As we inch closer to our closing date (which has been pushed back twice – ugh!) I find myself so relieved that we are through with the house hunting process. Of course, at first it was SO much fun. But eventually, after weeks of searching and having offers rejected, the process starts to wear you down.
The home David and I are currently in the process of closing on is a HUD, government owned, foreclosure which meant that we had to win an online, blind auction. It was encouraging to know that we weren’t bidding against investors (house flippers, who often pay lower in all cash). For more info on HUD foreclosures check out their website here, they have some awesome deals if you’re prepared for a fixer-upper!
Through the house hunting process, David and I did a really great job (especially for first time buyers) in finding exactly what we want and staying in budget. Here’s what we learned during our first time house hunting!
Before anything else, make a budget and stick to it.
Living in an apartment isn’t cheap. However we were really pleasantly surprised to find that the estimated mortgage for a home in North Carolina (much larger than our apartment) will be cheaper than our rent. David and I see home ownership as an investment and a way to save some money in the long run.
To decide on on our home budget we did the following:
- We took our monthly budget (something we made in our first month of marriage – highly recommend!) and worked backwards to find a happy place of where we would feel comfortable having our monthly mortgage/insurance/home cost payments.
- We made sure we could afford the essentials (food, utilities, and home payments) on only one of our salaries using this estimated number. If something were to happen to one of our jobs, David and I want to be sure that we’ve set ourselves up with plenty of margin.
And while we’re chatting about budgets, a quick word of caution: don’t let the loan people trick you in to a bigger budget than what you made using the points above! Assuming your credit is good, the mortgage company will most likely tell you that you qualify for some gigantic loan… which may sound fun at first, but what newlywed couple with just a cat needs a mansion?
Be realistic about wants versus needs.
After establishing our price range, David and I made an account on Zillow and saved home listings that caught our eye. From there, we sat down and typed out a list together of our home needs (absolutely has to have it) and wants (would be nice, but can live without or add later).
On our needs list: three bedrooms (and/or an office) since I work from home, a fireplace (my thing), a garage (David’s thing), decent sized kitchen, lots of windows, and needs some fixing up.
On our wants list: two stories, some charm, plenty of room in the backyard for a deck and garden, a spacious master bath, and a front porch.
We knew that our wants/needs were pushing the edges of our budget so we told our real estate agent, Ramilya Siegel (who is AMAZING by the way), that we were very interested in foreclosed homes. Foreclosures are typically priced well below their value because the bank wants to quickly get rid of them, and they need a good bit of work. This was perfect for me because I don’t like what most sellers choose when fixing up their homes (ex: countertop stone color) and would rather design it myself.
Don’t let yourself get emotionally invested.
This was basically my mantra every time we went and looked at houses. It sounds so silly, but I can see the possible transformation with every house, and I knew it would be too easy to forget our budget if I let emotions get in the way. Having a list of what you need in a house, as well as your budget, printed out and in-hand is a really great way to stay focused. Just remember: there are TONS of houses for sale, so yours is out there somewhere!
Find a good real estate agent.
Having Ramilya help us through the house hunting process has been the best decision we made! In a nutshell, here’s why you should work with a (highly rated) real estate agent:
- They’re knowledgeable in the area so they can answer questions like ‘what’s the neighborhood like?’ and ‘will resale be easy?’
- They can help you find homes more quickly than searching on your own. Ramilya subscribed me to an email newsletter that notified me whenever a new home available within our search criteria. I found out that our home was on the market the day it was listed, and we had our bid submitted the next day!
- If you’re interested in a HUD foreclosure, your agent will have to place the offer for you AND they have to have a specific license to do so.
- They can give great remodel advice. Ramilya has been a great sounding board for our remodeling ideas. She’s had really helpful insight on what would be worth our money in resale (all the kitchen things), and what could potentially make resale harder (removing the tub in the master bath).
- Ramilya was honest with us throughout the whole process and made it so much more stress-free knowing we have her on our side!
Take photos of each home.
If you’re looking at lots of homes it will get really confusing, really quickly. Take photos of each home and then sort them into folders (I use Dropbox) so they stay organized. I also used the album sharing feature on my iPhone to share the photos with friends and family. It was a seamless way to involve them in the process!
Finding the perfect home takes time. By not rushing the process you’ll make sure that you stay within your budget and requirements – and will be super grateful in the long run!!
Home owners, I’d love to hear from y’all! Do you have any lessons you learned in house hunting?