House Hunting for the Incredibly Inept–More of a How Not To For Those Who Learn Best by Example
I have been frantically searching for a house over the past month trying to find something I could afford before the snow flies. (Dangit) This week I made an offer on one and moments later had a panic attack that had me calling my therapist to talk me down from hyperventilating until I passed out. (I kid you not.) Why, you may ask, did putting an offer in cause heart palpitations and the desire to vomit food I’d eaten years ago? I’ll tell you. Because when it comes to finding, picking out and buying a house, I have come to a hard-learned conclusion that, apparently, The Idiot’s Guide to Buying a House doesn’t come with a guarantee. If you can’t follow their simple, step-by-step instructions well then, Caveat Emptor.*
Let me back up and tell you that, with regards to this house hunting expedition, I thought I was well prepared going in. (It’s a bit like getting married, you think you know what you are doing…at the time saying “I do” seemed pretty easy, right?) I attended a class for new home owners and everything. Then, I gratefully accepted the interest offered by the first mortgage broker who would even consider looking at a buyer who wanted a loan under $100,000. (Did you know the name for us in the industry is something like Time-Wasting-Applicant-Trouble-Seekers. I have been too busy to come up with an acronym for that.)
For two weeks after I got my pre-approval letter, I yapped at my poor realtor every single time a house came on the market that I could afford. I’d see something in my budget and shoot her an email. I strongly suspect by the fifth or sixth communication she wanted to shoot me back. When we met in person, she explained something I didn’t know…realtors cannot tell you that a neighborhood might not be desirable to live in. I guess I was sending her listings that apparently should have come with crime statistics. On her advice, I finally went to view the neighborhood that was offering such lovely houses at prices that seemed to be a steal. I drove past beautiful bungalows and cute cape cods until I passed a house with actual crime scene tape in front of it. I did a quick look around to see if the CSI officers were hanging about (no such luck), just in case they were as cute as Warrick on the original show by that name. (I still curse the writers who killed him off and sent Grissom away.) Where was I? Oh, right, leaving the house of my dreams in the location of my nightmares behind me as fast as the speed limit would allow.
Once I figured out where the safest neighborhoods were, the number of houses in my price range dropped dramatically. (You thought the DOW plunged alarmingly in 2011? If my house choices were stock options, I would have gone belly-up.)** Not only that, but the houses that did come up that weren’t condemned or had crawl-space basements just big enough to hide your average serial killer, the most likely homes disappeared from the market before I could get out to see them.
So, Thursday morning, when a house came on the market in an area that I would love to live in and it was reduced to a price I could almost afford. I nagged my realtor (a really nice woman who didn’t do anything to deserve a client like me) to get me into that house immediately. After probably the fastest walk-through in the history of house hunting anywhere, I jumped at the bait like a carp snapping up a juicy fly. Now I am worried that the hook sticking out of my jaw might possibly mean there is a frying pan somewhere in my future. “Don’t worry,” I tell myself, “You can always jump out of the pan!”
Right after I signed the digital dotted line (after reading the contract, I’m not a complete idiot) I start to dwell on all the negatives of the home I just told someone I could pay $94,000 for if they chipped in $2,000 for closing costs. (I felt like Wimpy in the Popeye comic strip: I’ll pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.) Negotiating a purchasing price of a home is like a really confusing shell game where you think you know where the ball is, but you’re still certain you are about to be conned. When the sellers leapt at my offer without negotiating anything, I was convinced I had made a mistake.
I honestly think I would have had an aneurism if it weren’t for my realtor pointing out the clause in my contract that says something to the effect that “If the inspections turn up anything of significant concern, the buyer has the right to repent at leisure that which she offered for in haste.”*** Or words to that effect. It’s the magic ‘Get Out of Jail Free Card’ of real estate. So, even though I have made an offer on a house I barely saw and am now chewing my nails that it will be a move I’ll regret for the next thirty years, I have the lovely prospect of an inspection to look forward to next Thursday which will either tell me that I have made a good choice or let me play my card. I may not be able to avoid the luxury tax for stupid people (i.e. loss of earnest money), but at least I can avoid jail. And, perhaps that’s the best a first-time buyer can hope for in a seller’s market.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
* Caveat Emptor in this case translates as: You just bought an empty cave!
**Fine, you write a better NASDAQ analogy—I still get NASDAQ and Nascar confused!
***Leisure lasts ten days, in case you wondered.