I am so excited to finally post that we bought our first house!
After a year of searching we finally found our perfect little blue home in our favorite Charlotte neighborhood. There are plenty of posts to come with photos and tours, so I thought I'd just share what I learned during this whole process first. The whole thing from search to close was at times fun, sad, crazy, stressful, joyous, and extremely different/new to me. If you're in the market for a new home, hopefully this can be of use to you!
Online listings never do a house justice
And by justice, I mean they have the ability of making a piece of poop look like the Biltmore Estate. Eric and I started our search when we were still in Durham and most of the homes that we picked out looked really bad when we visited. These home photographers are great at their jobs - every room looks super bright, and gigantic. Plus they are excellent at cropping out things they don't want you to see. Most importantly? You can never tell what the street/neighborhood is like from the internet. It's best to drive by the listing before making an appointment to see it with your realtor.
Buying in a popular neighborhood? Prepare for some disappointments
We were pretty set on an up-and-coming neighborhood in Charlotte, and unfortunately for us, so was everyone else. I'd fall in love with a house, but then it would be under contract by the time we'd see it on the weekend. The first house we put an offer on, we were outbid by $25,000 over listing #wut. The best thing to keep in mind is that another house will always come along!
Always visit a house twice (if you can)
Eric and I quickly found out I am a house romantic. Every single house we saw I could picture us in, and started daydreaming about all the renovations we'd be doing and family gatherings we'd have there. Thankfully, if we generally visited a house a second time, I'd realize it was not worth the money/required too many renovations/unsafe/a dump. Now, this doesn't always work out, especially when there are 3 other couples visiting a house at the same time as you on the first day it's listed. We ended up making the offer on our current home within 30 minutes of seeing it!
Look at online listings often
While our realtor was helpful in sending us a lot of homes we hadn't thought to search for, we also found a lot of homes online that we liked that never made it onto our realty company's database. Eric and I checked online listings frequently, and by the end Eric was usually checking during the day, while I'd check at night. We only got our current house because Eric saw the listing minutes after it went online and I quickly ran by and set up an appointment with our realtor.
The time between making an offer and closing is going to be one of the most stressful periods of your life
After our offer got approved, a friend of mine told me "it won't feel like it's yours till you close". That could not be more true. I felt we were constantly teetering on the edge of not getting our home because something would not be approved. Not to mention the sellers had a back up offer for over asking price and they were just waiting for us to fail. In addition to that stress, the process of buying a house is just handled by too many people. You will have to sign away your life hundreds of times, and then refill out those same papers for someone else. You will resend those papers because someone lost them. You will have to tell someone how to open an email attachment. You will have to go through the hassle of printing something in 2015. You will have to relearn how to use the ancient relic called a fax machine. You will pay FedEx Office $100. Then on the day before closing you will have to refill out all of those papers or you will lose the house. Oh, and all of this must be done immediately during working hours or you will lose the house. It's terrible. Just know that everyone goes through the same hell.
Avoid trying to get a loan approved near the State of the Union
We had the incredible timing of trying to get a loan approved the week of the SOTU. After Obama's speech, the market instantly became uneasy and ruined our interest rates for the loan we were originally getting. #thanksobama
Really though, don't worry too much about your interest rate before you are officially locked in. They will change everyday and you just have to take a gamble on what will be best for you at the time. Changes were made several times to our loan application and we eventually ended up with a lower rate than our initial plan #thanksobama.
Be nice to your realtor/lender/closing attorney/parents
A friend of mine works in a closing attorney's office and often posts horrid things that people tell (yell) at her on the phone or when they come to the office. I always thought she must be working with the most horrible people, but now I get it. Tensions are high, you are offering up all of your money for the next 30 years, and you've done everything you need to for this house but something wasn't in your control. Eric and our mortgage officer almost duked it out on the day before our closing. At the end of the day, just be nice. You can't buy your home without these people. Also, they will probably post about you on Facebook if you say anything super terrible.
Pay really close attention during your inspection
The inspection was the first time we were allowed in the house on our own (keep in mind 2 other couples and a random lender were in the house at the same time we were when we first saw it!). Thus, it was hard to keep focused. I did not pay enough attention to utilities-related things like where the water lever was, the breaker box, or the outlets Time Warner would need for set up. This made for a lot of scrambling and frustration when I was trying to get all the utilities set up.
I did however take not of things that were in the house at the time, like the alarm system - which the owners stealthily took away after inspection. Now we'll hopefully get some money back or a replacement from them - score!
Make a game plan for essential repairs
It's easy to get overwhelmed with all of the things that need done in the house upon move in. There is essentially a never ending to-do list so it's best to set your priorities upon move in. I made a list of phases of repairs and rennovations (future blog post on that coming soon), along with a list of "this has to be fixed this week or we can't live here". Things like window locks, changing the smoke detector batteries, and repairing the dryer duct that is about to start a fire in the house are on this week's list. Things like caulking the kitchen (no matter how bad it looks) and painting the cabinets will have to wait.
I did not sleep the entire week of closing/move-in. While I can partially blame this on my puppy who needed emergency surgery and lots of extra care at the same time, I was also just super stressed that everything wouldn't get done. Breathe. Take sleeping pills. Enjoy your new home. Everything will get done!