Wednesday, June 15, 2016

And you may ask yourself, "How did I get here?"

One year and 3 months ago, I began shopping for houses, and I am infinitely relieved to say I finally bought one. Yes, the predominant emotion that I feel as I prepare to move into my new home is relief. I can't say I'm excited – there's still too much work ahead of me for that – but I am so happy I no longer have to live in suspense any more!

I started out last February of last year, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, believing I had all the time in the world to find the perfect home at the perfect price. I spent a year and some change progressively lowering my standards while increasing my price limit, and in the end, I was so exhausted by the whole process that I ended up buying pretty much the most expensive house in the whole neighborhood, even though it had many issues ranging from mold, failing appliances, antiquated electricity, and deteriorating plumbing, just because I was tired for looking for something better.

I regularly question my decision to make this purchase. I am, after all, Mrs. Thrifty (no one calls me that, but they should!), and here I just blew my life savings on an arguably overpriced home. I have talked to people who, unreasuringly, give me looks of shock when I tell them how much I paid (I will tell you a little bit later, in an entire post dedicated to the financial side of this escapade). I justify the expense with my insider knowledge of just how competitive the market in my target neighborhood is. Let's have a look at my seven purchase attempts (of course, I toured many more houses, but rejected them outright for a number of reasons).

The first 4 offers I made were detailed in a past blog post, but I'll briefly summarize them again:

  • July 2015 - The house in Hyattsville - my first offer, remains probably the best value on this list, in the best condition for the most reasonable price (and the only one with a completely separate and ready-to-live-in basement apartment), but I felt like I was getting cheated, and I had a strong incentive (in the form of a 15,000$ forgivable loan) to buy in College Park.
  • August-October 2015 - The short sale - In retrospect, this was one of the best-priced houses out there, and I should have snapped it up when I could have bought it for 220,000. But I was being greedy (and perhaps still a little ignorant of the highly competitive market) and tried a bit too hard to negotiate the price down, losing my chance to purchase it when the sellers decided to start paying their mortgage again (I console myself by saying that that would have happened even if I had accepted their counter-offer).
  • October 2015 - The fakeout - When talking with my boyfriend, I call this one "The One with the Collapsing Basement." Having a dangerously flawed foundation is kind of a dealbreaker, but even knowing that, I spent many months thinking fondly of how perfect that house was in all other respects.
  • November 2015 - The Last Resort - The last house I blogged about, I think of it now as "The One with the Orange Kitchen." Let's face it; even though I claimed to be so desperate I'd take it even though it wasn't quite what I wanted, when I learned I couldn't get any heat to come into the basement bedroom (my anticipated rental cash cow), I had to let it go.

After this point, I vowed to not blog any more about my dismal housing search, because the public admissions of failure were really starting to get me down. I kept silent when I heard the disappointing results of my next two offers:
  • February 2016 - The One Next to REI - This house was so cute! It was nicely landscaped, it had a basement with a couple of (not-legal) bedrooms and a mini kitchen. It had two bay windows (not a trifling matter to someone who loves both sun and houseplants). Alas, I still hadn't learned my lesson about the competitive market, and I made a too-low offer. Someone outbid me by offering the asking price (which I totally would have paid if I had been given the opportunity to increase my offer!) This one was a heartbreaker.
  • April 2016 - The One with the Blue Room - It didn't have a basement, it didn't have an upstairs. The only thing it had was a nice secluded bedroom with a bath, and a refrigerator in the laundry room, so I thought I might rent that part of the house out. I wasn't really crazy about this house, but I was desperate. My offer (equal to the asking price after you take into account my request for closing cost assistance) was rejected, and I was disappointed, but I think I would have been more disappointed if I'd actually ended up owning the place.

And that brings us to May of 2016. By this time, I had saved 19 houses on Zillow and seriously considered buying all of them. I was a house-shopping expert. But I was losing hope. I had previously promised myself that if I hadn't found a place by the beginning of May, I'd apply for one of the cheaper apartment buildings in the area. Still, I was procrastinating. More houses were finally being listed. Maybe I really would find something. I would make my rental application at the end of the month.

And it's a good thing I waited, because on May 1, I put in the offer on the house that I would end up owning. This time, I decided to pull out all the stops. I offered the asking price AND threw in an escalation clause that would increase my offer by 10,000 dollars if there were other offers. And there were. Six others. But somehow mine was the one that made the final cut.

The next few weeks were a poorly timed whirlwind. I actually received the phone call telling me my offer was countered while I was in New Orleans—a trip which, as you know, was followed almost immediately by trips to Richmond and Hawaii. The majority of the negotiations happened while I was on vacation. Can you imagine trying to make sound business decisions while shouting into your cell phone over the sound of hundreds of revelers dancing through the streets? Or trying to shop around for the best possible deals using crappy hotel wi-fi? I am sure that if I had had more time to myself between making my offer and my astonishingly early closing date, I would have been able to save a buck here and there. But because I didn't get enough opportunity to do a lot of extensive research, I basically just had to accept whatever was offered to me as far as my mortgage, my pest inspection, my title company, my title insurance, and essentially all things you are technically allowed to choose for yourself as a home buyer.

I also almost missed my opportunity to apply for that 15,000$ forgivable loan I mentioned, because I was so busy surfing and attending weddings that I neglected to read the deadline information. There were a lot of money matters that didn't go exactly as my usual stingy self would have liked. In fact, to this day, I don't know what monetary value the other offers were, and I wonder if the sellers were able to just milk me for all I had because they knew I would be willing to pay it...Well, I can go around with myself forever about whether I got the best deal possible, but in the end, I paid an amount that I could afford, and after 9 months of struggling, I guess that's all I could hope for.

Besides, there's something to be said for just not caring. Because I wasn't able to take control over the little details of my purchase, I was able to cultivate an almost Zen-like attitude (at least as Zen-like as the constraints of my admittedly high-strung personality would allow) about the whole deal. Matters were mostly out of my hands; I just had to let go and let God, as they say. Because of this, the weeks preceding my closing were actually surprisingly low-stress—you'd never guess it from the way I talked, but complaining is my middle name. I was actually getting plenty of sleep, finding plenty of time for fun, and basically going on with life, as opposed to frantically scrambling to make this the best real estate transaction that had ever occurred.

Now that the dust has settled (and more is probably being kicked up as I write this; I had mold remediators come in yesterday to begin treatment of the basement and attic), I am able to sit down and write a nice long epic about the last year-and-a-third in my housing life. It's not the most chipper way to begin my next chapter, but it is something I need to get off my chest. In the future, I'm sure you can look forward to many more posts about my home.
Here's a sneak peek:
Somehow I got suckered into dog sitting the inimitable Bubalou on the day of my closing!


LORI said...

Wow! and you didn't even tell your mom!