If you’ve been following our adventures in house-hunting, you’ve heard about the years it took to get ready to buy and over a year it took to actually find a place. You’ve read about our many let downs, but you also joined in our joy as we finally were able to close on a house. The whole experience was a trying journey, but one that was eventually very rewarding.
If I had to buy a house all over again, I do a lot of practical things the same way, but I would think about it all very differently. If I could start over again, what would things look like this time?
- We’d still save up as much as we possibly could for our down payment.
- We would still look under our top budget, so as not to overextend ourselves financially.
- We would take our time searching- again.
- I would still be willing to make compromises on my idea of a “perfect” house.
- I would try not to make compromises on areas we really cared about- like giving in and trying to buy a city house just to get into a house when we reeeeeallly wanted a country house. I look back and I’m SO glad that home didn’t work out now.
- I would try not to attach myself to houses so much this time before we bought them!
- I would try not to count my chickens before they hatched. In other words, I would try to expect that problems would come up with a house, rather than spending my time daydreaming about how perfectly it would work out. I’d try to adapt the “expect the worst, hope for the best” type mindset.
- I would try to move in the spring or summer, not the winter. It’s a bear to move into a place at the end of November when the oil tank is dry!
- I wouldn’t give my landlord moving notice until I knew for sure that I was moving. Apparently closing can be delayed- by a LONG time!
- I would try to let go a little more, pray, and trust that things would work out (or not work out!) in God’s timing. We found that the more we pushed, the more frustrated we became with our efforts.
Was it easy finding our home? No. Was it worth it? Yes!
What about you? Are you a homeowner? What did you learn from your search and buying experiences? I’d love to hear from you!
If you’ve been following this series, you will by now know the long ordeal that we went through in order to finally purchase our first home. But we finally closed on the deal, had a real live functional mortgage, and keys to unlock the doors. While we definitely had some projects to do before we were able to settle in, it was so refreshing to finally be at the end of our long search- and at the beginning of a new season in life.
Here’s a shot of our little home during our first winter there:
Not too big, not too fancy… but absolutely perfect for us! The house had plenty of yard for our toddler and coming baby to play in, and a perfect section to plant a garden in. It had grapevines growing rampantly on trellises out back, as well as three BIG apple trees (read: both out-of-control and needing a good pruning). The property backs up to a great fishing stream in the back.
We didn’t know when we bought the house in November that we would discover even more wonderful surprises when the warmer weather came. Spring thawed the earth and brought the flowers and leaves out, and helped us to identify the many plants throughout our yard.
First, we discovered that we can make our own maple syrup. We have several large sugar maples surrounding our property that we intend to tap this coming spring. Last year, we tapped six trees, and produced just over four gallons of syrup at home.
Next, we found that we have a quince bush. They make lovely flowers in the spring:
Quince shrubs don’t produce a high volume of fruit, but we got enough to make a couple jars of jam our first fall, and added them to apple jam the next. We discovered an elderberry shrub (a natural health nut’s gold mine!) next to our shed. I made a batch of refrigerator jam our first year, then got smart and made elderberry syrup this year.
Two big old trees shade the driveway at our home. We weren’t 100% sure of their identity while they were bare, but now we know that one is a black walnut (hello, expensive treat falling from the sky for free) and the other is a chestnut tree. The chestnut doesn’t produce many ripe nuts because we have no nearby pollinating tree, but we have collected and cured lots of black walnuts.
A Kousa dogwood is alongside our garage, which puts out beautiful white flowers in the spring and small, red, edible fruits in the late summer and fall. They’re teeny, seedy little things with a mildly sweet flesh that make for quick tasty snacks to grab off the tree when we’re playing outside.
We have wild blueberry and blackberry bushes around the property. We’ve planted some raspberry bushes and some of our own blueberry to add to this.
Remember that stream in the back of our property? We knew it was stocked with trout several times a year, but we didn’t know that we lived right next to one of the best fishing holes on the stream. Literally a five minute walk down our steep back hill and a quick jaunt upstream, and you are almost guaranteed a bite every cast. (Even with a broken fishing pole and a $1 lure.) My husband has joked that he’s a terrible fisherman, but he can sure bring home a lot of fish since they’re so plentiful here! He’s caught trout, sunnies, and bass in our stream just about every time he’s gone down to fish. They’re little, but they’re tasty.
All that isn’t even to mention the variety of wild and forage-able foods throughout our yard. Spring brings dandelions and violets. Summer brings burdock, wood sorrel, purslane, plantain, and other wild greens. Fall brings sunchoke and thistle roots.
For the aspiring homesteader on a very low budget, this place is a dream. We weren’t planning on having so many renewable resources on our property, but I am so happy that all of it is available here. We have been greatly blessed to find that God has provided in more ways than we could have imagined in our first year at our new house.
So, our house really did turn out to be the perfect house for us. Sure, it’s not the expansive farmhouse of my dreams, but it’s cozy, safe, and meets our needs perfectly. As much as a place on earth can make you happy, I am happy here. And it was worth the wait.
We had rented our little trailer for over half a year now. We were celebrating the end of Tim’s first year of teaching by pursuing a bucket-list adventure: driving cross country, with toddler in tow. While staying at a friend’s house in Ohio, we found an email from our realtor sitting in our inbox.
It read, “This just came on. Let me know what you think. This one won’t last.”
In fact, the listing was a house that we had seen months ago during our search, but it had been out of our price range. We had ignored it since we didn’t think the mortgage would be feasible. But here it was on the market again as a foreclosure- and it had been reduced by over $30,000.
Now, you have to understand our position at this point. We were so burnt out from seeing homes that didn’t work out, and so tired of being disappointed, we almost didn’t want to go see it at all. What if it was a tease like all the others?
We talked it over, and finally decided that it couldn’t hurt to set up an appointment for when we returned from our trip. But we wouldn’t rush for it- not this time. In fact, we decided in advance that we wouldn’t like this house and that it would fall through like all the others.
But when we pulled into the driveway, we kept catching each other suppressing smiles. The property was beautiful and had a lot of potential. It had plenty of room to play in and to plant a huge garden. The house was quaint with a screened-in porch. The kitchen had one of the old farmhouse sinks we really liked. It offered a separate garage and a shed out back. Though it didn’t offer a lot of square footage, the house was still sufficient for our family.
Was it a perfect house? No. Some of the paint choices of the previous owners were rather vivid, to say the least. For example:
In addition, there were several minor repairs that had to be made to the house. But it didn’t have any structural problems. The “guts” of the house were in great shape. It was only 20 minutes from my husband’s job. And-get this- it met every qualification on our house shopping list!
Well, we had thought we were done with house hunting for a while. But this one made us decide to give it one more (cautious) shot. We put in one offer that was slightly lower than the asking price- just to see. By now, I’m sure you can guess that the bank wouldn’t take less than listed. So we decided to match it.
And they accepted! We were under contract!
Long story short, it took us several extensions to accomplish everything. We had a couple of snafus with the appraisal and deed that made closing take much longer. In the meantime, we had already given our landlord our notice and a moving date. He had a new renter lined up, but because of our contract extensions we ended up being displaced for a month.
Oh, but what was one more mishap at this point? A little homelessness isn’t so bad when you have friends and family around. A very generous and kind-hearted friend took us into her apartment while we waited for the house to come through. Other family and friends volunteered to let us keep our things at their homes, so our stuff was dispersed between 4 different houses. It was trying period- one in which we questioned whether or not the house would actually come through, or if we would just end up having to find a new apartment.
In the end, each of the problems was finally resolved. It took us almost 4 months from when we saw the house to when we finally closed and got the keys. Even on closing day there was still a question about the deed, but while we were signing our papers an email came through to say that the problem was fixed.
It was quite the long wait, but it was worth it. We finally got the keys to our new house.
In part one, you read about our youthful ambition to buy a house before we were really ready. After casually searching for several months, we were told we did not qualify for a conventional mortgage and we determined that we weren’t really ready to be homeowners. Jump ahead two years and one job change later, and we needed to move out of the onsite housing from my husband’s previous employment.
We began searching our local housing market again. This time we had a much clearer idea of what we wanted in a home. Since we now had a child who wasn’t quite a year old, I really felt that I wanted a single family home. Though renting out half of a duplex may have helped cover some expenses, it also would’ve taken away the possibility of having our own space and privacy. This was important to me.
We were also convinced that we wanted a bit of land, 1) so that our son and future children could have space to play, and 2) so that we could grow a good sized garden. This pretty much ruled out most city homes. Suburban neighborhoods were too pricey in our area, so we began searching in more rural areas.
Even though we had more money saved for a down payment, our budget was still relatively low. There was a fine line between a very outdated home and a complete fixer upper in our range. And many fixer uppers did we see! Though my husband has a lot of experience doing various sorts of handiwork in homes, we really didn’t want to get in over our heads. Walls, floors, basic plumbing, and roofs- yes, we could manage those things. Structural problems, old wiring, pervasive mold, and bad septic systems? Nope, we didn’t want open those cans of worms!
The first home we put an offer on was a small country foreclosure that was originally an 1896 school house. It was low on square footage but rich in character and possibilities. It came with a half-acre of land and a low price tag since the upstairs pretty much needed to be leveled and re-worked.
We were so excited (and a little nervous) the first time we sat down to submit an offer. We signed and initialed what seemed like a big pile of paperwork. We handed over $1000 in escrow. We put in a low offer, but hopefully not so low that we “insult” the bank. And then we waited.
The contracted three day time period went by. No answer. A week went by. No answer. A few more weeks passed- and just when I was beginning to think the bank forgot about us, our realtor called! I answered the phone and held my breath.
“The bank submitted a counter offer with the original asking price. It looks like they’re not willing to move,” said our realtor apologetically.
I was so disappointed. We just weren’t willing to pay the asking price because of the work that the house required. We had felt ready, saved our money, dutifully did our research, and got pre-approved for a mortgage with no problem this time. I knew it wasn’t uncommon to be rejected a few times… but still, I hoped that it wouldn’t happen to us.
We did manage to recover from our first major housing let-down and got right back to searching. Another home in a quaint nearby town -listed as a one bedroom- had been sitting on the market for almost a year. It had enough square footage that we thought we might be able to rework the space and turn it into a two or three bedroom. We decided to check it out.
It turned out to be just as lovely as a home as we thought, but only two days before we were going to put in an offer, I was shocked to find the online listing declaring, “sale pending!” Funny how it could sit untouched for months and months- until we wanted to try buying it!
Okay, so that one obviously wasn’t meant to be, either.
We began broadening our search area. We found one city house- another foreclosure- with a decent fenced in yard that we thought wouldn’t be so bad. This one seemed to be in super shape and a great deal (all things considered), so we decided to offer the asking price immediately. We didn’t want someone to beat us to it again.
Our realtor called back the same night- the bank accepted our offer that very day! We were thrilled! It wasn’t the country home I had hoped for, but I comforted myself with the reality that most first-time home buyers have to compromise somewhere to get into a place. We were under contract, and it felt great to be on track to move.
What we didn’t realize was that we had missed something that was majorly wrong. When Tim went back to see the house with his family, he discovered there was a part of the basement that we completely bypassed the first time- and the foundation was sinking. It would probably cost $20,000 to fix it.
Really? Is this home going to fall through too? I fought back the tears as it sunk in that this house was just not going to work. We had to go through the process of obtaining an inspection to verify our findings and get out of the contract. We ended up losing $500 on the deal when it was all said and done.
The next home we looked at was a semi-fixer upper in suburbia. It had a nice yard and a do-able project list at a great price. You know the story by now- We made an offer. But another buyer snuck in that same night and put in a slightly higher offer- and got the house before us. The listing agent denied us the chance of each buyer putting in his best offer for a “bid war.” So we watched this one slip through our fingers as well.
To say that we were extremely frustrated at this point would be an understatement.
We had already seen probably around 15-20 houses over the course of several months. It was approaching winter time quickly, when no new listings were coming on the market. We had exhausted most of our possibilities if we wanted to stay true to our shopping list. To top it off, we were still living on the property of my husband’s old job, and we knew that we really had to move soon. Tim’s former boss continued to be gracious and patient, but we didn’t want to take advantage of him by continuing to stay there. I began to wonder if we were ever going to find a home.
Did the perfect house finally come along and rescue us from our plight? Well, no, not yet. We would end up needing to rent again, and it would still be many months until we finally got into our own home. Come back soon to read the next installment in Part Three!
Over the next week or two, I thought I would share with you in a mini-series how we came across a great property for homesteading at a great price tag. It took years of saving, searching, hoping, and disappointments before we finally found the place we settled into. Today is the first of the series, telling of our delusions and daydreams about becoming homeowners.
In the first year of our marriage, we lived in a tiny one-bedroom basement apartment for a very low monthly price tag. It was dark, occasionally dank, and a bit cramped with all of our instruments in the house. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was cozy and met our needs sufficiently.
(Prepping food together in that good old apartment.)
You can see that we didn’t really have modern cabinets, appliances, or a whole lot of counter space. But we didn’t mind at all. It wasn’t lack of amenities that led us to want to buy a home- it was more that we wanted to invest in our futures and be working towards owning something instead of seeing money go down the drain month after month.
We were pretty frugal and felt that we could afford a house payment, especially when we compared a modest home to the cost of most rentals in our area. We were convinced that we could make it work! We have several thousand saved from our wedding money. We can scrimp and save. We will be those super savers who can afford a home on practically nothing!
Young and clueless as we were, however, we didn’t really know what went into buying a home at the time. We began searching sites like Realtor.com and daydreaming about setting up our own space. We got brave, and made a few calls to real-life realtors. We were ready to go shopping!
At this point, we were so interested in just getting into a place that we weren’t really too picky about what type of house we bought. We saw mostly duplexes and city homes because they provided more options within our budget. Some of them were real doozies that would require a lot of fixing, but we were willing to put work into something if it was ours. (We didn’t realize exactly how much time and money some of these homes required!)
After seeing several homes, our realtor asked us if we had been pre-approved for a mortgage yet. Oh yeah, that step. I forgot about that. We went ahead and put in an application.
Surprise! We were flat-out denied. It was 2009, just after the housing market had crashed, and tight restrictions made it impossible for us to obtain a conventional mortgage. We had to put our plans on hold and settle in renting for a while.
Fast forward two years. We had the unique opportunity for free housing through my husband’s job. He was the on-site “grower” for a hydroponic greenhouse, and the boss wanted someone around for nighttime emergencies, so free rent came with the job description. (We still paid utilities.) We both worked a lot at the time- my husband worked full time at the farm plus odd jobs at night, and I juggled three part time jobs totaling about 60 hours a week until I was about 8 months pregnant with J.
(Hanging at the greenhouse at the farm!)
Our income was still relatively low-middle class, but it seemed like a lot to us without rent expenses. During that time, we chose to live like paupers and completely pay off our school debt instead of buying more with our extra money. We also managed to significantly add to our savings for a down payment. We are so grateful for the rare opportunity that allowed us to do this!
Eventually, however, our time at the farm came to an end because of a teaching opportunity for my husband. When his job changed, it meant our housing situation also had to change. Back to house-hunting we went, calling up our old realtor to re-introduce us to the market.
Little did we know, however, that it would we have to return to renting first. And we didn’t expect to put offers on several homes, only to have the deal fall through time after time. In fact, it would still be over a year before we were settled into our own home. We became very familiar with the great anticipation and subsequent disappointment that so many house-hunters have to deal with as they watch home after home slip away. But that’s a post for another day. Come back to read more about our house-hunting journey in Part Two!