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First-time homebuyer challenge: Enhancements vs. repairs

It’s the couple’s first home. One person wants new flooring, maybe some window treatments, and fresh paint, a bit of color, in the kitchen and master bedroom. The other hears the drip-drip of a leaky faucet in the powder room and a garbage disposal that seems poised to leave the kitchen sink filled with gunk the next time the switch is flicked.

All of which begs a common challenge for first-time homebuyers: cosmetic enhancements versus repairs. Such a decision might not seem paramount in the current Southern Nevada market, says Stuart Anderson, a real estate agent for 31 years, including the past nine with Realty One Group in Las Vegas.

Sellers often will agree to provide home warranties that can help ease the minds of buyers, and many sales include sellers making major repairs so they can get top dollar, he says.

Home sales are so strong “that buyers are bidding over the seller’s price,” Anderson says. “And you see buyers really pushing their budget, so that can be a problem.”

But because homes have lots of working parts, Anderson refers homebuyers, especially young first-timers, to a useful but frequently overlooked tool: their home inspection.

Once you move in, find time to look over the document that details the condition of a house’s major components, including electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling, and structure, he says.

“Lots of information there that can help with these kinds of decisions,” Anderson says.

Rashell Frei, a Las Vegas home inspector and property manager for several years, agrees.

“One of the best things a couple can do is make a plan” using their home inspection document, says Frei of BPG Inspections, a national company with offices in Las Vegas. “What major appliance or system needs immediate attention? If they look closely, they’ll find that a couple of items probably need to go on a first-year list.

“Their plan for repairs and replacement could be one year, two years and up to 10 years,” Frei says.

To finance these projects or emergencies, Frei says to put a bit of monthly income aside.

“I know that’s probably easier said than done because so many new buyers are putting every penny, every dime into getting into their home, so they can be stretched thin.

“But it’ll help so these emergencies won’t be blindsiding them.”

So often, Frei sees homebuyers rushing through their inspection document. Her policy is to spend time with buyers, often during the inspection, so they won’t be so shocked by a breakdown.

And Frei, who performs 200 to 250 inspections annually, warns it’s not if but when.

“A home inspection is not a crystal ball,” Frei says. “We can’t tell them that the heating and cooling system will last three years, for example.

“What we can do is give them the age and condition and how it’s operating, normal or not, at the time of the inspection.”

Translation: A water heater that’s 8 years old in Las Vegas is probably going to need immediate attention. Same with a 12-year-old exterior air-conditioning condenser for a central air system.

Because of the valley’s hard water, the lifespan of a water heater here typically is six years, Frei says. That AC condenser? The intense Southern Nevada summers dictate a lifespan of about 12 to 15 years.

Frei says it’s especially important for young first-time buyers to be aware of such information. Remember, not if but when.

“Younger homeowners, I hate to use the word naive, but they haven’t had the same experience as someone who’s in their third or fourth home,” Frei says.

“They can freak out if they see, say, water under a sink. The more savvy homeowner will know that’s not uncommon.

“As you get older and are more experienced, you know to check the water heater drain pan or the drain on the AC condenser. You know to replace filters on the heating and cooling system every six months.”

While the real estate market is fluid, Anderson agrees that once ownership has been taken such knowledge and maintenance practices can be invaluable. Make a maintenance checklist. Follow that plan created from information in the home inspection.

“Having a plan for repairs, it’s a great strategy, and most young homeowners don’t seem to understand this,” he says.

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