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We Bought a House During a Pandemic

 Y'all. It has been a HOT minute. How are you? We are at, what, month 217 of the Pandemic?  Is everyone still working out, taking up new hobbies and making sour dough bread? Truthfully though, I hope you all are well. When all this kicked-up in late March, I assumed that by now we'd be back to some sense of #normal. I was clearly wrong. That's a post for another day, but I hope that we'll get there soon, and I hope you've been hanging in there. 

At this point, you might be wondering what Kilton and I were up all this time (or maybe not but you're going to find out anyway). We worked, we parented, we cooked and we ate (and drank). We also bought a house. That's right. We thought a global pandemic was a great time to buy a house. Technically, the process did not start during the pandemic, but it certainly became official. 

Our house in Naples, ME. It was worth the search during a pandemic.

It was a PROCESS. We learned so much and I know how cliche this sounds, but if I can buy a house, then you can too. I'll spare you the gory details, but as few as 5 years ago, my financial shit really hit the fan, and I thought I would n e v e r get to buy my own home. I worked my ass off, surrounded myself with amazing people (and the best man to share my life with- love you, babe!) and now, I am writing this post from our living room, in a house we own. 

I'm no home-buying expert (but now, I know some- more on this later), but I want to share some tips with you in case you are considering owning your own home someday. 

Have a Good Team

We literally would not be here without our agent. If you need to buy or sell, you need Dona Pfeffer in your life. I met her at a work function and I am so glad I did. She patiently listened to what we wanted and the fact that we were newbies. I never got the feeling that she was just trying to make money. She genuinely cared about us and what we wanted- that was clear at every turn. Honestly, I lost count at the number of homes we saw. We worked with her for more than a year and she worked incredibly hard for us (I'm not sure when she found time to sleep). She is the definition of above and beyond. Her experience means she has so many contacts and so much knowledge. Whenever we would look at a listing or go to a house, she would point something out that made us say "I never would have thought of that!" (if I had a nickel!). We learned things like "more acres doesn't mean more space" and "that's how rodents get in," and "there's always one thing you have to sacrifice." We now consider her a friend. She also connected us to Mark Alley at Northpoint Mortgage. Mark is kind and patient. As a chronic type-A, I had a bazillion questions (more on this later) and had to check and recheck every detail; and Mark and his team were patient and responsive in their replies. His promise to be a lifelong resource for us is one I know he will honor. 

Without this team, we would not be homeowners. Much like your personal and professional life, in real estate, you need to surround yourself with only the best.

Our farmer's porch; a great spot for breakfast.
Hold Onto Paper

This one I wish I had known ahead of time. Even in this, the year of our Lord 2020, buying a home is still a largely paper-heavy process. Browsing listings and walking through houses is fun; applying for a securing a mortgage is not. It is a Jules Verne level dive into your finances (bonus points if you catch the reference) and obscure letters from former creditors 6 years ago that you didn't think you needed will suddenly be required. Keep everything.  Make sure that your documentation is clear. If you had an account that went to collections but is now resolved (I did, we all do. I'll make a post about this later), make sure it clearly states that the account is up to date and whether or not it is still open or active. If you don't retain documents and check them for clarity, you will be forced to spend 2+ hours in an infinite loop with a credit card company and a collections agency that feels like that feeling you get when you walk outside on a -10° day and the snot in your nose immediately freezes. You will have to explain over and over again to multiple people that "no, you don't still have the card because it was 6 years ago and the account is closed" and "yes, I do need a paper letter that says this one specific phrase." It will be a very terrible day. 

Do prep work ahead of time. I wish someone had told me to fine-tooth comb my filing cabinet. I thought I was prepared; I gathered bank statements and pay stubs, put together a budget, created a folder for upcoming documents, etc. I thought I was sooooooo prepared. I was wrong. Collect every scrap of paper related to your finances going back many years, scan them, and save digital copies clearly. This sounds like it will take a long time, but if you take the time ahead of the mortgage process, it will be very worth it and you will avoid scrambling to find something. 

My favorite part of our house

Ask Questions

...especially if you have never bought or sold a home before. You are going to see so many terms and numbers you don't understand. As you learn more about houses and what you do or don't want in a home, you will ask even more questions that dig a little deeper. I had a lot of moments in the mortgage process where I was completely overwhelmed and confused. I know student loans like the back of my hand, and I counsel teens and adults on personal finance, but much of the mortgage process had me scratching my head. At first, I was embarrassed to ask questions, acting as though I ought to know. But how would I?  Don't get me wrong, I read articles and even took a little online course about what to expect. And I still had so. many. questions. So yeah, I was a bit shy about asking questions but I am glad I did, and once I broke the ice, I felt confident I could (and should) ask all my questions. 

Asking questions becomes very important. I actually realized a key component of our offer was missing from a document, and had I not questioned its absence ahead of time, closing could have fallen apart. If something feels weird when you're reading it, or you see something you don't understand, just ask. That's why you have a great team; their goal is to help you get to the finish line. 

Have Fun!

This process feels stressful. There will be moments you ask yourselves "what the fuck are we doing?" -especially if you do this during the pandemic. But it is also a lot of fun, and the moment you let go of some of the stress and enjoy the adventure, you will have so much fun. You will laugh about super creepy art on the walls, or a basement you 100 do not want to go into. You will walk into rooms that take your breath away and immediately imagine what it would be like to fall asleep there. One house we were under contract on was so beautiful and vintage that I decorated it for Christmas in my head. Even though that house fell apart for us, it was still fun (and educational) to go through that process. It's a wild, fun ride. Even after you buy something, you will drive by for sale signs and peep the houses to see what kind of roof they have. 

I thought about making this post pandemic-specific, but the tips would be the same either way. I mean, sure, we had to wear masks and gloves and booties and drive by houses before we could tour, but more or less I suspect the process is a lot the same- pandemic or not. These are the things that helped us get there, and I felt they were worth sharing with those looking to buy a home.  

Come visit. We have lots of space, we're building an ice rink this winter, and I want to cook you food. Do it. Seriously. 

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