Once we started to actually go through the process of buying a house for the first time, I wanted to share some of the things I learned. I’ve been taking notes on my phone and it’s funny how quickly you kind of get swept up into the process. On one hand, if you’re not buying a house now or soon it’s not even worth stressing over… but on the other hand, I kind of wish I had known some things before getting started. You do, though, quickly learn things day by day because you have no other choice. 😂
So, I knew going into this that buying a house was complicated and would be fairly hard. I actually found it to be way harder than I was expecting at. It’s funny because the minute I’d mention to someone that we were in the process of buying a home, if the other person had been there/done that they would INSTANTLY start commiserating.
Anyway, here’s a pretty good list of the things I wanted to share that I’ve learned/realized while buying a house fo the first time. I’m sure I’m missing some things but this is what I’d tell to a friend 😉
– Take things one step and one day at a time. There is going to be a LOT of information thrown at you and a lot of task items. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the one hundred things you’re ultimately going to have to do before closing day. But in reality, you don’t need to worry about what’s happening a week from now, just focus on what you need to do today. The nice thing about working with a good team of people (attorneys, agents, mortgage companies) is that they do this all day, every day so they can guide you through the process.
– Ask a lot of questions. Everyone you’re working with has done this a million times and it seems easy and straightforward to them, because it’s their job and they know it like the back of their hand. It’s your first experience, so they may say one line, and if you don’t understand? Ask for clarification. I kind of felt like I was constantly asking people to repeat themselves, to clarify what something meant, to walk me through some particular. They can move so fast that I was trying to prevent whiplash and it forced me to stay on top of things. I didn’t want to get “swept along,” I really wanted to understand what, when and why things were happening. (I can’t begin to tell you how important this is. People, even though they’re experts, make mistakes and you’re about to buy a HOUSE. It’s worth getting things right the first time because it could cost you big time in the long run.)
– Write down everything. I wish I had been better about keeping track of questions, answers, timelines, what I’ve done, what I still need to do, etc. At one point, I was re-reading twenty emails to figure out if I had dropped off the good faith check or not. I had been so overwhelmed with details and everything was so fast, that it felt like I was experiencing short term memory loss. Had I written it down somewhere as a “task,” I could have easily seen if I had crossed it off or not. Even if I had just created a log of sorts of everything I had done, what needed to be done, and important things I didn’t want to forget (kind of like a home-buying-specific Bullet Journal). I was a hot mess of emails, and files downloaded onto my computer, and post it notes strewn across my desk. Everything should have been in one place. It would have made the process so much faster and streamlined.
– Don’t get emotional. If I have one piece of advice, it’s to not get emotional. Which, look, I get it, you’re buying a home. I’m not going to lie and say that I was like a stone-faced killer going into open houses, but I tried my best to check my emotions at the door. And when I did get emotional, I would try to recognize it and then put my “rational” hat back on. Beyond even the open houses, it’s so helpful to stay level headed. I did and didn’t through different rocky points, ha. I kept saying in my head that if things didn’t work out, it wasn’t meant to be. Again, I wasn’t perfect, but by doing my best to approach things rationally, I know I made better decisions throughout the process. Instead of getting worked up about an issue, I would go into problem solving mode. “Okay, we can’t close next week? What five things do I need to do right now to help the situation? Move our movers again, contact our landlord, cancel our reserved parking in Hoboken for the move, etc.”)
– You HAVE to be organized. Stay on top of everyone and everything. Pick up the phone and call. Follow up on email. Do it all. I think it’s as important to be the one leading the charge as it is to heed the advice of the experts and professionals helping you. Yes, this is their job. But YOU are the one buying the house. It’ll be your financial or time consuming thing to deal with if something goes wrong. I can’t even begin to tell you how many legit mistakes I caught throughout the process. Some being minor (an extra $100 charge on our closing disclosure statements) and some being huge (like the $50k+ issue that popped up a week before we closed). Honestly, I don’t even want to think about what would have happened had I not caught something. All I know is that I’m VERY relieved I did. For six weeks, I made daily calls to our attorney/paralegal, the mortgage company, and the contractor fixing the issue. I knew which windows of the day they would and wouldn’t pick up the phone (😂) and every day I’d make the phone circle. Sometimes I’d have to do it a few times throughout the day to close all the necessary loops. Every Friday afternoon, I’d write a list of what I needed to do first thing Monday morning and I’d start my phone chain all over again!
If you’re buying the house with another person (like in my case Mike!), I think it makes the most sense for one person to take the lead. Since I have a more flexible work schedule, I could take/make phone calls pretty much every day, which is what ended up happening. I should have been a better communicator with Mike to let him know what happened/what was decided during the day but sometimes I felt like things happened so fast and we were onto the next thing that I’d forget to relay something. Talking though with all of my friends who have purchased houses with a partner, they’ve had a similar experience. Obviously big decisions need to be made together, but for the daily minutiae details don’t necessarily need to be done/made together.
– Know what’s important to you. This sentiment carries over from the house hunting process all the way through the buying process. Be very clear with yourself on what’s important t you. What priorities do you have short and long term and how can you make sure your decisions are aligned with those priorities. For us, in particular, we wanted to be in a town close to Mike’s various family members, good schools (e.g. lower taxes if the private school options were excellent or higher taxes if the public schools were great), at least three bedrooms, resale value of the neighborhood etc. Then we had some secondary priorities that were still fairly important, like being able to walk into the town, a nice basement, etc. As we looked at houses, it was easy to keep in mind what we could live with versus what we really wanted. If something didn’t meet our major priorities, it wasn’t worth exploring further. And I kept these priorities in mind as we went through the buying process (i.e. after we were under contract) like what projects we were okay taking on and what we considered non-negotiable in terms of fixing before closing.
We also had a few “tiers” of prices that I was comfortable with. (The mortgage people will tell you that you can afford a LOT more than what actually makes sense, in my opinion!) I knew the “top” number I’d be willing to go up to if we found an INCREDIBLE can’t-turn-down house and a number that I’d prefer to stay under for a realistic “first” home. I sat down with a pen and paper (literally) one day to reverse compute what kind of house we could realistically and comfortably afford based on what we wanted to pay each month on the mortgage + taxes + insurance, while still hitting our saving goals for the future and having a safety net each month for expenses related to homeownership. It’s worth sitting down with a financial advisor if you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself! Do this BEFORE you start looking at houses. I wouldn’t even open a link to a house that was above my “perfect house” number because what’s the point in tempting myself 😉