What I Learned in My First Year as a Homeowner in Alexandria, Va
April 2020 was my first year anniversary as a homeowner in Alexandria! If you are currently looking to buy a house, thinking about purchasing, or just want to know more information about homebuying, you will find many articles about what you should do as first-time home buyer and more about mistakes first-time homebuyers make but I wanted to share what it's really like to take that step toward homeownership, especially in a unique city like Alexandria. Here's my first year as an Alexandria homeowner and some things I've learned along the way!
Photo by Nikayla Scott
1. Why I decided to purchase a home
Essentially, I decided to purchase because I felt like it was "time". What does that mean?
Well let me give some backstory. Living in Atlanta, I started getting the "itch" to purchase. Atlanta is a city notorious for having affordable home prices for properties that would cost a fortune in other metropolitan cities and also a higher than average percentage of millennials purchasing homes in the area. When I decided to move to Alexandria for my career, that itch was suppressed because of the high cost of living - my rent tripled upon moving to Alexandria! I would not have resources like financial assistance from family to assist with the purchase so I figured there would be no way I could save money for a down payment and pay rent at the same time. However, through some smart budgeting, I felt comfortable purchasing for the first time in a city I had grown to love! I worked with Richard March who was great in helping me understand the market in the area and how to find a house that would suit my wants and needs.
The real: Feeling societal pressure due to your age or socioeconomic position in life is not the best reason to purchase a home. It is a huge financial investment and commitment so take into account everything about your personal and financial life before you make the decision. Even I had to change my idea of what a house would like as a single buyer because a particular type of house was out of my price range in the Alexandria area. It was a challenge for me but if you don't feel ready to take on the commitment, that is ok! Your head and heart will guide you when it's the right time for you and/or your family. Also, buying at home at any age and/or stage in your life is still boss!
2. Your house won't feel like a home until you make it one
When you buy a house for the first time it can seem like a daunting task to do all you feel it needs to make it a perfect home. I decided on a purchasing a 1940s townhouse-style condo in a historic Alexandria neighborhood and all I kept thinking when I moved in was "I don't want my old apartment furniture in my new house!" and "where I am going to find the money to renovate this old bathroom?". As an Army "brat" home has nothing to do with a specific place or house, it has more to do with the memories and the personal imprint that you put on a house that make it feel like home. Since I did not purchase a new build home, I learned to appreciate the little intricacies of my new house that gave it the character and charm that led me to the decision to purchase it.
The real: Making a house into a home takes time. Prioritize the areas of your home that will make you most immediately feel comfortable (like your bedroom or the most frequented living spaces) with new furniture, a fresh coat of paint, or adding your personal touch with family photographs or your favorite books. For me, that was my living room because it was the first impression of my home upon entering and I like having a nice place to relax after a long day. Alexandria is known for its historic homes which means if you are looking in particular neighborhoods (think Old Town, Del Ray, etc.) you are most likely going to have to do small (or large) renovations as well as get used to historical architecture like lower ceilings, smaller closets, etc. and invest in furniture that is better suited for smaller spaces or weirdly shaped rooms. Based upon your comfort, priority of projects, and financial investment, work on your home at your own pace which is a part of creating memories of making your new house your own (and trust me, you appreciate it more because of the sweat equity into you've put into your home).
Me being excited about my colorful and charming front door which historic Alexandria homes are known for!
3. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong
Yes, Murphy's law applied to my new home. I purchased an older home so I feel like it was in the spirit of the home to break me in by breaking down. I had a nearly perfect inspection of the home prior to purchase but when I moved in and the cold winter approached, I had issues with the heating system. Then, my refrigerator full of groceries stopped cooling. These are types of repairs that cost money and must be fixed immediately. I very quickly learned that you definitely have to live in a house to experience its "quirks" and understand that things will break or need to be repaired through no fault of your own.
The real: Get the home warranty; even if just for a year after you purchase your home. Also consider such repairs or unexpected repairs when saving for your home because more likely than not they will occur. I had managed to live in apartments without having major issues with the appliances, HVAC, etc. so I figured the same should apply when I moved into a house. I was wrong. This is when I missed being able to make a quick maintenance request and although these hiccups haven't changed my mind about homeownership it is definitely something to consider.
4. Get to know your neighborhood (and your neighbors)
Honestly, I thought this would be a little tricky for me. As a young Black woman moving into a predominantly white and older populated neighborhood, it can feel like a little intimidating to live in an area where most of your neighbors do not look like you. However, I chose the neighborhood because of its historic value, walkability, and close access to my office and D.C. not necessarily because of ethnic demographics. Besides one older neighbor who has made a blatant effort to ignore my presence, I was met with enthusiastic welcome and have gotten to know most of my neighbors in close proximity by name. They have become a great resource for everything from restaurant recommendations to the best service station for vehicle maintenance. As well I feel more safety because I know my neighbors will look out for my home when I am away (call it nosey or not but it's helpful). And those repairs I talked about were quick calls for me because I talked to neighbors about referrals. I now have a handy list for different services from trusted and respected business owners in the area who know my neighborhood and the type of home I live in.
The real: With all the access we have to technology it seems like we are more disconnected especially in our neighborhoods. Alexandria I have learned is a city of connection; residents do not mind knowing their neighbors as well as building that sense of community. Having that sense of community definitely will make your new house feel more like home. Also, if certain demographics of a neighborhood are important to you, you must consider that in your decision to purchase in a particular neighborhood because that influences your comfort level and you definitely do not want to be uncomfortable in a house or neighborhood you have just made a large financial investment in.
Photo by Nikayla Scott
Overall, Alexandria is a great play to live, work, and play. I have made significant strides in my personal and professional life in this city and it has been a great blessing to start my homeownership journey here.
If you are thinking about homeownership in the area or are just curious about the process, drop me a line to ask any questions or let me know how your experience is going!