My husband and I waited many years to buy our first home. Shortly after we were married, he joined the Air Force and went to boot camp two months later. We had no idea how much we were going to struggle financially and were shocked to learn that in Washington State, enlisted members are at poverty level. That’s a whole other story, but that time really set us back financially and to add insult to injury, his position wasn’t very useful in the civilian world.
When he got out, we had to start over and with a 7-month-old baby. He got into construction and it took a long time to work his way up. Home ownership always seemed to be just out of reach. I think we both felt like we wouldn’t be successful until we owned a home. We also got pressure from a lot of people to just “bite the bullet” and buy a home. We had the children we longed to have, but in a small space. Fertility is temporary, so we had four children in a two bedroom apartment. It was hard, but we learned a lot from it.
I have a lot of advice when it comes to buying a home.
Know Your Finances and Get Educated
It’s your decision. You know your finances and particular situation. Others don’t.
Thinking we were always on the verge of buying a house, we went to three home buyer seminars and received certificates so we would be eligible for first time home buyer programs through our state (they were good for two years). I expected a lot more from the instructors who were certified to teach the classes, but I heard the same old tired phrases and philosophies. There were some valuable things we learned though about the paperwork, fees, etc.. Meanwhile, we stayed in the same apartment for 12 years (with some other rentals before that).
“Fire your landlord.”
“The only way to be financially successful is to own a home.”
“When you rent, your payment goes up. With a fixed mortgage, your payment never goes up.” I loved being the person who raised my hand and said, “What about property taxes? They go up.” The instructor would stammer, “Well, yeah.” “And that makes your payment go up.” I said. It’s true. We lived here for not even a year when we got a notice that our payment was going up $50. This is one more reason to buy a house that’s less than what you’ve been approved for.
“Here is how renting compares with owning.” Then they show you graphs and charts that shows how you’re literally throwing your money away by renting.
If you’re well off financially and plan on sticking around, then sure. Buy a home.
If you don’t have savings and can’t afford to do repairs, DO NOT BUY A HOME. Do you know how many bank owned homes there are that are in awful shape because the people who bought them didn’t have the money to do the maintenance?
I can’t stress this enough. My husband is very handy, but materials cost money. Despite having a home inspection, we have run into some very expensive issues in a short amount of time.
Get a Great Home Inspector
My first bit of advice if you’re going to buy: Get the best home inspector. You’ll be tempted to go with a cheaper one because you’re already cringing over the amount of money you’re going to spend, but especially if you’re buying an older home, get the best and get referrals instead of using your realtor’s favorite guy. If we knew everything, we would have negotiated more after the inspection. There were some things we didn’t mind fixing – small issues my husband could do, but these are just some of the things that happened within 6 months of moving in. We had a pretty healthy savings account and if it weren’t for that, we would be in big trouble.
On moving day, our fence gate fell over. Not a huge deal, but not something we could ignore for a long time.
Within a month, two toilets had to be replaced. There was a crack in a bowl and another crack in a tank. Those aren’t cheap.
The dishonest seller who included the appliances didn’t tell us about the washer having issues. I found a bizarre work around, but then a couple months later, the dryer broke. I think those were Frigidaires. We now hate that brand. We ended up buying a new set.
Our hardwood floors we thought maybe we could refinish? Our neighbor let us know that he was there when they were installed. We’re on a concrete slab and you’re supposed to use a vapor barrier for moisture, otherwise the wood warps. He didn’t use one. Sure enough, we had a leak from the dishwasher supply line, which ran under the hardwood, and we had to rip it up. No vapor barrier. We’re not going to replace that section when it wasn’t laid down properly in the first place. We’ll have to figure out how to replace all of the flooring downstairs. The stairs and upstairs wood are in great condition.
The previous owner added some beautiful molding. But the bathroom drawer hits it and you can’t remove the drawer. Whoops. Let this be a lesson to test drive a house like you would a car.
Our kitchen layout is interesting. The freezer door hit the wall and the only way to take the racks out to clean them was to pull the fridge out. Then when Summer came, it started acting up because the compressor couldn’t keep up with the heat wave we were in. We had to defrost the back repeatedly with a hair dryer and had to throw out food repeatedly because we would awake to find it hadn’t been cooling properly all night long. It was a Frigidaire, by the way.
We couldn’t tell until it was too late that Mr. DIY who sucks at DIY had cut the counter space too large for the sink. There was a gap that wasn’t very visible and the area started to swell when water splashed back there.
The bathroom fan had to be replaced, towel racks already fell in our kids’ bathroom along with their cupboard door, and their bathroom fan now needs to be fixed.
We replaced a ceiling fan because it had no blades. We don’t remember this when looking at the place, but the previous owner claims it was already like that. Hmm. They also didn’t patch up the hole in the closet from where there was obviously a leak at some point.
Screws from the garage door started popping off. Luckily we noticed soon enough and my husband fixed it. He also had to add weather stripping to prevent rodents from coming in.
But the worst of all: As soon as we had our first rain, there was a slow drip right above our doorway. Thankfully it’s outside, but it’s an expensive issue that needs to be addressed. So much for our inspector’s claim that the roof should be good for maybe 15 years.
Another neighbor told us the previous owner added the second layer of shingles himself. If you knew a guy who duct taped a kitchen drawer was messing with your roof, wouldn’t you feel a little terrified?
Beyond the 6 month mark we had a leaky kitchen faucet, leaky bathroom faucet, and just this past weekend, the dishwasher ruining the hardwood floor fiasco.
Get the Best Realtor
When we took another stab at searching after years of trying off and on, we had a terrible realtor. The one we ended up using wasn’t the greatest either (I think), but was way more patient about finding a place, especially in such a horrible market. There was hardly anything for sale at the time, so even if we had known all of our house’s issues, we probably would have ended up with it anyway. We absolutely had to move.
Don’t use someone who is a friend unless you absolutely know they are the greatest. Otherwise it’s awkward and you find yourself adding their number to your list on your phone just so you know it’s them so you won’t have to have a conversation with them. Not that I did that ……
It’s not your realtor’s job to tell you which house is the perfect one for you. That’s your job. Let me tell you more about the experience we had.
We were already at the house and the kids were with my parents when we got a call from him. “Hey, I had a really hectic day. Is it OK if we do 8 instead of 7?” It was 7! We let him choose the time! We waited the hour since we were already there. So unprofessional.
When he finally arrived, he asked, “Have you guys prayed about this?” Not professional and none of your business. You’re not clergy. You’re a realtor.
The house he showed us was at the top of our price limit, but we thought maybe we could talk it down. There was condensation in the windows, old appliances, peeling paint by the skylights, no fence around the yard, and quite a few other issues that weren’t going to work for us. We thought we were communicating that we needed to continue our search, but what he heard was, “We change our mind. We don’t want to buy a house.” He insisted, “Oh, you guys. This is the perfect place for you!” No, it wasn’t. At all. The only way we would buy that place was for less money. He got his phone out and said disappointedly, “Aw, you guys. The price is firm.” Really? How do you know unless you make an offer? Months later and I looked it up and the house sold for less! Terrible, terrible realtor.
We asked to see another house and he said it was bank owned, so no point in seeing it. Later that night, he put us on a three way call with the broker he likes to use and they both pressured us to buy the house for about the next hour. The broker even sent us a video showing us the pros and cons of buying a house vs. not buying. He also never told us what our interest rate was. It was bizarre. I was positively livid though when he brought up something in the video he made for us that I only told our realtor about. “With your mom being sick, just think about how much you would spend in gas if you didn’t live by her and she had a health crisis.” Their tag teaming was absolutely disgusting.
When I said I wasn’t going to buy that particular house, the realtor said, “But didn’t you say your son is embarrassed about living in an apartment?” This guy wants to show one house and get lots of money quick. Don’t hire anyone like this. Do lots of research before you settle on a realtor. And no, I didn’t say my son was “embarrassed”. I said he wanted his own room. We weren’t going to make a financial decision that would leave our family worse off.
Make Sure Everything is Handled Before Closing
This is where our realtor we did use failed. We had a bunch of things that were supposed to be done and she should have taken a trip over to make sure it was. There was some confusion over several things that were being handled and the sellers insisted the duct cleaning was the same thing as having the furnace serviced. After the fact, we had to push the issue and our realtor made sure it was done after a lot of back and forth. I finally showed the two contracts that said both were to be handled. One was a condition of making the offer. Another was a condition we requested after inspection. I liked her for the most part though and I appreciated how she would point out flaws in the houses instead of trying to convince us to buy the place.
Where you live doesn’t define you. Make the best of where you live and make the decisions you can afford. If you had told me all of the things that would go wrong with our house in one year, I would have laughed in disbelief. But it’s definitely not funny and I’m glad we’ve had the ability to hang on so far. Ignore the gimmicky messages about firing your landlord and other things. Your landlord (if it’s a good one) can save you a lot of stress as you work your way towards home ownership.
Now I want to ask realtors and buyers: What should you expect from a great realtor and what is asking too much?