'd seen. Interestingly enough, I had my heart set on buying a 'real' house from the beginning, but after being convinced to see a townhouse, I fell in love with it. In retrospect, I'm glad I bought a townhouse over a regular house. I'm not the kind of person who enjoys mowing the lawn, painting the house and things like that. Thankfully, the homeowners association takes care of these things for me. Had a bought a house, I would likely have had to do these things myself. Another thing to keep in mind when choosing a home is location. It's generally a good idea to choose a home fairly near major highways. However, don't choose one too close to a highway. I looked at one townhouse that was literally across the street from I-595. All I could hear from inside the house was the sound of cars passing by on the freeway! That certainly wouldn't lead to a peaceful night's sleep!
This is kind of a luck of the draw kind of thing. You may end up with good neighbors, you may end up living next door to a nutcase (as unfortunately is the case for my parents). The best you can do here, I suppose, is if you are considering a house, walk around and chat with the neighbors to get a feel for the neighborhood. I was very lucky to end up in a wonderful neighborhood. The evening of the very day I was moving in, my new neighbors, who I hadn't even met yet, invited, in fact insisted, that I come by their house that very night so we could meet. This was despite the fact that I was all sweaty and tired from a day of moving in. They welcomed my sweaty, smelling self into their home with open arms! I can't describe what I wonderful feeling this is, to have such a good first impression of your neighbors.
Buying a home is a scary thing! I was terrified of the thought of commiting the next 30 years of my life to something. I knew it was the right thing to do, and I felt it was the right time to do it though. I have not regretted my decision for an instant.