on buying your first home

happy tuesday, ya’ll! today we’re talking home-buying (dreadful, scary, don’t-get-your-hopes-up-or-you’ll-die, exciting, alcohol-inducing home-buying).

my husband and i recently purchased our first home. armed with as much knowledge as three google searches would give you and a wing and a prayer that we’d figure out the money situation after we found the house, we set off in december 2016 and settled at the end of february 2017. while the whole thing felt like a really long, difficult, laborious process, we’re really fortunate — depending on so many factors (more than 48 MILLION when you google “important home buying factors), it can take upwards of a year or longer to find your new home.

we set out to find our starter home, both secretly hoping to end up in our dream home and never have to go through the wretched process of packing and moving not only ourselves, but our two dogs ever again. the home we found is a nice in-between — luckily large enough to stay in for at least 10 years, but one we may want to upgrade from down the road as we become more established professionally (and financially).

our road to home-buying left for a lot of lessons, but i wanted to share some key takeaways that i felt other resources didn’t offer that are more practical and applicable to twenty-somethings — or really anyone — need to hear and consider.

check your comparisons at the door — and leave them there. 

my husband didn’t have this problem nearly as much as i did, but i found myself obsessively comparing myself to friends also in or who previously finished looking for their first homes. was our house nicer? newer? would this house really wow them? what would they think when they got in the car and left after visiting, or after seeing pictures? are they going to judge our taste or decision?

is it stupid? yes. is it also human nature? absolutely. something i had to repeat to myself a few hundred (thousand) times was they aren’t living here, and they certainly aren’t paying my mortgage, so shut up. it’s so easy to get caught up in the what ifs, especially when it comes to others in the same situation looking for different things, but its critical to have the self-awareness and understanding of different circumstances to know that that thought will creep into your head, but you have to shut it down fast or you’ll never land in the right house.

use a realtor you know.

you definitely know someone, and it’s definitely pertinent to use them. maybe not as your  real estate agent, but use the resources in your corner! ask friends in real estate, reach out to your parents’ friends in the biz, do whatever it takes. having someone you know and trust be on your side, whether for advice or to serve as your agent, is so important when you’re talking thirty years’ financial commitment.

we were fortunate enough to work with the mom of one of my best friends from childhood, and it was the best decision we could have made. i felt she was more candid with me than she may have been with people she didn’t know as well, and would bluntly tell me about neighborhoods and areas in the community that she knows me enough to know i wouldn’t like. did we have the same taste? definitely not, but that’s not important. she looked out for our best interests, was blunt about costs, potential problems, and benefits, and told us when we were missing the mark about a property or if we were really looking at a great spot.

ask for referrals from friends or parents, go directly to someone you know, but don’t shy away from the help of your own circle. it’s a huge purchase; use the resources you have. i’ve texted my realtor for contractor referrals, questions about random new homeowner maintenance i have no idea about, and a million other things since we moved. it’s an incredibly valuable resource i’m thankful to have.

take a deep breath: it’s going to be expensive.

my poor, poor husband. one of the smartest people i’ve ever known, but when it comes to how much things in the home improvement and home purchasing world are going to cost, he hasn’t got a clue. so every number scared him. thankfully, working with a realtor who knows me and got to know us very well, understood how to position things to us both so he didn’t panic (well, at least not as much as he probably would have).

buying a house isn’t cheap, especially if it’s your first one and you’re doing it on your own without help. but knowing where is worth spending money on (ex. a house with a fenced in yard that needs a few coats of paint vs. an unfenced house with a perfectly painted interior — one of our biggest arguments) is crucial to making the right decision.

also important here: digest before you react. sticker shock is a real thing, but having resources like a budget spreadsheet (thanks, dad) in your pocket comes in handy when you want to answer the age-old question: realistically, can we afford this?

try not to set unrealistic expectations.

not everyone is lucky enough to find their forever home right out of the gate. hell, most people aren’t lucky enough to find their starter home or even the in-between home after seeing only a couple of options. this is another area we got extremely lucky in — we happened to be with our realtor visiting a [terrible] house when our home went on the market and were able to see it within the hour. still, our home was number 14 that we saw.

thirteen disappointments, thirteen “it’s not quite rights,” thirteen “but the cost to put a fence in or replace the roof is too much” and thirteen times leaving both feeling like we’d struck out again, and wouldn’t ever find what we were searching for.

we set one rule for ourselves when we moved back into my husband’s mom’s townhouse to save money for the house: 12-18 months and we’re out. if we hadn’t found the right place, would we have settled on the wrong fit? no. our timeline pushed the urgency to save, save, save, but not to settle, settle, settle. it’s important to set realistic goals, but not unrealistic expectations.

for some people, they’ll find it right away. for others, like one couple we’re close with, it’ll take more than 6 months and a bidding war. you can’t set yourself up for that kind of disappointment, or you’ll end up settling for the wrong house. another area where i’ll say can’t stress this piece enough: don’t compare yourself to someone else’s situation.

make a budget spreadsheet.

this was probably the single most helpful thing we could have done. our real estate agent connected us with a loan officer that we used for our transaction, and whenever we wanted to pursue a house, she’d send us this nifty sheet of cost breakdowns, which included what our monthly mortgage payment was estimated to be (give or take some based on taxes).

having a budget spreadsheet where i could plug that number in to see how it would impact our cashflow and how much we could save each month along with all our other bills, car payments, student loan payments, etc. was so incredibly helpful. like i said above, sticker shock is real — but having the perspective of putting that monthly mortgage amount alongside

last: be on the same page as your buying partner

once again: my poor, poor husband. he tried to keep me from buying this house because he doesn’t like the doors to the bedrooms. yep, that’s right: he doesn’t like the doors. the doors. 

it’s critical to be on the same page about what you’re looking for. i’m not talking the house hunters style of craftsman vs. bungalow or 2.5 bathrooms vs. 3 or white cabinets or farmhouse sinks. i’m talking so much more important — we absolutely needed a fence already in place in the yard for the dogs, because we know that cost is to put one of those expensive bad boys in. we needed somewhere with a roof that (short of a disaster) wasn’t going to need to be replaced in the first five years.

we wanted at least 2 bathrooms but ended up with only 1. is it ideal? nah. but is it livable? without a doubt — at least for now. we wanted a single family and got that piece. is it what we wanted? absolutely. is the exactly what we thought we would end up with? definitely not. but we love our home and are so happy with it.

the things we thought we absolutely needed like a basement completely finished or a multiple bathrooms or huge bedrooms or fresh paint became less important as we realized realistically what our budget could afford in the expensive area that is Montgomery County, MD (2nd most expensive in the country, yay us). we made tradeoffs where necessary, got our single family house and need to build a bathroom. would i do it again? absolutely.

buying a house is no joke — so take a deep breath, have your wine ready, and be prepared to fight for what you want. 

don’t settle for the wrong fit — but make compromises on areas you’re flexible in.

don’t compare yourself to others — but (if you’re comfortable) reach out and learn from their mistakes, lessons, and, if possible, their realtors.

don’t ruin a relationship over it — but don’t let your husband keep you from a house because of the damn doors.

until next time,

e

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