Adventures in Buying a Home

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My House as it looked on the Realtor’s listing, Don’t worry…I got rid of the random make-shift hand rail.

This one is going to be long-winded, so bear with me!

When I think back to the journey I took when buying my first home, I always seem to start at the same place. My house. Not the house I bought and live in currently, but the first and only house I ever lived in until I was 22 years old. Yes, I was one of those kids who was brought home from the hospital and basically lived in the same house for their entire life. Our house was nothing special, but it was mine. That’s the house where I had my first…everything.  (And did I mention we had an in-ground swimming pool?) Throughout the years my parents would decide…without me…that they wanted to start looking into buying a new house and moving. These decisions were always met with so much anxiety and many tears from their only precious child that they always gave up. It was just never something that I ever wanted to think about doing.

Then, a few years after I had graduated high school my parents decided they wanted to start looking again, and by this time I had no choice but to go along with it. We even found a house that seemed to satisfy all of us, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. My parents were outbid.

It was then that they started kicking around the idea of building a house. At first I was open to the idea, but then after they secured land to build on, I had an abrupt change of heart.  Growing up, we had always lived about 20 minutes away from my grandmother, and the land my parents built the house they now live in, was literally a stone’s throw away from her. The area where they now reside is very rural, whereas I was used to living in a very busy suburb. There was no way I wanted to move away from my township that I loved so much, because I knew that would mean little to no visits with my friends. When you live 5 minutes away from someone it’s easy to make time in your busy lives, but when you move into a different county all together, it’s a little more difficult.

So, the decision was made to build the house, and we lived in our old home while the new one was being built. Meanwhile, we had our house…my house…up for sale.

When the new house was in the final stages of being built, our house hadn’t sold yet and it was clear that it wasn’t going to anytime soon. That’s when I had the stroke of genius to talk my parents into letting me stay in the house until it sold. The one condition, I had to find roommates and we had to pay rent. I talked it over with one of my best friends, and it was decided that she and her boyfriend at the time would move in with me, and everything would be super awesome. And it was, for 6 months… until someone bought my house.

Me as a toddler sitting on the front porch of "My House"

Me as a toddler sitting on the front porch of “My House”

I felt like the world was playing a cruel joke on me. Moving from the only house I’d ever known at 22 years old was very traumatizing for me. I then decided, rather than move in with my parents and be so far away from everything that I loved, that it was a better idea to find an apartment in the same area. I found the apartment of my dreams, and everything was copacetic…for about a month. That’s when I found out I was pregnant with my son.

A few months after receiving the news that I was going to be a first time mommy, I moved into my parent’s new house to save money during my pregnancy, and this is where our story really begins.

Quinn and I had been living with my parents for about a year when I started to get the itch to buy a house. As a young mother in her 20’s, I was starting to feel smothered. While my parents have no problem forever thinking of me as their child, I was not so thrilled at the idea of feeling like I was back in high school as I was trying to raise a child of my own.

At the time, one of my co-workers was also in a transition period where she and her fiancé were stuck living at her parents’ house. As I saw her start the process of looking for, and eventually buying a house, I had the realization that this was actually something I could accomplish.

I called the same loan company (Quicken Loans) that my coworker did, and I got the process started.

The fact is, I am young. I bought my first house at 24 years old, completely on my own, as a single mother. Of course there are going to be things you aren’t going to be prepared for, and I definitely wasn’t. With that said, her e  is a list of some things that young, first time home buyers should know when looking for the perfect house.

1. Credit. Credit. Credit.

Everyone knows that you aren’t going to get far very if you don’t have a good credit score. Thankfully, since my college career ended before it began, I didn’t have many student loans, and they were all paid off rather fast. That and the fact that I’ve never been late on a payment for anything in my life, have resulted in me having an excellent credit score. My lenders were practically throwing themselves at me. Do whatever you can to try to improve your credit score, and things should go much smoother.

2.  Loan Approval and Mortgage Payments

Before you even start looking at houses, get a pre-approval. This will give you a guideline to follow when you start out. It also helps to give you an idea of what your mortgage payments will be like, so you don’t get in over your head. Also, be aware of the different types of loans. If you are a low-income individual there are FHA loans available to help you. They have lower interest rates, but also higher standards when it comes to home inspections, etc.

3.  Realtor

One of the most important parts of your search is to find a realtor that you love. You are going to be having almost constant contact with this person, so you need to make sure that you’re comfortable with them. The more comfortable you are with your realtor, the better they will be at finding your perfect home. When I first started out, I didn’t have a realtor, so Quicken Loans set me up with a local realtor (a husband and wife team) that was affiliated with their company. It’s sad for me to say, but we just didn’t have the right chemistry. I decided that it wasn’t working out, so my mom set me up with the realtor who sold our old home, who just happens to be a cousin of hers. The great thing about Kathy was that she knew our old house so well, and knew exactly what I was looking for, and what area I wanted to be in. She is one of the nicest, and most fun people to work with, and I have nothing but good things to say about her. I highly recommend her if you’re looking to buy or sell a home in the Youngstown area. Her name is Kathy Carroll and she works for Northwood Realty. You can find her contact info here.

4. Utilities

VERY IMPORTANT! If you find a home that you LOVE, call around and get estimates on your utilities. It will save you time in the end to find out that you can afford the house, but you can’t afford to heat it. Or bathe.

5.  Amenities

One of the downsides to my perfect home was the fact that the previous owners had striped every appliance out of the place when they left. (They were foreclosed on, and apparently sought vengeance by taking everything they could, including light fixtures and window screens. Way to stick it to the man!) If you end up in this situation, make sure to price your appliances before you go through with the sale. Prices add up, and that could make the difference whether you can afford the house or not. (I recommend Sears. Their Kenmore brand is great quality, and reasonably priced.)

6. Repairs

When you view a home, take a notepad with you and jot down any noticeable repairs that you may have to do in the future. I bought my house using an FHA loan, and they have more strict policies on home repairs and safety. For instance, when my bid was accepted on my house, an FHA inspector came to look at it and determined that I needed to paint the garage, which was cracked and peeling, and add a railing to the back deck. If I hadn’t done these things, they wouldn’t have let my loan go through.  There are some homes that the repairs greatly outweigh the cost of the home, and should be taken into consideration. Not to mention the fact that your lender will require all the purchasing information for anything that you do to the home, as well as the fact that if it’s still not up to their standards, you can be out a lot of money for a house that you aren’t going to be living in. Be careful what you get yourself into. 

7. Lenders and You, wave goodbye to your privacy!

Be prepared for the onslaught of daily phone calls from your lender. Also, have your finances in order. While going through the loan process, I had to send W2’s, bank statements, paystubs, etc. to the office what seemed like every day. I’m surprised they didn’t ask for my first-born child. The endless calls questioning every single dollar in my possession, and where they came from was astonishing, and almost maddening. I had multiple conversations with my friend who was going through this at the same time about how we broke down crying after getting off the phone with these people.

8.  Neighborhood

Almost any website that you go to about buying a house for the first time will tell you to scout out the neighborhood of any home that you are going to seriously pursue. They all tell you to go at different times during the day to get a feel for things. What they don’t tell you is to stick around for a few hours, especially when you have neighbors in very close proximity. For instance, since I didn’t move into my house until last October, I only recently found out that my next door neighbor likes to cut his grass 3x a week. At exactly the same time my son takes a nap. Would this have been a reason for me to not go through with buying my house? Absolutely not. I actually got really lucky with my neighbors. Most of the people on my street are either elderly, or very quiet, and all of them I have met so far are very nice. I even live across the street from a high school classmate of mine, and her mother who used to be my manager at a previous job (which comes in handy when I lock myself out of the house!) So stick around for a while, meet the neighbors and see if they’ll be a good fit for you.

9. Sometimes you just have to walk away

My last piece of home buying wisdom is this; never fall so in love with a house that you set yourself up for disappointment. Also don’t make up your mind as to what exact kind of house you want. You have to always think that there is a good possibility that you won’t end up with the one you want, or the home that you end up with may be completely different from what you were originally looking for. I’ve had experiences with both while I was with my first realtors, which was a big reason why I made the decision to switch. The first home I ever bid on was about $10k more than I was approved for. The home wasn’t even on the market at the time, but the realtor I was with knew the person who was renovating it. I loved the house, it was exactly what I wanted, and I bid as much as I was able. My realtor assured me that there was no way the seller would turn down my offer. He couldn’t have been more wrong. The seller turned down my bid, and informed us that there was no way he was taking less than full asking price.  Needless to say, I was crushed. Moving on from that, I found another home a little further away from the primary neighborhood I was looking in. The house was exactly what I wanted, a beautiful 2 story Tudor being sold because the elderly woman who lived there moved to a nursing home. It was in a decent, but somewhat declining neighborhood where my son would have had to go to inner-city schools when the time came. A big thing to think about is resale value of the home you’re buying. Had I bought this property, the neighborhood might have been nice enough for us at the time, but by the time I’d ever be ready to sell, the value would have been pretty terrible. In the end, I found a cute little Cape Cod that was newly remodeled and will make a perfect first home for me and my baby.

Satellite image of my new home

Satellite image of my new home

Buying your first home is the most rewarding experience you can have, although it’s probably also the most stressful. Just keep some of these things in mind when you go into it and you should have smooth sailing.

 To do this at such a young age, I can’t thank my parents, family, friends and co-workers enough for everything they did to help me.  I truly am very lucky.