4 things every renter should know before they buy

Woman washing window

I've been a proud homeowner for four years now.

I did plenty of research before I jumped in (see our rent vs. buy calculator), but no amount of reading could have fully prepared me for the experience of owning property.

Here are four things I've learned about home ownership that I never saw coming as a renter:

Lesson 1. Home maintenance really is time-consuming.

My home is bigger than my apartment was, and I have trouble finding the time to sweep and mop the floors, scour the kitchen sink and wipe down the bathroom mirrors as often as I’d like.

I also have a yard that I didn’t have when I rented.

I’m amazed how long it takes to mow and edge the lawn, water the plants, sweep up the leaves, prune the hedges, pull the weeds and replant the dead flowers I forgot to water -- again.

What goes wrong in homes?

Issue Number of homes
Cockroaches 6.2 million
Roof leak 4.6 million
Broken window 2.6 million
Pipe leak 2.2 million
Heating breakdown 1.4 million
Source: 2011 American Housing Survey.

Now that I own the place I live in, I care much more about how it looks and how it will hold up in the long run. I know I can’t neglect scrubbing the grout in the shower all year because a cleaning company will take care of it at the end of the year when I move out.

I’m not moving, and I am the cleaning company.

Even work I don't want to do myself or don’t know how to do myself takes time. It requires finding the right professional to hire. I can't just call the landlord.

Lesson 2. You're never done.

When I bought my house, my in-laws laughed when I showed them my to-do list of things I wanted to do to our foreclosure before my husband and I actually moved in.

They told me that, even if I got through this list, I would never be done.

I didn’t believe them, but they were right.

The upside of owning your own home is that you can customize it as much as you want (as long as you keep your neighbors and the city happy). The downside is that there's always another project you want to do.

If you don't watch your budget carefully, it's easy to overspend.

It’s also true there’s always at least one thing on your to-fix list.

I have rotted wood that needs to be replaced over my front entryway and a roof that’s almost shot. I also have yet to get around to many of the upgrades I’ve wanted to do since 2008 (but there is a new bathroom vanity sitting in a box in my garage).

Lesson 3. It's important to get along with your neighbors.

When I lived in an apartment, I might have had three different neighbors in an 18-month span. At my house, most of my neighbors have lived on the block for decades.

They're probably not going to move out in a few months. Apartment tactics like banging on the wall when someone is being too noisy really aren’t options.

If I’m unhappy with something, I have to ask myself if it’s really a big deal or just a temporary nuisance. If I want to solve a problem, I have to actually talk to my neighbor about it.

And if my neighbor approaches me about an issue, I can’t blow them off.

I need to find a compromise to any reasonable request.

I may not want to cut down a tree whose leaves blow into their yard, but I can trim it back so it’s not hanging over their property line.

I’m in a long-term relationship with my neighbors, so I might as well make it a good relationship or at least a neutral one.

Lesson 4. Being in control is great, but it gets expensive.

I don't like paying $300 a year for pest control, but it's much better than having a landlord who refuses to do it or chooses a company I hate.

Now I can choose a pet-friendly company that only sprays the perimeter of my house instead of my former landlord’s company that required me to board my pets for the day and remove all my food and dishes from the cupboards.

I don’t like having to replace my corroded kitchen faucet, either, but I do like being able to choose a nice model over a builder-grade one.

And my chipped and cracked kitchen counters are almost twice as old as I am, but at least I have the option to replace them with whatever material, color and pattern I choose, whenever it's convenient for me.