My Husband and I Made This Home Buying Mistake -- and Have Kicked Ourselves Ever Since

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  • When you buy a home, it's important to know what you're getting into.
  • Neglecting to review one key document caused us a world of regret.

Don't fall into a similar trap.

Years ago, after a fruitless home search, my husband and I found ourselves growing increasingly desperate. We wanted to sell the starter home we were living in before property values wound up falling substantially (which they did), but we didn't have any prospects for a replacement roof over our heads.

But then we stumbled upon an opportunity to buy a new construction home in our neighborhood -- one that was basically around the corner from the starter home we were looking to move on from. And so we jumped on it. The price was reasonable, the builders gave us an opportunity to customize our living space, and the estimated mortgage payment we'd be looking at was within our budget.

But we made one big mistake when agreeing to buy our home -- we neglected to look at our property survey first. And that's a blunder that has haunted us ever since.

Get all of the right information

There are certain due diligence items we knew to tackle before signing a contract to purchase our home. We made sure to get an estimate of our proposed property taxes, for example, and we checked to make sure the home wasn't in a flood zone (not a huge concern since it was at the top part of a hill, but an item we checked off our list nonetheless).

One thing we didn't do, however, was read through our property survey thoroughly. Now to be fair, since we bought our home over a decade ago, I don't remember exactly when we came upon that survey, or if we even got one at all. Some mortgage lenders don't require one prior to a closing, though if memory serves, we did need one at some point.

But either way, we definitely didn't pay close attention to that document. Had we done so, we would've seen that a portion of our backyard was designated as conservation land. That's land we're allowed to use, but can't alter. And it became a problem when we decided to level out part of our backyard, only to learn that we couldn't touch a portion of our property due to it being protected land.

We even had a problem with removing trees -- dead ones -- from that portion of our backyard. We once cut down a few dead trees out of concern that they posed a hazard. Months later, we were fined by our township for removing trees in a protected area.

Don't gloss over your property survey

If you're buying a home, it's important to get a hold of your property survey before closing and see what it entails -- whether your mortgage lender requires that step or not. A property survey will outline the boundaries of your property and alert you to restricted portions of it.

Had we realized how much of our backyard is conservation land, we likely would've passed on purchasing this home. Now, we make do with the situation at hand, but there's a chunk of our property that serves as nothing more than a wooded area that we can't alter.

Granted, our children love playing hide and seek in that part of the yard, and our dog loves running around in it. But ultimately, we're left with much less usable outdoor space because of that restriction. Had we paid closer attention earlier on, we'd perhaps be in a different home with a more accommodating yard.

Of course, we've made the best of the situation through the years. And thankfully, the inside of our home is quite spacious and was designed to our specifications, which makes up for not having the backyard we really wanted. But I'm hoping other home buyers will learn from our experience -- and avoid making the same mistake we did.

Our Research Expert

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