First Time Homeowner Anxiety

Hi, I just bought my first home and while I expected to experience some anxiety over being a homeowner, I find myself really, really worried: will I be happy there, will I be working just to pour money into the place, will I ever be able to take a vacation again, will I do something wrong or not do something I am supposed to do that will cause an issue with the heating or electrical? I am really overwhelmed and would love to hear how other managed the stress–even alleviated it a little. Are the strategies for maintaining your sanity and your home?

31 Replies

  1. I would trade places with you any day! Being a renter in NYC is the worse feeling ever! Your hard earned money handed over to line your landlords pocket isn’t a great feeling.

  2. The first place I bought was a 100+-year-old vacation cottage that needed a ton of work I couldn’t afford. (In fact, twenty years later, I’m still doing some of this work.) When I describe the experience to people, I often joke: “The first year you own it, every time you leave the house you worry that there will just be a hole in the ground when you return. The second year, you hope that there will just be a hole in the ground when you return. But by the third year, you settle down.”

  3. when we bought our house i would sit at my desk at work having palpitations. seriously, it was that bad. it wasn’t that we were overextended (that much anyway) but the thought of having that much debt was making me physically ill. thank god it was short lived, i talked myself through it (the valium helped) and five years later we are happy we did it. number one thing to remember-there will always be something that needs to be done-take it slow and don’t try to get everything done right away. the house isn’t going anywhere. enjoy!

  4. Cantaffordcarroll, regarding your initial question here, your plea for advice on how to handle the stress — make friends with a neighbor or neighbors. That was truly above all else what kept us sane and still proves to be a blessing. We got information and advice from them and if nothing else they were always good for a martini! Your neighborhood will be more social when the weather warms up. Take advantage of it.

  5. cantaffordcarroll- I’d be more worried if you weren’t having an anxiety attack :-).

  6. OP Here–I think I did everything right. I am not exceeding 25% of my gross income, I got a 5.25 mortgage rate, I put a a good amount down. Yet, I am still filled with terror. I am hoping to have the same experience as most of you–that it will pass with time. I know the fears are both rational and irrational and that change is hard. I guess that I was thinking it was going to be much easier. Everyone says that home-ownership means pride and control and I thinking of renting as carefree. Also, after all that saving, it is scary not to have months of expenses sitting in the bank right now. I worry about rebuilding the emergency fund while saving to redo the bathroom and kitchen. It all seems so much! Thanks to all of you for reminding me to breathe and be patient.

  7. Cantaffordcarroll:

    Here’s the thing. Owning your own house is a responsibilty and a joy that will match few othe things in life. Here’s the best thing. Since this is your first home you were probably a renter. Didn’t you have something that absolutely drove you crazy about your rental? As an owner you have the ability to make sure that things are exactly to your liking. The best thing about home ownership.

    There is no doubt that the first year will probably come with many adjustments. You may eat out less. Perhaps the only way that you will be able to see that blockbuster movie is to go see the bargain matinee. But have no doubt, at the end of the day…This is your place and your home.

    Embrace the experience and find a handyman.

  8. benson, i think the reason people are being generally ‘encouraging’ here is because it sounds so similar to feelings new first-time homeowners have felt. i was the same way, still am sometimes! it doesn’t matter what the financials are (tho you’d like to think that somebody who was able to get a mortgage in this client must be doing fine money-wise).

    my advice to the OP: take that nervous energy and run with it! i wish i was completing projects on my house at the rate i did when i first moved in. I was painting, refinishing, building stuff, cleaning … now i moslty look around and say I’ll get around to it one of these days 🙂

  9. benson, i might agree with you if the question was “should I buy now or not” but this person has bought already so why not try to give them some encouragement and perspective. I went through a lot of similar thoughts when I bought this fall and I think that my experience is valid for them. I do agree that practical advice is more valuable for them than general encouragement and cheerleading but really if they have already taken the plunge we should be trying to help them I think.

  10. Bob and all;

    Perhaps I’m the scrooge in the group, but…

    …..I wonder if all the encouragement in this thread is well-advised. To me, it smacks of the advice being given out by mortgage brokers a couple of years ago: “You can’t lose in real estate”…”Don’t worry about the payments right now…”.

    None of us know this person’s financial situation nor their budgeting discipline, except that he or she is anxious enough about it to solicit advice on an anonymous forum. Perhaps it’s just natural nervousness at being a first-time buyer (which I also went through), or perhaps the person is really in over their head, and, absent a course correction, is headed for a dreary existence. Who knows?

    Given the lack of specifics, is it really prudent for folks to tell them that everything will be alright? I think not. Wouldn’t it be better to give them some normal financial “rules of the road”?? If they have followed these guidelines, then they will indeed be alright. Otherwise, they might be headed for an existence they didn’t bargain for.

    In sum, what is the point of pitching the benefits of home ownership to someone when we know nothing about their financial situation, discipline and values? Seems to me that this is exactly how we wound up in our current economic debacle.

  11. When I was a kid, whenever I worried about a purchase my mother would say “don’t worry,it’s not a house and lot”. Years later, when we signed the contract for our house, I woke up one night, in a cold sweat, realizing that this WAS a “house and lot”. My telling you to relax will not do a bit of good, but it WILL work out.In a few months you’ll find it hard imagining not living in your own place.

  12. If home prices were still rising, you’d have a lot less to worry about. We have consoled ourselves in our current home by knowing that our 40% dp was mostly made through the obscene profits from selling our previous place, so that if we need to sell and lose money, well, we never actually had it in the first place, and if we’d put it into equities we’d already be down 40%. Perhaps you’re in a similar situation.

    Other than that I would say to make a really strict budget for the next year and stick to it, and don’t skimp on things like plumbing and electrical work at the expense of decorating…

  13. Brenda, that was poetry, seriously.

    We were totally overwhelmed and insane the first 6 months in our limestone. It’s a big lifestyle adjustment and on top of it the worst issues happen in the first year because that’s when you discover all there is to know about the old beast. Just get through the first year: keep reminding yourself it gets better and hang a list on your fridge of all the things that annoyed you about your coop or rental apt.

  14. In the identical boat as you, cantaffordcarroll, same neighborhood too. Are there enough people in our shoes for a support group?!

  15. benson – no wish to quibble with your advice but a pet peeve of mine is when people state such a precise figure (25% of income) but then do not refer to whether that is 25% of gross or of net. Which, of course, will change the whole thing entirely.

  16. CantaffordCarroll;

    I think the issue comes down to the percentage of your income that is going towards your housing,and whether your values/emotions are in sync with your finances. Brenda from Flatbush touches on this issue well: how “house poor” will you be, and are you willing to live the life such a financial situation requires?

    The conventional wisdom used to be that 25% of your income should go towards shelter, be it in the form of rent or ownership. Included in this 25% should be your rent or mortgage payment, property taxes and ownership costs like repairs, maintenance, etc. I have always stuck to this 25% rule, even though it meant that I was living in housing less “fashionable” than many of my peers. I believe this rule of thumb is wise, in that it gives one enough financial flexibility to take on life’s other challenges: kids, college, investing for retirement, unexpected illnesses my family has encountered, etc.

    Other folks pay alot more of their income towards housing, i.e. are “house poor”. Some folks go into it with their eyes open, and live with the bargain. In my experience,however, it wears many folks down after a while. There IS something to be said for having disposable income to treat yourself to a nice dinner, or vacation, and to not count on your home as your retirement piggy bank (which basically means you have to sell your home and move to a cheaper location when you retire).

    Take stock of your finances, your values and emotions, and the answer will become clear to you over time. Only you and your family know your situation.

    One final caution I would give you. There are those who would argue that one should “go to the max” in buying a home, arguing that one should commit 40, even 50% of your income towards housing. I would advise against this thinking. We are at the end of a long,long rise in housing pricing, and I doubt we will see such a robust appreciation for a long while. Folks who bought their homes 30 years ago benefitted tremendously from 2 trends:

    a) the inflation of the 70’s and early 80’s, which rewarded those who were borrowers;
    b) the long-term decline of interest rates of the past 20 years.

    Neither of these trends are with us any longer (though there is a chance inflation will come back, but I doubt it). Interest rates are at historic lows: they can only go up. If anything, we are more likely facing the prospect of deflation, as Japan experienced for 10 years after their real estate bubble collapsed in the early 90’s. Those who say that real estate only goes up over a 10 year period are ignorant of history.

    I’m not trying to be negative here – I’m trying to give you some sober advice. Good luck with your decisions ahead.

  17. I agree, the jitters will pass. The hardest part is having patience. You probably want so much to be done, but that’s not financially possible, or it just seems to take soooo long. You just need to take things step by step, project by project.

    I remember the feeling when my landlord-from-hell told me she wanted me out after 17 years, unless I paid $400 more a month, starting the next month. My living arrangements are now in my hands. There is much satisfaction in that.

    Give yourself time to get to know your house, prioritize your projects, and don’t worry that everything you want to do can’t be done immediately. If you are in it for the long haul, the ups and downs of the housing market will even out, in your favor, I might add, and you will be contributing to the history, legacy, and quality of life of your neighborhood. Congratulations.

  18. We bought our wreck 21 years ago and all our worst fears (which you enumerate succinctly) came true. We are hostages, no, slaves, to this energy-devouring century-old heap, which delights in torturing us from its devious old mechanical heart to its leprous, flaking exterior. It has sucked every penny of disposable income from our combined labors while continuing to deteriorate before our eyes. We have made every imaginable mistake in attempting to “renovate” it, mistakes from which we seldom learn anything, because the next mistake arises from a totally different and unprecedented sort of calamity. Our so-called “investment” has kept us house-poor and chronically overwhelmed for what we laughingly call the “prime” of our lives. And unless someone gives us, oh, say, half a million dollars, it will never get any better. Needless to say, we love this pile of wretched wood and pipes with a passion so tender that to gaze upon it sometimes brings tears to our eyes, at least until a piece of woodwork or roofing falls off in plain sight.

    I hope this helps.

  19. also, if you are not the fix-it type, the first thing to do is get yourself a reliable handyman that can be your go to guy for whatever maintenance issues arise.

  20. Hey cantaffordcarroll–I was just where you are a few months back. Never having bought a house before I was overwhelmed when we took ownership. How do I maintain the heating system? How do I find tenants? What are my neighbors like? Etc etc etc. Well a few months in and I couldn’t be happier for myself. All of the above have been manageable and just being open to the possibilities is all you need. IF you are practical and proactive you will handle all of the various issues that come up. I can totally understand why it is overwhelming though. Just know that you will figure it all out and then you will have the satisfaction of knowing that all of the love and effort and money that you pour into your house will be done for your own benefit and noone else’s. Good luck!

  21. I was so excited to buy a place and I really wanted a building instead of a co-op. As soon as we went into contract, I started to freak out–the money, my lack of fix-it knowledge, leaving our old neighborhood etc. It has been a year and a half. I love my house. We fix things as we go. We take care of the most crucial problems right away and eventually get to the others. We’re slowly learning how to do things ourselves and finding people to hire when it’s beyond us. We’ve made some mistakes along the way and have had to redo some things. Although that can be frustrating, it’s part of the learning curve. It is unlikely that you will make such a huge mistake that it will seriously compromise the house. I wouldn’t go back for anything. It really will all seem worth it once you settle in there.(We have even managed to take some trips in the last year.) Like other posters have said, what you are feeling is normal–you will be fine.

  22. As your surroundings become more familiar, you’ll probably become more relaxed. Educate yourself about the systems of your home and how to maintain and repair them. Read a book. Use this site and others. If you have an emergency repair, try to find the most reliable professionals to repair it. Ask your neighbors and friends for referrals. When doing of a non-emergency nature get several estimates from licensed contractors. Listen to what they say. As you speak to knowledgeable people you will get a better understanding of what is involved and be able to ask more pointed questions about the work. If you plan to live in your home for a long period of time, the vagaries of the market are not that important. Hopefully, you’ll love your home as much as your most comfortable shoes, with only a pebble to bother you every once in a while.

  23. What you are feeling is normal. Time will ease (or at least replace) your anxieties.

    I have seen more grief associated with overconfidence than with trepidation.

    Old buildings were there before we got here, and will continue after we are gone. There is great stability there, part of what makes restoration or recycling historic buildings so satisfying.

    In 30 years you will be grumbling about the tax bite if you wanted to sell.

  24. When we purchased our first house in 1980, we signed up for a 14% mortgage and we paid ten points to get it. The mortgage payment took half my husband’s monthly take-home, we had other debt, I was making squat (our son had just been born), and the house needed everything, which is why we could “afford” it in the first place.

    Which is to say, it will all work out. One day/task at a time; don’t project too far into the future or get overwhelmed by “everything” that needs to be done.

    Agree with above posters: normal jitters.

  25. I was really freaked out when I bought my first place–especially when I dwelled too much on the mortgage.

    When I felt this way, I reminded myself of the uncertainties of being a renter–you really have no control, and you can never make the place “yours.”

    Also, assuming you have a fixed rate mortgage, it may seem expensive now, but won’t feel so costly in five years.

    And make sure your insurance is really comprehensive–you’ll rest easier.

    Enjoy your new place!

  26. After the first year it will be much easier and you will feel much better about your purchase. I have made several purchases and always had a very hard year during the first year. After everything is fixed/replaced/repaired ….you will greatly enjoy your new home.

    keep the phone numbers and business cards of plumbers and electricians that you can trust on hand.

    What your feeling is normal and will pass. Congrats on your purchase.

  27. Congratulations on your new home!

    What you are going through is perfectly normal and will ease with time as you get to know your home.

  28. i think people who don’t over extend themselves financially don’t have those worries. is that something you did? if you’re worrying about never being able to take a vacation again in your life and dreading if a boiler breaks, then i think you maybe should have bought less house? anyway good luck with it. maybe it’s something everyone does feel regardless. i sort of felt the same way the last playstation i bought :-/

    *rob*