It was about two years ago when I developed the itch. Nate and I had been diligently saving, waiting for the perfect moment to seriously start looking at buying a home for the first time. I was pregnant with our second child and definitely feeling those nesting hormones, getting nervous as I started seeing the market around us make a slow upturn. Interest rates were the lowest they'd been in years. And then, on an unassuming Sunday afternoon, our neighbor attempted to murder his sister and burned his house down in a fiery blaze surrounded by deputies, K9s, ambulances and fire trucks.
There's nothing quite like seeing SWAT march through your backyard to make you decide now is the time to move.
“We're getting out of here,” I told Nate. “For the sake of our kids, we need to get out of this neighborhood. Right now.”
The Nitty-Gritty Details of Buying a Home for the First Time
We had $20,000 saved. We met with a mortgage broker team who looked through endless amounts of paperwork, IRS documents, employment history and bank statements before settling on a figure during our first meeting. “You can qualify for a $300,000 loan.”
So we set our sights in that range and started touring houses with our real estate agent. Home after home after home. And then we found the one. It was a Moroccan-style fixer-upper with lots of quirks. Oma and I walked in side-by-side and both stopped in our tracks, staring up at the bright orange walls and the tribal masks that hovered over us. I looked down the hall at the row of small bedrooms and on through the kitchen into the master, out the bay window at Nate who was counting fruit trees along the fence. “This is it,” I breathed quietly. “This is our home.”
We went straight to a cafe and wrote up the offer. The home was near foreclosure but wasn't yet bank-owned, and the owners were asking for exactly what they owed on it: $329,000. Our loan and savings wouldn't quite cover it, but in this environment we couldn't offer less than asking. My dad had the difference and I hated to accept, but I knew it was the right thing to do for our family.
The mortgage broker faltered on the phone when we requested the loan documentation. “Oh no. Did we say you could qualify for $300,000? We meant you should look for a house that's $300,000. You qualify for $280,000.”
My heart sunk. Nate and I both knew exactly what had been said at the initial meeting, but they were crying misunderstanding. It had taken us a year to save up that much money, and our dream home with the perfect timing and rates and cost didn't look like it was feasible.
And then a miracle happened. Another family member heard about our frustration and stepped up with the money. Again, I wanted to say no but – let's blame the pregnancy hormones – I couldn't stop envisioning my children's new nursery, cannon balls in the pool, lunches at the weathered picnic table. Luckily Nate didn't let his eight-month pregnant lady make ALL the financial decisions, or Hostess Cupcakes would have had a huge stock bump.
We were several days into the escrow process when the mortgage broker called again. “There's another problem. Chelsea has been self-employed for less than two years, so none of her income counts. You can only qualify for $260,000.”
During our first meeting, we'd explained to them that we didn't want to factor my money in when looking for a home. I had left my full-time marketing job 18 months ago, and earnings for a consultant could fluctuate wildly. But they hadn't listened. They'd only looked at my last few bank statements – high-earning months for my business – and my voice was drowned out by dollar signs and potential commission.
Nate and I found a solution. You can probably guess what it was.
At this point we had given notice at our rental, per the advice of our real estate agent and mortgage brokers, and we were coming up on the final days of our lease. Within a week, we would have nowhere to live – and no money to pay for a temporary solution since everything we had was tied up in negotiations.
The mortgage broker called again. “Buying a home for the first time is tricky. There are a lot of details, a lot of things to consider.” They had mismanaged the paperwork again. Nate's job as a first responder required a lot of out-of-pocket expenses for equipment, licensing and education in the first year. The broker hadn't looked at that information when calculating what we qualified for and hadn't anticipated that the bank would deduct that from what they'd give us. It added up to $12,000 over the life of the loan. We were $12,000 away from landing the house.
They had made a grand total of $52,000 in errors.
Lawyers got involved.
And we worked it out, again.
This house was meant to happen. We were meant to live on this corner with the gently-sloping hill. We were meant to wake each morning to the sounds of horses and goats and sheep. The first half-year in this home was one of the hardest times I've endured, as Nate and I both worked overtime-shift-after-overtime-shift, determined to pay back the debt to our family members on top of managing the monthly house payments and MIP. But we did it. We scrimped and saved and survived, and the obligations to our loved ones were fulfilled within six months! Continuing to renovate it to this day has proved to be more challenging than I anticipated, but there's beauty in the mess. It's our mess. It gives us a direction to move in, together.
In spite of everything, buying a home for the first time was worth every second of uncertainty.