First Time Home Buying in 10 Easy* Steps

Follow these steps exactly for a successful, quick home purchase within mere months of your wedding!**

1. Grow up in the housing market. Via osmosis (and time spent playing hide and seek during open houses), learn that this business is a tangled mass of paperwork and redundancies. Sometimes, even the people steering you through the process aren’t quite sure how it all works. Learn from your mother, the realtor, that home inspections will always turn up building mistakes and closing dates are a rapidly moving target. Learn from your stepfather, the mortgage broker, that you always keep more paperwork than you think you need: someone’s going to want to study it before approving your loan. Learn from your father and stepbrother, the house flippers, that almost anything can be fixed given money and time, contractors will cut corners if it’s not going to up the home value, and sometimes you find out at inspection that the contractor you paid had no idea what he was doing. Let all of this information simultaneously terrify and settle you about the idea home ownership.

2. Decide that rather than hunting for a place in town to rent post-wedding, you will look into home buying options. Stop buying everything unrelated to food, bills, or wedding needs, even if your only work shoes have holes in them. Don’t worry, no one will notice. (Everyone noticed.) Take one last lingering look at your savings account, suck it up, and go get married.

3. Come off your honeymoon with energy and time to spare, feeling like a superhero. Call your realtor and start taking the first steps at house hunting. Promptly feel like the phone call was not productive enough and decide to take on more projects, such as making four costumes for an upcoming convention and designing new flyers, buttons, and stickers for your writing group. Become convinced you have plenty of time to do everything, as none of the deadlines are strict, unlike that wedding you just pulled off. Like a pro, because you’re awesome, if I might add.

4. Meet your realtor! Spend three hours in a conference room with him looking at hundreds of home listings. Let your partner talk you off the cliff when you become overwhelmed and think about backing out. Spend a full day, sans eating, driving around looking at houses. Put an offer on your favorite the next morning because the foreclosure market is quick and it makes you nervous. Don’t get your hopes up.

5. Receive a best offer, agree to it, and sign on in less than seventy-two hours. Realize this means you will close on and move into a house in less than a month, right before that big convention. Don’t panic.

6. Okay, panic. Just a little. Then get your paperwork in order, get approved for your loan, and don’t cry in front of the home inspector when all seems lost, hopeless, and irreparably broken. (It’s not.)

7. Try not to become visibly irritable that all parties involved in home buying automatically look to your husband for direction. Try not to smile smugly when he points them back toward you. Actually, fuck it. Be as smug as you want.

8. Get lost on the way to closing and show up late. Close on your house anyway, grab those keys, and go get drunk for the first time as a homeowner. (This is a very important step.)

9. Move all your crap, set down the boxes, and then spend approximately 80% of the first week in your new home at a giant convention a few miles away. Lock your partner out of the house without a key more than once. (Sorry!) Find out that the hot water works…everywhere except the shower.

10a. Fall in love with your new home, despite its many quirks: the mysterious outlets that seem to rotate their working schedules based on when you need them most, the furnace that won’t heat the house if it gets below freezing outside, and the lovely oak trees out front that will never, ever finish dropping leaves. Like, ever. Let your friends laugh at all the very adult homeowner projects you talk (complain) about doing, like tilling the yard and cleaning gutters. Wait for it.

10b. Laugh at all your friends when their leases end and they have to find new places to live. Then help them pack and move their stuff, because you’re a good person.

*Okay, so the steps aren’t actually easy.

**Alternatively, don’t follow any of this. It’s probably better for your health. Success in home ownership not guaranteed. Professional on a closed course. Eat your vegetables.

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  • Carrie

    Then realize you should have saved up at least twice the down payment, because it costs a hell of a lot of money to re-tile the floor, get termite treatment when you walk outside to find a termite swarm on the front window, repaint the siding, replace the bushes out front when they die after a broiling rainless summer, repair the central air when it conks out twice during the same broiling rainless summer, replace the main sewer line when tree roots clog it up so much that sewage backs up into your bathtub…

    Envy your renter friends, because they don’t have to worry about any of these things, just make a phone call to the landlord.

    Seriously, there is a lot that is great about home ownership. But I will not buy another house until I can put together at least 40% of the price — 20% for the down payment, and the other 20% to pay for all the repairs.

  • R.

    Would that it were this easy! In the central Austin, TX neighborhood where we are home-shopping, most listings are pending within 24 hours on the market. It’s a game of how fast you can make an offer, and how high above asking price you are willing to go. We’ve lost two bidding wars already.

    • There is no question that we were SO lucky when it came to our timing for entering the Atlanta housing market, and when it came to bidding. I was actually much more prepared to lose out on a few houses, rather than actually get one.

    • amc

      Same new here in Boston. We have made 6 offers and all 6 have gone (to someone else) for FAR above list price.

      • The Boston housing market is terrible. The rents are high, the asking prices are high, the winning offers are “stupid nuts” (in the words of one selling agent), and the inventory is low.

        And also, we are trying to buy a house before the baby comes in September.

        • Baby! Wow!

        • Good to know. (Probably looking there next year.)

        • Kara

          We’re doing that in Denver right now – and the housing market just went insane. Trying to get into a new place before (a) our temporary lease expires in May and (b) the baby shows up towards the beginning of July.

          • KV

            Ha Try New York City. Lost 12 bids, 3 went into “best and final.” I guess the 13th bid was the charm.

    • Natalie

      Heyyy there, fellow central ATX home buyer. I just want to say that I have just been there, and it sucks. I would see a place, make a call to the realtor, and by the time we get there, oops it’s pending already. Who are these house ninjas and how do they get to houses so quickly?!? But we just moved into our new place (literally yesterday) so there is hope! Also if you want to commiserate or learn from our mistakes feel free to drop me a line at postgraduatepie at gmail dot com!

  • Oh my gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawd, home buying. I have like 8 rants about home buying.

    a) It will take forever. All of the flipped houses will inevitably blend into one giant flipped house with the same stupid shower tile detail you hate.

    b) Every reasonable offer will get rejected. You will then make an unreasonable offer, which will also get rejected. After performing some kind of ceremonial dance and begging Hestia to lend a hand, an offer will get accepted.

    c) There will be a home inspection. You will find out that everything in the house is slightly broken. You decide to soldier on.

    d) The appraisal will get pushed back a month, due to who knows what and then the appraiser being hospitalized. Because of the enforced lack of communication between the bank and appraisal companies, it will take 6 weeks from the date that the appraisal is ordered to the date the appraisal is received.

    e) The appraisal comes in $36,000 lower than list price, which the owner will reject outright. Appeal the appraisal. After 11 days, the appraiser does not change is mind. The owners will not budge on list price. The sale is over and you have lost the down payment assistance loan you qualified for. Cry.

    f) Two days later, the owners have realized that this is the best that they were going to get and come back with a counter offer. Negotiate and pursue alternate financing, including the down payment assistance loan you thought you’d lost.

    g) An agonizing month later, you close on the house. This is the beginning of a lengthy renovation process. You discover just how expensive plumbers are (really expensive), that hiring family to do your electrical work isn’t that much of a bargain and that it’s a really good idea to befriend a former professional handyman.

    h) The hardest part of all of this is then finding someone to sublet your apartment so you don’t have to pay rent and a mortgage.

    We move the 12th and probably have a tenant lined up. Does someone want to get paid in beer to install countertops for me?

    • i will totally install countertops for beer. i’m afraid there may be too many time and location constraints for this to be feasible, though.

      on other notes, though, the original post sounds awfully familiar. we started looking at houses “just for fun” and/or because we were “thinking about buying a place in a year or so and wanted to look around.” yep. we bought our house before we’d been dating a year because the whole process took about a month. i won’t say it’s the smartest thing we’ve done, but even with the mistakes we made, our house is definitely part of “the good” in our life.

      • Dammit! And you are one of the APW commenters that I always want to secretly stalk and befriend. Come to DC? We have great artisan cocktails, frozen yogurt shops and an insane housing market! (yay?)

    • garli

      I cannot for the life of me get past b. Make an offer for 50k over asking? Sorry, there was one like that with all cash. What is even happening in this world?

      • My favorite is still the house that went on the market on Monday, we made an offer on Tuesday $25K above asking price, they stopped accepting offers on Friday and the winner went $35K above asking price. And it wasn’t even that great a flip!

        • garli

          Oh yeah I know all about it. I just want to know where all these people with 700K in the bank have been hiding and why they want the same house I want. (I thought we were ahead of the game for having a 20% down payment)

      • Kara

        We just sold a house and got a (second) offer like that – basically attempting to force the young couple with baby on the way out of the running. We sold to the young couple, figuring that doing the right thing by them was the right thing in the long run for everyone.

    • Amanda L.

      We nailed e) to a ‘t’. Appraisal in $21k below agreed upon price. Seller stalls and mopes and accuses us of collusion with the (independent) appraiser. We appeal the appraisal. No movement. We offer seller the last $5 (ok $3k) in our pockets. We apparently make her cry (because making $150k on the house wasn’t good enough?). Closing on a Monday. She signs the papers on the Friday before but instructs her realtor not to let the (again, independent) title company hold on to them. By the time we got the keys I wasn’t even relieved. I was just. so. annoyed.

      • The appraisal killed me. They thought the offer price was “fair” and didn’t want to deviate from it. Meanwhile, his grandfather built the house, so he owned it free and clear. He made over $200K off that sale (and barely budged on $5,000 credit for the home inspection!).

    • e) The appraisal comes in $36,000 lower than list price, which the owner will reject outright. Appeal the appraisal. After 11 days, the appraiser does not change is mind. The owners will not budge on list price. The sale is over and you have lost the down payment assistance loan you qualified for. Cry.

      We had something like this. Not only did it come in below the agreed upon offer, but there was a whole bunch of work that FHA wanted done before closing (on top of the work the seller had already agreed to *and* the ton of work we knew we’d be doing ourselves eventually.) The seller refused to do any more work and we were not prepared to pay for a series of repairs before the house had even closed, so we had to walk away. All told, we were out about $1,000.

      We’ve just put in a rental application, because we got to the point where we can’t bear to look any more for now.

  • Katy

    You make it sound easy!

    We had a seller who would not let the appraiser on the property, asbestos in the floor, and a painter who got high on the job (not on paint fumes).

  • Lisa

    Step #7….is this part of some rite of passage that no one told me about? This happened everywhere we went & with almost every subcontractor we met. Frustrating!

    Just wish we would have had the wisdom to wait until after the wedding to go through the home buying process! We decided to sell my house, put everything into storage and move into an apartment, and build a house in the final six months of wedding planning. It was a crazy time, but upon reflection of the experience, turns out it was a great relationship building exercise.

  • Don’t you just love those rotating outlets? I still don’t know what one of my light switches does. It seems to turn off one of the outlets in the living room about half the time, but sometimes that outlet doesn’t work no matter what I do, so studies are inconclusive…

    We also discovered that our wallpaper is practically structural. And it’s really overbearing wallpaper. Bring on the primer!

    • KATIES

      Oh my gosh this happened to us too. Our bedroom has these textured ‘wallpapered’ walls with twine running through it giving it a kind of bamboo/asian look. SO bizarre, and we thought we would just be able to rip it out. WRONG. Because of the texture, we haven’t been able to figure out how to paint over it. There’s literally strings you can pull off the wall. (Open to suggestions here…)

      • Ours are textured/papered too – not the same twine deal but almost a fake stucco look, with a floral pattern, SO special haha. A friend recommended a primer called “Gripper” and said it worked really well on her regular wallpaper in her grandparents’ old house – we haven’t tried it yet but I’m hoping it will work!

    • Not Sarah

      My outlets don’t rotate, but many of them aren’t properly attached to the wall, which is both confusing and strange at the same time.

      I was also quite sad to discover that I don’t have an outlet on my balcony (I own a condo), so no, I can’t hang Christmas lights outside. (I discovered this after buying them.)

      • We had a similar discovery this winter too – there is an outside outlet, but it doesn’t work! I had four boxes of lights ready to go and they’re still sitting in my holiday decor bin, unused. Bummer. This was previously my grandmother’s house, but she doesn’t know some of the answers either. Eek.

      • Solar powered Christmas lights are awesome. I picked some up in after-Christmas sales, and now my garden statues have glowing hats every night.

  • LUCCCYYYY was the big convention DRAGON*CON?!?! (I knew I would like this post when I read the part about deciding to do four costumes because WHY NOT). You are my people!!!!


      In related news, I started my costumes early this year because I got so paranoid about running out of time like last year. Woo!

      • I’m not going this year (cue weeping) because of financial and schedule issues (bad-timing with the High Holidays this year). I also found the crowds last year all kinds of TERRIBLE so I think a break won’t be a bad idea, as I spent much of Saturday supremely grumpy. But good for you for starting so early. I can’t sew but I found a great local seamstress, if I were going this year I’d totally be starting to plan with her already.

        What fandoms do you costume? My big one is Game of Thrones but I also have a Portal dress and something from Repo! The Genetic Opera (so obscure I know).

        (Also you are so crazy for doing the house thing right around Dragon*Con but it makes for a great story, ha).

        • I’m using costumes as my impetus to learn (re-learn, really) how to sew properly.

          There’s about 10-12 of us that did a group costume last year (Super Smash Brothers), and we’re going to do another this year (Gender-swapped Disney Villains). So last year I did Pit, from Kid Icarus, as part of our Super Smash Brothers group, and made two S.Q.U.A.T. team costumes (from the Written by a Kid webseries). I posted some pictures and commentary on my tumblr.

          This year I’m doing a female King Candy costume, a female 10th Doctor costume, and I’ll be making the husband’s Gentleman TARDIS costume. And then one of the days we’ll probably re-wear the S.Q.U.A.T. team costumes.

          • Yup, this comment string confirmed what I’d already assumed. Lucy, you are for sure my people. Congratulations on the house and the APW internship, and on those totally rad cosplay roles!

          • Female King Candy ftw–were I going this year I’d probably try a Vanillope costume myself–and also all the Doctor Who stuff. I do not know Kid Icarus or Written by a Kid but this is why Dragon*Con is the best, it introduces you to all the new things. About a year and a half-ish ago I finally watched all the Doctor Who after seeing all the Doctor Who costumes and now I am thoroughly hooked (who-ooked?)

            I cannot tumblr at work (boo) but will look when I get home. =)

        • Repo!!!!!!!!! (Constructive comment of the day, over and out!)

        • Mallory

          Repo! was insanely underrated. Would love to cosplay that, any day.

  • Emmy

    Thank you for this! It seems like all our friends are house-shopping, and with the wedding coming soon, people keep asking if we’re in the market too. No, no we’re not. It’s mighty hard to ignore the Joneses and just keep doing our own thing, but this article reminded me why I’m happy to be going on three years (6 mos with the dude) in the same small but adorable apartment with the reliable landlord and the crazy cheap rent. Home ownership looks nice sometimes, but it’s a lot of work!

    • Yeah, I hear you on that. I keep browsing Craigslist looking for bigger apartments, but the reality is that our current place is pretty much perfect for the moment. It’s insanely cheap, well-cared for, more than adequate storage, easy access to downtown and to school (for my partner), and the real clincher: our landlord is fan-freaking-tastic.

      It’s been difficult lately to focus on the good things about our apt, but it really does fit our lifestyle just about perfectly. So, deep breath, ditch some clutter, and look for change elsewhere.

      • An amazing landlord cannot be beat, truly. Even though we’ve looked at other places on occasion and I am certainly guilty of Craigslist browsing, we’re probably going to stay put in our place for the foreseeable future (at least while manfriend finishes school) simply because our landlord is great. Also, she doesn’t charge a pet deposit (which is great–even when I look at comparable places that are a little cheaper I factor in a pet deposit and the monetary difference pretty much disappears) and when we got our first cat, she came in to make some repairs and says to me after: “When are you getting another cat? Your cat is lonely.” So yes, now we have two cats, and the landlord doesn’t care, and it is great (I should note that she has like, four cats and two dogs, so there you go).

    • Oh gosh yes. Reading this article was a surreal experience of feeling simultaneously “Go, Lucy!” and “Yeah no, we live in Brooklyn, we will be renting forever.” We’ve had our place for eight years now and I can barely imagine leaving it!

  • Hintzy

    teeeheee! yes! internet high fives for #8! we drank lots of cheap champagne and slept on the pull out lazy boy that the previous owner left behind after closing on our house this past November.

    There were many terrifying moments and several tear-filled breakdowns in our process. But, in the end – totally worth it. We have a house!

  • My coworker and I were just discussing homeownership, and how our generation (it would seem) is one that rents and rents and rents in the hopes that someday (in a very fairytale sort of way), This Too shall be possible for us.

    Thanks for sharing – I needed a laugh :)

    And if I’m interpreting the introduction correctly, congratulations are due to Lucy?!!

    • Hubby and I rent from his parents. Tis slightly awkward at points calling up and asking if the landlords are in, but very helpful at the same time. “Hey Mum, what’s the date you booked for pest control again?” “Hey Mum, our ceiling fans are acting up again, what’s the electrician’s number again? He said he’d invoice you…”

      With the market the way it is at the moment, there’s no WAY we could afford to buy a place on our own. Heck, we can’t even afford a car after being married for (almost) 6 years!!! Any place within our preferences is out of budget or way far away from family and work. Just not in the cards for now. Lots of conversations start with “When we have a house….”

  • Diane

    Dear APW,

    This thing where you read my brain and produce the appropriately relevant content on the day I need it is getting kinda spooky. Thought broadcasting is a first-rank Schneiderian symptom in my work, not something I usually experience in my life.

    Also, we have learned that house buying is like an airport: it’s all “hurry up and wait.” But if you want to avoid the crazy bidding, you can move to rural Oklahoma. The catch is that then you life in rural Oklahoma.


    • Meredith

      THIS. I was just ranting to my fiancé about how frustrating it is trying to buy a house (“trying” being the operative word, as the first house we made an offer on was snatched up by somebody else). I really needed to read this today. Thank you, Lucy!

  • Elisabeth

    Yes! This is just great and so relevant. My soon-to-be husband and I bought a house last summer that has a long to-do list. Much longer than our wedding to-do list.
    As crazy as it is to buy and renovate a house plus plan a wedding plus work full-time, it’s been GOOD.

    And kudos to #7 because you should be smug.

  • This made me giggle. We’re in the “lets look at homes and pretend we have money for a down payment and/or even know where we want to buy” stage. But I’ve bookmarked this to read later. With a bottle of wine :)

    Also, RE: #7. This is us and cars. My dad is a mechanic and I know LOTS more about cars than my husband. He always defers to me. It’s fun to see their faces.

    ETA: I also have to add that my parents bought a foreclosed home 4 months before I was born. I lived in a perpetual state of chaos and renovation for 18 years (slow and steady). My husband gets scared when I say things like “we could just take out a wall”. Hahaha.

  • Cherry

    Things that we dealt with and weren’t expecting: closing costs and if you get a FHA loan you have to include the property tax in the monthly payment to be sent to an escrow account. Luckily, those didn’t put a ding in our plans but if we had bought a house ANYWHERE else than the CA central valley, it would have been painful. Good luck to everybody on the path to home ownership!

    Oh, and get pre-approved for a loan so you know exactly what you can afford and don’t get your heart on something that is out of your range.

    • Most loans will do the escrow for property taxes – our conventional loan from BB&T did the same for property taxes and insurance. I love it – one less thing to pay!

      • Not Sarah

        I actually chose to pay my own property taxes and insurance. My insurance company offers a monthly automatic payment plan for no fee and my property taxes are paid in two installments, so not a big deal. Most lenders will let you pay your own taxes and insurance if you put 20% down.

    • Just wanted to mention that at least in our area (Boston), you HAVE to get pre-approved before you can even make an offer because your agent simply won’t submit your offer without the pre-approval letter. And the seller wouldn’t look at it anyway.

  • Mikala

    Day 2 of living in the house: Decide whether you want to shell out the money to have a family of racoons removed from your chimney by animal control or spend that money elsewhere, enduring the squeaking and scary racoon infested backyard for 8 weeks till the babies grow up. This is where I am TODAY.

    • marbella

      We had a squirrel family living in ours. The animal control co wanted several hundred dollars to trap them and do a crappy patch job of the hole where they got in. We waited until the babies were old enough to leave the nest and had contractors come and start working on the chimney (which was actually detaching itself from the house, hence the squirrels being able to get in). The noise made them leave the nest and they sealed it all up that day so they couldn’t get back in again.
      I don’t know if racoons are like squirrels but when I was reading about how to get rid of them it said they don’t like noise so if you play a loud radio near them, often the mum will move the nest herself. Good luck!

  • Christina

    LOLz #7.

  • My husband did all the house buying stuff before we dated. So I lucked out on that one. He did wait to furnish it till he married me though. Somehow my apartment worth of furniture furnished a whole house rather nicely.

    However, this list looks like my how-to list for just about everything in my life. Why is that?

  • We’re still a fair ways away from buying a house but it makes me go a bit crazy when I think about just everything involved. Because saving up a down payment isn’t enough to make me squirrely just on its own.

  • Chris C.

    Oh my gosh! This sounds awful! But for those of you thinking about buying, reading this, and getting terrified, I have to tell you that it is NOT always this challenging. :-) We just bought our first house and had none of this drama (and we were buying from 3500 miles away, too!) It seems like if you’re buying in a big metro area right now, things are pretty hectic, but for smaller and / or more rural areas like where we bought, they’re still relatively mellow. Our seller was totally reasonable (and settled for 10% less than asking price, no bidding war), the appraisal came back 10K over what we were paying, everyone we worked with was competent and helpful. The worst issue we ran into was getting homeowners insurance at a reasonable cost — when you buy a “historic” house, apparently they think the full replacement value is absurdly high because it would cost a fortune to reproduce period details. Anyway, I swear there is hope!!!

  • Jen

    i would just like to mention that the font used in the banner at the top makes it look like “10 scary steps” when you glance at it quickly – how appropriate!

  • Abby J.

    Oh god I SOOOO needed this today. Met with a realtor for the first time last weekend. Being financially risk averse, I think I put off home buying so long it’s now harder to break the rental inertia.

    On the plus side, helps to have family in the legal business – at least they can help get us out of a jam!

  • Kats

    Or, find the house of your dreams with your fiance, and then put your current house on the market where not one, but two buyers back out of their contracts (first one decided to change jobs and lost financing, the second had her father look at it who decided it was “too small” even though she had already signed the contract). Sigh.

  • Aero

    Ahh I am sitting in a house filled with boxes right now.
    I think this post is soooo accurate. We put an offer on three places before we got this one. I think it was a really BIG help to know that we wouldn’t get the first few houses … It made a big difference to our expectations (and happiness).

  • Carbon Girl

    The Good? This post and the subsequent comments scared the crap out of me! I think I will stick with renting!

  • All this sounds familiar. Particularly the bit about growing up in the housing market. Add to this having your own father be your realtor (okay, technically my then-boyfriend/now-husband’s realtor) at age 19 and awkwardness abounds. Better still, pick a house 2 doors down from the one you lived in age 6 to 9, and meet the neighbors again. Worth it. :)

  • KV

    Pah-lease, this is child’s play. Try New York City real estate, then we’ll talk. You won’t know stress until you try to buy in NYC. I almost imploded from being outbid so many times by ALL CASH ($800,000 price range which is chump change in terms of what you’re getting square-foot wise) . There is no housing bubble here. I should write a post! In fact, there was an article in the New York Times today: Prices and Sales Going Up in New York, Real Estate Brokers Say.

  • pixie_moxie

    Oh My, YES. My husband and I closed a month before our wedding! Because there was nothing else going on…. We were up on our lease and hubby suggested it might be worthwhile to look into buying. All it took was him showing me it could be only a bit more than the rent we were paying and I was finding us a relator and trolling the internet hourly!
    My additions
    – Get into a bidding war with the bank (foreclosure) and go all in…eeekkk!
    – Get approved and jump up and down with your cast in the middle of rehearsal
    – that thing that your relator has never seen happens happens and your appliances are stolen from the kitchen the day before you are to close
    – Decide it is still worth it, gulp, now buying appliances
    – Your amazing friends help you pack a truck & unload a truck in 4 hours and are in the new pool by noon
    – oh yeah then sleep in the house 2 weeks and drive to another state to get MARRIED!

    Best wishes, it was hell while we were in it but look around thankful everyday for doing it!

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