Deciding to buy a home was the biggest — and most expensive — life decision I’ve ever made. It was also the hardest because you have to pick a place that works for you now and will work for your life in 10 years. My fiance and I looked at homes on the market for almost two years before deciding to buy. That dreaming and planning phase was the most romantic part of home buying. Once you start looking at numbers on paper and attending open houses with 30 other couples passing through, things get hard. Buying a home is exciting, but it’s also a lot of work. But the work and prep is worth it because when it came time to sign the paperwork, I felt good about our decision. Here’s what I learned during my home-buying process (full disclosure, I work at Redfin on the PR team):
You might think you know what you want, but you don’t really know until you do the math and tour homes. It’s my job to talk to real estate agents and homebuyers, so I thought I was more prepared than the average bear, but I was just as clueless as the next guy. At the beginning of our search, we thought we might want a single-family home. We found out after touring homes and imagining what our commutes and Saturday nights would be like that we didn’t want to move to a neighborhood where we could afford a single-family home that we liked. The ones in our choice neighborhoods were too expensive, needed major work (e.g., my fiance couldn’t stand up in the bathroom) or didn’t fit with our lifestyle (the kitchen was small with no room to expand, no yard for the dog, etc). So we opted for an end-unit townhome with a small yard in our second-favorite neighborhood.
Actually visualizing what life would be like in that home and what it would be like parting with your mortgage payment each month helped us make our decision. We ended up going with a townhome that wasn’t much more than our rent payment had been, so we knew what our lifestyle would be like with our actual mortgage payment. Drive, walk or bus your actual commute. Think about what it would be like getting ready for work in the home, cooking a meal, having friends over, buying eggs halfway through making breakfast because you realize you’re out. Our Redfin agent helped us ask really specific questions like, “The master closet is small; are you OK rotating your clothes seasonally?” and “Where would you put the dog’s bed in your room?”
It’s stressful! No matter what, the stakes are high and it’s hard to picture your life 10 years from now, especially if you don’t have kids, but plan to.
Research everything. I didn’t know anything about sewer pipes or different types of heating or siding or electrical wiring and I relied on my agent to educate me throughout the process. Fortunately, I had a really knowledgeable agent, but in hindsight, I should’ve done more homework. For example, most of the single-family homes in Seattle were built in the early 1900s, so you need to know how to check for knob and tube wiring.
Get pre-approved. Collecting all the documents you need in order to do so is a lot of work! Getting pre-approved early was the best thing we did. We had a lot of conversations with our lender about our different options. Things get real when you talk to a lender.
Every home improvement project takes five hours longer than you think. Simple projects like painting a bathroom or wall-mounting your TV? They are not simple. Carefully plan out how much time you think it will take and then add five hours to your estimate. You inevitably have to stop midway to watch some ‘how-to’ videos or run to the hardware store for the fifth time that day when you realize you’re missing something.
The freedom of homeownership is awesome. Before buying, I lived in a lot of different apartment buildings with lots of rules. No grills on your patio, no guests at the pool, no pets, no parking, no painting. But now I live by my own rules and can tackle whatever home projects I desire. And showing my dog our new yard for the first time was the best thing ever.
About Katy Klein
Katy is a PR professional at Redfin. A Missouri native, she moved to Seattle from Washington, D.C. just over two years ago. She immediately fell in love with Seattle and West Coast living and decided to put down some permanent roots with her fiance and dog Waffles.