Being House Hunters

I can’t imagine what my coworkers think about me. Since moving to Chicago in June, I have adopted a dog, begun a new job, gotten engaged, started planning a wedding, signed a contract for my first condo and am now applying to business school. To them, I must look like a complete maniac. But if you took a proactive, adventurous woman, put her in an unmarried military relationship for three years (by experience, three years without marriage in the military is a lifetime, but for the record, I have no complaints about it whatsoever) and let her simmer on a quiet coastal Southeastern US town with a big, beautiful, and not-very-talkative rolling ocean, then by the time she moves to a big city again the changes will start popping faster than a bag of Orville Redenbacher’s. During the many days that I lay on the beach and soaked in the southern sunlight, I also thought about what I wanted to do with myself, where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be there with. So when the time came, the decisions were easy.

It's hard not to love "House Hunters". Photo from http://hookedonhouses.net/

Though my most recent posts have been about planning my wedding and the horrors and trials that go with being a feminist in an increasingly obsessive wedding industry (by the way, The Knot and Wedding Wire tell me that I still have about 138 tasks to do before the biggest day of my life, which, if you wanted to know, is in 224 days–now convince me they’re actually trying to be helpful), today’s post is going to focus on another part of becoming an adult that many, but certainly not all, wedding planners tend to take on at the same time. For no reason I understand.

Yup, today we’re buying a house. And if you were worried about how to get started, don’t. The Knot has been smart enough to keep you perfectly psychotic throughout the entire rest of your life, from The Knot to The Nest and, finally, The Bump (order suggested by them, not me). And though I will perhaps criticize these websites for the rest of my life, I do want to make the minor note that if you are the 1 in 10 regular people who can emerge relatively unscathed from websites that promote obsessive-compulsive behavior, then I would not hesitate to mention that they do offer great tips, beautiful pictures and a very supportive community to help any first-timer take care of some big life changes. Just don’t get caught up in it.

House hunting (or, more likely in Chicago, condo hunting) has been an interesting and surprisingly fun experience for me and Marvin. Granted, my family moved around a lot when I was young, so I was pretty much raised from age six asking questions like “what kind of heat does this unit get?” and “when was the roof last replaced?” In college, I helped my friend Monique look for her first apartment. A Rhodes scholar finalist and a Harvard Law student, she was surprised to see that I had actually counted the number of street lamps on her cul-de-sac and proceeded to ask the potential landlord if they were all working properly. Hey, when you’re a woman in your twenties, you need to know if the street lamps are working.

Even before wedding planning started, House Hunters was my favorite show. I loved seeing what people decided on and the variety of houses in all of the different places. And though I never expected to purchase my own place anytime soon, Marvin mentioned that we should consider taking advantage of the buyer’s market. And being the prospective business student that I am, I liked the idea of the investment.

The art of house hunting. Photo courtesy of http://images.frontdoor.com/

We took a military-certified realtor who, despite my distrust of sales people, has been the most helpful, patient realtor I’ve ever dealt with. He and his wife, who is also a realtor, would actually tell us not to buy houses that we initially liked, pointing out things I didn’t notice like the grouting of the bathtub or the aged moldings. We also took advantage of websites like Zillow and Trulia, which gave us the freedom to look for places we liked on our own. And when the day came that we found something, we placed an offer on the spot.

Actually, that’s not true. It probably took us about three months.

Here are some quick tips for any first-time homebuyer that many websites won’t tell you:

  1. Assess a purchase for its resell value. In a market like today’s, make sure the place you’re buying is an investment (because it may or may not be). Look at that kitchen, the bathroom, and other expensive things that might need to be replaced.
  2. Consider asking the seller to pay the closing cost. This will keep you from having to pay too much money upfront, as the closing cost is separate from the down payment, the lawyer’s fee, the inspection and other costs.
  3. Make sure you really want to do this. But don’t be afraid of risks. Get a mortgage pre-approval and figure out how much you’ll be paying per month, and include your taxes and any condo association fees. Make sure that you’re going to be comfortable going into this. But if you’re afraid of the idea that owning a house will make you settle down, don’t be. The best thing about owning a place is you can (usually) rent it out. Then you can actually make an income while being on those worldly travels.
  4. Have fun. As my aunt once said to me about a relationship when I was 16 (and a piece of advice I still hold dear to my heart), “If you’re not having fun, then it’s not fun.” And she is absolutely right. Make sure that when you’re planning a wedding/buying a house/making the arrangements of your dreams, that you are enjoying every minute of it. Otherwise, it ain’t worth beans!

Author Beth Santos

Founder and CEO of Wanderful, creator of the Women in Travel Summit, enthusiastic lover of ice cream, picnics and art.

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