Say “Yes” to the Address: Hoping to Seal the Deal on Our First Home
I'm Joelle and my fiancé, Frank and I (that's us, below!) are going through the ups-downs of trying to purchase our first home together. After a long journey of house-hunting (and rejection), we finally have a contract in on a home in New Jersey, and we're hoping that it becomes ours soon! Come along with us and see what happens.
After getting engaged, we decided to purchase a home. Frank, who previously dabbled as a real estate agent, convinced me that renting would be waste of our money and that it would be more beneficial to make an investment. In addition, we have two 50+ pound dogs (AKA our fur-children, Lucky and Lulu) that need a yard and not many apartment complexes in our area of New Jersey are big breed friendly.
It's important to note that in my late twenties I simultaneously got divorced and lost my job, which hit my already crumbling finances hard. Turning it into a positive experience, I wrote a book (Trash the Dress: Stories of Celebrating Divorce in your 20s--pending publication) and moved back home to get back on my feet. I got a new job-- though it took a year on unemployment and piling up more credit card debt-- and I'm still waiting for my other foot to touch the ground. About a year after Frank and I began dating, he moved in with me because I couldn't afford to leave home and it made sense for both of us to save for our future. Though it's fine most of the time, no 32-year-old woman wants to be living at home with her mother and fiancé.
Frank went full-speed ahead on the house hunt and has been determined to find us a place of our own before our October 2013 wedding. We set our sights on one town only and jumped at the chance to see every house that went on the market within our price range.
There were a few reasons we narrowed in on this particular town:
Northern New Jersey is probably one of the most expensive places in America to live. We currently reside in Essex County, where property taxes on a four-bedroom house can easily cost $14,000 a year and the more affordable housing is nestled in the most dangerous of neighborhoods. So, we decided to move a little further away from New York City to Morris County, where I lived when I was younger. The family-oriented communities boast cute little houses with lower taxes and large yards.
Luckily, Frank's best friend, PJ (former Armor for Sleep guitarist) and his mom, Ellen, are top-notch real estate agents and guided us through the mortgage option and buying process. We faced many obstacles with houses in our price range:
- Most were in flood zones.
- The two bedrooms were small.
- There were no dining rooms and the eat-in kitchens didn't allow space for family gatherings.
- Most of the homes were ranch-style, so there were no basements for storage.
- They required oil tanks for heat.
- There were no laundry rooms so the washing machines were in the kitchen.
- We needed an office and there were no bonus rooms.
Knowing we would be purchasing a starter home, we were willing to make sacrifices. The first house we viewed, a three-bedroom cape cod, had a lot of potential. There was a nice yard and it wasn't in a flood zone. However, the bedrooms were awkwardly located in a dormer attic and the kitchen was outdated. We decided to put in an offer at about $20,000 under asking price, taking into consideration the necessary construction, which would include knocking down the wall between the kitchen and living room so we could have space for a table.
We were outbid.
Disappointed, we told ourselves it just wasn't meant to be and that we had plenty of time before our wedding to secure a residence. But I still looked at pictures of that gray and black-shuttered house every day and imagined what could have been.
The hunt continued.
Believe it or not, this small two-bedroom house sold in less than a week.
While on our local MLS listing site, we fell in love with a few houses and had PJ schedule appointments. Then something weird began to happen--every house sold before we got to go view it. We discovered we were searching in a hot market where properties were snatched up in less than a week! Some houses literally sold in three days.
The game was on.
Each time a house went up for sale, we raced to see it. And each time, someone else beat us to the bid before our appointment day arrived. Sure, this upswing was great for the market, but not us!
The next house on which we bid was a short-sale property that met all of our requirements. We envisioned hosting parties on the deck off the dining room. Yes- dining room! The sunny living room featured a built-in bookshelf. Swoon! There was an actual hallway upon entering the house. And did I mention the huge walk-in closet in the master bedroom or the unfinished basement with three rooms of storage? Perfect for this packrat. We bid the asking price and our offer was accepted! [Insert angels singing here].
One thing in particular did concern Frank, though. The living room had a downhill slope, caused by the really big slope in the basement. I brushed it off as livable. If Marshall and Lily on How I Met Your Mother could purchase a slanted home, then so could we! Who cares if you could sleigh ride down your basement as long as you had one?
Frank called in my engineer cousin, who told us we would have to pour concrete to level the basement, install new doors to the yard and do a bunch of other headache inducing activities. Ellen ripped up our check and said she refused to allow us to buy a house that she wouldn't buy for herself.
And so another piece of our hearts crumbled.
The structural problems explained why the house was on the market for almost a year. I flipped through pictures of the bookshelf on my cell phone for a few days and then got over it.
I really thought we had scored a huge deal, getting the house at over $100,000 under value. The previous owners were going through a divorce and just wanted to get rid of it. The bank approval would probably have been another story, but we didn't stick around long enough to see how we would have fared. And looking back, we didn't have the time to be waiting around seven months to go through the short-sale process.
This time, we had to let love go.
Things were stagnant for a while. Each morning we awoke hoping to get one of PJ's automatic listing emails. But there were no houses, except for a tiny wood-paneled ranch that stunk like cigars. I was almost desperate enough to place an offer just so we would have a house in our target town before we were married. It did have a nice yard, so that was something, right? But Frank vetoed it, rightfully so.
Our luck changed one Friday night when on our way to dinner, Frank and I received an email from PJ with the subject line “Lovin' It?"
This adorable red log cabin piqued our interest. It was a ranch- my favorite style- had three bedrooms (hello, office!), a garden in the spacious yard, unfinished basement for storage and central air. There was even an enclosed front porch and an extra workshop area. And, it was located a few blocks from my old elementary school and house. More bonuses: It did not have oil tank heating and was not in a flood zone.
This was almost too good to be true. Not about to waste any time, we scheduled to see the house at 9:30 a.m. the next morning.
We observed some drawbacks: The house was built in 1940 and had pretty much stuck there since. Think wood paneling everywhere. But wait, there's more:
- The only bathroom was really small and didn't have a tub.
- The washing machine was in the kitchen and the dryer was hooked up on the front porch.
- The bedroom entrances were pocket doors.
While many would have walked away, we decided that the house was just as quirky as we were and it would be fun to renovate.
That day, we placed an offer just $5,000 under listing price. We were determined to get the house. And what do you know? We were informed that there was already another offer! And it was cash.
Our hearts sunk.
We really thought we beat everyone this time and were in disbelief that this house had an offer on it after being on the market less than 24 hours. Then, we learned that our offer was higher but we had to place our final bid for consideration. So, we met the asking price and crossed our fingers, letting fate takeover.
We didn't stress out and check our phones every five minutes, as usual. My anxiety subsided and I was even able to sleep at night. We actually considered taking a break from house hunting until after the wedding if this didn't work out so we would have more available funds.
That Sunday night, as Frank was playing video games and I was on the phone with my Maid of Honor, Roe, PJ called.
We got the house.
Like, for real.
We're currently under contract, but we're not in the clear just yet. We're up against the appraisal and our wedding budget. If the appraisal comes in for less than our bid, we might not be able to take money from our wedding fund to cover the cost our mortgage won't.
Come along for the adventure as we do everything in our power to get a "yes" at this address.