My Journey to Home Ownership and Tips for First-Time Home Buyers
Summer is almost over, and I realized I haven’t had a cookout yet. Part of the reason I bought a home was to have events, but I’ve been slacking. Given what it took to get me in my home three years ago, I need to do better about continually celebrating. My path to home ownership was a long and troublesome one, but I hope my journey will inspire other first-time homebuyers.
I started house hunting in 2011, not long after I moved to the DC area. As high as rents were, I knew that a mortgage would be more cost effective based on my salary. I began working with a realtor, mainly looking at condos in the Maryland suburbs. Many of the condo associations in the areas I was searching would not be approved by the first-time homebuyer programs because they had liens. I decided to go a different route, and joined a program called the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA).
NACA was a waste of my time because of the counselor and the realtors. I couldn’t use the realtor I had been working with because he wasn’t knowledgeable of and therefore not approved by the program. However, the NACA-approved realtors I had didn’t put in any work. They were negative and didn’t value me as a client because of my budget. I let go of the first realtor only to get another who was even more blatant in her inability to help me find a property. NACA is for low- and middle-income buyers, but the realtors didn’t want to deal with the low-income part.
I eventually dropped that sorry excuse for a program and in 2012 linked up with my fourth realtor. He had good customer service, and he was knowledgeable. I eventually found a house I liked and put in an offer, but the home inspection turned up significant problems that the seller refused to fix. Needless to say, that killed the deal.
By that point I was over it. I halted the search and started hunting for an apartment. I knew for my health and sanity I had to get out of where I was living.
About a year later in fall 2014, my realtor hit me up, asking if I was ready to look again. I had stopped specifically saving for a house, so I felt I wasn’t ready. My mom told me not to count myself out and to talk to the lender. It turned out that I was in a solid financial position, and there was a good homebuyer’s program available to me. I was using an FHA loan, a government insured loan with a 3.5% down payment, a 60-day average closing, and a lot of stipulations.
My previous frustrations turned into excitement as I once again started house hunting. I found a recently renovated house in a neighborhood I was satisfied with. My initial offer was accepted, and the inspection didn’t turn up any deal-killing problems. An on-time closing would have been late December or early January. Instead, I didn’t close on my house until mid-April.
Why did it take 5 1/2 months instead of 2? Well, the sellers didn’t have their paperwork in order regarding the repairs.
They took forever making the FHA required updates. Then, to my horror, the homebuyer’s program abruptly stopped giving out money and the one that replaced it gave out less than previously agreed upon, so I had to come up with more money. The sellers, who were upset about having to make the FHA repairs, took things off the table so the contract was re-negotiated and resigned a few times. The lender didn’t know the new program well and couldn’t keep track of the documents I was sending. It was a crap show, and I’m not the most patient person, so I was extremely frustrated.
Unfortunately, my problems didn’t go away after closing. My hot water heater stopped working almost immediately, but I made my realtor ask the sellers for money back to cover the cost of the repair. I got what I asked for.
The sellers tried to bully me through the process, but I pushed back when necessary.
If there’s anything to be learned from my house hunting drama, it’s this:
Fire your realtor if they are not working for you (sometimes realtors make you sign an agreement, so check the agreement before firing).
Take the home buyers class, especially if you’re new to real estate.
Look for down payment/closing cost assistance programs in your area.
Choose your own inspectors and lenders. Don’t just go with who your realtor works with.
Don’t focus on crime statistics. Crime is everywhere but aim for a neighborhood that feels safe.
Visit your prospective house at night and on the weekends to see how the area is.
Read the purchase agreement. Yeah, I know folx don’t read contracts, but let this be the one time you do.
Attend the home inspection, even for new construction. Walk around with the inspector to see what they see.
Negotiate and ask for what you want.
Get a home warranty.
Save not only for buying the house but for furnishing it, too.
Buying a home can and should be a fun process, but it can also be stressful and frustrating. I hope these tips can help you alleviate some of the stress. If home ownership is your dream, don’t let anyone or any circumstance discourage or derail you.