Buying a first home today is more challenging than ever, and an aptly named reality TV show highlights these struggles: “40 Year Old Property Virgin.”
In this new series on Discovery+, older millennials and Gen Xers finally dive into the real estate market. The premiere episode, “Manda and Rich,” featuring a married couple who have been living in Manda’s parents’ basement in Parlin, NJ, for two years. The 40-something couple are more than ready to move out and buy their first home, but with a budget of just $200,000, they don’t have many options.
Similar in formula to “House Hunters,” Manda and Rich tour three very different homes, with their struggles front and center (no reality star hosts here). By the end, they pick their favorite place and make the purchase, a whole lot wiser than they were going in. Here are the lessons these property virgins learn during their home search that might help any home buyer, no matter their age.
A less desirable location can save money
Manda and Rich quickly learn that in order to make their limited budget work, they should look toward less desirable locations.
“We thought we could only afford, like, a little house in the city because of our budget,” Manda says. “We had to think outside of the box, and that’s when we found the Poconos.”
Although homes in the Poconos are about 100 miles from Manda’s parents, they offer plenty of space, which would make it much easier for family to visit. Location versus square footage is a common trade-off that’s worth weighing to get the right house.
Bring friends or family on house tours to get a second opinion
When it comes to home shopping, Manda’s parents tag along to help provide a second opinion.
“First-time home buyers are very impulsive,” her mother, Diane, explains. “They say, ‘Oh, wow, look at that tub, look at that Jacuzzi!’ But that’s not the only thing they have to look at. They have to look at everything that goes with it.”
“That’s why we go with them, to help them avoid that mistake,” says Paul, Manda’s father.
Sure enough, Manda is thrilled with house No. 1, admiring the fireplace and the floors. While it’s fun to fall for the cosmetic features of a home, they’re reminded that it’s important to focus on more important aspects that might be harder to fix, like the foundation, layout, and plumbing.
Don’t let strange paint colors scare you off
When touring house No. 1, Manda sees a deep purple bedroom, and she’s not impressed.
“It’s on my shirt, but I don’t know that it goes on a wall,” she says.
While Manda, Rich, Paul, and Diane laugh about the wild color, they also compliment the room’s other assets, like the spaciousness and high ceiling. Paint is easy to change, but size and ceiling height? Not so much.
Imagine your own furniture in the space
When Manda and Rich walk into house No. 2, they’re thrown off by the furniture, which isn’t their style. But Paul and Diane remind them that this furniture won’t come with the house.
“It didn’t do the house justice, you know, to look at the house with the furniture in it,” Diane says.
Instead, Rich and Manda try to envision their own furniture in this house, imagining where a dresser would fit in one bedroom and wondering how they might decorate the foyer. This helps them warm up to this house, but is it enough?
Know how much you’re comfortable renovating
Odds are no house will have absolutely everything on a home buyer’s list, and many might need some changes to be just right. And since these property virgins are trying to stick to a tight budget, they discuss what kinds of home improvement projects they’re willing and able to do themselves.
“A kitchen is something we could definitely renovate, right?” Manda says to Rich.
While Rich is fairly handy, he warns that a whole kitchen can be a lot to take on, pointing out that materials are expensive (even if the labor is free).
Still, when they tour house No. 3, which is newly renovated, Rich complains that there aren’t enough projects left to be done.
“If we get a fully modernized house, like, I would have nothing to do,” he says. “I’d have idle hands. I would just be wandering around.”
It’s a good reminder that sometimes a few customizations can be fun to do yourself—up to a point. A buyer should know the amount of work that needs to be done, and find out how much that will cost, before making an offer.
Which house do these property virgins buy?
Manda and Rich weigh their options, and in the end, they choose house No. 1 for $184,900. It is spacious and homey, and while it has some strange paint colors in some of the rooms, a few painting projects will help Rich stay busy as he and Manda finally settle in to a home of their own.