First-time home buying (planning) for a 53 year old—seeking basic wisdom on getting started

Considering becoming a first time homebuyer at age 53. Single no kids. Not rich, aggressive retirement savings because I’m a bit short. Not looking for a palace, looking for a sound structure with a bit of nature around that’s got maybe one or two nice-to-haves and the ability to put in some sweat equity and projects (paint, trim, fixtures, lighting, landscaping, the like) to keep my project-loving self busy (I LOVE to take care of whats mine and make improvements so I would probably never rest on my laurels—and never expect to, I’m sure). Not actively house hunting bc of current interest rates. More like house looking at what’s out there to set expectations.

I have worked up my finances to see what I can expect to afford mortgage-payment-wise, with down payment nest egg, while still contributing to retirement, saving for expected and unexpected expenses, and being able to cover taxes, other bills & necessities. I have over 800 credit score. Trying to learn as much as I can while also realizing I don’t know what I don’t know. Probably need to read “First time home buying for dummies” but wonder if that book is written primarily for younger folks with different outlooks. I wish there was “First time home buying for 53-year-old dummies” lol

Is there some common logic around: “you can expect to need X% of the home value (based on things like the age of the home maybe?) of money set aside for yearly repairs/upkeep”?

I’d also need some time to build back up my emergency (read: if I lose my job) fund bc I would be throwing that toward a down payment. And I recognize that is a risk. I’ve been lucky to get sizable yearly bonuses at work so that would help.

Is there “if this home doesn’t have X replaced based on age, don’t buy it” or “if this home DOES have X thing, don’t buy it” or “if you’re X age, don’t live in a remote area where accessing medical care in future years would be difficult” logic?

My 80 year old dad owns a home with a bit of land (read: mowing needed) and nature that i could probably consider (he’s actively planning for a downsized place), but it needs ductwork for AC, and has a rickety wood spiral staircase to the lower walkout level that’s in a terrible location and, if changed to regular stairs somewhere else in the house, it would open up the floor plan significantly and allow for an expansion on the tiny kitchen. I suppose that could be a future plan, but adding AC would be an up front non-negotiable for me. And good internet is a must for remote work. A wood-burning fireplace or wood-burning stove is one of my would-love-to-haves, but that’s also wood cost and I realize, not critical. In short, at least there are knowns about this house my dad has owned for a few decades, it’s in an area I love, it has pros/cons, so I’d know what I was getting myself into with it.

I’m adaptable and not a primadonna, but I feel so much like a complete noob in this area that I could easily not consider something critical in the whole undertaking and be full of woe after a purchase.

Any words of getting-started wisdom for this semi-old badger?

Do not, under any circumstances, waive the home inspection. As part of that inspection, make sure you get the sewer line scoped from the house all the way to the street. Some buyers waive the inspection in order to make them more attractive to the seller. If you’re getting a bank loan, most banks will require the inspection, but not necessarily a sewer video.

Ask if the owner has kept maintenance/repair records. If so, get a look at them to see if major systems like HVAC have had periodic maintenance. I kept pretty meticulous records of all repairs and capital improvements on our last home and it was a big part of why we got the sell price we got (I do the same for my vehicle(s) because I’m just that anal).

For any major upgrades to the house, check with the city to see if permits were pulled, and even more importantly, if they were closed. In fact, check with the city anyway, as some sellers neglect to disclose that kind of work. This information is usually available online.

Anecdotal, off the top of my head. Plus this advice or experience of mine may vary based on the climate where you are - I’m in MN = long cold winters and snow, etc.

Bought our 1956 rambler in 1998 when I was 26 years old and we are still in the same place. Only house I’ve ever bought/owned. The top that comes to mind is everything related to keeping the outside, outside. Exterior stuff, roof, siding, sump pump for keeping the water from seeping in the basement, doors, windows… all the biggest headaches, most expenses.

That said, for me, it’s the roof, siding, windows and whether they are modern or not. If the house is older, I want to see updated/upgraded stuff. I don’t want anything to do with painting anything on the exterior. I don’t want drafty, single pane wood windows. What’s the age of the roof? How many years left before I will need to replace it?

We had to put a new roof on our place when we first bought it, but we knew that going in and planned for it. We now need to replace it soon and it’s $10,000. Our place has a small footprint ~1,000 sq feet with a simple gable style roof…

#2 after everything exterior would be plumbing. Learn plumbing. Seriously. Avoid older galvanized steel pipe. Look for copper pipes. Don’t know from experience, but I’ve heard not good things about the modern plastic PEX plumbing. How old is the water heater? Etc.

When choosing a lender, be sure to check for offers geared toward first time buyers. We were able to secure our mortgage with only 3% down thanks to one of these.

And do not use a home inspector recommended by your real estate agent. This relates to the more general issue that all real estate agents have a massive financial incentive to make the sale go through at all costs, and not to warn you about problems. The notion that the “buyer’s broker” is really representing the buyer’s interests is fiction.

I think it’s worth getting two separate home inspections. Unless it’s a very inexpensive home, the cost of an inspection is minimal relative to other costs. I have done this every time I have bought a home, and I would estimate that about 25% of issues are not on both reports, including on one purchase a major issue.

This is already super great and helpful info. I am using it to make a list!

Yes, I am anal as well and I am the type to keep all records on things like auto repairs, so I would know that kind of care when I saw it.

I am in Central Ohio, and I am considering staying within 60 miles or so of Columbus area.

I’ve also heard not ever to trust a freshly painted basement in a showing. Lol

I’m assuming that now is a ridiculous time to even consider buying, even with excellent credit and a good down payment and being a first time home buyer. I see that interest rates are nuts, but I am also starting to notice that there are more places coming available and it seems like some promising looking ones are staying on the market for a bit little longer. My BIL is saying he thinks things are starting to level out in the housing market.

For some reason I have been intrigued by these custom built older homes which are in “vacation style communities” that are situated around big lakes. They are typically more remote, which concerns me maybe a little bit as far as what that might mean regarding any number of things, including grocery stores and hospitals and whatnot. There are a few I know of right off the top of my head within 40 miles of Columbus. There’s one location like this where I was kind of shocked to find (on Google earth) that the houses are spaced quite far apart and seem to occupy several lots in the community, and they are all 30 to 40 year old houses. I would think a community like that would be completely packed full with properties, but this place looked pretty sparse for its age, which to me, seemed…suspect?

A unique simple house with trees around and nature nearby sure sounds sweet. I’m a semi-avid birdwatcher.

Trees are lovely; tree roots, not so much. Keep romanticism out of your home-buying decisions or you’ll end up with either foundation or sewer problems.

Any wisdom on tree adjacency? Like, “make sure trees are X feet away from the structure and known sewer lines?”

At least 15 feet.

And I definitely hear you regarding being practical and not romantic. I have been worst-case-scenario focused my entire life and I am always looking for the risk in any situation, no matter how good it sounds on paper or looks to my eyeballs (probably why I have never been married or owned a home hahaha)

This is pretty basic (and mentioned in previous posts), but try to educate yourself on the difference between “unappealing, but easy to fix” and “apparently OK, but difficult and expensive to fix.”

As an example, my wife (but not at the time) bought the house we live in at a price below what other similar houses were selling for simply because the decor was tacky. A single family with adult children was living in it and they:

  1. Had the interior painted in some weird pastels;
  2. Had immense wall sconces hung all around for room lighting;
  3. Filled the entire house with over-sized furniture IN PLASTIC COVERS so you could hardly walk around; and
  4. Temporarily blocked the fireplace to prevent losing warm air.

She was able to get all the crap out of the house, get it painted inside and out, remove the doors between several of the rooms to open things up, and have the fireplace unblocked and checked out for hardly any money at all. Everything else about the house (roof, appliances, heat pump, etc.) was in good shape and lasted for at least another 8-10 years before requiring repair or replacement.

The house had been slow to move simply because it was “offputting.”

I would love to purchase an off-putting-yet-sound house. I am all about sweat equity on the things I know are manageable by me.

The Craftsman home we bought in Portland was like that. It had poor curb appeal because of a lack of appealing landscaping and a front porch that looked like gun turrets (for lack of a better description). This was easily, if not cheaply, fixable. But the 100+ year-old house had been otherwise extensively renovated.

Tree roots can be an issue; but trees shading the house in the summer, and evergreens to the windward side of the house during winter, can both keep you more comfortable and save on your utility bills.

Check the water supply, both for quality and for quantity. (I was going to say ‘if you’re on a private well’, but considering what I’ve read in the news the past few years about some municipal water supplies, maybe better do this even if it’s city/town/village water.)

Talk to the neighbors. They may well know things, about the specific property and/or about the neighborhood in general, that you won’t find out otherwise. (If the neighbors won’t talk to you, this is also useful information.)

I came here to say this… and also what @Riemann said about getting a second inspection.

Is there anywhere in the country where neighbors will volunteer negative information about the neighborhood?

I always like to know which end is north. Assuming the house will be in CONUS, then the south side will get a lot of direct sunlight. I prefer houses where the living spaces face north so as not to get the harshly bright direct sun.

Sunlight will impact the east and west side of the house, so be aware of this and proceed as per your preferences.

A house will appear one way (regarding sunlight) when you are touring it, but when you’ve bought it the sunlight affects the mood of each room throughout the day.

I bought my home in '92. I’m still here. I love it. However, note that you don’t buy a home, you buy a job.

I’m lucky as I had a lot of carpentry, plumbing and major remodeling experience.

BUT, I’m 62 now and am finally fine with contracting some large jobs out.

I still do all the little stuff (there is ALWAYS something), but I am done with the larger projects. Heck, I don’t have the time.

I wonder xanthous, If your father has 80 acres if you could try living there in a camper/trailer, or one of those tiny homes. See what it’s like, and if you like it.

I’ve heard some. People who are feeling grumbly about something will often grumble; and some people are just nice enough to tell you if the water’s crappy or the big-box store’s in negotiations to set up across the street – they often don’t have any interest in whether I buy the place or not, after all.

I’ve also heard what the neighbors may or may not have thought of as negative information: for instance, that they and other neighbors were in the habit of riding snowmobiles all over the property at all hours and had no intention of stopping; and on another place that the farmer next door was used to turning his equipment – including sprayers using materials I, as an organic farmer, wouldn’t want on the place – around in what he considered to be the jointly-used headland between his and the property’s vineyards. In both cases they had a pretty strong interest in discouraging a buyer who wouldn’t go along, and in encouraging a like-minded farmer or somebody who wanted to join the snowmobile pack or at least didn’t mind it.

I could probably have won either of those fights, on a legal basis; but they’d both have been major arguments that might have led to petty retaliations for years, so why have them in the first place? People like that can always move in next door after you’ve moved in, of course; but no sense in guaranteeing that you’ll have neighbors you won’t get along with, if you’ve got any reasonable choice in the matter.

It’s good advice to knock on the neighbors’ doors. You would be surprised what you find out. People love to gossip.

Plus, of course, you get a read on whether you might have problem neighbors.