Disclaimer: What’s that Smell?
Oh, it’s that this post reeks of privilege. We happen to live in a city with a housing market that is accessible to young professionals. We work full time in our fields, have health and dental benefits, and have been able to save money. This is not the case in every city or for every family, and we try not to take our good fortune for granted. If this doesn’t annoy you too much, I invite you to read on.
It turns out that houses are expensive. You heard it here first. Having recently purchased a house (pause for shock that a licensed financial institution lent me a large sum of money), I am now a seasoned expert on house hunting. So pull up a chair next to my soapbox as I yell some unsolicited advice at you.
Find a Realtor you Trust (and like)
I know adventurous folks who’ve purchased houses without a realtor. But this was never going to be us. I generally believe that if you are embarking on a large, costly, and important purchase, receiving guidance from someone who has made this product their life’s work is probably to your benefit. And since we were buying our first home and not selling anything, it cost us a whopping zero dollars to have a professional on our side. But though they would be free, we didn’t want just anyone. We wanted to find someone who could put up with our shit was a good fit. We interviewed two who came recommended, and then really wanted to see a house that hit the market the day we were to interview the third. She agreed to a trial by fire, and showed us this house as her interview.
It’s not so much that Daria parked her car, got out, and shook our hands. It’s more that angels carried her from heaven and set her gently down in front of us and a semi-detached house… which she then tore to shreds using her extensive knowledge of foundation integrity, electrical wiring, and landscape sloping.
She told us she used to be an accountant, and that she tends to take an analytical approach, which is not a good fit for everyone. This nod to not being willing to compromise her style made me want her even more. Plus, the style itself seemed like a great fit for us. We thanked her for showing us that tire fire of a house and I told her we would decide on our realtor soon and would let her know either way.
That night, in a scene not dissimilar to every season finale of The Bachelor(ette), I emailed the other realtors, saying we enjoyed meeting them but have decided to work with someone else. Then I stood on a windswept cliff at sunset [in my imagination] and proposed to Daria by writing, “I feel like the Bachelorette – I broke up with the other two. Will you be our realtor?” She said yes, and showed up for our next meeting like this.
Search High and Low
We looked at many houses. This is a major luxury of being a first time home buyer – the length and depth and timing of your hunt is not constrained by selling your current house.
No one will be surprised to learn that we didn’t quite know what we wanted. We expanded our search area, and then shrunk it back up again. For us and with us, Daria braved one house that was literally on the verge of collapse (the sellers didn’t even bother locking the door because there was nothing of value, including the house itself). And another that was 100% haunted.
Dress for the House you Want – Not the Scumbag you are
If you have seen me outside of my office at any point over the past 18 months, chances are high that I was wearing a certain pair of pants. Okay fine, “pants” is a stretch. And speaking of stretch, I’m talking about off-brand active wear leggings that I bought during my maternity leave for mom & baby fitness class. I put them on for an exercise class in mid-2015 and on they have stayed.
But when we started house hunting, and took the step of actually going to a house to look inside of it, I thought that the sellers might be there, and that they would relinquish their prized home only to the poshest of the posh, so I’d better look not like that guy from the Big Lebowski (which is what my hair looks like if I do nothing to it). I got fancy. Straightened hair! Eyeshadow! Blazer! Oh my! And then we got to the house and no one was there, and I was like, “Ugh, this waistband sucks.” I went home and put the pants on and never looked back.
My house-hunting “style” remained stagnant at that – leggings and an oversized t-shirt. Once, coming directly from the splashpad with the baby to view a house, I wore a wet bathing suit under a sundress which I had purchased from a dollar store. I’ll admit that that was questionable even to my extreme level of casual dressing, and certainly objectionable to both my husband and our realtor.
Me, to them: “Oh, I’m sorry! Is this Buckingham Palace? Is the Queen in residence? I didn’t think so. Relax, I’m not gonna sit on any couches.” [I totally did.]
Moral of this story: No one cares what you look like while you are house hunting. You probably won’t meet the sellers, and if you do, they only care about your money.
Don’t Get Distracted by Shiny Things
Show me the person who doesn’t get excited over the sight of a sparkly new kitchen faucet with a pull down swivel spout and stainless steel protector coil and I will show you a liar. New shit is ~nice~.
Well, Daria had no time for my dreams of being the proud new owner of a full rain shower system with adjustable body jets.
Often, she was a big old Debbie Downer when I got excited about shiny new shit. She was quick and ruthless as she crushed my dreams in house after house with her declarations of the sparkly features being “lipstick on a pig.” Meaning, the house was a crumbling pile of garbage with some nice-looking stuff on top.
But… the shininess! Who needs modern wiring when you have a backsplash that DREAMS ARE MADE OF?
The things that made Daria’s heart beat more quickly were boring as f*ck. She swooned over maxi vents, new electrical panels, and properly insulated cold storage rooms. Snore.
Of course, she was right. And I now know that the shiny shit can be added later, and usually pretty affordably. Just like every 1990’s teenage make-over movie taught me: better to buy a sturdy uggo and add your own sparkle than to chase something shiny and learn later that it is actually crap on the inside.
Try Not to Lose Your Mind
At times while house hunting, it was tempting to get caught up in the dreamland of “what could be.” Maybe house-hunting is like tripping on hard drugs (from what I’ve heard): you need someone there to keep you from making a huge mistake. Daria was that person for us. During our house-hunting career, we went to Crazy Town a few times and considered, even briefly, the following HUGE RED FLAGS, to be something we could manage.
A “cozy” house in “original” condition – it would have needed a massive addition, and until we could save up several hundred thousand dollars, we would live there with only half a kitchen, no dishwasher and no shower.
The Silence of the Lambs Basement House
I don’t have much to say because I’ve repressed my memories of this experience.
The Walk on the Wild Side House
There was a house that had a racoon living in the attic. I know this because I saw it.
When It’s Right, Say Yes To the Dress [house]
When we first saw the house that became our home, there was no harp music playing in our minds, no rainbow crowning over the roof like I thought there would be. It was exactly what we wanted, but lacked some of the “wow” that we had dreamed of. We had just come from a house across the street that had a wicked open layout, a massive walk-in closet, and an ensuite bathroom (never thought we’d have one of those) that would have been the wet dream of interior designers in the 1980’s… but not much else going for it. I loved it. My husband and Daria told me I was looking at it through beer goggles.
When we crossed the street into what is now our house, I was still lusting after the 1980’s ensuite and wasn’t giving this house much attention. Daria was eerily quiet during our tour. I asked her when she was going to drop the hammer on this pile of bricks, and she said, “Guys, there is no hammer. It’s in fantastic condition.” Then she got all squealy when she saw the properly insulated cold room. I snapped out of my funk, we looked at the whole thing again, got excited ourselves, and we decided to put in an offer. It was like we were on Say Yes To the Dress and Randy showed up and jacked-it-up with a veil and a bouquet and everyone fell in love with it.
Make Them an Offer They Can’t Refuse
Daria came over that night, and I opened a bottle of wine. She was a total narc and said we can’t be inebriated when we sign the offer. But then she let me pick a font for my electronic signature, which was super fun, so I forgave her. We submitted our offer, drank the wine, and we went to bed all buzzed and dreaming of our new house.
The sellers had 24 hours to respond, but during that time, they received another offer. We were then transported to the bizarro land of multiple offers. In case you’ve never had to visit this strange planet, I’ll tell you about my brief stay there.
When a house receives multiple offers, the sellers may elect to “receive offers in person” at a specific date and time. Buyers’ agents go into a room and give an oral presentation to the sellers and the selling agent. I’m not kidding. This is real life.
But it’s a total prisoners’ dilemma for the potential buyers (yeah, I took Econ 101), because you don’t know what the other people offered, and or if they revised their original offer. And they don’t know sh*t about your offer(s). Maybe your first offer is good enough. Maybe it’s a lot lower than the other people’s, maybe it’s much higher. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
We banged our heads against the wall for a few hours and begged Daria to be the adult and tell us what to do. She talked us through various potential outcomes, but insisted that we make the decision ourselves. She advised us to think of a price at which if the evil “other guys” got the house, we wouldn’t be crushed, because it would have been too high, and then offer a bit below that, while still in a range we could afford.
When in Doubt, Flirt
Daria suggested we also write a note to the sellers, introducing ourselves, to humanize our offer. This I can do, I thought.
You want me to schmooze ’em, D? Here, hold my beer.
I wrote a letter so sappy that nearby maple trees became jealous. I described specific things I loved about the house. I complimented how well certain features were maintained (that damned cold room got its time in the spotlight, that is for sure), and I waxed poetic about watching our kids grow up in the large, bright bedrooms (currently only had one kid, not yet pregnant with the second). I did not dot the i’s with hearts, but I might as well have.
Was it all true? Yes. Was it all a bit much? Also yes.
Daria took our revised offer and my love letter over to the dog and pony show (my words, not hers), and we waited anxiously for her return. It was then that my body decided to produce my first migraine headache in 5 years. #blessed
Daria returned and excitedly told us that our offer had been accepted and that the sellers loved my note. Uh, duh.
Take Time to Process, then Celebrate
We popped a bottle of champagne (this time Daria let us drink because the paper work was signed). We toasted to our house-hunting journey together and to the new house. Everyone took a big swig. And then I burst into tears.
Guys, I’m really fun at parties.
In retrospect, I was probably coming down from the adrenaline, and that plus the migraine led to tears on tears on tears. Daria said she understood, and that it had been a big day for everyone. Which is something you say when a child melts down at the county fair as their sugar high becomes a sugar crash. Daria was very kind, but left soon after and no one blamed her. I didn’t even want to hang out with me.
But do celebrate!
Getting our keys was both fun and anticlimactic. I went to the lawyer’s office, the receptionist handed me an envelope with a key in it, and that was it. We bought a house.
That night, we ditched the toddler with a friend and headed over to ~our~ house with a pizza and a bottle of wine. We cuddled up on a blanket in the dining room and chatted about the different places we had called home since we first shacked up together 8 years ago.
Enjoy The Spoils of your Search
When we signed on the dotted line, Daria said to us, “Now, stop looking for houses. There will always be others, you’ve found yours, you’re done looking for now.” So f*cking wise. Again, similarly to wedding dress shopping, I wasn’t sure if I would want to stop looking. The FOMO in me is strong, and I thought perhaps I would be pulled back into online searches or neighbourhood drive-bys for “what could have been.” Turns out, this was not the case.
We put our life savings into this place, and five months later, we have no furniture, there is nothing hung on the walls, and the kitchen remains 1990’s-tastic despite our plans to revamp it. Furthermore, on our third night in the house, my husband slipped on the basement stairs and spilled an entire bottle of red wine on the cream coloured carpet.
But it still feels pretty damned perfect, and we are thrilled that it is ours.
At least until we eventually trash the place and have to move.
Then we’ll call Daria and she’ll tell us what to do.