Mistakes I Made When I Bought My First House At The Age of 20

Are you thinking about buying a house? Do you want to avoid common home buying mistakes? I bought my first house when I was only 20 years old. Even though that was a little over 11 years ago, I have looked back many times and wondered how I did it. I made so many first…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: October 4, 2022

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Are you thinking about buying a house? Do you want to avoid common home buying mistakes?

I bought my first house when I was only 20 years old. Even though that was a little over 11 years ago, I have looked back many times and wondered how I did it.first time home buying mistakes

I made so many first time home buyer mistakes!

Of course, I was young and had a lot to learn. But, I definitely could have done more research to avoid many of the home buying mistakes I made, like not comparing interest rates or understanding the total cost of buying a home.

I’m not alone in how I approached buying a house. There are many people who simply do not understand everything that goes into buying a house, and that’s something that can negatively impact your finances and cause stress. 

Over the years, I have received many emails about buying a house in your early 20s or when you’re young. I also get lots of questions from people who have been renting and are thinking about buying their first home.

I thought it would be interesting to look back on the home buying mistakes I made and explain how to avoid the same mistakes I made. Hopefully you can be a better prepared home buyer than I was!

The mistakes first time home buyers make can cost you money and may even lead to regret. Perhaps you’re wondering why you even bought your home!

One thing you may not know about me is that the first house I ever lived in was actually my own. Growing up, we always lived in small apartments and rented. I wanted to have a home of my own – moving so often as a child was tiring.

Buying a house and being a homeowner was a completely new thing for me.

I had never done yard work, had to deal with house maintenance, home repairs, or anything like that.

I was as new as could be when it comes to living in a house!

It was a buyer’s market when we started searching. It was back in 2009, so the housing market was coming down. This meant that a monthly mortgage payment wasn’t too much more than rent at an apartment.

I felt like I was ready to buy my first house, and I needed a place to live.

So, buying a house seemed like a logical decision.

I made many home buying mistakes, like I said. While I made it through everything, my mistakes could easily have led to major financial trouble.

Read on below to learn more about mistakes home buyers make and my first-time home buyer tips.

Related content on home buying mistakes:

Here were some of my home buying mistakes.


first-time home buyer mistakes
This was our first house.

I didn’t prepare.

I was only 20, so I didn’t really understand how things worked, even though I thought I did at the time.

I found an online mortgage lender, and back in 2009, that was kind of a new thing. The company ended up doing a bunch of odd things and made a bunch of paperwork mistakes. It almost seemed scammy because online mortgages were so new at the time.

While my realtor was great and a family friend, she recommended a mortgage loan officer to me, and I just used that person.

The loan officer was great and very friendly.

But, I didn’t compare interest rates at all, I didn’t try to raise my credit score before I started looking at homes, and more.

Instead, I should have been paying attention to my credit score and worked to increase it before I started looking at rates. Then, I should have applied with multiple mortgage lenders and found the best interest rate.

Basically, I didn’t prepare.

Had I spent time increasing my credit score and shopping around for better rates, I could have gotten a better interest rate and saved money on mortgage payments.

While a small percentage difference in interest may not sound like much, it makes a big difference in how much you pay each month and how much you pay over the course of your loan.

For example, here’s the difference in two 30-year mortgages on a $200,000 home (this is before annual taxes being added in to the monthly payment):

  • With an interest rate of 3.25% your monthly payment would be $870, and you would pay $313,349 over the course of your loan.
  • With an interest rate of 4% your monthly payment would be $955, and you would pay $343,739.

That’s a difference of $85 a month, and you will have paid $30,000 more once your mortgage is paid off.

Looking back, I would have done more research on the home buying process and the factors that impact interest rates.

One of the easiest things you can do to avoid this mistake is to start paying attention to your credit score. You can receive free credit reports and credit scores, and I recommend reading Everything You Need To Know About How To Build Credit to learn more.


I avoided adding up all of the costs because it was scary.

Okay, so I knew that having a house could/would be expensive, and luckily we were fine, but wow, are there a lot of costs!

I avoided adding them all up for a while because I knew they would be higher than I thought. Eventually I did, and I was right – adding everything all together was a doozy.

We didn’t start adding up these costs until we were farther along in the buying process, and this is one of the home buying mistakes many people make. 

There are lots of people who only think about their mortgage payment, but there are so many more costs associated with buying a home

Before we purchased a home, we should have gone through all of the typical costs of owning a house and compared it to our housing budget. Comparing your current budget to your new homeowner’s budget will tell you whether or not you can actually afford to buy a home.

Here are some of the homeownership costs you want to consider:

  • Gas/propane.  Many homes run on gas in order to have hot water, to use the stove, and so on.
  • Electricity. Generally, the bigger your home then the higher your electricity bill will be.
  • Sewer. On average, your sewer bill may cost around $30 a month from what I’ve seen.
  • Trash. This isn’t super expensive either, but it’s still a cost to include.
  • Water. Water bills can vary widely. I know many who live in areas where the average water bill is a few hundred each month.
  • Property taxes. Property taxes can vary widely from town to town. You may find yourself looking at two similar houses with similar price tags, but the property taxes may differ by thousands of dollars annually. That is a LOT of money. While it may seem small when compared to the actual home purchase price, remember that you have to pay property taxes annually and a difference of just $3,600 a year is $300 a month for life.
  • Homeowners insurance. Homeowners insurance can be cheap in some areas but crazy expensive in others. Don’t forget to look into the cost of earthquake, flood, and hurricane insurance as well as that can add up quickly depending on where you live – not thinking about these was one of the home buying mistakes I made.
  • Maintenance and repairs. Even if your home is brand new, you may have to pay for repairs, which is something that will come up eventually. No matter how old your home is, repair and maintenance costs will eventually come into play.
  • Homeowners association fees. This can also vary widely. You should always see if the house you are interested in is in an HOA because the fees can be high and there may also be rules you don’t like.
  • Home furnishings. Furnishing your home can be done cheaply, but I know some who buy huge homes but can’t afford to put anything in them, such as a table, a bed, and so on. Why own a $500,000 house if you don’t have any furniture?


I probably should have spent less on the actual house.

While the house we bought was less than the amount we were pre-approved for, I definitely think that we could have found a house for even less.

We bought at the top of our budget, and this is one home buying mistake that can really get you in trouble.

Thinking back on it, the amount that we were pre-approved for, as young 20 year olds, was pretty insane. I am very glad that we did not buy a house that was that expensive.

It’s not uncommon to be approved for much more than your budget realistically allows for. Just because the bank approves you for a $350,000 mortgage, for example, does not mean you can afford to buy a house at that price.

We bought at the top of our budget thinking that we would get better jobs eventually. While that worked out in our favor since we were each barely making above minimum wage, it was a decision that could have ended quite badly.


We were living paycheck to paycheck and didn’t have an emergency fund.

We were young and didn’t have high paying jobs when we bought our house. In fact, we were barely making more than minimum wage at our jobs.

While we never racked up credit card debt, I did accrue student loans and we were living paycheck to paycheck.

Had one major (or even minor) thing happened with our new house, the only option would have been taking on debt. This is not where you want to be if you have just taken out a big mortgage. 

The best way to avoid this first time home buyer mistake is to set some money aside for emergencies before you buy, and to buy a house that fits in your budget. You want to be able to continue saving while making your new monthly home payments.


Make sure your home insurance covers what you need.

While I never had to use my home insurance, there were a few things that it did not cover, and I should have at least thought about them beforehand.

One of the biggest coverage issues was flooding. Flooding is a common problem where we lived in Missouri, yet I didn’t realize until a few years after I had already lived in the house that flooding was not covered unless you signed up for an additional policy.

Now, we weren’t in a floodplain – your lender may require you to buy special flood insurance if you live in a floodplain – but basement flooding was still a fairly common issue where we lived. 

Another special insurance consideration are earthquakes. Many normal home insurance policies do not cover earthquakes.

You can avoid this home buying mistake by researching what is the best kind of insurance policy for where you live. Floods and earthquakes aren’t a problem everywhere, but in some places you may want to have that kind of coverage.


Have a larger down payment.

We were 20, and we didn’t have a lot of money saved up before we bought our house.

Therefore, we did not put down a 20% down payment. That might sound like a lot, but 20% is the recommended amount to put down if you want to avoid PMI (private mortgage insurance).

A lender charges PMI because putting less than 20% down makes the loan look like a riskier investment for them. PMI protects lenders from borrowers who default on their loans.

PMI is normally around 0.5% to 1% of the mortgage annually, and it’s added to your monthly payment. If you borrowed a $200,000 mortgage, you would likely pay between $1,000 to $2,000 a year until you paid down enough of your mortgage principal to remove PMI.

We put less than 5% down towards our house purchase, and this led to us having PMI.

I don’t remember exactly how much we paid each month for PMI, but looking back, I could have used that money to pay off my student loans faster, save more, and so on.

While having a larger down payment isn’t one of the home buying mistakes I could have easily changed back then, in general, just saving more money instead of frivolously spending it in the beginning would have been a good decision.

Related content: Can You Remove PMI From Your Mortgage?


So, what’s going on with the house now?

As many of you know, we sold our house over 5 years ago. We wanted to travel more, and selling our house made more sense than keeping it.

We actually sold it for quite a loss, as the market was further down than when we bought it.

I’m happy that we bought the house – it taught us a lot, gave us responsibility, and gave us a place to live! And, it taught us how to avoid home buying mistakes in the future.

One of the things I haven’t mentioned is what we paid each for our mortgage. Our monthly payments were just under $1,000. 

Where we lived in the midwest is known for being a low cost of living area. I can’t imagine how we would have bought a house in some other parts of the U.S.

But, the low cost of living meant that buying a house at 20 was more doable.


Is it normal to regret buying a house? Is it normal to have buyers remorse after buying a house?

I don’t know what the statistics are on home buyers remorse, but it does happen. Hopefully with the tips before buying a house above, you can avoid that as much as possible.

Also, being realistic when it comes to what to expect when buying a house can help greatly as well.

What home buying mistakes did you make when you purchased your home?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. I bought my first house when I was was 27. I thought I was thorough in my inspection but discovered after moving in that the basement suite shower needed costly repairs to drain properly.

    1. A very thorough inspection is so important!

    2. That is similar to a situation I had with my house. We thought we were extremely thorough but later found an issue with the pool that the previous owners did everything they could to hide. Luckily it wasn’t a “huge” deal in the end, but it was still a bit more costly than we had hoped, both financially and mentally.

      There’s always something that will pop up, unfortunately, but it’s important to listen to others and their experience, just in case.