“My First Place” Shows Off Poor Decisions

by Kevin on April 1, 2008

Four letter word

Sometime in the past two weeks I was working on No Debt Plan with the TV on in the background. We happened to have the channel on HGTV, and the show “My First Place” was on. I also happened to have it two nights ago when I was writing this article.

As you might imagine, the show is based on the premise if helping first time home buyers find that perfect first home. It also is a great opportunity to show off some really, really bad decisions. After watching the show, I can see exactly why we have a foreclosure problem in the US right now. (Photo: Four letter word by Justin Shearer).

The first episode included a married couple that lived and worked in Seattle. Combined, the couple earned $100,000 per year. As the show unfolded, I started to sigh to myself. Apparently, this is going to be frustrating to watch. They visited several properties ranging from single detached homes to condos. Their original budget was, if I remember correctly, $230,000 to $250,000.

They didn’t like the condo because it felt like they were living in an apartment. I don’t blame them — we didn’t like condos/townhouses we visited either. Of course, they saw a few options that they always found something wrong with. Either the commute was too long, or the grass wasn’t just right, or (name your excuse here). So they started to look at houses that were more expensive than their budget.

The couple did a whole slew of things wrong that really disappointed me in the show. You’d think instead of just taping a disaster-to-be that the show would offer some advice. Apparently not. They ended up with a $262,000 house, a 6.75% interest-only mortgage. Unbelievable.

Some mistakes I picked up on:

  • They were not pre-approved for a mortgage, so they were shopping prices that they did not know they could get a mortgage for. A pre-approval process would help them figure out what they could afford on a 30 year (or 15 year) mortgage.
  • They had no savings. None. If you are making $100,000 per year and have nothing to show for it, something is seriously amiss.
  • The mortgage they chose was terrible. The broker or lender they chose should be ashamed of themselves. They even laid out the numbers on what a fixed mortgage would be, but going to interest-only would save them $200 per month. Of course, they will never own their house, but they said they would pay extra in principle after they were settled. Coming from people without savings, I highly doubt it.
  • They spent above their target budget. They ended up in a $262,000 house and the target price was $230,000 to 250,000. Of course their initial expectations may have been unrealistic. I think that is fair to say with most first time home buyers. But they still spent above what they targeted on the high end by $12,000. That’s no small amount of money.

The second episode was fairly similar. It featured a single woman in Atlanta that was trying to get out of her apartment. She worked as a personal assistant and was starting an event planning company on the side. She connected with one of her sorority sisters that was in real estate. Her target price was $250,000 to $260,000.

The realtor took her from house to house, and of course there were things she didn’t like about the houses that were in her range. She settled on a $265,000 house and offered $262,000 with the seller paying closing costs. As she signed the offer sheet, she became very nervous about being able to afford the payments. She was hoping she could be approved for it. Again, no pre-approval letter showing what she could afford.

A house inspector came and found a few small things wrong with the home. They were fixed by the seller. The week before she was to close on the house, she was laid off from her position. She had until the following week to find employment so that she could close. Unable to do that, she ended up losing the house. (I do wonder if she lost any money in the process, like deposits, etc.)

She was lucky because she lost her job before she got the house. Imagine moving into your house the day you lose your job. This isn’t entirely her fault, but there were still several mistakes she made along the way.

Overall, I am disappointed that the show doesn’t offer any advice to the first time home buyers. Instead, they seem to just document what is happening.

If it were my show, this is the advice I would give first time home buyers:

  1. Get pre-approved for a 30 year fixed mortgage. Don’t consider any other options except a 15 year fixed mortgage. None of that interest-only or ARM junk.
  2. Save for a down payment. The market will probably require a 10% down payment for most areas these days. We only put 5% down, but we are rapidly paying down the principle on the mortgage to get to 20% as fast as possible (currently at 7-8% in 6 months — not bad). Putting down just 5% may have been a mistake for us as well. I’m not saying we’re perfect.
  3. Based off of your pre-approval, find out how much house you can afford. If your range is $230,000-250,000, don’t buy a $259,000 house. It is out of your range. You may even be approved for more house than you need. Don’t make that mistake either. (Just because the bank says you can afford $300,000 doesn’t mean you need that much house.)
  4. Consider all of the costs involved. The mortgage and realtor fees is just a starting point. Don’t forget the cost of moving, closing costs, and furnishing the house. If you live in a one bedroom apartment and buy a three bedroom house, you now have two extra rooms to furnish. Throw in lawn, garden, and patio furnishings and it really begins to add up.

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