Apologies for the radio silence on the blog, but boy it's been a crazy summer!! Lots of changes have happened: a big move, long family visits, stepping into kindergarten, you name it! Some of which I briefly mentioned on my Instagram feed, but in this post I wanted to highlight the biggest one: We Bought A House! Even better..I lived to tell the tale :)
We had been looking for homes on and off this past year, but we hesitated to put down roots. The economic downturn affected our mindset and we wanted to be able to move about for good job opportunities. But with our 5-year old starting kindergarten this year, we took the plunge and found the perfect setting for us. I say perfect for us, because a house purchase is just that: it shouldn't be the 'perfect house', but it should be 'perfect for your needs'. You will never find the 'IT' house they show in catalogs and magazines. Those are all just staged up things. Find the space that feels most inviting and positive to you, everything else can be altered.
We learnt so much in the process, and I am sure we are not the first ones to discover these lessons, but I figured I would share my thoughts on what factors/lessons we encountered.
- Find a place in a good neighborhood (you cannot change that) even if the house needs some work. They say Location, Location, Location for a very good reason! We had lived in the area for 18 months and had a good sense of which neighborhoods we would consider. Being a research hound, I had done my homework even when we bought our first house- a town home in a cute Southern California town of Brea- but this time getting a school district was a huge driver. A good school district automatically puts you in the realm of folks with a similar mindset and values: education, family, safety and community.
- Easy access to main roads and freeways are crucial, especially when you are in the working/career phase of your life. I was so stuck on finding a place near the gorgeous Old Hickory Lake that I was ready to overlook the 15 minute commute just till the freeway, forget downtown! I mean, who wouldn't a house, or at least a window, overlooking the lake! But my husband quickly squashed that idea saying we are not retired yet. Oh well!
- Once you have zeroed on neighborhood options, do your math before you start looking at homes. Because once you start looking at homes, you will make decisions based on emotions, as opposed to practical realities. We made that MISTAKE for our Brea town home: we were so carried away by the idea of home ownership that we did not research historical prices for the area and paid way more than the house, or our pocket, would allow. This time we (mostly my husband!) did a thorough report of our finances and what we can afford and what kind of loan payment we were going to sign up for (30-year fixed). I really encourage you to look at 10-year historical prices for the neighborhood because usually that gives an estimate of the highest point and the lowest point, given that economic cycles change every 7 years. Be very FIRM about what is your minimum and maximum house purchase capacity. Then start with the minimum end of that spectrum and begin the hunt. Gradually work your way up in pricing if you don't like anything at the lower price points. It's very important you do this because invariably people start with what they can afford and then end up over extending their budget, which is really going to hurt in the long run.
- That brings me to my second point: The Long Run. Even though you get pre-approved for a certain loan amount, strive to keep your house at least 20% below that amount. Because you will need to factor in closing costs and all kinds of extra expenses that are NOT ACCOUNTED for in your mortgage statements. For instance, we did not know that we had to pay up one year of homeowners insurance up front at closing! I mean, we had included monthly insurance payments in our mortgage but those payments were for the following year, not the current year! it doesn't make any sense to normal people, but those are the rules. Also, our HOA collected 4 months of dues at closing as a 'spare' fund, which again we did not know about. But since we had been through this experience once before we had set aside at least 30% of the estimated closing costs as an extra stash. Highly recommend!
Special note on Home repairs:
You have heard this before: If you are doing some work to the house, set aside double the amount and time than what is estimated. You may not need all that extra time and money, but its better to be prepared. We had some rooms painted and hardwood flooring installed in just one room. I had at least 3 contractors come and give quotes. Pick the one who asks the more detailed questions about the job, even if his quote may be higher, because he is giving you the real picture of things. The contractor I went with was very thorough in his understanding of the job requirements and asked me questions that I had not even considered myself. Also, if you want to change/repair 5 things, pick only 3 of the more pertinent ones from that list because chances are you will be done with your time and money allowance by then! For instance, we wanted to add a bigger deck this year itself, but ran out of funds and patience by the time we finished flooring and painting! Lol!
- Find a place with a good layout: Rooms should be easy to move in and out of. Too many doorways and corridors may not seem like much when you are viewing the house, but living there is a different ballgame! An easily navigable layout, whether its an open one or not, also helps with ventilation and circulation of natural air so your electricity bills will be lower.
- The kitchen is the MOST important aspect of the house. Pay attention to where it is located in the scheme of things because we all gather in and around the kitchen. Enough counter space, storage space and preferably, an updated cooking range are key. Kitchens are the most important aspect when you want to sell too, in the future maybe. If a kitchen is in an awkward spot, move on to another house. Outfitting or relocating an existing kitchen is a LOT of money!
- Make sure there is plenty of natural light, at least in the main living and kitchen areas. Especially if you live in colder parts of the country. Even in California, I would feel the gloominess in my living room that was not as bright. But my kitchen and patio would get great light, so I would be there most of the time. But yeah, in Nashville, these past two winters have been unusually cold and since I work from home, I was getting easily depressed and grumpy. Needless to say, this house has plenty of natural light :)
We also had a long list of thing we did not get like a big deck, or hardwood floors throughout the house, or a big closed off bonus room (the one we have is nice, but its more of a loft so we cannot install a fancy sound system). But the house fulfilled our main factors that I listed above. Write about the things you CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT, I say, and go from there. it is easy to find the things you want.
Whether you are buying a house, or want to change the one you live in, I hope you will consider these lessons we learnt as a stepping stone for your process. Maybe you already have the perfect layout and light and just need to update the fixtures or paint? Maybe you should consider getting 500 s.f. less, if that means living in a better community? It is after all a very individual need, and journey, but I do wish you can find the 'perfect place for you', even as we get busy trying to shape up ours.
Have a great weekend :)
(Please Note: Except for the Home Repair Photos, all images are stock pictures. I will post my home tour once we get our furniture sorted out)