Seeking real-life House Hunters
July 19, 2021 7:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm starting to think about buying my first home, and in addition to all the "official" advice, I've really enjoyed reading narratives and anecdotes about the home-buying process from those who have been through it. For example, I've absolutely devoured this series. Particularly if they're relatively recent, in HCOL markets, and from first-time home-buyers. The more topsy-turvy their search, the better. Do you have more for me? I'll take blogs, books, TikToks, anything.
posted by mosst to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Highly recommend George Hoffman's short, to the point and cheap (can be had for $5 or less) How to Inspect a House. A useful primer on red flags to be watching for.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:05 AM on July 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

I don't have a source, but I have the story of my wife and I.

We recently took jobs in the Boston area, which is High Cost of Living. We flew in to look at houses. We knew we would have to spend more than we had in the past.

We did the math on our income, and we could hypothetically afford up to 1.4M on both of our salaries, and about $900K on one of our salaries. We were moving from the midwest - home of the large, yard and garage, air conditioned homes. Boston was VERY different when we arrived. For $900K, you could get basically a 2br apartment, a third of a house built in 1800 without air conditioning. If you were willing to commute from far away, it was a house by itself, but not much higher quality for the price.

So, we started looking. We made an offer on a house for $75K over asking for a total offer of 1.3M. It was their best offer, and we were excited! We even had an inspection contingency included. The home was absolutely beautiful, with plenty of storage, though it was a split building. We flew home.

Unfortunately, our realtor called us and informed us, while they had planned to move to france, the sellers "changed their mind". Maybe they wanted to relist, but no matter what, we were on to the next house.

We waited a few weeks, but all of a sudden, the perfect condo came on the market. It was a 4 floor townhouse, but had a beautiful open floor plan, a garage, a beautiful office, and nice bathrooms. It was perfect! And - the kicker, they only listed it for around $750K. It was in a slightly bad neighborhood, but the neighborhood has been up and coming since the 90s. The best part - my wife could walk to work in under 5 minutes.

So, we made an offer. We knew from the market it would have to be a strong offer. So, we decided with an "uncapped escalation clause". We put in our offer we would go "$5K over the next highest offer" without a cap. We listed an inspection as well.

We got a call from our realtor - the seller was only accepting offers without an inspection. We didn't want this, but our realtor told us that was normal for a market. We begrudgingly removed the inspection clause. We also included our offer to be "$10K over the next highest offer". We now had NO contingencies.

So we waited. We got a call before too long. The selling realtor wanted to know our cap, and our down payment. (We hadn't listed our down payment percentage, because honestly it's none of their business). We said, well, we don't have a cap. But if you need a number, we'd go up to $875k. They sent over the next best offer, as required, it was an offer for $850K with an inspection! We were pissed. We didn't say "with the same contingencies" in our escalation clause. We asked our realtor, and said we should just be fine with it. So, our final offer was $860. The seller had all the power, but we were happy it was less than 875K. Still well under our budget.

Anyway, that flub on the escalation clause probably cost us $5k or so. Plus, we probably could have saved another $5k by not saying we would do $10K over, but that was to account for not ever telling them our down payment amount. (Our down payment was only 10%, because investing at 3% is stupid).

Fast forward a few weeks, we learned about the closing process in boston - theres another step with a lawyer and an actual closing document. We were given access a few times before final closing date. We used that access to pay an inspector to go through - and everything was fine! Thank goodness! As a townhouse, the external bits are mostly covered by the HOA anyway.

In that process, we finalized our mortgage. It turns out, since we were moving and my wife hadn't started her new job yet, we couldn't use her income anyway. (She had an offer letter, but the hospital needed a drug test, and they don't do that until the week before starting, which was after closing). That meant we could only just afford this townhome with my salary alone. I'm so happy the first mortgage didn't go through - we'd need to really move some dates around to make that work.

All in all, we are just amped. We move in a few days. We got a house, our second try, under budget, within walking distance to 30 restaurants in bustling city, and my wife can walk to work. There's no yard for the dog, but that's part of city living, and we are just excited for the next step in our adventure.
posted by bbqturtle at 8:39 AM on July 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

I know not everyone enjoys reddit, but I’ve recently been through the home buying process myself and throughout I was obsessively reading the r/RealEstate and r/FirstTimeHomeBuyer subreddits. If you skim through those you’ll find tons of stories from people who are also navigating this wild market. Particularly in the FirstTimeHomeBuyer one, people will post about “getting the keys!” And usually in the comments will detail the typically extensive up and down journey of their home search. A lot of them aren’t HCOL areas, but the market is kinda nuts everywhere so the stories were all relatable!

I don’t know if you were looking for more longer form reads but this^ is what sprang to mind when I saw your question!
posted by sprezzy at 8:48 AM on July 19, 2021

I just went through this so recently that the ink on my closing papers is barely dry.

We started looking this year (I know) in SLC. Like most places, the market is insane. The first house we put an offer in was 285k, we offered 315k and waived a couple contingencies. We got beat by 65k over, cash. It was in the middle of nowhere, a literal Utah ghost town, and this experience made us extremely nervous.

We tried to put in a second offer on a house that we liked, but the sellers agent told us our offer wasn't even in the top ten. It was listed at 375k and sold for 467k, no contingencies.

Then came the house we ended up winning. It's in the middle of downtown, super close to an up-and-coming area, and the open house was slammed. It had some features that made it seem less attractive to a conventional family (100 years old, technically two bedrooms, but ones really an add-on room you walk through to get to the bedroom) so we went ahead and put in an offer, just in case. We were the first people to put one in. Listed at 375k, so we offered 410k, no waived contingencies. We got beat and someone else went under contract.

Two days later, we got a call back saying that the buyers had to back out and we were next on the list. Apparently they didn't like old houses as much as they thought they did. We paid for a structural engineer to check out the foundation and an inspector to give us the hard truths about the place. Everything checked out, just some minor fixes to do before move in. We were also very happy to find that it appraised for 35k over our offer. We were able to close two weeks early and everything went smoothly once we had an offer accepted.

I'm psyched - it's downtown SLC, actually has a pretty good yard, and it isn't a cookie cutter flip.
posted by coldbabyshrimp at 11:00 AM on July 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

My husband and I were first-time homebuyers just outside of Boston three years ago. Well, we started seriously looking like four and a half years ago, and closed three years ago.

We loved the first place we looked at and put in an offer at well over asking (and close to the very top of what we felt comfortable paying), and we were completely blown out of the water. That condo went for way more than we offered, probably with waived contingencies too but I don't know. We learned that we probably weren't going to be able to buy in that neighborhood.

We looked at so many more places and put in offers on a few - there was a very small one-bedroom with no parking around the corner from our current apartment that we felt like we could work with, but our offer wasn't accepted.

There was one where we went to the first open house on Saturday, the agent said they were accepting offers on Tuesday, so we talked to our agent and had him get to work on an offer for us Saturday night only to get an email on Sunday morning that the place had already sold.

We started looking a little further out when we saw an extremely reasonably-priced listing in a neighborhood adjacent to a state park that we went hiking in sometimes - still transit-accessible but more suburban than the neighborhoods we'd been looking at. We put in an offer on that place, it was accepted, and then when we got our inspection we learned there was serious termite damage including in the interior flooring and the sill (structural bit). So we decided not to go with that one. It ended up selling for more than our offer. After this I doubled down on my "never gonna waive the inspection contingency" rule, even though obviously it made things harder.

We found a house we LOVED in the next town over from that one, walking distance to both the subway and the woods. Very well cared for, sunny, nice perennial garden. Bigger than we were really interested in (at least in terms of number of rooms) but not outrageously huge, and within our price range. We put in an offer and wrote a letter and everything; our offer was not accepted (although our offer was higher than the accepted offer - presumably those buyers waived contingencies). This was only the second time we'd had an offer rejected on a place we really loved and it stung.

We looked at another very similar house on the same block but it had what I can only describe as "weird vibes," plus it was up on a hill and was accessible by either three flights of concrete stairs or a curving driveway with, honest to god, a 30 degree slope. Oh and it had oil heat. Did not put in an offer.

Then, on the same street as the weird vibes cliff house, we saw another house that was very similar to the two previous houses (all of them built ~100 years ago) but with a lot of bad wallpaper and some unfortunate tile choices and an astroturf lawn complete with lawn jockey. It was July 4th weekend and about 1,000,000 degrees and the open house was dead. We were kind of exhausted and sick to death of house shopping at that point and didn't put in an offer right away, but when it was still listed the following weekend we toured it again and made an offer (below asking price and with contingencies) and we went back and forth a little and it was accepted. The inspector didn't notice anything horrifying*. We signed a purchase and sale agreement.

Then one of the owners died in between signing the P&S and the actual closing. And it became clear that HUGE layoffs were going to be happening imminently at my husband's company. The surviving owner wanted to push the closing date out, which we would have had no problem doing in the circumstances, but we knew my husband was very very likely to get laid off (we weren't worried about actually being able to pay the mortgage - more about having to go through the whole underwriting process again). So we probably seemed like real heartless bastards.

But we closed (my husband was officially laid off the same day)! We moved in! We removed a lot of wallpaper and painted EVERYTHING. The people who bought the weird vibes hill house moved out after a year.

I don't 100% love homeownership (so many little things that cost money and take attention) but I do love the house and its location. I also love that the payment has actually gone *down* as we refinanced and qualified for resident tax exemptions, which was very hard to wrap my head around after renting until I was 40!

* The most horrifying thing to come up since was discovering that a large number of small animals had fallen down the dryer vent and died in the back of the dryer over the years; not great, but fixable with a Black Friday dryer purchase and shifting the dryer vent hole further up the wall.
posted by mskyle at 1:05 PM on July 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

I enjoy the Hunt series from the NYT, if that’s an option.

My husband and I bought our first house almost a year ago, not in a super HCOL area bc Midwest, but it’s a fairly expensive area for the Midwest I think. We’d been looking at houses because my husband’s coworker had sold hers and we were curious, and so going to see hers, we got in touch with a real estate agent and that started the process of house hunting. No particular urgent need for us, but interest rates were low and our rent kept going up, so we thought it would be a good move.

We had initially wanted to stay in a certain neighborhood, and in a certain price range. We saw SO MUCH JUNK, and nothing really sparked joy. Our real estate agent took the initiative to show us a house that was totally not what we’d thought we wanted—a more suburban neighborhood without a lot of businesses nearby, a large mid-century ranch-style house rather than the cute bungalows, Colonials, and Victorians we’d been eyeing. But we both instantly fell in love with it the instant we walked in and decided we would put our first bid in.

We had to place our bid that same day. The bidding was open for three days, and we saw the house on the last day they were open for bids. I believe they got 12 offers in the end. Shockingly, we won it! We had an accelerator clause to go something like $1k over the next bidder up to a certain ceiling, waiving any contingency fixes or appraisal issues up to i think $5k, and a pretty high earnest money deposit ($10k I think?) We ended up paying about $30k over asking in the end and have no regrets, we love it. The house ended up appraising right at the price we paid and has appreciated about $50k since we bought it.

We had to get some electrical issues fixed, and our garage door motor failed and had to be replaced, and I think there’s a leak in the basement, but overall it was in good condition. After some back and forth with the sellers about a crack in the basement at inspection, they wouldn’t lower the price or fix it but they bought us a two-year home warranty, which we’ve already used to replace the dryer when it started acting funny a few months ago.

We love walking and biking in the neighborhood and ultimately it’s only about a 10-minute drive from the heart of downtown, with a little strip mall type shopping center a few minutes away with a library, hardware store, grocery store, thrift store, a few restaurants, etc. I do wish we could have bought in one of our most desired neighborhoods with coffee shops and bookstores around the corner, but everything in those areas was a significant drop in quality and size from what we ended up with, and I’m happy we aren’t stuck with a mountain of expensive repairs. The forced isolation of COVID also helped wean me off the idea that restaurants and nightlife around the corner were vital. I’ve been loving biking on the quiet streets and walking in the nearby parks, and it’s so quiet compared to our last apartment.

My advice from our search: I recommend finding a good agent who will take some initiative, and being open-minded in what you go see. We surprised ourselves with how right this house felt upon seeing it, because on paper I never would have chosen it.
posted by music for skeletons at 2:03 PM on July 19, 2021

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