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So, I Bought a House…

June 25, 2014

A couple of months ago I mentioned that my husband wanted us to buy a house, but that this gargantuan, adult-sized task was freaking me out. Whelp…as of last month we are officially home-owners! The fact that I went from quaking in my boots at the thought of a mortgage to signing the final papers in 10 weeks is pretty crazy. The process felt overwhelming, stressful, tedious, ill-advised, and fun, all at different points, but somehow we made it through, signed away half our life savings, and now own a 900-square foot condo 15 minutes north of Seattle, WA. Here’s how it went down:

sold-houseEarly on in my stateside student-teaching stint (alliteration, yay!) my husband started throwing out the idea of me “finding us a house to buy.” He was right that we needed to invest our money in something other than his work retirement accounts, and I knew this was the best opportunity we’d have for years to come, as we are never in the U.S. for more than three consecutive weeks, and there I was with 4+ months stretching in front of me. The housing market was heating up fast, so anything we bought would likely increase in value, at least some. But the idea of being the point-person, the one touring the homes and making the calls and signing the papers, was absolutely daunting. How could I, knowing next to nothing about real estate, lead us in this endeavor? I freaked out for a few weeks, but the idea kept coming up in our conversations, and I knew it wasn’t a terrible plan. I also knew that though it would be scary, I would learn a lot through the process. In my heart, I didn’t want to shy away from this just because it was a commitment, a risk, and a big question mark. So, I went for it.

My first step was to send a rambling email to one of my friends, who also happens to be a mortgage loan officer. I explained how we wanted to get into the market, but how I had all these questions and fears and I didn’t know what I was doing. She calmed me down, outlined a few of the steps I needed to take, and generally talked me off the ledge I was on. I needed someone else to reassure me that it was a smart plan, and she provided that. I also reached out via a church-based social-networking site to find a couple of real estate agents. I corresponded with them for a few days and discussed what the market was like and what kinds of properties I should look at. Ultimately, though, I decided to work with another realtor who had been referred to me by one of my husband’s aunts.

My realtor, Fred, also did a great job of answering questions and making the process easy. We sent links to properties back and forth and discussed price ranges until I felt like I knew what I was looking for. This part of the process was great because I could just send an email whenever a question popped into my mind and Fred would answer it or refer me to someone who could answer it. I never felt like an idiot, either, which was pretty amazing. At the same time, my husband and I also gathered up the required documents to get pre-approved by my friend’s mortgage company. This was pretty easy too—we just sent in copies of our tax returns, recent pay stubs, etc, and they pre-approved us, meaning that we had a definite price range we knew we could get a loan for.

Even though I thought I knew what we wanted, when I actually started visiting properties I got super confused. Fred took me to 6 different places over two different weekends, and I dragged my father-in-law along for moral support and advice. All of the places we looked at were condos; since they’re cheaper than houses, we felt like we could afford a nicer place than we would have been able to in an actual house, yet it could rent for just as much or more. Each condo had its pros and cons, but it wasn’t until I expanded my horizons a bit and looked outside of the city of Seattle itself that I started to hone in on the right one.

It was hard to choose, because all the properties had great things about them, and it was impossible to discern which one would really hold its value the best. You can’t know what hidden problems a property might have or what costs will jump out of nowhere. With condos, we also had to consider what utilities were included, what common features it had that might add to its value, what the monthly dues were, and how well the Homeowner’s Association was being run. At times, I was so conflicted I wanted to give up altogether.

But, eventually my obsessive browsing of real estate sites like Redfin turned up an interesting find. It was a great price–$50,000-$100,000 cheaper than some of the condos in Seattle we had looked at, had two bedrooms and 1.5 baths (very rentable!), a pool, and HOA dues within a reasonable range. I visited it during my second round of tours with Fred, and I liked it just as much as I had just from looking at the photos online. Compared to the other condos we looked at that day, it was clearly the best value, and I knew it would get snapped up fast.

We took the plunge and made an offer, $10,000 lower than what they were asking. They countered with $2000 lower than asking. While we had hoped for a screaming deal, we couldn’t deny that it was probably worth that price, and we didn’t want to lose it, so we agreed. This was all fairly easy and painless—we just communicated with Fred via email and he talked to the seller. When there were papers to sign, my husband and I could both do so online. Easy-peasy.

With our offer accepted, the sale was officially “pending,” and I announced to a few friends that we were buying a home. Then began the weeks-long process of actually getting it to close. It turns out that actually getting your loan approved is a much more arduous process than getting pre-approved. We had to submit a whole bunch of other documents, including a few signed letters explaining dumb things, like why I had my parents’ address listed on one of my old tax returns (because I lived there, duh?). At times it seemed like the mortgage people were just trying to annoy us. When my husband had to write a letter explaining why his company sometimes deposited extra money in his account aside from his paycheck (as compensation for travel expenses, nothing sketchy at all!) he was actually pretty peeved, feeling like it was somehow personal, like they didn’t trust his verbal explanation. I talked to my parents about this, and they had similar stories from when they had bought their house. It doesn’t always make sense, but the lenders always want to cover ALL the bases, and then cover them again. Some of the documents we had to wait, and wait, and wait, to get from the condo’s HOA itself. In the meantime we had to pay for a $250 inspection, a $675 appraisal, and pay $1500 in “earnest money.”

My husband being in Saudi Arabia was an additional complication, obviously. He could sign a lot of the forms online, or print, sign, scan, and email them back. But for the actual signing to buy the house we needed to set up a power of attorney so I could sign for him. This required him to take a trip into the nearest big city to visit the U.S. Consulate and get the POA notarized. Then he had to pay to FedEx those documents back to the mortgage place.

Finally the day arrived when I actually got to sign the papers. And believe me, there were SO many papers. It took me over an hour to sign all of them, partially because I also had to sign for my hubby as well on each and every one. Needless to say, there was no time to actually read all the fine print…so I hope I didn’t sign away my soul in the process. But hey—we were homeowners!

Then the work of being a homeowner began: I had to find a property manager to take care of it for us while we were overseas, steam-clean the carpets, repaint the entry, have a few minor repairs done, and find homeowners’ insurance. We waited for a month before our property manager found us tenants, but as of now we have the place successfully rented out, and we have started receiving rent money from them. The process was stressful and humbling, but it taught me a lot. I still don’t entirely understand real estate and escrow and insurance and all the things that go along with this kind of major purchase, but I’m a lot closer than I was at the start. Furthermore, I’m proud that I stuck with it and took a risk; I don’t know how the investment will pan out in the long term, but I’m excited to find out. Even in the worst-case scenario, I know we’re still young and won’t be bankrupted forever by one bad investment.

To me, buying a house was even more formidable than getting married, and more hassle than moving to the Middle East. But I didn’t give up on it, and I’m glad to be on the other side now, yet another adult milestone achieved. I’ll let you know how it goes!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. youngandtwenty permalink
    June 25, 2014 9:18 am

    wow, congratulations! new chapters are so scary but exciting (of course)

  2. June 26, 2014 11:54 am

    SO GROWN UP. I love it, especially that you knew it was a risk and decided it was worth it anyway. Either it works out or it doesn’t, you’ll be fine.

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