How I survived buying my first house
by Garrett Fujiwara
Buying your first home can be both an exhilarating and a nerve-wracking experience. I know. I bought my first home last summer.
It seemed like the right thing to do. My wife, baby and I had returned to Washington state after living in Rwanda for the past couple of years. We had full time jobs, interest rates were still low and the lease on our not-that-cheap apartment was about to end. We figured we’d be better off building equity in our own home.
So we picked a realtor and climbed aboard a bumper car. What a ride!
Immediately, our realtor sent us links to listings. Upon clicking a link, my wife Rachael (immediately) fell in love with a house that had been on the market for four days. Charged with adrenaline and high hopes, Rachael rushed out the next morning to see the house, and when she toured it, declared it the home of her dreams. Unfortunately, it turned out that 14 other people shared the same dream. That night, while we were still nervously contemplating making an offer, our realtor called with the bad news. The seller had accepted one of 14 offers, many of them over the list price.
What? After only four days on the market? We were stunned.
We learned our first hard lesson. You’ve gotta be quick. And you’ve gotta be ready to make an offer. Apparently this real estate market was hotter than hot.
We shook off our discouragement and set about pursuing a home with a vengeance, vetting mortgage lenders, getting ourselves pre-approved for a loan and looking, looking, looking at homes. Lots of homes. We were prepared to make a deal. But no matter how many homes we saw, we couldn’t seem to find one we liked. (Goldilocks — we understand!) They were either too small (boom!), too expensive (boom!), didn’t have a yard (boom!) or were in a sketchy neighborhood (boom, boom!). (See where I’m going with the bumper car analogy?) Everywhere we turned, we hit a roadblock.
It didn’t seem like we were asking for the moon. Here we were, a fully employed couple with one kid and good credit and yet we couldn’t find a decent home within our budget. Just to be clear, at some points, the housing market and I weren’t friends.
And yet, through all of our fruitless looking we were developing a pretty good sense of the market — what kind of homes were available and at what price. We also were learning what was most important to us — what we could live with and what we couldn’t.
The next few weeks found us expanding our search to include distant neighborhoods and fixer-uppers. Finally, we made what we thought was a pretty strong offer on a house. We had it pre-inspected (thereby waiving the post-offer inspection contingency), offered an escalation clause (up to 4.2% over the list price) and free rent-back for a month for the current owners who were still living in the house. A good deal, right? Not so much. We were beaten out by an offer that was 10% over list price.
Our bumper car was now in the ditch. Still, while we were disappointed, we were also secretly relieved. Our not-so-strong-after-all offer was at the very top of our budget and would have stretched us pretty thin.
Despite all the roadblocks, we did manage to buy a house. And at only 5.5% above the list price. (By this time we felt this was a rocking deal!) It’s an updated (important to Rachael) 1935 rambler with a big yard in a quiet neighborhood, well off the beaten path, but still not too far from the freeways that take us to and from work. Right outside our door, our son, Beau, can safely explore the great outdoors to his heart’s content. Most weekends will find Rachael and me sipping coffee in our kitchen nook and looking out the window at Beau, as he runs his Tonka trucks across the grass.
Life is good in our new-old-but-just-right-for-us home.
Here is a link to a brief introductory article that I found helpful when we began our home buying adventure. The most important thing to remember is this. Know what you want and what you can afford.
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