Note: I will be writing the book I had planned to write for Nanowrimo here. I’ll add chapters and updates as I write them. While I did not do it in the time frame I was supposed to, it still will be good practice and fun to write. Bear in mind that this is not terribly edited. It is a first draught, so I’m sure there will be booboos here and there. 🙂
Its been in my mind to write this book for several years now and Nanowrimo is giving me just the shove I need to finally do it. There are many books out there on how to buy your first home, how to navigate the pitfalls of the real estate market and how to find clever financing to make your dream home yours. However, there are things no one will tell you, as I was to find out the hard way.
This book is a light-hearted look at my experience in the adventure of first home buying. I hope you will find it as amusing as I do now, although at the time it was a bit less funny to me. Take it all with a grain of salt. Some things will seem obvious, but to us at the time, they were not. Some of the things in this book may seem unique to me, but I doubt it, since we are all basically the same under the skin.
So enjoy, smile and lets start the journey together.
For years hubby and I watched all the Bob Vila shows, all the homes for sale shows, and all the home improvement shows. It was at one time a ritual for us. Saturday mornings were spent at yard sales and the later afternoon was given over to snuggling up together in front of the TV and watching all our favorite home shows. We were still fairly newly married and we were still filled with dreams of our first home and all the things we were going to do with it.
As we watched the shows we dreamt of tiled floors, walls with beautiful Venetian plaster, and lush carpets under our feet. We had visions of the vignettes on every other page of the L.L. Bean catalog. Warm crackling fire, dogs curled up around us, soft blankets wrapped around us while we drank hot cocoa and watched the snow fall outside.
I, of course, had the perfect kitchen in mind. Tall, deep natural pine cabinets with crown molding all along the top. I would have ample space for all my pots and pans, bowls and mixers, appliances of every sort would all be tucked neatly away. I would have a farmhouse sink, a huge refrigerator, a 6-burner stove with bun warmer, and of course, a dishwasher. Can you tell yet which of these things I did NOT have in my small apartment or my smaller trailer? Yes, I had it all planned out. Most glorious of all, I would have my own washer and dryer. That was my holy grail. No more Laundromats for me. No sirree, I was going to be able to do my laundry whenever I wanted and it would all smell wonderful instead of burnt or stale.
My little heart would go all pitter patter when I would think of my own bathroom. It would smell like candles, have a deep tub with a sloping back and enough cabinets that you would never have to see my toilet paper rolls.
My husband, on the other hand, was enthralled with other ideas of home ownership. His own garage. It would look like one of those ones in the Sears Catalog at Christmas time. There would be plenty of room for pulling the car in and a clean dry floor to lay on while he worked on it. There would be wraparound work benches with diamond plate steel cabinets hanging on every wall. It would be filled with all his tools; his drill press, the table saw, the radial arm saw, and all the other things that I don’t know the name of, although I have been assured they are all absolutely necessary items for any self-respecting tool guy. Yes, Tim Allen is his idol.
There would also be a room for each of us. Mine would be a crafting room and his would be a train room. I would have room for whatever craft suited my mood that day and he would be able to sit and run his trains for hours.
Week after week we were filled with fresh ideas for this dream house. It would be a ranch. It would be a farmhouse. It would be a victorian. It would be a craftsman style. It would be in a town. It would be in the middle of Montana (or someone similar). It would be in the country. It always had property around it no matter what style, though. There would be ample space for my garden and lots of room to park (preferably near the garage, of course.)
Then reality started to set in. We were living in a travel trailer because we moved a lot those first few years. It gets harder to think about your dream home when you are living in a space that is 8ft. wide and 28 ft. long. We slowly drifted away from those shows and settled for keeping the water unfrozen, the spider webs out of the gas furnace tube and keeping the toilet tank from freezing into one huge block of… well, you get the picture.
We lived in that trailer for nine years and then moved into an apartment. A very tiny apartment. We started to feel those little yearnings again, but there wasn’t much we could actually do to the apartment so again we had to put all those feelings aside.
Then there came the night we looked at each other and said, “Let’s look into it and see if we could buy a house.” As soon as we said the words we just looked at each other. Those words had never actually been said aloud before. Neither of us said another word and it was as if we were waiting for some wind to come a long and pluck them out of the air, as if they had never been uttered.
The next day the hubby took the reins and began doing some research. To be brutally honest, I was not much help to him in this. I was too afraid to try and have my heart broken by the bad news that our dream house would never happen. I just couldn’t face the reality of the destruction of a dream. He plodded through internet sites, filled out applications, did paperwork of all sorts, all the time with me holding my breath. Then it happened.
“Hon, we qualify for a home loan.”
I didn’t know what to say. I just sat there looking at him. I was shocked, elated, astonished and frankly, terrified. I thought he must be joking with me. I wasn’t going to be amused when he said, “gotcha!” But he never did. He smiled hugely and gave me the number.
“We qualify for $250,000. We just have to find a realtor now.”
After I recovered, which took a while, we laughed like children and started talking about all our long put away ideas for our home.
Your dream come true! Right? Well, yes and no. Yes, you are going to start looking for your beloved little nest, but as they say, you have to kill a lot of frogs before you find your prince charming.
House hunting is a lot like that. Once we found a Realtor we thought we were set. I mean after all, hadn’t we watched a million house hunting shows all those years earlier? Hadn’t we seen how the process works? They show us an array of lovely houses and we get to sit back, talk about it, make our pro and con lists and then, and only then, make our decision which seller to bestow our money upon. Right?
Ok, in all fairness to the Real Estate institution, maybe when you are lugging around your bag of money you can do things that way. From talking to friends, we discovered that our experience with house hunting isn’t very unusual.
“Hi! This is Realtor X. I have a couple of homes to show you. Can you make it today?”
“Um, well no, hubby is working today.” Duh, I thought to myself.
“How about tomorrow?”
“How about Saturday when he is off, ya know, work?”
“Wellllll…” long pause followed by a voice now just ever so slightly less chipper and just a bit more peeved. “I suppose we could do that. If they are gone already though it will be a waste of time for both of us. I mean they could go just like ‘that’.” Sound of finger snap in the earpiece.
“We’ll have to take that chance. After all, its because he HAS a job that is enabling us to buy a home. It would sort of stupid to lose it now, wouldn’t it?”
“Fine, I’ll see you on Saturday. Goodbye.” Click.
Now you may think this a rather ludicrous conversation, but it was one that was repeated many, many times in the next 3 months. Apparently the only people who house hunt are those who have jobs they can just walk away from at a moment’s notice. Silly us.
Eventually we got to actually go look at homes, though. Armed with pages from various real estate web sites, after we found out that our Realtor doesn’t use ALL sites to find homes, but only certain ones, we happily packed ourselves up and headed out to view our array of dream homes.
Let me stop here a moment to clarify something that became VERY important to us right about this time. When you apply for a mortgage its like a check with no signature. The mortgage company checks you out and then tells you how much money they will be ever so glad to loan you. For us it was $250,000. Yes, that is a quarter of a million dollars.
They will tell you that you can have that much because you can afford that much. Uh huh.
With your mind full of images of getting everything on your want list, your would like but could live without list, and your no way in hell list, you sit down with your Realtor and start running numbers. It is at this point that you find out how much of that money is going into things that are NOT your house. Then there is the list of things that are going to be charged on TOP of that money. When all is said and done, you realize that their being willing to offer you that much money is a far, far cry from how much you will be able to truly afford. Reality is like a bucket of cold water as you start lowering the amount you can spend on a house. Once you figure out what you really can afford, you can start hitting the pavement to look at homes in that price range.
So off we went, to look at homes in our price range. I’m not sure at which point we started to cry. There was no array of beautiful homes lined up for our leisurely perusal. There were houses alright, but the tours consisted of opening the door and letting us find our way around.
There was the house that was half caved in on one side. The wildlife certainly found it a nice place to live, but somehow it felt short of even our ‘no way in hell’ list. It had a little property but it was shaped like an arrow head with a highway on one side and a main road on the other with the house plopped into the middle of them. You could stand in the middle of your land and wave to the occupants of the cars on both roads.
There was the farmhouse on a beautiful piece of property which felt so creepy I wouldn’t even let the hubby go down the basement.
At this juncture let me give you another small tidbit. Don’t negate the little “feelings” you get when you are walking around a place. Call it what you will…intuition, discernment, willies, whatever, but don’t just rule it out. Remember you are spending a lot of money and are going to be here day in and day out… and NIGHT in and night out. If you are not comfortable in there when you tour it, pass it by. It won’t get better later.
Anyway, we passed on that farmhouse needless to say. There was the small victorian gingerbread house. It was very pretty inside until you reached the kitchen. Apparently this was a room they never used because while the rest of the house looked adorable, the kitchen looked as though a pack of dogs had been living in there. It was so tiny you could barely move. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the refrigerator was some sort of mutant monster-sized ancient affair. Just change it out, say you, right? Wrong. It didn’t fit through the door. It had been there when they moved in and someone had built the small kitchen around it. Even if you took off the door it wouldn’t come out. We would have had to take a saw of some kind to it and render it into pieces to get it out. And the back yard, which wasn’t big enough to plant more than a few tomatoes, backed up to a wall which, if you looked up 6ft, was the storage part of a car repair place. It was a lovely view.
And not to be forgotten was the house which was about the size of our trailer I think. It sat on a truly spectacular piece of land with a bubbling creek behind it. And, the Realtor told us before we got there, it is filled with homemade charm and hand crafted furnishings. This is Realtor speak for the old man who lives there did all the repairs himself but really hadn’t a clue what he was doing. It was truly a sight to behold, let me tell you. There were materials used in places that no manufacturer had even intended. Four steps took you from one room to the next. Two rooms took you across that room.
If you were planning on bulldozing it and building something that was bigger than a Barbie and Ken size it would have been ideal, but otherwise, forget it.
And there was the mobile home. Again nice piece of property, but not much room to actually live in, It was not a double wide, by the way. It was single wide, fairly old, and although nicely kept up with a nice little outbuilding off to the side, it wasn’t going to work.
Right about now the sunny little smiles on our faces as we go out for another round of houses to look at, are pretty much gone. They are replaced with a quivering lip and frown lines that go practically through to the back of our heads. The Realtor wasn’t looking much happier.
You are probably wondering if we actually put in any bids on these prizes? Yes, we did. Desperation, compounded with our Realtor’s pessimism at finding anything better, actually led us to make bids on two of these places in hopes of being able to salvage them into our dream home in some way. By now the little pieces of papers with our lists carefully written on them, are laying on the floor of the car with all the other detritus of our trips; tissues, maps, soda cans, printed house specs, etc. Now we had a new list. It was the “can live with it” list. It was a sad, pitiful thing, wrinkled badly, tear stained and altogether just pathetic.
Finally, one Saturday, just before we were getting ready to go look at more houses, the hubby did one final look on the website and a small house had just been put up about 15 minutes before. He printed it off and brought it with us, telling the Realtor that we wanted to see this one, too. To be very honest, it was not a good picture and the house looked bare and not particularly attractive. We did our round of Realtor-picked houses then went on to the one hubby had brought with him.
It was a small cape-style house that sat on a corner lot. There was lawn in front and a little on the one side. But it went back to a very nice back yard with a large fenced-in kennel/run. Did I mention we had a dog and wanted another one? There wasn’t much landscaping or exterior love given to it, but it had potential to be cute. When we went in we found out what it means when the ad says “as is”. Most of the work had been done, but it was the finishing that had not been. New drywall was up, but not finished off or painted. A new staircase was put in but had no treads yet. It was two story and the upstairs was a large open room with a small bedroom at one end. The ad said it was a 200 year old post and beam. Turned out that someone had put up vinyl siding so that it looked a lot newer.