A Young Couple’s Guide to Buying Their First Home

white home with green decor around windows

First, become unreasonably attached to the first apartment you and your partner have lived in together. The place where you set up your first Christmas tree, brought home your first cat and patiently waited for her to come out from under the couch where she lived for months, and learned about each other’s annoying bathroom habits, like leaving little pieces of food from a good floss job on the mirror.

Expect a call from your landlords one day. They will tell you that they are moving back to town and you’ll have to vacate the perfect, two-bedroom, one-and-a-half baths, three-story, 1920’s row house with the washer and dryer in the basement, the original wide-plank hardwood floors in the kitchen with the sliding glass doors that open on to the private fenced-in garden, five minutes from two subway stops, for $1700 a month that you are unreasonably attached to.

Cry for two weeks. Maybe three. Every time your partner suggests looking for a new place to live, cry again. At this level of unreasonable attachment, this is normal. Although, it may grow grating on your relationship after some time. But you won’t care.

Finally, with red puffy eyes, begin trolling Craigslist obsessively for a new apartment. Make sure to compare every listing with the piece of paradise you are currently renting (for only $1700 a month). This is important. This comparison will ensure that you will never find as perfect an apartment and will cause you to start crying again. Keep trolling Craigslist through your tears.

Become desperate or just exhausted from all the crying and call a realtor. When he introduces himself as “Romeo,” don’t show up for the appointment.

On a Sunday afternoon, you’ll see an ad for an apartment on Craigslist that you are convinced is just what you are looking for. (It won’t be nearly as nice as your current home, but it will be Fine. Wipe away a tear.) Leave a message for the listing agent, and follow up with an email. And another message. Just for good measure. After all, great apartments go like crazy in this area. Finally, he will call you back. Insist on seeing the place as soon as possible. Show up with your partner and spend some time petting the fabulous orange cat that lives there while you quietly agree that it is Fine, but not as Nice As It Was In the Pictures Online. Write a check for the deposit anyway.

On your way to sign the lease, keep thinking about the closet doors that were solid mirrors. Really think about it– is that what you want to be looking at in your bedroom every day? Let those mirrors get uglier and more 1970s at every bus stop, and when you finally get to the listing agent’s office, tell him that you won’t sign the lease and you want your deposit back.

Try to feel some sympathy for your partner as you cry the whole bus ride home about how you will have nowhere to live in two months. Try to remember that not only will he also be homeless, but he has been watching you cry for a month now. When you feel good and sorry for him, agree when he suggests you both “just go look” at some places to buy instead of rent, but demand that said places are within a ten minute walk of Davis Square.

Set a strict budget.

Spend three Saturdays looking at options within your budget and within your newly expanded criteria of a twenty-five minute walk to Davis Square with a realtor who luckily possesses both the most annoying voice and the worst driving skills in the whole world. Resist throwing up your banana from lunch as she slams on the brakes looking for the house you are supposed to see. Realize that her third special skill is that she has absolutely no idea how to get around the cities of Cambridge or Somerville or Arlington. Even though she specializes in their housing markets. And has worked there for five years. She will show you some really disgusting options. But they will be within your budget! (Side note: It might be 90+ degrees on all three of these days, which will make you feel like dying in every un-air-conditioned home you enter, and will also make you feel like a loser for looking at houses on Saturdays in the 90s while all your friends are at the beach. Just remember that your friends are not homeless, and you are about to be.)

Go home. Cry a little.

Break up with your realtor. Cite reasons like “We were looking for someone with better knowledge of the Arlington market” while internally screaming “HOW CAN YOU BE SUCH A BAD DRIVER.” Don’t worry—she won’t hear the internal part.

Realize that you have exactly five and a half weeks to find a home, close on the property, and move out of the paradise that you love that is now full of boxes with no planned destination since you have been unable to find a place to live. Now would be the appropriate time to cry, but since you have run out of tears at this point, put your energy into trolling Craigslist for overpriced rentals while your partner finds a new realtor.

Raise your budget by $50,000.

Aggressively narrow down your choices for places to buy based on the knowledge of tricky realty words that you have learned over the past three Saturdays. See all of them in one day, and over a nervous beer or three at lunch next door to your realtor’s office, agree with your partner about which one to put an offer on. Do this the next day.*

The offer will get accepted. You will feel excited and also like vomiting. This is normal. Set the closing date for three weeks away.

Say yes when your partner suggests going out of town the next weekend. Fall down to both your knees in shock in front of your partner, who has been saying for three and a half years that he never wanted to get married, when he gets down on one knee and proposes at the exact spot where you first said that you loved him. Say yes again.

Two weeks later, walk two blocks from your fully-packed perfect apartment to City Hall with your fiancé and do your best to ignore the incredibly uncomfortable divorce happening at the table next to you as you sign your name 800 times and agree to spend more money than you will ever have in your life. Instead of feeling elation as you are handed the keys to your new home, you might only be able to wonder why they are covered with an incredibly ugly American Flag motif. This is normal. You have other things on your mind anyway.

For further instructions, please see “The Reluctant Homeowner’s Guide To Liking Their First Home As Much As They Liked Their Perfect Apartment In East Cambridge” or “The Anti-DIY Guide to Making Repairs on Your Own House, or, How to Call a Contractor.”

*This story actually omits the fact that we saw almost 100 houses and put offers on three of them before finding our home. If you are also in the midst of this process, don’t despair! It will happen.

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  • Jessica

    This comes at such a perfect time! We are buying our first home and are right at the stage after we put an offer in and felt like vomiting and it got accepted. Now we wait to see if they will cover repairs from the home inspection. It is a SCARY and vomit-worthy process and a sh*t ton of money, no doubt.

    I hope that you guys start to like your new place little by little. It’s always hard to leave the perfect place and especially one with good memories.

    • Carly

      We are in the EXACT same position. Inspection was last night- now we wait. (And it only took 60 some houses, 2 failed offers, and lots of tears).

    • Lauren

      We have been in the new place for four years (well, four years this August) and I now really do like it. And I like our lame “suburban” neighborhood. But it took time!

      • meg

        Both her home and her neighborhood are AWESOME (and totally not suburban) says a former house guest.

    • Wow. We’re in the same place too! Our inspection was Wednesday and we’re waiting to hear back on if the sellers will fix the scary dangerous wiring in the house. Add on to that the stress of securing a mortgage, trying to provide credit history for my husband who just got his green card, and waiting for the loan statement for the car we bought three weeks ago before we knew we’d be buying a house. Yikes!

      Thanks so much for this post. It made me laugh and feel a little less crazy.

  • Ana

    Lauren, I love you.

    Having bought a condo in the Boston area in the fall, when we were still just looking to rent in June with our lease ending in August– yes. I get you. And the budget issues. How many carpeted “garden-level” apartments did you see in Cambridge? A million? Yeah, I remember that!

    Also, can we for just a moment discuss the Boston rental phenomenon that is your lease being up on august 31st and your new one not starting until September first and where do you sleep and where do you put all your stuff on that night? Let’s rejoice being homeowners and not having to deal with that ever again! Wahooo!

    Congrats on the home and the marriage and your writing.

    • Lauren

      Haha, thanks! And yes, my dreams of living in Cambridge were dashed as soon as we saw what we could afford ONE TOWN AWAY. So crazy.

    • Diane

      “Exactly” doesn’t even begin to cover it. I am still scarred from my experience trying to find an apartment in Brookline (or JP or Allston/Brighton or really anywhere accessible to my job). I laughed out loud multiple times while reading this. I mostly thank Yelp for the fact that I was able to get over my Boston PASD (post-apartment stress disorder).

  • PA

    The offer will get accepted. You will feel excited and also like vomiting.

    At one point, I actually DID wake up from a set of dreams about my mortgage agent emailing me with and more lists of forms we needed, stagger into the bathroom, and throw up. My stomach was on constant-churn mode for about four weeks.

    I will share the best piece of advice about buying a home, though, which was from my father. I had called him in tears (right after the offer got accepted, incidentally), sobbing, “What if I’ve made a terrible mistake?” And he said, perfectly calmly, “Well, if this is a mistake, you’ll recover from it.” “Oh. [Pause. Residual sniffle.] I guess there’s that.”

    • I need to print out that advice from your dad- I live in completely unreasonable terror of “the wrong house” to the point where I want to run and hide when my husband even mentions saving for a house.

    • I wish my parents were in that mindset. They are convinced we’re making a terrible mistake, so any “wrong house” doubts I have need to be kept from them :(

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  • We were trying to do this four months before our wedding. We stopped two months before, when the stress started to get to be too much and I started hating my life. Luckily we have a place to live indefinitely, but it is gross and tiny and dark and we want to be in our own house so badly. The market where we live is absolutely nuts right now and the pressure is huge to just make a split-second decision and not sleep on it first. I’m hoping we can find something quite quick after we get married in August but HOLY CRAP why is buying a house so stressful and why did no one tell us that!

    I would love to hear about more people’s experiences buying a home on here. All the TV shows just make it look so simple and fun (and they always find what they want after looking at only 3 perfect houses) and you hardly hear about the high-stress side of it, so this post is very refreshing and real. Thank you Lauren for sharing your experience and thank you APW for posting it!

    • emma

      I totally agree on the “why does no one say this sucks?” part. We were the lucky annoying people who fell in love with the first house we looked at but once you find “the one” it doesn’t end there. Negotiations, mortgage approval, insurance, inspection – not fun!! And like you mention, rarely talked about!

    • Carly

      FYI- House Hunters is fake if that makes you feel better about their 3 perfect choices. :) They’ve already closed on their home when they shoot their episode. We just don’t get to see all the bad things that lead up to their closing.

      • WHAT? No wonder people are so snarky on that show. I’ve often cringed at how critical some of the buyers are, but if they’ve already settled on the home they chose, I guess they have room to just not care and nitpick to death.

        • Carly

          Totally agree. Yeah those other two houses they look at are either others on the market, or even sometimes just a friend’s house. Sorry to spoil the fun :)

      • meg

        Often the other homes are not even for sale. In house hunters international, they rent out lived in homes, clear all the furniture and show them. Some of them are not even HOMES, but abby’s or what have you. I mean, it’s darn good entertainment, but it’s all entertainment.

        • JEM

          What the eff??!

      • Yeah, I heard about that recently. I always kind of figured so, because they never had any issues with negotiating the price, etc. In Canada there’s a show called Property Virgins which is similar but more real, because they often get outbid etc. but still, they often find the perfect house after seemingly 3 choices haha.

      • Ain’t gonna stop me from watching it . . .

        Actually, I met someone who was on the show Property Virgins. He said that it was pretty accurate except for one house they saw; they had already decided to buy another so they were looking at that one “just because.”

    • Liz

      We intentionally stopped watching HGTV during our home buying process. It was just too heartbreaking to see people quickly/easily finding their dream homes while we were slogging through homes with multiple offers and signing a lot more paperwork than ever imagined.

      We are also getting married in August and have been doing the home buying process in a crazy market at the same time (we close on our house at the end of July WHEE!) and I can completely understand your stress level. It is SO MUCH to deal with at one time. You will get there and find something that works for you! Relax and find something else to watch. I reccomend Travel Channel :o)

      • Travel Channel suggestion = Genius.

    • Jessica

      Yeah I love HGTV as much as the next person, but I cannot watch it while we go through this process. I do like that “My First Place” or whatever at least shows the process of putting in an offer, countering, getting rejected, doing the inspection, etc., whereas on “House Hunters” they don’t show any of the real PROCESS of it.

      And oh lordy we stopped watching “Holmes on Homes” too because it was freaking us out! We were positive this house would be infested with asbestos, have crumbling foundation and hidden water damage after watching that haha! It’s off the TV until we’re moved in.

    • Alicia

      Yeah, the shows are completely fake. A coworker of mine did it, but they had already signed a contract and were less than a month from moving into their house.

    • @Robyn — I (well, we) am in the buying process right now and I have been blogging about it if you’re interested! I actually just wrote about how House Hunters was fake (and how that’s probably a good thing since it’s SO not what it was really like for us) and a series of how I even got over my fears about buying in the first place! I don’t want to be spammy and post links to my blog here but if you click my username you can visit my blog…all the house-related posts are right on the homepage still. :)

      And I too would love to hear more of other people’s experiences and/or resources for new homeowners. I feel so overwhelmed and out of my element right now it’s not even funny! Anyone have blogs or books to recommend that tell me like, I don’t know…everything about maintaining/improving a new home?!

      • Thanks! I checked it out. My fiance has wanted to buy a house for so long too, and it was also so important to him to have a house before the wedding, but he made a big compromise by agreeing to stop until after because there was just too much happening at once. In a perfect world we would have started looking a year or something before we got married, not 4 months – but we were living across the country from each other until then. I think we’re stronger for going through the experience so far but it still sucked and wasn’t a very happy time. I’m hoping we can approach it more calmly in September and have a less-stressful experience than it has been so far.

        • My fiancé wants both the house and the big(ish) wedding, and I wanted to keep renting and go to City Hall. He wanted the house before the wedding like yours did, but wasn’t in a huge rush to have the wedding, and neither was I…but now I’m hoping that because we did the house first, we won’t be able to/want to have a very big wedding. It seems like it is pretty hard to do both at once, both financially and logistically, so we’ll see what happens. :)

      • MDBethann

        My husband (and some of my co-workers) is addicted to Holmes on Homes on the DIY channel and HGTV. Mike Holmes is out of Canada but has great tips on the things you should be looking for in home inspectors and contractors. Good luck!

    • MDBethann

      That and they all seem to worry more about the superficial stuff, like granite countertops. Sure, that stuff looks pretty, but you really should worry about whether the windows are good, the ac, furnace, water heater, roof, etc. are in good shape, and make sure there isn’t dry rot/termites/mold or other structural problems that you will have to deal with.

      The way the house LOOKS you can change over time with paint and remodeling. It’s a lot rougher when your water heater leaks all over your basement at 5 pm on a Friday or you discover termites have eaten through the drywall to the paint. Or that the “replacement windows” that the previous owners installed are crap and leaking and need to be replaced one month before your wedding. Oh, and the giant prickly pear cactus (that was buried under snow when you bought the house) can be dug out of the ground over the course of a summer. All of these things have happened in the first 2 years that DH and I have owned our home. Don’t get me wrong, we LOVE our house, plan to stay there until we retire, and have lots of ideas for remodeling it to fit our needs as our family grows. And we had a decent home inspector. But the people who worry more about the appearance of a house instead of its bones will often have big surprises in store for them later (and we worried about the bones – our house had a ginormous 13-star American flag painted on the living room ceiling when we purchased it for goodness sake!)

      Disclaimer: This was my 2nd home buying experience (I bought a condo when I was single) and DH’s 1st. Experience doesn’t necessarily make it easier than the “first time.” It really just depends on what your locale’s housing market is like at the time you are house shopping. We also shopped for our house right after the February 2010 “Snowmageddon” in the Mid-Atlantic, so between the snow and the lousy economy, we got a pretty nice deal.

    • Does anyone remember the show My First Home on TLC? Throughout the home search it had a lot of little pop-ups tips for first-time buyers and what some of the terminology meant, etc. The My First Place that’s on HGTV is fine, and it does show a bit more of the difficulty (and definitely more than House Hunters or House Hunters International), but not as much as that other show.

      I like the shows where people sometimes don’t end up with houses. Property Virgins is pretty good about that. Because you know what? Sometimes things just don’t work out (within half an hour).

      To sum up: I watch a freakin’ lot of HGTV.

  • Lauren you nailed the house buying process. On the head.

    It sort of makes me want to write the sequel: How to DIY renovate a house (with no heat) in the dead of winter in North Idaho. Blech.

    • Lauren

      Well since I will never, ever, EVER be writing a sequel with that title, I think you should go for it!!

      • HA. Alternate title: “How I almost broke up with my boyfriend while hanging sheetrock with numb fingers” or “Hauling warm water from the neighbors’ house and peeing at the bar.”

  • Jacque

    I swear to god we had a broker EXACTLY like what you described. No knowledge of the area, we asked to see apartments off of the red line and she took us to the North End, and then the driving, dear god the driving. I legitimately almost bailed out of the moving vehicle.

    • Lauren

      There was one day where she took a wrong turn and landed us in a literal hour-long backup. I was scrabbling at the door like a cat in a carrier. It wasn’t pretty.

      Glad you survived as well!

  • Lisa

    Wow, yep this absolutely hits home right now. We started looking for homes a few months after we got married and 4 months/8 offers/almost given up hope and had an emotional breakdown later we finally had someone accept an offer. Except my heart wasn’t fully into the house and I felt like we were taking something that was just ok because it seemed impossible to get a decent house in the crazy Phoenix market. (A little background: because homes are so cheap now, investors have swooped in like crazy with cash, outbidding practically everyone who puts in an offer on a home.) There was another house that we LOVED and had some hope for because they actually wanted to sell the home to someone who will live in it and were passing up investor cash offers. But they ended up accepting another offer and I tried to be more excited about the house that did accept. Then by some miracle, the buyers on the house we loved walked and we were the backup. Now we’re super excited to get this house and if all goes well we will close at the end of August… although it’s been so crazy, I keep half expecting something to fall through so I can’t be completely excited until we have the keys in our hands.

  • goodheart

    (am clearly in commenting mood today)

    one of the things i actually LOVED about home buying was how much it reinforced our relationship – we were lucky enough to be on the same page about the entire process as far as our “needs” and “wants” resulting in a fun search. we each made our lists about what we wanted in a house (including concrete facts like how many bedrooms, but also the feel of the neighborhood) and it was really gratifying to see that the important values were consistent. because of an impending move, we had one weekend to look at houses and decide which one to put an offer on. after a full full day of visits, we narrowed things down to two places and went to take an extra look at the neighborhoods. at the first place, he suggested we get out of the car and take a walk and we were both like, um, there’s nothing to see (it was a new development with no trees). at the second place, we took a looong walk around the local park, visited with neighbors having a yard sale, and just walked around hand in hand saying “this is us, this feels like a neighborhood we want to be part of.” i truly had fun with that part!

    (not so much when the sellers failed to disclose a major water leak that almost prevented us from getting insurance….- but that too we got through).

    • Carly

      (also in a commenting mood) :)

      One of the things I HATED most about house hunting was that my husband and I were NOT on the same page about our wish list. I love older homes with character closer to town, he wanted a newer, bigger home in the ‘burbs. It was frustrating, to say the least. But we just had an offer accepted on our dream home- an old home with great renovations and updates that meets both of our needs.

      I wished over and over again that we would just “get on the same page”, but looking backing it did strengthen our relationship. We compromised more than we ever had to before (and didn’t kill each other in the process) and learned a lot. I love reading about all different situations and what people learn about each other! So fun.

      • goodheart

        carly, our one disagreement re: future houses is idea of being walking distance to stores, coffeeshops, bars, etc. i would LOVE to have that option; he grew up without that and doesn’t miss it and would rather have a much bigger yard. it was literally not an option in our current town (it’s older suburbs vs. new developments) but i can foresee this argument when we move again (which we will, academia being what it is). i think your point is totally right on though, the compromise process this encourages is what is key – and how you talk about it all.

        • Carly

          Trust me, if we survived, you can too! I wasn’t sure we’d ever find something to agree on!

  • April

    *DYING* laughing (not at you – but what you wrote *is* humorous) only because I can so relate to what you shared and the exhausting process involved with finding a home. Although we bought our house two years after the wedding, the process was so nerve-wracking and arduous I had major doubts… not about the house, but about whether the husband and I would actually survive and stay together until the ink was dry on the closing papers. Thankfully, we did. But it wasn’t a picnic. Not one bit.

    Oh, and those sappy REMAX commercials that show the darling, happy couple alongside the moving van, with the perfect yard and their perfect smiles, holding a perfect set of keys to their dream home? Bullsh*t. They’re actors (well, DUH) or they’re on drugs. Instead, show me the picture of the woman (or the man) crying in the house, surrounded by a mega butt-ton of packing boxes and bubble wrap, sweaty, dirty, with a box of pizza and soda cans on the floor, with the stunned look of “Oh, holy effing hell – we own this place” still on their faces. *THAT* is the reality! LOL

  • Sarah

    Lauren, I’m bookmarking this now. In hopes that when-for-ever down the line I am looking at housing again, I remember your wisdom. And tears.

  • Tegan

    Actually that sounds like ALL realtors in the GBA. Were we neighbors at some point? Because my perfect little apartment is $1800/month and 5 mins to Davis.

    • Lauren

      We are neighbors now! I’m in Arlington, but 20 min to Davis. The perfect place was in East Cambridge, and four years later, it still tugs at my heart when I drive by!

  • Annika

    The losing-the-original-best-apartment-ever is EXACTLY what happened to us. And I cried for weeks. And I hated every new apartment we looked at and in fact refused to even look at Craigslist (my husband did all the looking). In the end, we did find a very nice apartment that is going to fine, or even good (but not amazing). On the plus side, it’s only for a year as we both finish grad school, then I’ll probably start crying all over again about wherever we move next.

  • Holla fellow Bostonian!

    So glad we are done with that nightmare. We started shopping in May for a August 31 move out– we managed to find a house, but had to postpone our closing THREE times, which led to us being homeless for six weeks. Thank Eru for kind friends with couches (and convenient storage facilities)!

    Yeah. House buying was WAY more stressful than planning a wedding. WAY. WAY more.

    HIGH FIVE for surviving it!

    • Thank you for validating my belief that if my husband and I want to buy in the Boston area next summer, we should start looking now ;-)

  • I love this so much. Lauren, you really capture the exasperation and the sweetness. This is filed for when Joe & I eventually start our own house hunting phase. There may be blood in our case, so I’m glad to read that it’s possible for the search to end happily!

  • What I’ve come to realize is that APW is just plain relevant. Every single day something comes up, either as a post topic or within the comments, that I find myself vehemently nodding to, or gratefully realizing I’m not alone.

    I actually texted my fiance and told him he MUST read this post. I told him “Disclaimer: This is Us One Year From Now” because it SO will be.

    Lauren, thank you so much for sharing! I absolutely loved the combination of snark and sass, and will definitely be visiting you over at your blog!

    I do have a question to all the new (or not!) homeowners out there: How did you do it? Or rather, where did you start? We have no savings (we’re working on this now that we both have decent-paying full-time jobs) and I can’t for the life of me get a sense for what kind of down payment is expected. It’s out of pocket cash, isn’t it? You wouldn’t get a loan for a down payment, and then a mortgage, would you?

    In any case, loved this :)

    • Margaret

      You save. You save as much as you can. And you think long and hard to make sure that buying a home is the right move for you. I’ve rented and we currently own and whichever one is right for you depends on your personality, your skills, your income, and your savings.

      If you find a good mortgage broker (rare as hen’s teeth, but they do exist) they can talk you through the financing options. But in general, yes, you need some cash. Even for an FHA loan where you only have to put down 3.5% (N.B. you pay hefty mortgage insurance fees for these mortgages until you reach 20% equity in the house–and that is money you never see again) and you can finance some or all of the closing costs, you have to put down that 3.5% in cash. You cannot finance the down payment.

      And never underestimate the cost of maintenance. Shit happens, and you gotta fix it and often that means hiring someone to fix it.

      We spend a fair amount of time and money on our house, and we think its worth it for us, but it’s not something to go into lightly or without a steady paycheck and a fat savings account.

      • Mrs May

        Also, you need to pay closing costs and those add up, a lot. For example, we bought an (awesome!) house in new England for 152k. We put down 10%, and this plus closing cost us about 23k. We each save money every week, it is automatically removed from our accounts and placed in a separate ING account. There is NO way we would have been able to do it any other way. The more money you have in your pocket the more smoothly the process goes…. You start feeling like 1,000 here and there is nothing.
        Keep in mind if you do not have a lot of savings you cannot buy a major fixer upper- the bank won’t finance you. Don’t be fooled by those mortgage calculators- insurance and taxes and pmi add up.
        Now that we’re done we will continue to save that money, to take care of the house. Our priority is feeling sure we can afford it.
        We look at each other every day and are amazed we bought this giant project. Even still, our monthly house payment is hundreds less than our rent was.

        • Margaret

          Closing costs, inspections, appraisal fees: you become inured to writing huge checks, until of course you hand over the hugest check of all at closing!

        • Not Sarah

          When you’re shopping around for mortgage lenders (e.g. your local credit unions, your bank, a friend’s mortgage broker), get the rate AND the closing costs. I found rates that were the same, with closing costs varying between $1,000 and $12,000. The closing costs can make a huge difference in your overall costs.

          You can also negotiate with the seller for them to cover some closing costs.

        • Spines

          This is so not the point, but $152k??! I am so freaking jealous! I’m in Australia, where we’ve had no recession and no housing bubble burst (which, obviously, not such a bad thing) but the prices are completely outrageous (despite the fact that they’ve come down 10% or so in the last couple of years).

          There was a housing survey I saw the other week and housing in all major Australian cities, including little Adelaide (1 million people) where I live, is more expensive than buying in New York City!

          We decided to get married first, then house, but eventually we’re probably going to spend about $400k on hour first home, and that’s for something fairly average :(

          • Mrs May

            In order to buy our totally affordable home we chose to move 100 miles away from where we live now. But it is a huge relief- for sure. It is a 3 bedroom house with a yard (!) and a garage (!) in good shape, although its old. I know we are lucky. But if you are thinking you really want that- it can be done. You just may not be able to stay where you are. For us it was worth it- we love this new community and feel we’ll have a better quality of life. Our monthly payment is about $1100.
            I love these discussions about $- although owning a home is so much more than that- it is important we talk about this stuff.
            Re gift funds: if anyone will be giving you more than 10k they pay taxes on it. You have to remember the bank can ask for any piece of paper they want- they even asked us for virtually nonexisting documents. They can loose the papers several times and not apologize.

      • Amanda

        And also VERY IMPORTANT — that down payment? Cannot be a gift, cannot be borrowed, and MUST be both from your everyday 9-5 W2-payrolled job (ie. money from tutoring, freelancing, babysitting, dog walking, etc. cannot be used), and MUST seasoned (ie. sit in your account for a minimum amount of time, for us it was 2 months).

        There is so much no one tells you about home buying other than about the rainbows and unicorns. It’s hard to find something you fall in love with, only to be told you need to wait 30 more days for your down payment to season, or that all the extra money from the freelance jobs your hubby took over the past few months can’t be used for the down payment, either.

        We hope to close on time in three weeks. But it will be a stressful time for us, no doubt about it.

        • MDBethann

          The money I used for my down payment in 2004 when I bought my condo was money that my parents had gifted to me about a year or so before. If it is sitting in your savings account, no bank is going to know how it got there. It is part of your assets and that is it.

          My first mortgage (in 2004) was 80% mortgage, 10% down, and then 10% 2nd mortgage, which had horrible interest rates and which I paid off really, really fast. That was also before the housing bubble, and I wouldn’t recommend going that route now.

          Our current mortgage is an FHA one, so we did 3.5% down. I hate all the interest we are paying, but we’re going to try and refinance and switch our payment plan, so hopefully we can bring it down a bit.

          My grandparents loaned my parents money to buy their first house (before that we had lived in a house owned by the church my dad worked at), but that was back in the early 1990s, so things are obviously different now in that regard.

          In all cases, ALWAYS leave $$ for emergency repairs. My parents bought their first house in the spring of 1990. In October 1990, their oil burner died. Ouch. And in the 2 years we’ve owned our house, we’ve had termites, leaking 2nd floor windows, and a broken hot water heater. Stuff breaks and you have to fix it, simple as that, and in an emergency, you can’t always price shop.

        • Margaret M.

          I don’t think that’s true about it not being a gift, unless things have changed in the past year. Our down payment for an FHA mortgage was partly a gift from my parents (an inheritance from my grandma, it still brings a tear to my eye). We just had to document it.

          • Amanda

            Perhaps it’s state-specific? We were told no less than three times by three different lenders that our down payment could not be a gift (along with the other restrictions I added). Perhaps it’s important to note that the minimum down (3.5% for FHA, etc.) is what they are referring to. Anything additional above the *required* down can be gift.

            So, not to say it’s like this everywhere, but it was something that really boggled our minds, as there were so many restrictions on where our money could come from to meet that minimum down payment.

          • Elizabeth

            Amanda – that may also be FHA specific. Multiple people I know have used gifts or loans from family as down payments.

          • MDBethann

            I used the gift from my parents (was from my grandparents’ estate actually) as my 10% down on a non-FHA loan, so maybe that’s the difference.

            However, gifts are exempt up to $11,000 from an individual each year (at least by the federal government in the US). I.e your parents can gift you $22,000 one year because they could each give you $11K tax free. Not sure if they could each gift your spouse an additional $22K; would have to talk to an accountant for that.

            It might also help not to just talk to a mortgage broker or loan officer at a bank/credit union, but to also talk to an accountant. They can help you figure out the tax implications of buying a home or becoming a landlord. I feel very fortunate that my mom works at a bank and my sister-in-law is a CPA, so we can usually get some information before we start shopping around for financial products or anything that might get us a tax break on the house.

    • Amy March

      Yep- out of pocket cash. Minimum requirements vary, my target is 20% down plus at least 10k in reserve for unexpected costs.

  • kathleen

    Part of what made me sure about my fiance (then bf) was watching him go through the house buying process cool as a cucumber. I had bought a place 2 years before and basically weeped and wailed through the whole process. I may consider including ‘you must be in charge of our real estate decisions’ in our vows, because I seriously don’t think I can live through that whole mess again.

  • KB

    Oh my god, this was us, except it wasn’t buying our first apartment, it was renting our first apartment – but still, it managed to be the process from hell., compounded by the fact that my mother is a realtor. Why would this be bad, you ask? Well, on our own, we saw about a dozen places that I thought were nice, but too expensive or “not us,” to which my guy thought “whatever” but he indulged me. And then we fell in love with a lovely junior one bedroom right across from a dog park, really nice couple as landlords, small yet adorable. So I told my mother we found our place. Big mistake. She researched the building and came up with 10-15 things that were wrong with the place – to which I scoffed and said things like, “Well, we don’t care that it doesn’t have central air” or “It doesn’t matter that our landlords will be living out of state, we know how to use a hammer” or “We don’t actually NEED a bedroom door.” Then I hung up the phone, thought for five minutes, and swore violently because she was right. I called my guy hysterically crying – and I then convinced him to walk 45 minutes in the pouring rain to put in a rental application for the very first place that we looked at because I was convinced that it would be gone by the end of the day. He is a good man to put up with that much crazy.

  • Liz

    Lauren you are, as ever, hilarious.

  • Noemi

    Haha, I loved this. Ours was a bit different, but I can still relate.

    Love the location of your first apartment as a married couple, but hate the landlord who is probably a drug dealer and despise the high rent ($900 in Cleveland is too high for cockroaches and no air conditioning and loud music from the Italian restaurant downstairs). Husband signs up for the Marines, decide to buy a house less than one month before husband leaves for boot camp. Quickly pick a house together (one day of looking) which is perfect and great and way cheaper than renting. Get Power of Attorney two days before husband leaves. Expect to close on house and move in in Mid-January… find out there are liens on house and Realtor suggests giving up on this house and starting the house search over while husband is already gone at boot camp with no communication except snail mail. Weep uncontrollably in public. Because apartment is already set to be rented out to someone else the day after official move-out day, move into house anyways (squatting) with the help of family and friends who don’t know you don’t own the house yet. Finally get liens cleared and sign all the papers to own the house just days before husband finishes boot camp.

    • Not Sarah

      Before starting the buying process, I heard ZERO stories of things not closing on time. After my place didn’t close on time (turned into at all), so many stories came out of the woodwork. I wish I could have heard both sides beforehand! There was definitely a bit of weeping, but far, far more checklists for me.

  • Kerry

    Let me tell you, right now my partner and I are living the “Young Couple’s Guide to SELLING their First Home” and it’s kind of like this, played backwards, with about 18 extra paragraphs of crying.

    Gold stars for Lauren, this was just what I needed today.

    • Please tell me you’re writing this guide!

    • True story.
      I’ve cried. I’ve laughed. I’ve dreamed about what the next house will be.

      Then we had a conversation with our Realtor who informed us that we should hope to break even from the sale of our current place (WHAT? We’ve made it so much better than what it was and we love it and everyone should be honored to have the chance to live there!) and that we should expect to carry two mortgages for a few months while we go through the process of buying and selling because we can’t expect our house to sell within a few days of our offer being accepted on another home.

      Which was swiftly followed by my husband and I looking around our current place, deciding that a family of four could certainly fit inside a 1,300 square foot townhouse, and that it would be less emotional and exhausting to just stay here forever. Then deciding that while we’ll fit easier if our (yet unborn) children are both of the same gender, we have the option of adding walls to make one bedroom into two if they happen to need their own space.

      Ugh. Houses are huge and wonderful and terrifying and obnoxious, all at the same time.

      • I could write the Young-ish Couple Selling Their Home and Buying Another Whilst Pregnant Guide. There were tears and the throwing of things. This is just to tell you that no matter where you are in life Buying a House is stressful.

      • MDBethann

        We were able to better afford our single family home given the housing market burst, but it made me underwater on my old condo. So now I’ve been a landlord for 1 1/2 years. That’s been interesting. Hope to sell soon, but there are definitely ways to make renting it out sort of break even with your mortgage payments. The other thing is to hire a good accountant who can help you properly deduct your rental property.

  • Alicia

    Last night my husband and I just made an appt with a realtor. Crazy good timing.

  • JEM

    I am almost positive that Adventure Week on APW is my favorite series you have done.

    • Darcy

      I’m loving it too. I’m also freaked out by how much vomit and crying is involved.

      • Amanda

        Seriously. We don’t talk enough about the vomit and crying involved in being an adult.

  • Amber

    I’m going to keep despairing.

    It’s really horrible out there. We’ve been looking for OVER. A. YEAR. We’ve put in offers twice, we’ve probably seen 100+ homes too. I get email updates every morning, who is buying these houses!? Even if we up our budget $50K, the houses are still shit and need another $30K in renovations so they’re not from 1975. We have 20% to put down, yet can’t find anything worth spending our money on. That and it’s scary to not have any more savings, yet a $300K+ mortgage knowing things could go well and you make a few thousand dollars when you sell, or things can go horrible again and your home is worth less than you paid. It’s scary!

    • I hear you! We also have a large down payment and aren’t super limited by budget, but still couldn’t seem to find anything. I’m hoping the new mortgage-tightening rules in Canada help us out a bit when we start our search again in the fall. And yeah, who is buying all these houses?? I don’t understand how the market is so crazy.

    • Not Sarah

      Some of those houses just stay on the market forever… At least, that’s been my experience in Seattle. It took me about 8 months from start to close and it was TERRIBLE. I about wanted to give up and just move to an apartment that was what I wanted, even though it would be more expensive and then what if I found a place immediately after moving?!

      • Amanda

        Not Sarah – we have been looking for 6 months in Seattle, and over the past three months every single house in our budget range has turned to a pending sale within 5 – 10 days of listing. I can’t believe the market has swung so drastically from your looking 8 months ago!

        • Not Sarah

          Er, I think I glossed over the story a bit. I started looking in November, had a place not close in February and then started looking again in April. My experience in the fall was so totally different. There wasn’t much inventory, there wasn’t much coming on the market, and stuff was staying on the market for a bit. The places that stay on the market for ages are priced too high. (I’ve seen places priced $100k higher than what they could appraise at. Ridiculous.)

          I was only looking at condos, but it was the same thing. The place I finally ended up with went pending for me within 10 days of listing.

  • What a wonderful post and how fantastically relevant! As I’m reading this my husband texts me to tell me we have a deal on a house. We’ve been looking for 2 years! I’m excited! He’s apprehensive. I guess we’re both apprehensive, and relieved… and scared. Is this truly the right place for us?

    There are so many considerations to buying a house way beyond just the house. Commute, schools (if you have little ones), community… it goes on and on. And where do you make sacrifices? I guess these are obstacles faced on an individual basis, but thank you Lauren for helping me feel like I am not alone in this oh so aggravating process.

  • This post was awesome and SO timely! Love it!!

  • Meg

    Is this author me and the bf (minus the need to find a new place to live asap). Had a great apartment in Davis for the bargain price of $1400(!) a month and a 5 minute walk. Fast forward 6 months and we bought a house that is now a 25 minute walk (we HAVE to be neighbors!) and restoring it the best we can. Congrats to you! Through all the frustration with home buying, moving, fighting over stupid reno decisions, it’s worth it. I promise!

    • Lauren

      I bet we live right next door :)

    • kckp

      I live in the neighborhood too! We should hang.

      My man and I moved out of a decent apartment near Davis with an incompatible roommate and bought a lovely gem of a house that’s somewhat less near Davis. We moved into the house the same month as we got married. That was a hella busy time, I tell you what.

      • Meg

        Totally should!

        • Lauren

          You ladies should join the APW Boston Facebook group!

  • LBD

    Ugh. Two years past buying our house, this is what I have to say:

    If you and your significant other are not fix-it type people, and both hate talking to people on the phone to get shit done, this will not magically change when you buy a house. Consider this when selecting said house. Unfortunately, you will not find out about a lot of these things until you have an inspection done, and already have your heart set. You will do a lot of rationalizing because you are a human being, and tired of the damn process already.

    Also, there will always always be things the inspector misses. This seems to be the experience of me and my friends at least. Consider it to be a low estimate on the things wrong with the house. Inspectors are limited as to what they can do, and living in the house, you’ll discover more things. Also don’t take your inspector’s word on how much it will cost to fix so-and-so. Get some people to come in and give you an actual estimate. This also gives you stronger bargaining power with the sellers.

    Also, don’t get too much into the details with anyone who hasn’t bought a house in your state, they vary incredibly. WA has terrible laws that mostly protect the seller and not the buyer. Trying to have discussions with our parents who live in East Coast states with much much better buyer protection laws was painful. “No Dad, actually WA doesn’t require them to fix those things at all, all we can do is decide to walk away from the deal.”

    Finally, two years in, I think owning a house is really not the amazing fulfillment of the American Dream sold to me. It’s heck of a lot better than the string of terrible landlords we had prior, and I can finally own a dog without worrying about finding pet-friendly rentals, but I got to say, I wish I’d had more firm reasons for wanting to buy a house than those. I admit that it was a matter of we had the money in savings, and it was kind of what we thought we should do with said savings. I guess what I tell people now is, there’s not much of a reason to be in such a darn hurry.

    That said, looking at houses was the most fun ever. I’ve always loved exploring spaces and having the freedom to be as nosy as I please. Especially all the weird nooks and crannies and secret cupboards that seem to populate the basements of older Seattle houses.

    • Not Sarah

      And if your parents live in Canada and you live in WA, don’t listen to any of their advice about mortgages. When your mom pesters you incessantly about how much better biweekly payments are and you finally after the fifteenth time ask your loan agent who says “We only do monthly payments” and your mom doesn’t believe you, don’t despair! Just keep telling your mom that things are different.

      It’s almost worse that things are so similar and so subtly different than being completely different from the start. Sigh.

      I loved looking at places too, until it started going on FOREVER.

      • Amanda

        Um, are we the same person? I just remembered today to ask our lender about biweekly payments, as my (Canadian) Mom has been asking me to ask! Also – “what do you mean they need more than 30 days to close?!” Buying a home in a country not your own is tough. I’m guessing you have a green card? Or one of the fancier “allowable” visas?

        • Not Sarah

          Or “What do you mean, you don’t have to pay any lawyer fees?!” Or “What do you mean, you don’t sign the papers at the bank?!”

          No green card – I have a H-1B. Any lender that knows what a TN is won’t let you get a mortgage on a TN.

        • Not Sarah

          Oops! I hit submit too early.

          That said, my parents did have some useful advice, but it was a good lesson in weeding through the crazy of parents living in another country and still being parents. Dad can still help fix little things. Mom can still help me pack. Wee parents living close, but being in another country!

      • MDBethann

        Some American lenders do have biweekly payments. We (for better or worse) went with Wells Fargo and they have a biweekly option that we hope to switch to soon.

  • Not Sarah

    I recently closed on a condo by myself. It was helluva scary going through it all by myself.

    I made the mistake at first of including too many other people and then it was hard to sort through what I wanted versus what my mom wanted and why did it matter what my mom wanted?! It was my place! I didn’t need a third bedroom – that’s insane.

    I think the hardest part of all to me was picking a place. I didn’t have the adventure of an offer not being accepted, though I was in a multiple offer situation the second time around and the first time around, it didn’t close.

    From first attempt to close, I went through two agents, one extra rental apartment, and about 8 months. I do not wish that on anyone, but I’m glad I have the place I have now.

    I first looked at townhouses with a ridiculously low budget for what and where I wanted a place (and way, way lower than what I could afford by my math). Then I realized that I didn’t want multiple floors and you know what, I was quite happy living in an apartment, so long as it was spacious. I didn’t like the idea of the townhouse as a single woman that anyone could walk up to the front door and just barge right in! And vacuuming endless staircases? So not my thing. I finally ended up deciding I wanted a condo, but then inventory was terrible and it took me a few months of going and looking at places immediately after they went on the market before finding one I really wanted. That part was really hard. Accepting that I knew what I wanted, but it simply didn’t exist because anything “good” was selling within a week of listing, so I couldn’t see much good unless it was just listed.

    Some lessons that I learned:
    1) Don’t be afraid to fire your agent. They owe you nothing. Interview agents. Get recommendations from a friend who you really trust, rather than just some random friend. Do not use an agent that was a family friend of your friend because a bad agent could be a good agent to a family friend.
    2) If your agent is pressuring you to put in an offer already, you can fire them.
    3) A loan agent shouldn’t bully you into picking them. Go with someone else. I had really good luck with a credit union and a bad loan agent with another one, so guess which one I picked!
    4) A loan agent should want your business. This means that they will call you or email you back within a reasonable timeframe, especially once you have started a conversation.
    5) First impressions on places are important, but so are checklists.

    It’s sort of like dating in all of the above ways!

    • Haha, my mom was soooo opinionated about everything too. It was stressing me out. I think when we start looking again I need to not talk to her about it anymore because it’s not her place and she was trying to make the decision for us.

      • Not Sarah

        I would definitely suggest that, especially if you’re buying with a partner. I was talking through the process a bit too much with my mom, who has her own strong opinions, but it wasn’t going to be her place. There were definitely times that I wished I had a partner for a sounding board instead because he would at least have a vested interest in the process since he would own it too. People would always tell me “Well, at least it’s only your list of requirements, not two competing lists of requirements.” But my mom had her competing list of requirements anyway!

        I guess part of being a grown-up is learning when to tell your parents to shut up, when to listen politely and ignore them, and when to rebut them. Sigh.

  • MM

    We just closed on our first house last week! Our realtor prepared us for the fact that good houses were going quickly, and we listened to friends that had been outbid several times, so were prepared for the worst and scared that we wouldn’t be able to find something in time (our current rental is being foreclosed and is set to be up for auction in a few weeks). But we actually had our offer accepted on the third house we saw. That didn’t make the process any less scary, and there were more than a few times that I doubted making a decision so quickly. We ended up with the perfect house for us, in an awesome neighborhood, and we couldn’t be happier!

  • Caroline

    Ahh yes, the joys of buying a house in Boston. So glad other people have experienced the same agony of house shopping/moving/furniture shopping on endless summer weekends when all I wanted to do was go hiking or to the beach. We finally worked out a system where we would stop for a quick hike on the way to Ikea if I promised to stop complaining during the endless ordeal that was furniture shopping.

    • Lauren

      Oh man… I could write an entire post on the nervous breakdown I had when the majority of furniture we needed was delivered. We had lived in almost-fully furnished apartments until that point, so we needed A LOT, and when that truck pulled up, I felt like someone was hanging a giant chain around my neck. Luckily, that feeling goes away after a while too!

  • Tricia

    I just moved to the Boston area and was literally laughing out loud reading this. While I haven’t moved in with my boyfriend yet, I will be saving this so when we go through this ourselves I at least have a dash of humor to accompany me!

  • Rachel

    ROMEO from Davis Square was totally our the listing agent for our awesome apartment! Any time I hear the name Romeo my ears immediately perk up.
    My fiance still talk about him to this day! He was quite a memorable character. Even though he’s not the typical type of person we’re used to hanging with he hooked us up with our awesome apartment. (Of course two years later we’re now house hunting and having a nervous breakdown…)

    • Lauren

      Oh my god, you have got to be kidding me! It is a small (Boston area) world, hahahaha.

  • Rachel

    I grew up in Cambridge and always thought when I grew up I’d buy one of those great houses in cambridgeport near the river. So sad that the entire city is now basically out of the price range of young people who aren’t super wealthy. Arlington is cute too though! Congrats on your home!

  • Me and my partner went through the exact same thing only when renting, i cannot even imagaine how i will be when it comes to buying a house :/

  • Aw this makes me miss Somerville. Our little piece of happiness, in Inman Square, was a blessing in disguise when our roommates moved out with six weeks notice.

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  • I enjoyed your post. As you highlighted, buying a home is an emotional time, but it does not have to be as upsetting as you had to experience. Being a Bostonian, clearly having the driving skills to know how to maneuver rotaries and one way streets is a must, but there are certainly other skills and expertise that you want from a professional you are working with to buy a home. Next time, may I suggest considering a real buyer’s agent. Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee driving skills.

    Sam Schneiderman, President of the Massachusetts Association of Buyer Agents (MABA)

  • Oliver Finney

    Great sharing. Very informative and beneficial. Having a guide would certainly help you throughout the home buying process. – http://lowdepositproperty.com.au/choosing-vendor-finance-brisbane-residents-discover-top-three-advantages/