Becoming First-Time Homeowners

Ah, the freedom of ownership. You can do whatever you want in your own house, within reason of course, and it’s a great place to build a future together… Except, no one tells you just how taxing it can be on a relationship. This is our experience.

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The keys to our home!

I called my former boss and one of my best friends, a realtor, to see what she thought about taking us on as clients. Of course she was elated, she advised us to get pre-approved before even looking at houses. Tip: Don’t get your heart set on a $400k house when realistically your budget is about half that. Get pre-approved and then go house hunting.

We figured out roughly which neighborhood we’d like to live in – Would it be close to a grocery store? How far were we willing to commute to work? Where was the nearest hospital and fire station? What was the crime rate? Etc. After meeting with a loan officer and getting pre-approved to buy within a certain price range, I called my friend and she took us out to see some houses!

We saw about four houses before we got hit with a snow storm. Tip: The best time to buy a house is during the winter months. Holidays and weather begin to slow business down and sellers who are eager to sell will most likely agree to negotiate price. During the storm I was browsing zillow when I came across a newly renovated split-level with new gray siding and black shutters but it was at the very top of our price range.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThe house for sale

It took days before we could see the house because of the snow – I was convinced that someone else would put an offer in. As we pulled up for the first time and walked into the house I knew this was our house.

I’d say the absolute worst part of that time was when our offer was accepted, because the day after we signed the contract I got laid off. My husband struggled to keep us afloat while I struggled to find decent work with no formal college education. There were many screaming matches and slammed doors in our little 700 sq ft. apartment for months. Lots of times we went to bed angry, woke up angry and left for work angry  – the added stress of such a large financial investment on top of paying our regular bills became suffocating. I worked temp jobs here and there to make ends meet. Tip: Try to have at least a couple thousand tucked away for down payment before even looking into buying. FHA loans require a down payment of at least 3.5%. Depending on your credit history, the minimum down payment could be more. Example: 3.5% of $200,000 is $7,000. 

Getting the house inspected cost a couple hundred dollars, the earnest deposit was a couple hundred, the down payment was a few thousand, contract fees and closing fees began to add up… the list seemed to go on and on. It was easy to lose sight of the long term goal and sometimes we wanted to just call it quits.

To make matters worse, I had no credit. I fortunately have very conscientious parents who vehemently discouraged me from owning a credit card for good reason – I’m poor at managing my money. Having no credit card was good because I had no debt, but having zero credit meant I didn’t qualify for the loan. On top of all that, I now had no stable income and it put a huge wedge between us. He felt that he was making this huge financial decision on his own (technically he was because he was the only one who qualified for the loan) and I felt endlessly guilty that I ever wanted the house to begin with.

It was our amazing friend and realtor who kept us going. She negotiated the price down to a steal, negotiated the terms of closing and had the seller make all necessary repairs before we ever had a chance to worry about it all. We were very lucky to have someone who genuinely cared about finding us the right home for the right price.

In the end we scraped, scrounged, begged and borrowed, but we made it all happen. I say we because even though tensions were high we still leaned on each other. I say we because without our family and friends we wouldn’t have our house. Sure, there were times I had to encourage him to put one foot in front of the other and times when he held me while I had emotional breakdowns over losing my job – but by the grace of God we made it through.

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Our friends who helped us move in

Of course just buying the house wasn’t the end of our financial struggles. We had to furnish it, establish the utilities and buy some appliances as well as warranties and insurance. Our friends and families were a huge support, they packed our apartment up into a Uhaul and lugged it into our house piece by piece and helped us unpack.

img_1798-1Leaking water heater

We discovered within the first 48 hours that the water heater had a leak in it. Before we even unpacked our underwear we were buying a new hot water heater for roughly $700 and replaced it with the help of a couple buddies who “knew how to do it” (See: Understanding the male ego). Shortly after that the circuit board on our new stove blew and the fridge was assembled incorrectly compliments of some Sears delivery boys.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetA good old Maryland Crab Feast on our screened porch

Some of the best parts of being a homeowner are decorating, having parties and making the house our own. I will reiterate that you’ve got to be willing to make sacrifices and put effort into all the chores you hated doing when you were younger. We have to maintain our yard, pull weeds, water plants as well as the indoor duties. We had the kitchen redone last year and we have plans to do the bathroom next, it’s going to be expensive but we’re willing to get our hands dirty – I foresee lot’s of painting in our near future.

Processed with VSCO with hb1 presetHe’d love you to think he can cook all by himself

Our pets are happy to have more space – the dog has a fenced yard and the cat has plenty of places to stretch out for a nap. In our apartment the cat and dog used to get restless and snip at each other but with enough space and outdoor time, they’re best friends. We have two spare bedrooms and our guests are always welcome to crash for the night or even a weekend.

Processed with VSCO with hb1 presetThe only place they want to be is right on top of us.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetOne happy cat

A year later, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. We grew stronger as a team and I gained some valuable life skills (I now know my way around a few power tools). I’m happy to say we’ve lived in our house for over a year with no incidents and we get closer as a couple every day. We’ve come a long way in such a short period of time, I’m able to say I’m proud of us. Planning our wedding was a piece of cake compared to the stress of home-buying. We made advances in our careers and worked hard to get pay raises because we understand we have a mortgage to pay – it motivates us to do better for ourselves and each other. Also, I miraculously established a credit score in the high 700s because I realized how important credit really is – the good absolutely outweighes the bad.

img_1792Our first Christmas in the house

img_1789Our first Halloween in the house

Investing in a home is scary and if you’re in a rocky relationship the very last thing you should want to do is sign a legally-binding 30-year contract with them. You’ve got to have each other’s backs and know when to ask for help. It’s ok to tell your realtor you don’t understand the legal language, it’s ok to tell your loan officer that you don’t want to be house-poor, it’s ok to tell your friends that you’re broke until your contract is finalized and it’s definitely ok to ask the other person for space to process things on your own.

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If you have any questions about homebuying or want to share your experience I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading,

Until next time

You can contact my Realtor HERE

You can contact my Lending Company HERE

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