This is part one of our four-part series giving tips and advice to first-time homebuyers, in collaboration with American Family Insurance.
When it’s time to buy your first house, you may be daunted by the stories you hear from friends and well-intentioned strangers. Hidden costs, unexpected delays, natural disasters, roof repairs, and paperwork headaches are all anyone seems to mention when they’re talking about being a first-time homeowner. But what about all the wonderful things that you feel and experience when you buy your first home? In an effort to de-stress any of you would-be first-time homebuyers, we sat down with Daniela Araya, a Brooklyn-based interior decorator, muralist, and design enthusiast who just purchased her first home with her partner (and their Basset Hound named Lady).
“Everyone thinks about having their own retreat,” says Araya. “Something they own, so that they’re not just living in a rental in the city forever. And I think we started talking about buying a home about a year before the pandemic hit.” But once the COVID-19 crisis swept through the U.S., Araya and her partner felt more than ever that they needed space of their own. “We were very desperate for more room, we kind of wanted a sense of control.” They knew it was time to really start looking for a home of their own.
There’s a certain peace of mind that comes from knowing you own your space — and even greater peace of mind when you know your precious new investment has the right protection, too. While buying homeowners insurance may seem like yet another hoop to jump through in the home-buying process, you actually have a lot of control over the process. American Family Insurance makes it especially easy for first-time home buyers with a clear breakdown of everything you need to understand homeowners insurance, with quick answers to all your questions and helpful tools to help you customize your policy with the coverages and discounts that are right for you.
For Araya, the biggest unexpected joy of finally owning her own home was the ability to really get in there and make the changes she wanted to make. “You can change it into anything. It’s your house! You own it, and you’re able to make whatever updates you want, and be scrappy and do things the way you want.” Until now, Araya constantly tiptoed around landlords, made soft upgrades to her living space, and always had to paint her beautiful murals neutral white upon moving. So this thought — that you can customize a home you own however you’d like — may seem straightforward, but for Araya… it kind of blew her mind.
“We literally felt like little kids given keys to a house and told ‘this is yours now, you can do whatever you want to it,’” Araya explains. “Even though I have a background in design, when we bought this house I almost felt slightly paralyzed. My style was a renter’s style. I was, up until now, making specific design choices because of each specific apartment I lived in.” And though Araya believes that everyone should design their space to suit them (even if they’re in a rental), being stuck in a renter’s mentality adds a sense of impermanence to everything.
Araya says shifting out of this temporary mindset was key to fully enjoying the experience of buying a new home. “I’m way more thoughtful with what I want to do now because this space is permanent,” she says. “This is a place that we’re going to have for a very long time, and it almost has to feel evergreen. I want it to always feel like home, and it will feel like that.”
Araya and her partner went into the homebuying process with a huge list of things they wanted from their first home. Their “dream list,” as Araya called it, quickly proved to be impractical given their budget. But when they finally found their home, which didn’t hit all the notes on their dream list, it was still easy to imagine what they could do with the place.
“Walking in, it’s a little cabin, and it’s very dark, with lots of wood, and it kind of had a weird smell in there,” Araya confesses, laughing. “But even with all those things, it felt really easy to imagine it empty.” And Araya surprised herself, falling in love with this home that, on the surface, didn’t check off too many of her boxes. But imaging the space empty was the key for Araya, “It can seem really hard to do it, but just imagine it with white walls.” From there, Araya was able to envision the true beauty of what would become her first home.
With all that said, what’s the biggest unexpected joy for first-time homebuyer Araya and her little fam? “This is really corny,” she confides, “but I think just living in the moment. Having a piece of property that we own ourselves, and making the memories along the way.” From more privacy and space, to the joy of opening the door and letting her dog run free, owning a home away from the bustling city was an absolute joy for Araya. “It sounds corny but it really has all been worth it to just be in the house and enjoy the time we have there together. And, of course, watching our pup Lady frolic around there is the best, it’s so cute.”
If you’re beginning the process of buying a home for the first time, check out the resources and info available via American Family Insurance, and trust them when it’s time to find the perfect policy to protect your new home.
Giaco Furino is Senior Writer for G/O Media Studios.