Real Estate Mistakes

A couple of years ago I hosted a 13-week prime time television show.

Don’t remember it?

There’s a reason for that … it was axed after the second episode.

I found out about its premature death via a text message (!) from the network. It started out promising — “We LOVE the show” — but went quickly downhill — “And we’ll play out the rest of the series on one of the digital channels … sometime.”

Television is a brutal game.

Then again, so is the property market, which is what the show was about.

If we’d made it to the later episodes, you would have seen a young couple making a life-changing mistake.

Spurred on by her father, the couple were half-heartedly bidding at an auction on an absolute dump of a joint. You could tell they didn’t want it, and you could also tell that they really couldn’t afford it.

And then the unthinkable happened … the bloke they were bidding against suddenly put his hands in his pockets and shook his head, and the auctioneer turned around and shouted “SOLD!” to the shellshocked couple.

Real Estate Mistakes

So let’s talk about the two biggest mistakes that first home buyers make.

The first mistake they make is they buy a home they can’t afford. They’re often spurred on by the ‘advice’ of family, friends, real estate agents and bank managers — none of whom have the responsibility of repaying the debt for the next 30 years.

That explains why I’m a stickler for saving up a 20 per cent deposit. Yes, a good deposit means that you don’t have to pay Lenders Mortgage Insurance (LMI), which can cost homeowners upwards of $13,000 simply to insure their bank. And yes, it also means you’ll be able to negotiate a cheaper rate with the bank. But the main payoff from saving a 20 per cent deposit is that you will have proven to yourself that you can handle a huge mortgage.

How long does it take to save up a 20 per cent deposit? Well, the average full-time pre-tax wage in Australia is $78,832 or $5,000 a month in the hand (excluding super). So a couple both earning average wages could live off one income (very frugally) and save a $100,000 deposit in 21 months.

The second mistake first home buyers make is … buying the wrong home.

It happens every weekend. Property prices in our capital cities are so insanely high that many young couples get worn down by being continually outbid on places. Some get so desperate they wind up behaving like a boozed-up bloke at a nightclub when last drinks are called … “You’re here; you’ll do”.

I get emails from people most weeks saying things like, “We know it’s tiny, a little dumpy, and totally not in the area we want to end up … but it’s only temporary.”

Haemorrhoids are temporary … a $650,000 home is anything but.

Trust me on this. The biggest purchase of your life shouldn’t be a chew-your-arm-off-in-the-morning moment. You should only buy a home that you can happily live in for at least 10 years.

Reason being, the costs of buying and selling (hello stamp duty and agent’s fees) mean that you will likely be out of pocket if you plan on selling within a few years. Also, the idea of turning your home into an investment property and upgrading is generally a bad idea from a tax (and investment) point of view.

The bottom line is that if you can’t commit to a 10-year timeframe then you’d be better off renting.

Yet that doesn’t mean you should hold off buying until you can afford to live in a trophy suburb. Far from it. When my wife and I went looking for our place in the country, we decided to rent there for a year. “You should rent in the country for a while… make sure she doesn’t miss her soy lattes”, my father wisely advised. It was good advice, given my wife, Liz, was brought up in North Fitzroy where even the ducks have their own bike lanes.

In that year of renting we got a feel for the joint. Not only did we become part of the community, we also got to study the market. I made friends with local real estate agents and even did a letterbox drop of places I wanted to buy.

In the end, the day we bought our home was one of the best days of my life. Not only could we afford it, but we knew it was the home we’d never leave (well, until it burnt to the ground). I actually sealed the deal by proposing to Liz on the verandah.

Okay, so you may not go that far, but I guarantee you that every first home buyer feels a sense of freedom from finally being able to delete the Real Estate app from their phone. Not only did Liz and I get our weekends back, but we now had a place to call home.

As my mum says, “Life doesn’t always turn out like it does on TV”. And thank God for that.

Tread Your Own Path!