This post has been long over due since we have about 3 months that we moved into our new home, however I feel the need to share all of the juicy details in case this may help anyone that is on a similar journey.
My husband Juan and I planned to buy our first home together immediately after our elopement wedding in 2016 (you can read more about our wedding here). We'd both started saving and had grown our accounts to a healthy budget for a down payment on a home. At the time we lived in a 1 bedroom apartment in The Bronx and between the sketchy neighborhood and the lack of parking availability we were anxious to begin the home search process and find our home away from it all.
We began our search on Zillow, which lead us to Trulia and then Realtor. Very quickly we became familiar with the apps and the info that was provided; the home price, purchase history, taxes, number of bathrooms, nearby schools, etc. We were referred to a real estate brokerage by a friend of a friend, and when we called we were assigned our agent. She was very nice but also very inexperienced in the field. Word of advice- make sure you that find a vetted and experienced agent, it will save you so much time (and gas). Our agent showed us what seemed to be like a hundred houses before we placed our first offer. Our offer was accepted and we quickly scheduled inspection;
If you are not familiar with the process- inspection is done to ensure that the house is in order and that everything is working just as listed. In today's market a lot more buyers are choosing to opt-out of inspection (and many times even appraisal), in order to make their offers more appealing to sellers.
Anyway, I digress. We went to the inspection appointment and quickly learned from a very skilled inspector that we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. The house needed work and had a lot of its utility equipment at the end of its lifespan- meaning in a very short time we would probably have to spend (a lot) more money to fix that. We backed out of the deal and felt confused, upset and extremely discouraged. Although we continued our search it became overwhelming to spend endless weekends looking at strangers homes and not having any of them feel like our home.
Then we found a great townhouse in Carmel, NY. It was the right space, price and taxes were not too bad. It was move-in ready and felt perfect for us. Again, we placed the offer, paid the whopping $600 inspection and even hired a lawyer to look over our contracts. This felt very real: we were finally going to move away from the city and buy a place of our own. Everything was going well, until we started having doubts about the commute. We both worked in the city and our commute would be quite long if we moved to Carmel; what would happen if it snowed? what if we got sick and our family was so far away? The rabbit hole went on and on. We didn't realize this at the time but we were placing obstacles in our own path by overanalyzing all of the negative scenarios.
~Once you are ready to take a step forward in your life take the leap and the universe will follow~
We backed out once again and were so incredibly discouraged that we took a long break from looking at houses all together. Several months later we found another agent, this time more experienced and she was very helpful in narrowing down our search.
Our Wake Up Call
The most important part of the home search is to narrow down where you see yourself living.
The reason why we weren't getting the homey feel from our search was mostly because we didn't really visualize ourselves living in those towns. Our search was too broad. We were looking at a house in New Jersey one day, upstate NY the next and then Long Island the following week. We were creating even more confusion for ourselves and comparing locations that were not comparable.
2 years after we began our search we visited my father in Connecticut and we were enamored by his place, his neighbors and quite frankly the entire town vibe. We decided to start our search in Connecticut.
Now I must also mention that in real time the housing market was on its way up, I mean the same houses that we had accepted offers for before were now going for 100k more than they were at the time we first saw them. This created a lot of pressure for us to find a house before we can no longer afford one. Please also note that in the middle of this story I: moved to Yonkers, NY, leased a new car, got pregnant and had my beautiful boy Greyson. We were new parents and wanted more than ever to have a house with space for our little boy to run freely in (isn't that every parents dream?). But once again our negative thoughts and overwhelming fear of what-could-go-wrong scenarios were clouding our judgment.
We went on to place more than 25 offers and got 5 total offers accepted overall. Why such a low number of approval you may ask? Well, the market was becoming more competitive before our eyes. Our initial budget of 200k had to grow to 300k in order to adjust to the rise in real estate prices and still be able check items on our house wishlist. What we did not realize at the time is that the lower the interest rates, the higher the house price goes, so it really isn't making much of a difference in our mortgage payments. It wasn't until my health deteriorated and I was in my darkest postpartum depression, when we decided that we needed to make a change. Waiting and searching, doubting and worrying, none of it was changing our current reality. So we made the decision to continue to rent and move to Connecticut instead.
This was by far our best decision.
The Real Search
When we signed the lease to our (2 bedroom, 2 bath,) luxury apartment, we immediately felt a sense of relief. We weren't chasing houses desperately anymore and we were no longer driving for hours and missing out on our weekends looking at houses that didn't fit our needs. Now we were able to scout the areas and handpick the exact neighborhoods that we loved most. We continued our search, this time making numerous offers and being outbid every time. But we were not discouraged since we understood the market rise and were not desperate to move right away. Our budget increased to 450k in order to check off the items on our wish-list and still land on our preferred locations. We knew that we wanted a 3 bedroom, 2 bath colonial style home, with a spacious yard and usable basement space and we were able to disregard the houses that did not fit our description (prior to seeing them).
On the day that our agent scheduled the tour of our now new home, I almost did not want to take the drive. It was a beautiful spring day and I didn't see anything special in the photos (which looked very dated), but I went to see it anyway. We would normally do a walk-through and would then go home to discuss and talk about what offer seemed reasonable. But this time, I walked in and I felt like this was home (sounds cheesy I know!).
I walked through the space and immediately saw the potential. Then I saw my son going up the stairs and I knew that he was also very comfortable to be here. By the time we rallied up in the backyard to speak to our agent, I was ready to place an immediate offer for listing price. My husband and the agent were stunned. You see, I had seen enough houses and neighborhoods to know that this was a good opportunity right away. This house is located in the north end of our town, close to the shopping areas, schools, and metro north. Plus it was really hard to find a colonial house with a nice size master bedroom, actually it's really hard to find a colonial house in general (at least in this part of Connecticut). I knew it needed work since it was dated and did not have a finished basement but I knew with some love it could be a dreamy place. My inner Joanna Gaines had kicked in and I was ready to turn this old house into my dream home.
Home at Last
The next day I drafted a letter to send to the seller (our agent sent it to the sellers agent) giving more details about who we were and why we loved the house. I read somewhere that this helped sellers decide when they have numerous offers around the same price point (so can't hurt to write one). Within a week we had the accepted offer and promptly scheduled inspection. The home was in good condition, except for that it was very dated and did not have a central system, and we knew we'd have to spend money upfront to make it livable to our standards (sounds bougie but you try sleeping in the summertime with just a fan). We weighed in the pros and cons and decided that this would be the home for us.
We started the mortgage process with numerous brokerages in the past (both private and commercial banks). We did this prematurely of course, however, it did teach us a thing or two about the fees involved; interest rates, closing costs, taxes, and even inflated broker fees. In our experience we learned that small mortgage lenders typically offered higher interest rates and higher fees than the large banks. We also saw that the large banks were not very responsive although they offered great rates. A friend of a friend told us about Better.com which is an online based lender and we were initially very skeptical. Then we did our research and found that it was top rated and had excellent reviews. We called Better Mortgage on a Friday night to inquire and were surprised at how responsive they were, and how user friendly their site was. This was the sequence of events that followed; the house passed inspection(week 1), the house appraised(week 2), bank approved our loan (week 3) and we closed on our house within 30 days! We could not believe how fast and easy this process was!
Someone once told me, "when you find your house you'll just know and everything will work out exactly like it's supposed to".
On the day we signed for the house we felt all the emotions- happy, excited, scared, you name it. We walked in, signed a book of documents and got handed the keys to our first home! We celebrated over dinner and I immediately began to plan our renovation projects. We did it! We finally bought our first house! It all became very real once we started demo on the kitchen and it has been a huge learning curve for us to find the appropriate contractors to make our vision come to life.
Today, we are living in our beautiful home that features: re-finished hardwood floors, open-concept kitchen & living space, fully updated kitchen, and the latest central/ water heating system in the market. Our home has character and it's the perfect space for our family. This is our happy place! I love being able to select all of the details to my liking and I'm excited to continue renovating our home (I'll share in a separate post specific details about our completed projects). Although it was a long journey the reward makes up for it all.
Lesson I learned from this: If you're thinking of buying a house then you should go for a house that speaks to you. The commitment is hard, especially for a first-time-home-buyer, but if you operate based on fear then you'll never make up your mind. You need to dive in with a positive perspective and who knows, you may end up learning a lot about yourself in the process.
Hope this is helpful to you, if you have any questions or wish to know more details; please leave them in the comments below!