Friday, January 25, 2013

Unsolicited house-buying advice and juice update

I am helping certain people with their house hunt, and I often think about my house hunt, how much I love my house, how terrible my house-buying timing was (I bought RIGHT before the bubble burst, and RIGHT in the tiny window between one set of new homeowner tax breaks and the next set of new homeowner tax breaks) and how my house-buying experience was not really stressful in the ways that I assumed it would be.

Houses are a huge investment. This is probably the largest purchase I will ever make. The short list of things I did was 1. Found great people to help me do stuff. 2. Had a very clear picture of what I wanted. 3. Didn't settle for anything less than amazing.

Here is a long list of the things I did during my house-hunting process:

1. Researched mortgage rates and talked to multiple banks before deciding where to go. Things taken into account included rates, fees, closing costs and customer service.

2. Went with a local bank that told me that while they contractually *could* sell my mortgage, they probably wouldn't, since they hadn't ever sold mortgages to other companies. This came in really handy when interest rates plummeted. Modifying a loan is much, much easier than refinancing. I think it took me 5 minutes. On the phone.

3. Found a realtor. I lucked into this one, actually. I decided I wanted to find a realtor, I went to a condo open house, and talked to the listing agent there. I liked her a lot, and she agreed to work with me. She is amazing. If anyone in the KC area is looking for a realtor, I have a recommendation for you. The thing about a good realtor is that, ideally, they will know more about houses than you do. In my case, I thought I wanted a condo. When I described what I was looking for (size, dedicated parking, $120K limit), I was told that what I probably wanted was a house. Yes. Turns out, that was totally accurate. I was able to make a list of things I really, really wanted (true ranch, 3 bedrooms - one for me, one dedicated guest room and an office - garage, basement, hardwoods would be nice) and that helped narrow down houses. She was also very good at seeing what was wrong with houses. As someone who had previously lived in apartments, I did not know things about, say, foundations. She did. That's really helpful. If you can swing it, I highly recommend working with someone who has rehabbed houses, or who has an extensive background in something like that.

4. Looked a ton of houses. I looked for about three months, I looked several days a week, and I looked at two or more properties each time. This was grueling, but it helped me figure out what I liked and disliked about real-world houses. Since my intention was to buy a house that I would stay in forever, I needed to find something that I loved.

5. Initially thought I'd get a fixer-upper for cheap, but then changed my mind and decided it would be worth it to just get a house I already liked and could occupy immediately. I think a lot of people do this. There is something very appealing about getting a good deal and learning how to do useful things with houses. However, I've found that getting a house, any house, comes with a lot of on-the-job learning opportunities, so to speak. Only now can I fully appreciate how unprepared I would have been to fix up a house!

6. Made an offer on a house that I felt okay about, but didn't love. That offer was not accepted. THANK GOODNESS. I would not have been happy in that house. That was an "this is close enough and I'm so tired of looking at houses" house.

7. Found a house I loved, looked at it twice, and paid for a home inspection. Always get a home inspection. It helped me get a handle on the things I'd need to do if I bought the house (in my case, I had to get the furnace flue relined, install a new garage door, get some siding replaced and get the chimney cap sealed. None of these things were awful, and knowing what I was getting into was incredibly helpful).

8. Checked on the utilities. In Missouri, at least, if you're looking at a house, you can usually just call the utility companies, explain what you're doing, and get a monthly bill average for the last year. This is somewhat helpful, but by no means a perfect system. It can give you an idea of how much your bills might be, if people have been living in the house. Though your energy/water/gas usage will probably be different, it's a start. The more information you have, the better.

9. Listened to my realtor when it came to making an offer and things to ask for. A home inspection is going to turn up a LOT of stuff. Some of it is really important. Some of it isn't. I had certain things that I wanted the sellers to fix, and I had certain things that I was okay with taking care of on my own.

10. Closed quickly, and had about a month where I still had my old apartment and the new house. This made moving a lot less stressful. I didn't feel rushed. I also had a very motivated friend with a truck who decided that we were going to move my bed to the new house very early on in the process. It turns out that when your bed moves, you have effectively moved as well. This gave me plenty of time to sort through items in the apartment and clean it up in preparation for my departure.

The end result of all of this is that I've been in my house for almost six years. It's a solid house, it's had a totally reasonable number of house issues, which I have either fixed myself or had fixed by others. I've gotten to be pretty handy, and I feel comfortable tackling a range of house projects. I also never look at other houses and think "I really wish I could live in that house." At most, I think "that house is really cool." And then I think "I really love my house." I do occasionally have fancy apartment envy, because fancy apartments are soooo nice, but it is fleeting. It is more than overpowered by my hatred of moving and my love of this house.

To sum up: It took a long time! It was a lot of work! Totally worth it! Find a good realtor!

Juice update:

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="323" caption="Super green."][/caption]

I keep buying containers for juice. In addition to the glass carafe, I now have a 2-liter jug (for big batches!) and a to-go cup thing (not pictured). I made a double batch today with kale, collard greens, spinach, cucumbers, apples, a lot of ginger, lemon and celery. I have made juice every day since the first day I made juice (which I believe was Monday). I have also started a juice spreadsheet to track how much I have spent on things for juice (it does not have a containers column, but if I get any more, I will have to add one). The batches of juice (each batch is just under a liter) have averaged a little under $4, when I take into account the fact that I have a lot of vegetables and fruits that I have purchased but not yet used.


  1. I am totally bookmarking this page for future reference! Thinking about buying a house but not sure I'm ready to take the plunge... so this is super helpful unsolicited advice!

  2. I had a very painless house-buying experience, and (obviously!) found it to be very, very interesting. If you ever want to talk about it beyond the massive wall of text here, let me know! (and for real, I can recommend a great realtor)