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Lessons From our Positive Home-Buying Experience

So last week I showed you guys a glimpse into our home, where we’ve lived for a little over a year now. You all were so kind in the comments, and though it’s not perfect, the place is home right now, and I love that.

We don’t know how long we’ll live there, so in some ways, it’s hard to dive in to deep house-y projects when we’re not sure we’ll actually enjoy them for years to come. We bought the house as a fixer-upper, and for the most part, it stays that way in our brains—a project, an investment to live in while we mull over what’s next (especially as we get ready for next fall).

We employ a rather nomadic lifestyle, so we’d gotten used to the idea of renting, having lived in eight other homes the previous decade. We’d wanted to buy a house for several years, but only if it were an ideal situation that benefitted our family. We didn’t want to buy a nightmare at the expense of home ownership.

So here’s how our experience played out, when we decided that it was a good time to explore the idea of buying.

looking over the deschutes river

We had been completely debt-free for about three years, so we weren’t chomping at the bit to take out a mortgage—we’d tasted how good it felt to not owe money to anybody. If we were going to take out a mortgage, it’d have to be one that didn’t kill us.

And seeing as we weren’t in the business of focusing on our FICO score, it’d probably have to be a manually-underwritten mortgage, a rare breed our grandparents or great-grandparents probably first had: one not dependent on a credit score; only given based on a reasonably solid financial history and decent income.

But we knew we first needed to find a realtor, and since we had only been in town a year and didn’t really know anyone with our specific financial convictions, we decided to use the Endorsed Local Provider (ELP) program provided by Dave Ramsey. We had heard positive things from the system, so we figured we might as well give it a go.

It’s basically a database of local professionals who adhere to strict, solid financial standards—ones that don’t encourage debt, unnecessary risk, or biting off more than you can chew. I loved the idea of finding someone with a good local reputation. So, we filled out the info and waited for a response.

And now? A long story made short in four chapters.

Chapter 1: We found a good realtor.

We quickly got calls back from two realtors. One didn’t really seem terribly excited about working with a family with a respectable yet definitively middle-class income, admittedly, so the system wasn’t perfect. But the other one? Oh glory. She was a firecracker out of the gate.

Sarah, our realtor, killed it and dragged it home, if you know what I mean. Not only did she applaud and approve of our mortgage standards, but she had an insane amount of knowledge about the current local housing market and kept us in the loop on a near-daily basis about what was on the market. Plus? She was fun to be with.

boys playing with dad

Chapter 2: We found a good mortgage lender.

She found us the right mortgage lender, too, which was amazing (Wells Fargo, if you’re curious). The process took AGES—we had to fill out all sorts of paperwork, answer lots of questions, submit several years’ worth of bank statements, and endure recorded phone interviews with companies we pay bills to (our cell phone company, electric companies from past rentals, etc.), all to ensure our financial responsibility.

Chapter 3: We piled up a decent down payment.

And all the while, we kept piling up our down payment fund. Any extra cash went there. We eventually learned that our having a sizable down payment was key in us qualifying for our non-scary mortgage. We landed a 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage with a 3% interest rate, while providing a little over a 25% down payment.

Chapter 4: We flexed.

It took us awhile to find the right house. Most of the houses we looked at were either too small, too far out of town, too expensive, or would be swooped in and purchased by investors who could pay cash on the spot. It was discouraging at first.

But we flexed on our secondary standards a bit, and that helped. We enlarged the circle where we were willing to live, and we decided we were okay with one fewer room if it meant finding a way to build in an office somewhere in the house.

the kitchen, before and after

Eventually, we walked through the home we live in now, and though we had to squint in some places to see the potential, we felt that it was the best fit for our family right now.

It’s not perfect—the street is busier than I prefer, and our driveway is pretty steep, making it hard for the kids to ride bikes. I also don’t love the exterior color, and it’s not in our budget to paint that right now. But? The goods of the house outweigh the bads, and we understand better our non-negotiable priorities for our next home-buying experience.

Sarah walked with us every step of the way, from finding us a mortgage lender who would be willing to manually underwrite (such a hard find these days, believe me!), to getting us the right home inspector, to celebrating with us when we closed on our home. She even gave us a gift card as a housewarming gift, and just recently emailed me out of the blue, curious how our remodeling was going. Just because.

So, as first-time home buyers, here are the keys that made our experience positive:

• Patiently saving funds for a solid down payment,
• Having an amazing realtor who understood us, who didn’t laugh at our dumb questions, and who walked with us through the whole process,
• Flexing on our house ideals, and ultimately,
• Being willing to walk away from home ownership if it just wasn’t the right time.

I’m so, so thankful we had a good home buying experience. I mean, don’t get me wrong; I’m not jumping up and down to do it again. But when it’s time to sell this little fixer-upper of ours, we’ll know how it’ll go down. And we’ll call Sarah.

Positive lessons learned from first-time homeowners

This post is sponsored by Dave Ramsey’s Endorsed Local Providers.

What’s been your experience in the wild home buying world?

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  1. Taynia | The Fiscal Flamingo

    What a great story! It’s nice to see the hard work of saving, compromise and help from the right people come together in the form of home ownership. Congrats on that awesome mortgage. 15 years, 3%, 25% down payment – it’s a trifecta. Thumbs up.

  2. Jessica

    We actually sold our home a few years back so that we could go off to college for a year and free ourselves up to move overseas (unfortunately the mortgage on our home was so high we couldn’t rent it out for a reasonable price).

    At the moment we’re back in our hometown and renting. We’re in no hurry to buy again as we feel the nomadic life may be for us at the moment. Plus renting is cheaper and allows me to stay home with my baby girl. When we do buy again, we too want it to be somewhere where we’ll stay for a good few years, we’ve moved an awful lot! We definitely won’t be maxing ourselves out again either – getting the highest mortgage we can – a slightly bigger home just wasn’t worth the stress!

    • Tsh

      Sounds like you’re doing just the right thing for you, Jessica! Good for you.

      Honestly, one of the signs for us that it was okay to buy was that we were sincerely okay with continuing to rent if that was best. Renting is not a bad thing in the slightest. 🙂

  3. Robin from Frugal Family Times

    I love reading about people’s home buying experiences! We bought my grandparents house, so we did no touring of houses, working with agents, etc. Part of me is relieved, that all sounds stressful. The rest of me is a bit sad – I love looking at houses and we never got to pose next to a “sold” sign.

    • Tsh

      That actually sounds amazing, Robin. I’d rather have your situation. 😉

  4. Jennifer

    It’s wonderful to hear a positive home buying experience because we had the opposite! We purchased our home in the summer of 2007, right before the market crashed. I live in one of the most expensive areas of the U.S. and at the time there was this sense that the prices were just going to get higher and higher and we were going to be completely priced out of the market. We looked at one home and put an offer in that night. There was no looking around because there was literally nothing else we could afford. On top of that, we had VERY pushy realtors. After the inspection I insisted that some repairs were done to fix an obvious water leak. Our realtor told me that I should be grateful that we could afford anything and to not make demands. As of now, the value of our home has depreciated so much that there is no way we can sell. I try to remind myself to be content, but we’re definitely at a point in our lives where a slightly bigger home would be nice. Oh well! Several good friends all purchased homes within weeks of us and have similar stories. The market allowed realtors and mortgage companies to act outside the realms of ethical behavior, and the overall feeling during that time made people willing to tolerate those behaviors. Luckily, we haven’t lost our home like so many families, but the mortgage lender definitely tried to push us to take out a larger mortgage than what we knew we could afford!

    • Tsh

      Oh, I’m so sorry, Jennifer. That sucks.

  5. Lori

    One of the key points to buying a home…be willing to walk away.
    Congratulations on your success story.

  6. Laurajoliza

    We first starts house-hunting in Bend the spring before the crash. Our eldest was 9 months old.

    Fast forward through one purchase falling through literally as we were signing the final documents (11k lien on the house that bankrupt sellers couldn’t and we weren’t allowed to pay), at least three offers declined, an out-of-state move, and much heartache…and we bought our home just after our eldest turned FIVE.

    Our realtor was a saint. And really became part of the family! We were actively looking for 4 of those years, so we saw him on a weekly basis to tour more houses!

    We have loved in this home for two years and I’m grateful none of the others worked out. This is The One. Even with its flaws, it’s home.

    • Tsh

      That’s awesome, Laura. And you’re in a great part of town, too! 🙂

  7. Kelly Fitzgerald

    A little over a year ago we purchased a house we had leased for a year. As it turned out, our landlord was also a real estate agent and she made the process as painless as possible. We ended up agreeing on a price over a handshake in our living room. It was the easiest real estate transaction we have ever experienced!

    Little did we know we would be selling the house just a year later. We had thought this would be our house for the next 10 years. Go figure, life is about change and thankfully we are fairly flexible – although it would be really nice if the buyers coming for their 3rd showing today make us an offer!

    • Tsh

      Hope it works out for you!

  8. Liza

    I think having time to find the right fit is one of the most important pieces of homebuying. We’ve bought two homes and both were somewhat rushed. That doesn’t mean we made bad purchases. But it would have been much less stressful to have time.

    The first one we bought we were straight out of college. We knew what area we wanted to live in (mostly) and knew that we didn’t have time or experience or money to do any fixing up to the house. It needed to be move-in ready. It was at the time of a building boom and we found a great house that fit our needs that was in the final stages of construction. (They were preparing to lay the carpet on our first walkthrough.) The thing I always feel weird admitting is how we paid for it. You know all those zero down mortgages that eventually caused the housing & mortgage markets & banks to collapse? Yep – we benefited from it. We had a small down payment, but nothing extra at time of purchase for closing costs, etc. My husband was starting his new job, but we didn’t have the money yet. But the builder’s financing company told us about a recent program that started up in which we didn’t have to have a down payment and closing costs could be rolled into the mortgage. We both had good credit history (never mind our credit histories were about 5 years old at the time) and the promise of steady income, and it was enough. There were hiccups and delays in processing the paperwork, but we finally got it all through. Turns out, our mortgage was the first one of its kind the company processed.

    Our second buying experience was smooth but still somewhat stressful. We were short on time and ended up going slightly over budget in order to buy. But our house and neighborhood have been wonderful. Yes, there are a few things I would change, but it has definitely been the right place for us.

  9. Sarah @ Economist at Home

    Great post. Homeownership is like adulthood… You have a lot more freedom to do what you want (at least when it comes to decorating, remodeling, etc…) but a lot more responsibility, too. I would add that after saving for the down payment, you need to save for the inevitable repairs and maintenance that will be required. There are a lot more unexpected housing expenses that come with homeownership. I just wrote a bit about that today:

    But certainly saving up 20% or more to avoid paying mortgage insurance makes homeownership more feasible on a monthly basis. Right on!

  10. Erin@The Humbled Homemaker

    This post totally peaked my interest because we just bought a home as well. I feel like we learned a lot as well. Thanks for sharing:)

  11. Katelyn

    My husband and I have decided that we will not even consider purchasing a home until he is no longer in the military. We dislike the idea of potentially being long distance landlords if we had difficulty selling. We also are really hoping to spend time overseas. I would love to have a home that was completely ours. One where we could choose the layout and colors and change landscaping and lighting and flooring. But that is not our now. Our now has us renting a nice house in a family friendly neighborhood on a military base. And for now we are content with that. We have fun dreaming of and discussing our someday house. By the time a home purchase is reality, I think we may actually agree on what we need/want.

  12. jennifer

    I’m curious. You mention stocking up as much savings for a down payment as possible and being able to put in over 25% at the end, but when you hired your realtor and started looking what percentage did you have already. We’d like to have at least 20% someday but did you start looking at 20% or 15% or…?

  13. Mom Favorites

    Great tips! It’s essential to have a great Realtor!

  14. Kim

    How I wish I had known about Dave Ramsey, large down payments, and having walk away power on our early home purchases! We recently moved to Tennessee, and are taking all of the wisdom we now possess about home buying and ownership—including being debt-free Ramsey grads—to make a choice that fits really well. If that means we are apartment dwellers longer than we had originally hoped or planned, that’s the price we will happily pay.

    I’m so glad you posted your buying experience. It’s easy to dismiss yours as one that is not replicable, or not achievable for “normal” couples.
    But it is. As a buyer, a parent, and a steward, it’s up to us to decide what our priorities are and to make choices that honor and complement them.

  15. Anna Y

    Glad your home buying experience went well! Ours (two months ago) was terrible. We had outstanding credit scores, no debt outside of student loans, and bought a house that we could easily afford. I used to work in mortgage lending, so I thought that being somewhat familiar with the process it would be a breeze. However, since lending standards have changed so much, the underwriting process was nightmarish. We went through a local bank and were pre-approved quickly, but obtaining final approval was considerably harder due to some of our income being contract work and a whole host of other things. Finally approval came through the day before closing – and by that time I was about to have a stroke.

  16. Regina S.

    Nice to hear. We are moving to a new area and I can’t wait to get a house, with provisions – not too far, not too much, not too big, etc. I love seeing the before and after pictures of your house, and hearing how although everything isn’t perfect, it meets your family’s needs.

  17. Caleb

    Thanks for sharing. I am glad that you had a positive home-buying experience. Buying a home can be stressful sometimes.

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