Saturday, November 8, 2014

First Home: What We Learned

We've officially been homeowners for two months now. Throughout the home buying process I would share little updates here and there, but never really went into much detail. I think I was afraid of jinxing it. So many things were going wrong as it was, I didn't want to add bad juju on top of that. So, since I'm not quite ready to share pictures of the house, I figured I'd share some of the things we learned about buying and moving into our first home.

#1 Don't even think about changing jobs.
After we had already been pre-approved for our mortgage, Dan had the opportunity to interview for a new job. We mentioned it to our banker during one of our many meetings, and we seriously thought she was going to have a heart attack. We knew not to open or close any accounts during the home buying process, but no one had told us that you can't look for a new job. In the end, the new job never came through, so crisis averted.

#2 Find a Realtor who has time for you, and one you trust.
When we knew we were ready to start looking for a home, we reached out to a local real estate company. They had signs all over the county and listings galore. Left a message with the receptionist and waited. After playing phone tag for nearly two weeks, we realized that either they weren't interested in helping us out, or they were simply too busy. I ended up calling a company down the road from our apartment and got connected with a Realtor who just so happened to use to work in for the same school board I did. It was nice to have someone who understood our schedules/needs and made every effort to accommodate those things.

#3 Be prepared to compromise.
When you sit down and think about what you want in your dream home, the list can be pretty long. We knew that we needed to have a list of "must haves" and "would be nice" list. It made it easier to narrow down our options before making a trip out to see the house. What were our must haves? At least 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, space for a small office, within 30 minutes of my work and 45 minutes of Dan's work, a garage/workshop for Dan, and although it could be a little outdated, it needed to be move in ready. The would be nice list? A little bit of land, but in a neighborhood, no tile in the main living areas, a house with character, nearby grocery stores/shopping, fireplace (yes, even in Florida!), and a separate laundry room. Did we get everything on our list? No. But we did manage to find most of them in this house. The compromises? The "office" is currently in the master bedroom, the living room has tile that needs to be replaced, and trips to the grocery store now take a couple hours.

#4 At times it will feel like nothing is happening. Then, it happens all of a sudden.
It took nearly 6 months of waiting from the time we put in our offer to the time we closed. We knew that the home inspection and appraisal could potentially cause some set backs, but those were easy to handle. What took forever was the bank! It seemed like every week the update from our banker was the same - no new news. And then, out of the blue, the bank said yes, and they wanted to close within 24 hours. One day! Yeah, that just wasn't possible for us or the sellers (who had already moved out of state and needed time to sign/fax/mail paperwork). So a week later, with the ink dried on the paper, the house was finally ours.

#5 If the house is staged, it will look completely different empty.
I know this seems obvious, but our house seriously looked gigantic when the former family moved everything out. Add to the fact that all the furniture and art work they had hanging hid some of the imperfections on the walls and a lot of the dirt/grime, we learned new things about our house every time we visited. We also quickly realized that the furniture we had in our 1100 sq ft apartment was not going to fill our new 1900 sq ft home. But that's okay, it means I have an excuse to shop!

#6 You don't have to have a credit score to buy a home.
Does it make it easier? Sure. But it's not required. I didn't have a credit score before buying this home. The tricky part was that Dan did have a credit score. So we had to search for a special loan that would allow both of us to be on the mortgage. I had to contact my utility companies for letters of recommendation and submit those to the bank. Did not having a credit score add more to our list of things to do? Absolutely. Would I rather make a few extra phone calls and send out a few more emails to avoid the hassle of being in debt? Absolutely.

#7 Give yourself a lot of wiggle room.
This applies to both money and time. We knew that there would be a possibility that we'd have to come up with some money for closing costs. So, once we knew we were going all-in with the home buying process, we stopped buying all the extras and started putting more money into our savings. Not only did we need to save for closing, we also had to keep in mind that we'd need to rent a moving truck, feed all of our helpers, and buy supplies to fix a few things that popped up on our home inspection. Besides having a cushion of money in our savings account, we did everything we could to make sure that we had time on our side. We started looking for a house at the start of the year knowing that our lease was up at the end of October. It worked out perfectly that we had a month after closing to clean the house while still living in the apartment, and then a month living in the house while cleaning things up at the apartment before our lease was up. I don't even want to think how high my stress levels would have been if we had to do everything within a week.

#8 If you feed them, they will come.
Need people to help you paint? Need people to help you move furniture? Need people to help you clean up the messes of the previous homeowners? Make sure you have food! If you promise your helpers with food, they're more inclined to help. Pizza is the easy way to go, but since the nearest pizza place is 30 minutes away, we also did a lot of crockpot meals like bbq pulled chicken and meatball subs. Easy meals that feed a lot of people without breaking the bank.

#9 Don't worry about nagging.
During that period of time where we were waiting to hear from the bank, I felt bad for emailing our banker for an update. I felt like I was nagging them. I mean, if they had an update, they would let me know, right? But I realized quick that you can't think of it as nagging. A simple email that says, "Hey, any updates this week?" isn't nagging. It's making sure your banker hasn't forgot about you. They are juggling quite a few loan requests, so a simple email is just a gentle, and sometimes much needed, reminder. If your banker won't reply to you, ask your real estate agent to make contact with them for an update. Also, quick tip: to keep everyone in the loop, make sure you email everyone on your team any time you have an update.

#10 Become friends with your insurance agent.
Our insurance agent is amazing! We found her through a referral service and she has been a life saver! We called her and gave her a heads up that we were looking to buy a home soon, and she gave us all sorts of advice on what could be deal breakers in a home for insurance companies. Because we gave her enough of a heads up, she had plenty of time to shop around and find us the best deal. And, besides our real estate agent, she became another advocate making sure that everything was being done correctly.

I'm sure there were many other lessons that we learned along the way, but these are the lessons that stick out in my mind. We're hosting a little housewarming party next weekend, so I'll try to snap pictures of all the rooms for a little house tour post that is long overdue.

Any other tips for home buyers? What were some of the things you learned along the way?

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