While I don’t think anyone online is obliged to explain their silence, I’d like to think that buying our first house is a sufficiently momentous accomplishment to justify a
freaking two-month-long absence. Believe me when I say that I’ve spent every single day of that time thinking about all of the things I want to share about the process. I’m glad that I’ve finally slowed down long enough to catch my breath and do some of that.
But let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? Our house hunt began this past summer. I had made a lateral career move to the same position with another company, and Justin was hired permanently by the company that he had been temping at since February. Both of these job changes came with welcome pay increases, but they moved us to new offices in Cary and Durham, respectively. Although commuting was not entirely out of the question—it’s fairly common around here, and even more so in the area of Virginia that we came from most recently—it was not particularly pleasant for either of us. Combined with the fact that the management of our apartment complex had changed for the worse the prior year and we had new neighbors with serious domestic issues (including two uncontrollable children), we felt it was time to explore owning instead of renting.
Since it was our first time in the real estate market, we chose to work with agent Cindy Leonard. She came highly recommended by a coworker who had worked with her on four different transactions, and we had a very positive experience with her. Not only was she incredibly flexible—and backed up by her business partner Chuck Hinton when she was unavailable—but she also understood our desire for a bit of a fixer-upper that we could shape and learn from. She has a good eye for simple aesthetic problems versus more serious structural ones, and she recommended several of the inspection services that we used, including home inspection and pest inspection companies. She also steered us to a mortgage company that handles non-conventional mortgages, which will become important shortly.
With Justin already working in Durham, it was difficult for both of us to get to properties during the day, so we did most of our viewing online rather than in person. Having a must-have/nice-to-have list was crucial, and we got pretty good at spotting deal-breakers in listing photos. In all, I think we visited about ten houses.
Our breakthrough came when we spied this 1957 ranch selling well below our maximum budget. It was a single-owner home in an aged neighborhood, and the elderly owner had passed away about a year before. Although the home was clearly well built and maintained, it suffered from a not-inconsiderable list of problems due to age and drastically changed building codes. For example, the porch was never properly tied into the foundation, so over time it had pulled away from the house, allowing stormwater to penetrate behind the porch and pool against the foundation, which in turn caused the basement wall to bow inward.
Under ordinary circumstances something like this would have scared us away before stepping foot inside. But I had read an eye-opening article by Faith Durand, Executive Editor of TheKitchn.com, who introduced the idea of a construction or renovation loan. These loans allow home buyers/homeowners to roll the cost of renovations into their mortgage, increasing the monthly payment but eliminating the need to have a lot of cash on hand (which we didn’t). Discussing the arduous process of obtaining a renovation mortgage is material for a whole post unto itself, but suffice to say that it allowed us to buy a home that needed of a lot of work without the fear of going bankrupt on repairs or living somewhere potentially hazardous. (Speaking of hazardous, the property also had an inactive underground storage tank that needed to be addressed, but that, too, is a post for another day.)
For reasons related to the loan process and the sellers, we weren’t able to close on the house until October 2. Our apartment lease didn’t end until November 16, so the heaviest renovation work was completed before we moved in. But lest you think we arrived to a pristine new house on move-in day, let me assure you that this was not the case—in fact, we’re still tying up loose ends this very week, and we hope to officially close out the formal renovation process at the start of the new year.
Then the real work of making this house a home can begin.
I can’t wait to do it. And I can’t wait to share it all with you.