I was at a baby shower for a dear friend this past weekend. Another friend who was there has been reading this old blog and sweetly asked a few questions about how we bought the house, what kind of sale it was, etc.
I thought I would explain how we got to this point and share some of the things I learned about the home buying process along the way.
A New Home Buyer’s Tips for House Hunting
1. Go to open houses and create a Redfin.com account (if it’s available in your area)
We started going to open houses last summer. We spent almost every Sunday driving around. We also downloaded the redfin.com app. It is so helpful! You can create an account and favorite houses you like. You’ll get daily updates with sales reports. This really helped us track the market and see the sales trends. We both got really good at knowing if a house was overpriced or not. I really think all our research and legwork helped us be more efficient when we actually worked with a realtor. I also just thought open houses were a fun, free date.
2. Work with professionals you love. Fire anyone you don’t.
I can 100% say we had the best “team” of realtor, mortgage broker, attorney, etc. Our sellers were not the easiest people to work with, and the negotiation process was belabored. But everyone we worked with responded quickly, was patient with us, and gave good advice. As an aside, the first mortgage person we worked with was having a rough week/weeks when we first met her. We didn’t fully trust her, so we decided not to work with her. Don’t hesitate to cut someone loose (politely) if you aren’t completely confident they’ll get the job done for you.
3. Don’t pressure a house by calling it your dream.
Calling your first house your “dream” house is a lot of pressure. Keep your expectations reasonable and know that every house, unless you custom build with an unlimited budget, is going to have pluses and minuses. We didn’t get the full basement we wanted or my preferred high school. But we did get a great floor plan, the best town, a separate dining room, four bedrooms, and a really nice backyard. I personally think the concept of “dealbreakers” is generally a little silly. Every house is different.
This was NOT my dream kitchen!
4. If you are buying a fixer upper, make sure you have the cash.
After we visited the house the first time, we knew we saw potential. On our second visit, one of Andy’s uncles, a home builder and general contractor, was generous enough to come look at the house. He gave us broad estimates on how much it would cost to redo certain things, like the kitchen, bathrooms, etc. From this we created a renovation budget to determine if we had enough reserves to put down 20 percent and do major projects right away. I created a spreadsheet with a timeline of what we could accomplish when, given our projected cash flow. Yes, that is super nerdy and probably overkill, but when the cash flows out from my checking account it’s good know this was planned.
Even a basic new washer and dryer set will be upwards of $1200! Unless of course, you want to use the set that is original to your 1961 house.
5. Foreclosures aren’t the only deals.
Although we looked at several foreclosures and lots of estate sales, our home was a regular sale. It had been on the market (off and on) for almost 18 months when we bought it. At some point, the owners moved out and it was vacant. The owners were older and were just about to decide to rent the house out when we made our first offer. My guess is most buyers couldn’t see past the tiny, enclosed kitchen and wallpapered everything. Plus it was still priced fairly high, at the top of our budget. We made a lowball offer and they came down a big chunk. Then we haggled over the final $15k for a million years until we reached a price we all could live with.
I wouldn’t say we got the steal of a lifetime. But we did get a good price for a house we wanted. More importantly, we got a price that justifies all the money and effort we are spending to fix it up.
Does the house you’re eyeing have a pink toilet? Chances are most people will cross that house off their list, leaving you some bargaining room.
6. If you lose a house, move on.
Early on in our hunt, we visited a 1920s bungalow. It was literally covered in antiques, smelled like smoke, and had a really weird owner who followed us around while we toured. We loved that house. It had so much character and space. We scheduled an appointment to go back and visit a second time before we made an offer. And POOF! The house was pulled from the market. Long story, it had been a foreclosure and there was some steadiness going on. We were sad for a while. But you can’t linger on the house that wasn’t. Things happen for a reason. Home is where your pillow is. I know that is ultra-practical of me, but hey. That’s how I see things.
That’s really all the advice I can offer seeing as we haven’t actually moved into our new home or anything 😉 I enjoyed house hunting and picturing living in all different kinds of places. But now that I am knee-deep in primer and paint, I can’t really imagine buying any home but this one.