Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Day I Almost Divorced My House

I knew my house was “the one” before I ever stepped foot inside.  It was perfect: stone exterior, attached garage, hardwood floors throughout, updated bathroom, a private landscaped backyard complete with a swing, and charm galore.  I made an offer the next day and the house was mine a month later.  This was true love, I just knew it.

And then, much like the harsh reality that sets in once the initial phases of love begins to wane, I was faced with the proverbial skeletons in my house’s closet.  One week into homeownership, I turned on the kitchen faucet only to find a small trickle of water coming out.  So I did what any independent woman would do, I called my daddy:
“Oh, Holly, just wait a few hours and see if it comes back on.  If you call a plumber every time you think some little thing might be wrong, you’ll stay broke.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure I hear water running in the bathroom wall.  I don’t think this is a little thing."
“Oh, that’s not good.”
Indeed.  A huge hole in the wall later, my handyman discovered that the water was not running in the wall, but into my crawlspace.  The main waterline coming into my home had burst and the space below was filling with hundreds of gallons of water at rapid speed. 
A certified plumber came to my house that day and gave me an estimate of $4,000 to repair the waterline.  Yes, that’s right, $4,000.  I had just spent my life’s savings on buying this house a week prior and I was suddenly expected to pay thousands of dollars to fix a pipe?  I was devastated.

“Is this what homeownership is going to be like?” I tearfully asked my mother.

“Yes,” she replied, half chuckling, “but at least it’s yours.  It won’t always be this expensive or troubling, but there is constantly something that needs to be repaired when you own a home.”

“Great.  Just great.”
I called a few more plumbers and prayed that someone would take pity on me and offer a lower rate.  I eventually found a plumber with a great reputation to fix the pipe for $2,300.  A week and a half later, my pipes were repaired and I was left with this:    
I felt as though my house and I had just suffered a horrible breakup and I was being forced back into the relationship.  This was not at all the fairytale I had imagined.
The following Saturday, I spent a couple hours in the afternoon picking up sticks.  As I bent and broke them into smaller pieces, my dog Piper pranced around the yard and fetched smaller twigs.  Once the yard was free of litter, I sat on my swing and observed my winter lawn—so many types of flowers and bushes just waiting for the first signs of spring to blossom.  In that moment, I began to reconnect with my house, picturing summer barbeques and friends gathered around the fire pit I intend to make.  I remembered why I fell in love.
So, my friends, please learn from my experience and keep these things in mind when buying a home:
·         Investigate the plumbing pre-purchase.  I had no idea that galvanized plumbing could burst at any second once it ages.  Had I known this, I would have reconsidered the price I was paying for the home.  If you find that you do have old galvanized plumbing, get it replaced as soon as you can afford it.  Although it may not be a fun way to spend your money, it is necessary—trust me.
·         Have a financial cushion.  When you buy your house, make sure you have some money left over for emergencies.  I am so thankful I did this.

·         Get more than one estimate.  Should you find yourself in a home improvement pickle, make sure you get more than one estimate.  It can be the difference of thousands of dollars.  And don’t forget to check references!

·         Say “no” to slab.  While my home has a crawlspace, there is a small portion that is on slab.  Unfortunately for me, this is where the waterline entered the house, making it an expensive repair.  Save yourself the headache and search for a home with at least a crawlspace.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Search

When looking to buy my first home, I was very particular: it must be in a certain area of Lexington, it must be an older home with plenty of charm (think Mad Men era), it must be at least a semi-open concept, and it must have a fenced-in backyard for my dog.  Some people thought I was being too picky; I saw it more as having standards.  You see, much like dating, you have to have some idea of what you’re looking for when buying a house, considering price, location, and aesthetics.   Otherwise you’ll end up looking at an endless number of houses, all willy-nilly and never satisfied.  To help narrow your search, this is what I would advise you do first:

·         Figure out how much you can afford and speak with a financial institution.  Before you ever start looking at homes online or touring open houses, you have to know what kind of budget you are working with.  Find a mortgage calculator online and start punching some numbers in.  Get an idea of what you can afford monthly (considering your other financial obligations) and you’ll have a better idea of what kind of home you can purchase.  After this, make appointments with a few different financial institutions to discuss what kind of loan and interest rate you qualify for.  I say to contact more than one financial institution because different places offer different kinds of loans and rates (and believe me, you want to make sure you get the best loan for your needs—a 1% difference in interest could be the difference of $100 on your monthly mortgage).  Also, don’t forget to include taxes and insurance in your calculations.

·         Decide on location and type of home.  Once you have a better idea of what you can afford, you can begin to look around for locations you would like to live in and the type of home you would like to have.  My advice here?  Decide on a location and do not give up until your dream home in that location comes on the market.  You can always change the house, but you cannot change where it sits.  Also, being that we are in our twenties, it would be wise to consider resale.  We probably will not live in our first home forever, so it is important to make a smart investment.  Stray away from areas with houses that seem to sit on the market for months (or even years).

·         Get a realtor. This was probably the smartest decision I could have made.  It was no cost to me because the realtor split the commission of the sale with the selling realtor.  When looking for a realtor, make sure it is someone willing to listen to your wants and needs.  If you find a realtor who will only show you their listings, it’s time to find another realtor.

·         Make a move.  When you find the house that is truly perfect for you, make the offer.  The same weekend my house went up for sale, I made an offer along with a few others.  I had to move quickly, but I did not question my decision because I knew it was perfect.  Much like meeting the right man (as they say), when you know, you know.  But do not make your first offer your best offer—allow some wiggle room for negotiations.

The search is probably the most fun part of buying a first home.  It is important to be patient during this process and take your time—the last thing you want to do is rush into a mediocre home and then be stuck with it for years.  Approach your home search much like you would dating: set your standards high and never settle for less.