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Filtering by Tag: our home buying experience

our home buying experience: closing

Emily Oster

We have some good friends that are in the process of trying to close on their first home. They are having a rough time with negotiations causing me to have flashbacks to our own challenging close.  While we have only bought one house (and it has almost been two years so my recollection of the specific details have started to fade), I feel quite confident in saying that our situation was not the norm.

To refresh everyone's memory since it has been SO LONG since I wrote this post about our home buying timeline, we saw what would become our home in early July of 2014. From our first showing, we knew we wanted the house. It was in our desired area, was a fixer upper but still inhabitable, had a nice size yard (although you couldn't really tell because of the invasive bamboo), was priced within our budget and most importantly we could just picture ourselves there. I cannot express how important this point was for us. We just intuitively knew that this was suppose to be our house. Sure there were things that made this possible - searching for over a year, missing out on another house, containing our search to one neighborhood, narrowing down our house criteria etc. - but ultimately it just came down to a feeling. A feeling that this house was to be our house. Without this I think our close would have been even that much more daunting and filled with doubt. And when things came up after close (like a flooded basement), it became even that much more significant. 

So we saw the house on a Sunday and I think we made an offer on that Tuesday. It was countered by the seller to which we countered back. Our counter was then signed and agreed upon by us and the seller! Unfortunately, that was the easy part as then came the inspections... We opted to do multiple inspections as the house was built in 1869 and was not in great shape. I like to say while "it wasn't a full fixer upper it still needed a lot of fixing" so we did a whole home as well as a sewer, radon, chimney and gas inspections. For anyone who hasn't gone through this process, it can be vey time consuming and costly. I basically remember this period as a lot of waiting around, writing checks and getting bad news. 

From what we gathered post-purchase, the former homeowner who had lived in the house for over 35 years, had pretty much just let the house go after she became widowed several years prior. No routine maintenance (like maybe even cleaning) was done which is important to keep up with on any house but especially one that is 150 years old. On top of that whoever did do repairs on the house knew just enough to be dangerous. Meaning "fixes" were made haphazardly to say the least. 

Armed with our inspection reports, we started round two of negotiations. We asked for a lot of repairs and, in hindsight, I would have approached the process differently. For one, I think we would have asked more for monetary compensation than for the repairs to be made by the seller. I say this because the repairs we did end up agreeing to were not necessarily up to our standards (and our standards really weren't that high). Also now looking back on it and having more resources, knowledge and referrals, I would have had contractors and appropriate subs in to inspect the house. This would have given us a more accurate picture of what was important to fix immediately, what we could put off and how much these items/lists of items would cost. At the time, I wanted to do this but just hadn't found a trusted crew of people. Finally, I think we would have focused on getting the bigger items taken care of and left off some of the smaller things.

Anyways, round two of negotiations did not go very well to say the least. In large part, I think this was because 1.) the seller was very attached to the home and was having a hard time letting go/seeing all the issues with the property and 2.) the seller's agent was EXTREMELY difficult to work with. It took weeks for use to weed through the list and come to an agreement and more than once I thought the deal would collapse. We also ended up being on vacation during the thick of things which made the whole process that much more frustrating. No one wants to be pulling out their computer at bars and restaurants and reading addendum after addendum.

In the end, I think we probably compromised more than we should have but every time we asked ourselves the question "do we want to lose the house over item x" (structural issue, termite damage, broken windows etc.) the answer was always no. So we finally came to an agreement, waited for the repairs to be made, inspected set repairs compromised AGAIN and made our way to our close at the end of August. It was a very long and arduous effort that I would not like to repeat anytime soon. But now almost two years later, I can confidently say we love our house and are so glad we are here.

If you missed the other posts about our home buying experience, you can read more here, here and here

Want to keep reading? Check out one or all of these related posts. 

our home buying timeline

Emily Oster

Its been too long since continuing with our home buying experience so today I thought I would talk timeline. As I mentioned in the first post of this mini series, we started looking for a house in August of 2013. Our lease was up in November of that year and while, we were pretty sure we could renew, we wanted to at least get a sense of what was out there. We probably would not have started our search until much later except we got a great referral for a realtor - Allie. I figured why not meet with her and start to see whats our there. From our first meeting with Allie, I really liked her. She was not at all pushy, was totally understanding of our flexible timeline and just made us super comfortable.

August is not a great time to start looking for house as there just seems to not be a lot on the market. This was ok for us because we weren't that serious about our search and I think I might have been overwhelmed if we had started looking in the spring when most things come up for sale. So in September and October, we went to open houses on Sundays and enjoyed getting our daily MLS listing email. It was quite relaxed and rather pleasant learning about different neighborhoods and dreaming of our future home. It was also during this time that I became dead set on our current neighborhood. I had a good hunch and after seeing a lot of homes in the area I knew it was where I wanted to be. This period proved to be a really valuable thing for us as it gave us the confidence to not waiver on location. It also taught us that while we saw a lot of nice homes, there weren't really any that we were seeing that we loved. 

In November, we resigned our lease and with the holidays and our upcoming wedding decided to put house hunting out of our minds until March. Of course, as soon as we did this we saw the first house that we actually really liked and thought had good potential. It was in our desired neighborhood, had been mostly remodeled, had a nice semi-open layout, was on a dead end street that seemed to have a lot of young families and had the unique feature of having a fireplace in the basement. We saw it at a Sunday open house and it was packed with people. We were pretty tempted by it although with the amount of interest in it and our own bad timing, we ultimately decided not to pursue it. Looking back, I am glad it didn't work out as it didn't have enough projects for us. It was pretty much done although not done completely to my liking and it would have been hard to justify spending money to change it. Below are some pictures from the old listing.

After seeing this first house in November, our house hunting was pretty quiet through February. I think we might have even have stopped looking at our daily MLS listing emails. In March, post wedding and with the spring real estate boom approaching we started looking again. For us, the spring real estate market was night and day different from the fall or winter environment. So many more houses went on the market and they were being sold super fast. It was at this point that I started to get a little nervous as I realized just how competitive the market can be. It also made us realize that we needed to get serious about getting our finances in order. So while we continued to look at houses, we also started the process of talking to financial advisors and lenders.

Right at the beginning of April, I traveled to High Point Market and while there I saw a listing that I liked a lot. I immediately called Jeff and he had seen it to and liked it as well. If my memory serves me correctly the listing indicated that they weren't going to start showings until that Tuesday, April 8th so I emailed Allie and asked her to schedule us a lunch time viewing. I am going to save the full break down for another post but to summarize we loved the house and that night we put in what we thought was a very competitive offer. On Wednesday, we found out we didn't get it. This, however, was not the end as we became the back up contract. The whole thing continued for a month and it wasn't until the other buyer officially closed on the house sometime in early May that it was over. 

As we were dealing with/waiting to know about the April house, we pretty much stopped looking. In early May when it was finalized that we didn't get the house, we were left feeling depleted and rather unenthusiastic about our house hunting. With our hearts not in it, we yet again took some time off looking. 

It was probably sometime near the end of June that my interest resumed in the search. We started going to Sunday open houses again but by this point in the game, we were much more particular about what we wanted. The April house was definitely still at the back of our minds but it was starting to fade and we actually were able to talk about the things we didn't like about the house. 

In early July, we got the listing for what would become our future house. We weren't so sure about the location so we sat on it for a few days and I might have driven by it before scheduling a showing. We saw the house on Sunday, July 13th after getting back from my cousin's wedding. We were a little ragged from the weekend but I remember sitting in the driveway waiting for Allie and Jeff turned to me and said "I think we are really going to like this one". I wish I could say it was smooth sailing from there but the next month was by far the hardest part of our search. We did not have an easy closing by any means which I will cover in a future post but we were able to make it work. And on August 25th, 2014 almost exactly a year after our first meeting with Allie, we got our house. 

If you missed the intro or first installment of this series you can check it out here and here

location, neighbors and light

Emily Oster

When we started looking for our first house, I was given the following simple piece of advice and if I had to pass on one tidbit of wisdom this would be it.

You can't change the location, neighbors or light - everything else is up for negotiation - B.F.

Its concise, straightforward and encompasses so much of what, at least for us, was important in finding our first home. We started with location. From the beginning, I was dead set on one neighborhood. Jeff was more flexible and at times pushed to look elsewhere but I dung my heels in and refused to look outside of our target area. My reasons where in part very rational - great resale value, proximity to places we frequented often, walkability to shops and restaurants and a well recognized public school system. But if I am being completely honest, it was more about gut and intuition. I just saw us living in our now neighborhood. Reflecting back on it, I think a large part of my attachment can be attributed to Northern Michigan as our current neighborhood has a very similar feel and architectural character. Or as my Mom put it "this is about as close to Up North as I think you are going to get in Missouri". 

The neighbors criteria is a trickier one and one that we took a bit of a risk on. After the first tour of our house, we pretty much knew we wanted it. But (and there usually is a but) the house to our left, was in a major state of disrepair and seemingly vacant. There was trash and discarded objects in the yard, a ton of fallen bamboo and a house in desperate need of maintenance. In contrast, the house on the right was beautifully maintained and valued significantly higher than what our house was listed at. So before putting in an offer, we had our real estate agent due some digging and found out that the scary neighbor house was the home of an elderly woman. She had recently moved to a retirement home and the house would soon be coming on the market. This was still a risk as it made our future neighbors an unknown. But for us, knowing that the property was in a state of transition and would hopefully sold to someone who would rehab it, was enough to calm our nerves. We also had to compromise in that our house sits on a busier street and Jeff, in particular, was concerned that we wouldn't get the neighborly feel that we so loved in our rental. Again a risk but as it turns out we have some great neighbors who have been extremely welcoming to us. Neighbors and the state of their property can greatly affect not only the value of your house but your experience living in it. Its a criteria that I think often times is overlooked but a really important one as once you purchase your home you really have no control over who/what you are living next to. 

Light really refers to windows and the siting of the house. So even though on the walk through the house felt dark and sort of sad, I knew that with some cleaning and white paint it would be bright and light because of all the windows and glass doors. We also got lucky in that our house is oriented north to south while being staggered from the neighbors. This allows for great morning light on the east side of the house and amazing afternoon light on the west side. While it is easy to say you can add lighting to a dark house, there is just no substitute for good natural lighting. It really makes a house feel warm and welcoming.

Finally the negotiable part of the advice, we were looking for something that needed some renovation. We didn't want a completed home but rather, one we could tailor to our own tastes and needs. This meant that (within reason) we were open to a good project. Project homes, however, are not for everyone. The require a lot of time and patience and you have to be willingly/want to make it a big part of your life. 

Obviously, there was a lot more to our criteria in searching for a home but being able to really distill down what was most important to us was crucial in our home buying experience. So whether its location, neighbors and light or so some other thing that you have to have in a house, I would say stick to it, know when and when not to compromise and above all learn to be patient.