Last Fall, in my first semester of graduate school, I wrote in a reflection assignment for class about how I planned to manage it all. “It all” meaning a full-time job, what feels like more-than-part-time school, and providing some semblance of an adequate life for myself (involving a number of s-words: sustenance, shelter, sleep, social life?). I said a few nice things about maintaining a regular schedule and blogging as a creative outlet. My professor commented, “What a great idea!”
I had a sudden panic attack after J and I made our first offer on an apartment. We had been looking for few weeks and saw an apartment that hit all of our main criteria — two bedrooms, spacious, decent kitchen, amenities (elevator building with laundry), manageable distance from public transportation, and it was in our price range. It even had a friendly doorman and a gym! We went back again during the next week’s open house to check it out and speak some more with the realtor, who was warm, helpful, and made us feel incredibly comfortable. J and I decided to go in without negotiating and offer the asking price. An hour later our offer was accepted and that’s when I panicked.
Sorry for the silence, folks, but I guess the only thing certain in life is that I will never maintain a regular posting schedule. I promise I have more in my series on buying a house, but I’ve flown through my queued posts and now I am writing them as we go and it has been a slow progress.
I haven’t even written about the last two months.
So, your team is assembled, you’ve been pre-approved by the bank, have a decent understanding of the current housing market, and have gone to a number of open houses. What happens when you stumble upon your dream apartment (or at least one that you would be pretty happy to live in for a long time)? You probably want to make an offer quickly, considering this is New York City, the rent is too damn high, and housing is always in demand.
But before you throw all of your money on the table and bare your soul to the sellers, you need to make sure you’ve hammered out the numbers.
One thing I learned during the home buying process was that every single step involves at least two other parties. Because of this, you need to assemble a team that you can trust and like to work with. Think of this part as your Ocean’s Eleven (but not eleven, more like three). You should probably have your team assembled before you go to open houses, but if you’re like J and I and have no idea what you’re doing, then you’re probably doing everything at once — researching, submitting items for pre-approval, going to open houses, asking realtors at open houses if they would recommend getting a realtor (their answers will probably leave you more unsure), and trying to figure out how the hell you’re supposed to find a real estate attorney. Regardless, here are the folks you need to look out for:
Figured I’d give you all a slight break in the posts about homebuying and write more about my home now that I’m actually a homeowner. Sorry, this is all that I talk about now. J and I have been hustling to get as much done on the home before I started grad school (at which point life is pretty much a series of wild cards) so we have quite literally been going hard in the paint (and spackle, and trips to home depot). We had about a month and a half between the time when we got the keys to the place and when I started classes (Thursday, September 3rd)… so every waking moment has pretty much been spent in the maelstrom that is this apartment.
By the time you’ve gotten through all the pre-research and have your commitment letter, you are probably raring to look at some candidates for your future Home Sweet Home. This is the best part of the entire process leading up to home ownership, so enjoy it! This is also probably a good time to get a realtor (if not earlier?), but J and I breezed through that step and jumped heads first into the world of open houses. Looking back, I would possibly recommend getting a real estate agent because if this is your first time, it can be quite confusing to go it alone. Realtors can assist you through the negotiating process when you want to make an offer and many have specific neighborhood knowledge that can benefit you. That said, there are a lot of agents out there so it’s good to find one who understands what you’re looking for — luxury? Pre-War? Fixer-upper? Move-in ready? Find someone in tune with your needs.
As I said, though, J and I just decided to go for it and start looking at places on our own.
There are a number of hoops that you must jump through before you can even begin looking seriously at a home. For J and I, the first obvious one was checking in with my parents and getting their thumbs up. The second and slightly less daunting one was to apply for mortgage pre-approval from a bank.
There are a lot of things J and I discussed before we launched into the house search, mostly the scary what-if scenarios as well as unpacking my fears of “settling down” and what kind of lifestyles we want. But beyond those items, we also had to dive into finances. Everything had to be on the table — IRAs, various stocks and investments, how much we’re holding in savings, checkings, what post-tax income looks like, and how much we were willing to part with. It’s a level of financial intimacy that we hadn’t fully broached before.
Additionally, we needed to be somewhat on the same page in terms of what we were looking for. How many bedrooms did we want? What’s the difference between a condo and coop?
I’ll cut to the chase: WE BOUGHT A HOME!
It’s pretty crazy. It’s all of the wonderful things you associate with owning a home, plus a lot of weird fears and discussions about commitment and scary what-ifs, mixed in with more paperwork and frustrating correspondences than you could ever imagine in a bureaucratic hell-hole (why won’t you just take my money already???). Also, we’re now cash-poor and house-rich. But we did it, and we’re currently getting it move-in ready.
I’m excited to finally start sharing this whole crazy process. It’s something that has more or less been consuming my life for half of the year. I’ve also learned so many things every step of the way. But first, let me say that even getting started on this took a lot of work and soul-searching.