The Costly Mistake Too Many Homebuyers Make After Watching HGTV

Another Friday night, another date with HGTV. There’s nothing better than tagging along with the young couple about to embark on their house-hunting journey from the comfort of your own home. “Can you believe the comments these people are making about paint color?” you exclaim in disbelief. You’d never be so clueless when you buy a house, right? But it’s safe to say we all have some unrealistic expectations, thanks to the HGTV phenomenon.

The learning curve associated with buying a home is pretty steep, but unrealistic wish lists can make it even more tricky. And real estate agents know all too well about the costly mistakes homebuyers make time and time again. Some assume massive remodels are quick weekend DIYs, while others are in shock when they realize a home isn’t staged.

It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cost of your homebuying mistakes, as housing values and fees vary for individual preference and location. But to put these careless mishaps into perspective, The Cheat Sheet categorized the costliest mistakes homebuyers make, from minor to major to catastrophic.

10. Love at first sight

White farmhouse from Fixer Upper

Unless the house looks like Chip and Joanna’s, maybe hold off for a minute. | Magnolia Market

  • Severity of your mistake: Minor

Many homebuyers, particularly first-time homebuyers, fall in love with the very first house they see. This rookie homebuying mistake could turn costly if you bypass other comparable homes in the area. Most buyers spend months viewing multiple homes before putting in an offer. Ask your agent to show you similar homes to make sure you don’t make a rash decision. If not, you could find yourself diving into the house hunt again just months later, leading to a costly cycle.

Next: One real estate agent will save you money. The other will cost you.

9. Picking the wrong agent

Sales woman shaking hands

Make sure you pick an agent who gets you. | Daly

  • Severity of your mistake: Minor

Allowing your friend to act as your unofficial agent could turn cumbersome. No amount of HGTV loyalty will make you an expert on home negotiations and local real estate markets. The right agent will save you money, but the wrong agent will spend your money. Homebuyers must choose their real estate agent wisely.

Also, homebuyers looking to save as much money as possible should understand the politics surrounding different types of real estate agents. A seller’s agent’s best interest is that of the seller, not the buyer. So admitting to the seller’s agent you can go as high as $300,000 means you’ll likely get the home for $300,000 — nothing less. If you’re looking to get the best deal, you want to secure an agent who will work in your favor.

Next: Why HGTV has hurt your ability to see what really matters

8. Getting hung up on decorations

White upholstery in a home on HGTV's 'Fixer Upper'

All that can be changed. |

  • Severity of your mistake: Minor

One of the most common mistakes homebuyers make after watching HGTV is basing their decisions on the home’s current decor. Viewers love to criticize homebuyers who complain about wallpaper and bathroom finishes, and then they fall victim to the same mistakes in their own house-hunting endeavors. Most homes seen on TV have been staged to avoid unnecessary clutter, and everyday homebuyers are not prepared to adjust their eyes for what they might find in an actual lived-in home.

Focusing too much on the decor is a costly mistake that will not only waste your time but your money, as well. Your unrealistic nature could easily cause you to pass up on a deal worth considering. And in a tough real estate market, quality homes are hard to come by.

Next: A minor fee people commonly overlook

7. Forgoing an inspection

Foreman examining house

Get the house checked out to save you money down the line. | DragonImages/iStock/Getty Images

  • Severity of your mistake: Major

In the midst of all other fees, you might be tempted to pocket the $400 and forgo a home inspection, but that would be unwise. Buying sight unseen or committing to any other scenario in which inspections aren’t common could be costly down the line. It’s more cost effective to lay all potential nuances on the table when it comes to issues with the home, so you can use this to your advantage during negotiations.

Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. That lower-than-market-value home could be riddled with issues you can’t afford — and the seller won’t fix. Outdated electrical panels are one thing, but slope or grading issues in the backyard could warrant significant expenses and be reason to back out of the deal completely.

Next: See how limiting your search to certain homes only can be detrimental.

6. Considering new homes only

House with yellow sold sign

Brand new might come with some hidden costs. | Feverpitched/iStock/Getty Images Plus

  • Severity of your mistake: Major

Unrealistic expectations lead homebuyers to believe their next home will look like those on TV and that buying a home of anything less is equivalent to settling. Disillusioned buyers often limit their search to brand new homes only, assuming that maintenance on such properties is minimal, fixtures are updated, and everything else is up to code. But the hidden costs of a sticker home are much higher than you’d expect and choosing to go new over used can be costly.

Remember that new homes often lack necessities, such as decks and fences, which could equal thousands in additional upfront costs. Landscaping alone runs about $3,502 on an average-sized home. If it’s still under construction, the customizable, yet pricey upgrades available to you could easily demolish a set budget. With such frivolous spending, you could wind up like the homeowners we watch chuckle and shrug as they confess to going $9,000 over budget on granite countertops. Oops.

Next: Buying a home is not just about the price of the home.

5. Overlooking the hidden costs

sale pending sign

Don’t forget to factor in other charges. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

  • Severity of your mistake: Major

House hunters often overlook the extra charges associated with the homebuying process. Hidden fees, such as appraisals and closing costs, could leave you scrounging for thousands of available dollars last minute. Closing costs usually total 2% to 5% of the home’s value. Expect to pay about $6,000 to $15,000, for example, on a home priced at $313,000 — the median sale price of U.S. homes today.

Forgetting closing costs is one thing, but neglecting to factor property taxes into your long-term budget can be detrimental, as well. Property taxes alone average $3,296 for single-family homeowners nationwide. And while that extra square footage looks really nice on paper, the inflated utility bills associated with a larger property do not.

Next: The art of the negotiation

4. Thinking every home should be negotiated

Harp house from HGTV Fixer Upper

Some houses are listed to sell. |

  • Severity of your mistake: Major

It’s a crushing reality when your dream home is unaffordable. Shows, such as Beachfront Bargain or Property Brothers, often assume price negotiations when determining a buyer’s renovation budget. This might prompt you to believe every home can be sold for lower than asking when that might not actually be the case.

Most experts advise against bidding more than 10% below the asking price. But if you’re in a highly sought-after neighborhood, the odds won’t be in your favor if you low ball your offer. Those who see the most success with money-saving offers come to the table armed with facts, not feelings, and treat the seller with respect.

Next: The biggest reason to buy a home with trees

3. The value of mature trees

Downs house from HGTV Fixer Upper

Trees can add value. |

  • Severity of your mistake: Catastrophic

Some homebuyers prefer clear, open spaces rather than a home peppered with trees and a well-maintained landscape. But the U.S. Forest Service says that a mature tree can increase a home’s value by 20%, so it would be a mistake for homebuyers to discount a property with trees that often appraise between $1,000 and $10,000. It’s also said the cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to 10 room-sized air-conditioners operating for 20 hours a day.

Next: A common factor people forget to consider

2. Not researching the neighborhood


The perfect house in a bad neighborhood is a recipe for disaster. | Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

  • Severity of your mistake: Catastrophic

Houses located near a sex offender have home values up to 12% less than those that aren’t. And local school quality remains one of the most influential factors in determining property value. Failure to adequately assess the neighborhood surrounding your potential residence is one of the most expensive mistakes homebuyers make.

Real estate agents will assure you there really is no coming back from a bad neighborhood, noisy airport, lackluster school system, nearby sex offenders, or invasive power lines when it comes time to sell your home and move on. Remember to consider not only the physical home but the area surrounding it to ensure you make a responsible purchase.

Next: Thanks to HGTV, homebuyers make this mistake all too often.

1. Buying a fixer upper

Joanna marks a wall for demolition on HGTV's 'Fixer Upper'

It’s not as easy as they make it look. |

  • Severity of your mistake: Catastrophic

Chip and Joanna Gaines and other infamous HGTV renovation duos have glorified the fixer-upper flip. In just under an hour you can watch the ugliest home in the neighborhood transform into a thing of beauty brimming with equity. But what you don’t see is the hefty financial backing needed to complete such a reno or the costly mishaps that often derail a modest budget. It’s reported that HGTV’s Fixer Upper won’t work with renovation budgets less than $30,000 — and those gorgeous televised remodels rarely encompass the entire home.

Before you decide to make your next home a fixer upper, have a serious talk with yourself to ensure you can handle it. If mistakes force you to default to a contractor, expect to pay them 10% to 15% of the project’s total budget. That means a $50,000 renovation would cost an extra $5,000 to $7,500 in contracting fees.

Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.