Tuesday, February 8, 2011

MY Home Sweet Home?

With truly uncanny timing, my uncle sent us an email out of the blue along the lines of "Hey, for your wedding gift I'll help you guys find a house."

Okay, he's a realtor - it's probably not that uncanny. But given the recent circumstances, it seemed like a sign.

I've been a renter my entire life. Do you know how dangerous floating the idea of ownership in front of a chronic renter is? My mind suddenly dissolved, becoming slave to "the dream". Being able to paint the walls? To not share a wall with your neighbor? To do laundry in your own home rather than a laundromat where someone takes your stuff out of the washer and throws it all on the floor?


Now of course, chronic-renter-Penga-dad reminds me that there's upsides to renting too - like maintenance. ( Assuming your apartment actually does any.) And no property tax or hassle. Which is true, and it works out just great for many people. I just don't know that I'm one of them.

The bait had been laid, and I fell hook, line and sinker. YES I WANT A HOUSE UNCLE!

Sak, ever the practical one, thought that there was no way we'd ever be approved for anything since we have a itsy-bitsy credit history. Like, I didn't get a credit card until after college - and I hardly ever use it. But after a bit of prodding from me and a couple more "encounters" with the resident riff-raff, Sak agreed to meet with a broker.

Surprisingly, there were no problems. Apparently a long credit history isn't so important. Having a "steady" job seems to be the main requirement (though in this day-and-age I don't see how anything is considered steady).

In any case, we submitted two years of W-2's, two months of pay statements, and copies of our driver licenses (although mine has a hole in it because the California DMV hasn't sent my new-name one yet...It's been over 3 months already!). Our broker pulled up our credit reports, we filled out some disclosures, and we were rather painlessly pre-approved.

Of course, at this point I was salivating over just about every house on the market. My uncle told us to put together some criteria to help us narrow the field a bit. Here's what we came up with:

1) Safety. Nothing near apartments, busy streets, alchy stores or anything that "just looks sketchy". Leering teenagers in big groups, obviously a red flag.

2) Something bigger than what we currently have. This is really a no-brainer though, since we live in a hole.

That's it! Not too specific, so it's no wonder we've seen a bazillion houses stretching from Millbrae to Redwood City so far. Though I'm getting antsy and our lease is (finally) set to end in March, we're taking our time trying to find a good house. We put an offer on only one so far, and it was flat-out rejected by some jerk trying to flip his non-lived-in house for more than it's worth. *fume fume* But I'm not giving up, we'll find something awesome, I'm sure!

Have you bought property before? Any tips?


  1. Oooooh, I don't have any tips but that's super exciting news!! I hope you guys find a great place and I have major envy bc NYC is basically impossible to buy unless you're a millionaire so we will not be buying anytime soon...But oh, how I long for a washer/dryer!!

  2. Love the structurally unsound engineery comic :-P Too bad Sak's not a structural eng. :-P

    This is exciting! March is coming up fast though --- blessings on the house hunt!

  3. How exciting!!! Good luck with the hunt!

  4. Go Penga - Find a house. Get a Tebow-Twin. I have mapped your life out and it starts with buying a house and ends with getting a Tebow look alike.

    Make sure this house has a good sized fenced in back yard!!

  5. Ah, a topic near and dear to my heart...

    -- Safety is a good one. Drive through the neighborhood at night and different times of day, ask yourself if you'd feel comfortable walking through that neighborhood during those times.
    -- Resale! Eventually you will want to resell the house, so look for things a young family with kids might want. AKA fenced backyard, school district, etc.
    -- Big Expensive Repairs. When we bought our house, the roof needed replaced due to previous owners' fault (they got insurance $ to replace the roof and pocketed it...). Five years later, the roof still needs replaced. (This spring, hopefully...) You don't want to have to replace a lot of big ticket items in year one. (Furnace/AC, windows, doors, roof, major electrical, fridge, stove, washer/dryer)
    -- Minor repairs/renovation. How much ratty carpet will you (and hopefully others) have to tear out? How about repainting? How much pre-move-in work is there, and how much pre-move-in work do you want to do?
    -- Convenience to work and/or transportation. Also to grocery stores, etc.

    For every house you're considering, when you walk through it, turn on the water in the shower to check the water pressure. Look up the utilities for that house and houses in the area to get an idea for that cost. And don't buy a house outside your budget!

    It's really awesome to have a house, despite all the hassles. It's totally worth it.

  6. I agree with Ashinwi! When I moved from CA (Bay Area) to Tucson, I promptly bought a house. Of course, the value tanked recently, but it's okay because I'm fine living where I am for a while. Right now is a GREAT time to buy (and refinance, like I did)!

    Ashinwi said it all -- school district is a big one for resale. I picked a corner house with no neighbor behind me because it's more private. A yard is very nice if you're going for single-family as opposed to condo/townhouse. One extra thing, though: ask about HOAs and their fees, depending on where you live, too, because that'll add to your monthly or quarterly bills.

    SO exciting!!! Don't get discouraged, there are a million houses out there, and you can get a good deal if you keep at it! Don't let that March deadline make or break you. This is a big investment, after all. =)

  7. Congrats!

    I like to use Redfin.com, I find it more user friendly than MLS listing. You can see current property tax and previous sale histories in the last two decades.

    We own two properties in the South Bay. A single family home (my place purchased in 2008) and a townhouse (rental - just recently.) And we searching for another rental to purchase.

    Rule #1 buy what you know can afford, not what they say you can afford. Do your own calculations. Just because they say you can, doesn't mean you can and still be happy. Sure we could buy more house, but I'd have to live the rest of my life eating instant ramen and off the dollar menu.

    I didn't want to live "house poor." Meaning I didn't want to put all of the paycheck into the house, I wanted to have money for savings and fun. After we purchased, our lifestyle didn't change. We purchased a house we could comfortable afford and was still able to save monthly. Here's the equations that made that happen:

    Home monthly payment(MMP)< rent + monthly savings

    If MMP is >> rent + savings, you are better off renting.

    MMP = monthly loan + HOA + (house insurance/12) + trash + water + (property tax/12) + gas for stove or furnace + electric for larger place

    I assumed cable, internet, cell, car related stuff and food stayed the same, so I canceled them out. I also assumed your rent paid water and trash. Car insurance does change with zip codes, but not by too much.

    Another tip is you don't have to go with the company that gave you the loan pre-approval. After the contract is signed, shop around for loans. Watch the interest rates. Also look for special offers, like closing rebates. You can get email notifications.

    Personally I prefer having a fix rate loans over ARM, so I know what my monthly payment will be. I know a number of people who couldn't afford their loans after it adjusted and defaulted. =(

    Always have a housing inspector check out your place. Termite inspection is a good idea too. Try to find an inspector who will let you tag along while he inspects your house, you learn about the house and you can ask questions. You can also ask him how expensive fixes could be. After the report come back it's a good idea to research the fixes and have an estimate of how much every need to be fixed. You can ask the seller to fix problems or credit you back at closing. Ask for an overestimate of cost, because you never know what the real cost could be.

    If you have cable try watching HGTV. They have shows like Property Virgins for first time home buyers.

    Tips on looking for a house. Don't be afraid to be nick picky and look everywhere. Open closets, cabinets, and drawers. If they are messy for open house, imagine what slobs they are when they don't know anyone will be over. Slobs = possible pest problems and people who don't care for their home. Turn on facets, flush toilets and look at tubs. Look at how they treat they floors, wall and windows. You want a well maintained place.

    Good luck!

  8. Luuckkky. I've been a renter forever! I dream of outdoor space. Can't wait to hear about the process. I hope we'll be there some YEAR soon.

  9. Thanks for the tips and encouragement! soooo much thinking involved with this process, it hurts my head. lol.

    Good to hear from a Bay Area homeowner too, Neko! I've been prowling redfin everyday :)

  10. Awesome! My hubs and I bought a house last may. A big tip I would give you would be to go to zillow.com. It has lots of specs on houses and realtors use it all the time. It's great.
    Second: get a really good signing deal. Make sure you negotiate a good allowance for improvements. Our house ended up needing about 2500 dollars worth of work, but we negotiated with the guy selling so that he fixed about 1500 worth of the problems before we moved in (they were fairly big problems, but now they're fixed!)
    Thirdly, if you think you're going to keep the walls the color they have been painted, ask for the paint or where they got it. When we needed to patch it was hell to try and find a matching paint color (although Sherwin-Williams has this nifty color matcher thing that worked pretty well).
    Fourthly, know what you're looking for and don't settle. You've seen bunches of houses now. Write down exactly what you like and what you don't. That way you won't be possessed by the "this is so new and pretty and shiny!" syndrome. It will help keep you down to earth.

    I love you're blog and I read it all the time. Thanks! Good luck!

  11. Think about how long you want to live in this house. If you think more than 10 years, then look for features that will last (not bamboo floors!) If it's small, make sure your have the space to expand. Think about what you think you'd like in 10 or 20 years. If you think you'd sell in less than 10 years, then go ahead go for trendy and what you like now.

    Good Luck!!

  12. Hi there... I know you don't know me, but I feel like I know you. You're wedding was and is my fave on wedding-bee...
    anyway, I'm also a renter dreaming of buying a house, but unlike you I have a long list of demands...
    I'll put here a few to maybe give you some idea... - big kitchen with a window over the sink, looking to backyard, big living room, 2 smaller bedrooms on one part of the house, and one bigger bedroom on other part, craft room, garage+enough place for work bench, yard big enough for veggie garden, flowers, few trees, barbecue parties for 10-15 people...

    and this is just a start of my list... My point is, you're buying the house once/twice in your life, right? You're supposed to live there for a longer time, make a home... expand your demands... ;-)


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