Book Review: First-Time Home Buyer by Scott Trench & Mindy Jensen

First Time Home Buyer: The Complete Playbook to Avoiding Rookie Mistakes

If you are like me, you have been thinking about getting into real-estate for a long time, but haven’t made a move (maybe because you’ve opted for something like index funds which have a lower barrier to entry). This book helps to pull back the curtain and get highly tactical with what it takes to purchase your first home. 

This book covers everything from developing a broader strategy & road map to getting more tactical by defining terms you may not know & providing questions you should be asking your lender/agent before you proceed to work with them. 

Here are some of my key takeaways from First-Time Home Buyer:

  1. Your first home purchase is likely to be the biggest financial decision you have made to date. It is important to avoid the emotional trappings that can come with it by first understanding what you can comfortably afford to spend on a mortgage while still being able to save/invest and second understanding your long-term vision for the property which will ideally take the form of a) living there indefinitely, b) keeping the property as a cash-flowing rental and c) selling the property for a profit. 
  2. To maximize future value, look for buying the worst home on a good block instead of the best home on a bad block (or neighborhood). Of course, you don’t actually have to buy “the worst” – but buying “the best” may earn you bragging rights but it will likely be harder to sell at a gain later on. 
    1. “Forced Appreciation” is when you bring the value of the property up by doing work on the home. Things like paint, installing new bathroom vanities, new flooring and a yard makeover are the most achievable for the uninitiated. Bathroom & kitchen remodels and adding square footage are also highly lucrative but are more labor intensive. 
    2. Taxes & Appreciation: the IRS allows you to exclude up to $250K of capital gains on the sale of your home or $500K for a married couple. 
  3. By purchasing your first home through the lens of later turning it into a cash-flowing rental property, even if it is only a couple hundred dollars a month, will afford you flexibility down the line if/when it is time to move and the property cannot sell right away. 
  4. Be very specific with your agent on what you are looking for, what is a deal breaker, and what is a nice to have. When performing research before you reach out to the agent, identify properties that meet your criteria that have sold recently (go off what has sold, not what has just been listed) to confirm that what you are looking for is reasonable. If your agent agrees that what you are looking for is realistic, have them send you an alert immediately when a listing comes online. If it is truly a good deal you need to be able to act quickly. 
  5. Checklists: Scott & Mindy provide robust resources for you to use when inspecting a home on your tour, what type of homes you should walk away from immediately, and what to expect during the closing process. 

Overall, I found this to be one of the most practical books I’ve read in the personal finance genre since the Simple Path to Wealth. If you are in the market for your first home and want to spend $15 & a few hours to avoid the rookie mistakes, this is a good book for you.