This post has been sponsored by SunTrust Bank as part of their “Live For A Sunny Day” campaign, where they encourage people to save for the happy times in life. Earlier this month, we wrote about how Lynne planned for her wedding, and how saving and actually having some sort of plan really helped make it an amazing day. Today, Lynne shares her home-buying experience, what worked for she and her husband, and what she would maybe do differently.
When my husband and I got married, I moved into the rental townhome community that he lived in. It was really cute, and in a nice neighborhood with many families all around, which was always fun, except for when the little boy next door would park his bike in front of our door so that he wasn’t blocking his. Yes, it was really not cute. All in all, though, we liked it. But we knew that we wanted something of our own. We wanted to buy a place.
And the adventure began, y’all. And here are some things that we learned.
A Good Realtor Is EVERYTHING: We contacted a realtor who had worked with good friends who raved about him, and who had even driven one couple I knew out in the middle of a snowstorm in his SUV to look for houses because their lease was ending and they had to find something as soon as possible, That sounded like dedication to us. And we were right. He went out to look whenever we wanted, and happily received the many house listings I sent every day (more on that below). He became a really good friend, who we honestly miss hanging out with on a regular basis.
Decide what you can afford. Like really. Do that. One of the first things that we did was decide how much we could actually pay for a mortgage every month. That sounds simple, and a little scary, because you might find that you are eligible for a mortgage for places that you would actually like to live. Or you might find, like I did years earlier as a single person with no savings, recovering credit, and a moderate income, that I could afford very little, and that what I could afford to buy was in places where the previous owners were actually roaches. With better credit than me. Because they were already home-owning roaches.
All that to say, it is scary to have all of your financial stuff all there out on the table in numbers that other people have to see. But you have to start somewhere. You can’t pay for a house with fairy dust and wishes. I wish you could. So it’s good to know what you are working with. Maybe you will decide that you need to wait. Or maybe you will find that you are ready. Which is fun.
Other preparations: Most people have to have some some sort of down payment for a home. We were very fortunate that my husband is a former military serviceman, because we qualified for a VA loan, which meant that we did not have to come up with a down payment, which was a blessing. Not everyone falls into that category, so you have to do even more planning on that end.
Decide what you can live with and make a list: Once we had a budget in mind, we looked at what kind of place we wanted to live in: Townhouse or single family home? How long a commute we could stand? Did we want to live in the suburbs or the city? These things might be negotiable if you find the perfect place outside of those parameters. Or they may be set in stone. And that’s cool. If you are buying with a partner, you need to have that stuff worked out beforehand. It will save you a lot of arguments and time and such, and you won’t be having embarrassing conversations in front of your realtor or other homeowners.
Don’t be afraid to dream….: We started receiving the listings of all of the houses in our area that fit our price, size, and location wants, and that became as exciting as the Sears toy catalog was back when we were kids. You could look at places and “ooh” and “ahh“, and imagine yourself there. It was a really thrilling time, to then go and visit these homes that had been loved by other families, and wondering if we could build a future there. We discovered neighborhoods that we didn’t know, and saw that there was so many wonderful places available that could be ours.
…..but dream with some sort of plan (see 2 bullet points above): Don’t torment yourself. It’s great to see what is out there, and what’s available, and to know what’s possible. But if you are regularly looking at houses way out of your price range, or in a place way further than you know you are willing to commute from, you might want to let that go. There was a community of really great houses, in our price range and near water, that I really wanted to look at. But it was 20 minutes outside what we had determined would be the farthest we would move from where my husband worked. There was a county that we loved, where there were amazing schools. But the only things that we could find in our price range were in questionable neighborhoods. And the question was, “How quickly can we get back in our car and drive the heck out of here?” Again, you can always change your mind, and looking helps you do that. Maybe you will decide that you can’t buy where you wanted, or that you can afford more than you thought you could, or that it is worth it to you to pay for things that you didn’t think that you needed that you find that you do. Rock on with that.
Don’t be afraid to walk away: About 2 months into our home search, we put in a contract on a beautiful house about 2 minutes from where we were renting. The sellers accepted quickly, and we were good to go, or so we thought. It turns out that the sellers were in love with their house, where they had raised their kids, and were selling because they had lost their fulltime jobs. Their reluctance to actually part with their home resulted in them trying to back out of the deal almost as quickly as they signed, then changing their minds, but them giving us a hard time on actually completing the repairs that our inspector found needed to be made. After a month of this, we finally let them out of the contract, recouped the money we had paid for the inspections and other things, and rolled on. And happy ending, they got to keep their home.
You might have to continue your walk: We found another house a few weeks later that we LOVED. A few blocks from the water, with a great entertaining space. Contract submitted and accepted. Awesome. Except that the inspector found pipes made of some hazardous material that needed to be replaced, which the sellers agreed to split the cost of: until the house didn’t appraise for the selling price. And our VA loan wouldn’t pay for a penny over the listed price. Plus, from a money standpoint, we couldn’t pay more for a house than it was worth, even if we had the money, because it didn’t make fiscal sense. So that deal fell through.
You will know when to stop walking: By the time we were ready to look at another house, we were tired. Beat-up. But we found a house that was right at the edge of the distance that my husband wanted to travel to work. “This house will have to be excellent for us to buy it, since it’s farther away.” And it was. The sellers were a dad, mom and teenaged daughter who were moving overseas to be missionaries, and had just reduced the price of their home by like $15 K. And the dad happened to be a contractor, who had done extensive updates to the house. We walked around like we were in Disney World, amazed. We submitted an offer the next day, and it was accepted. And of the three houses that we had contracts on, it turned out to be the biggest, in the best shape, and at the end, the least expensive.
It’s not over when you get the keys (be prepared for the future: It is so easy to think that getting into the house is the biggest hurdle, and that you are home free after that. Nope. When we lived in our rental townhome, we frequently called the property office when things went wrong. Heat not working? Call the office. The door closing funny? Call the office. You drop your contact lens down the bathroom sink and want someone to open the pipes and get that thing? Call them. And yeah, that happened once. The point is that when you buy your own place, as we quickly discovered, YOU are the office, and you have to be ready for the unexpected, since pipes freeze and washing machines break and roofs leak and you need to fix those things. We opted for a home warranty (which was rolled into our mortgage for the first year) that covered many appliances, but we also set aside extra money for random repairs since the warranty didn’t always cover everything. When the warranty expired, we continued to put aside money for big things, which paid off when we bought our new washer and dryer in cash this past winter. That was a wonderful feeling.
Oh, and speaking of unexpected, the morning that we closed on our place, and I continued to pack for our move the next day, I felt a little weird. Which turned out to be because I was pregnant, which we confirmed by home test about 2 hours before we were do a the title company. So, when we signed those papers, we were delirious for several reasons. It really helped that we had already put ourselves in the mindset to set aside money for the things. It didn’t matter if those things were now changing (the money we were planning to save for a bed for the guest room would now go towards painting the nursery): we now had the option to do that.
So: This was the story of how we prepared for, looked for, and found our house. It didn’t all go the way that we thought it would, but we are happy with the way that it went. If you are setting out on this journey, I hope that it works out well in the end. Check out SunTrust’s Resource Center on home buying. There you will find out everything that you need to know about starting the home process. Happy House-ing! See more below….
Sunny Days start here. At SunTrust, they have the tools and resources to help you achieve your sunny day. Start here to find out how they can help you enjoy the things that matter to you.
At SunTrust Bank their purpose is lighting the way to financial well-being. When you feel confident about your money, you can save for your goals and spend knowingly on what matters most to you. They know we all live for the sunny days and want to you help you live yours.
For even more sunny day inspiration visit yoursunnyday.com
Subscribe to the Shine newsletter and receive inspiration and advice twice a month to help you live for a sunny day.
Visit the SunTrust resource center anytime for help achieving your financial goals.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SunTrust Bank. The opinions and text are all mine.