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4 myths and realities of homeownership

After living in an apartment my entire life--until buying my first home at age 25--I believed a lot of myths about what homeownership would ultimately be like.

But I was not the first person to believe certain misconceptions about homeownership, and I certainly will not be the last.

Here are four homeownership myths that many renters and move-up buyers believe--as well as the homeownership realities they need to know.

Myth #1: Owning a house will finally get me away from loud, nutty neighbors.

Reality: Not always.

After moving into my first home--a charming Victorian located in Philadelphia--I quickly discovered that homeowners who are next-door neighbors can be just as boisterous and irritating as the most obnoxious apartment-dwelling neighbor.

In fact, my next-door neighbor in Philadelphia was a woman we called "Janet from another planet."

As I explained in my first book Your First Home: The Smart Way to Get it and Keep It, Janet did the craziest things.

She would come to our house uninvited and pester friends who visited our home. For some inexplicable reason, she routinely stole water from our backyard water hoses in the middle of the night. Janet even once used a lawn mower to plow down our budding tomato plants because they "looked like weeds."

So beware. You can buy mortgage insurance, but too bad there is no insurance to protect you from the risk of having annoying neighbors.

Myth #2: I'll get a lot more privacy with a home.

Reality: Your level of privacy depends on many factors.

Your home's location, the type of residence you buy, the size of your lot, whether or not you have a backyard, and the general proximity of your home to your neighbors all weigh heavily on the degree of privacy you will have in a house.

For instance, if you buy a single-family home, you can generally expect more privacy than if you lived in an apartment building with dozens of renters. But what if you buy a condominium or townhome? The level of privacy you will feel will not be much different than what you would experience living in an apartment complex.

Another huge factor: Is there a fence around your home or mature trees that provide a privacy hedge? If not, your neighbors may be able to see everything that goes on in your yard--and vice versa.

Myth #3: A bigger home will solve all our space problems.

Reality: A larger home can also get cramped for a variety of reasons.

Back in 2000, James and LaTrice Felton bought a spacious five-bedroom, three-story home with a full basement in East Orange, N.J. Their oldest daughter, Madison, was a toddler and their younger daughter, Parker, was a newborn.

But later twins came along--a boy, James IV, and a girl, Lexington. Like all parents, the Feltons now have a steady stream of toys, clothing and school supplies that threaten to take over the house.

"We have a beautiful home, but the more kids you have, the more stuff you have," says LaTrice Felton.

Young kids are not the only ones taking up household space.

These days more than ever, college graduates are returning home, living with mom and dad until finding a job. Even working adults are increasingly living with their parents to save money. There were 7.1 million intergenerational households in America in 2010, according to Census Bureau data.

Myth #4: My newly built home will be absolutely perfect.

Reality: Even newly constructed homes have minor (or major) flaws and nuisance problems that emerge.

When Jamesha Norwood tried buying her first home in Indianapolis in 2008, she found herself frustrated because she kept getting outbid by other buyers. So by 2009, Norwood decided to build her dream home. It was a process she relished--so much that it led Norwood to get her real estate and broker's licenses.

"Picking out everything from my appliances to carpet and designing the whole house was the best process ever," says Norwood, who now works part-time as a Realtor with RE/MAX.

Although she was extremely pleased with her home, there were a few small hiccups in the design and construction. "Some things weren't to my specifications, so I pointed them out to the builder and they immediately fixed those items," Norwood says. "I also had the normal nail pops in the house after a year. Other than that, I didn't really have any issues."

The lesson: No home, including a brand new one, is 100 percent perfect.

So as you compare mortgage rates and ask "how much house can I afford," also ask yourself if you have a realistic view of what homeownership will really be like.

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