My Journey to Becoming a Home Owner
Hello everyone!! Three months have passed since I’ve closed on the Harvest House, and as I’ve settled into becoming a homeowner (and as all of this finally feels real), I’m excited to now share my journey with you!!
I officially began my search November of 2019 and closed on the Harvest House April of 2020. In my 5 month search, I fired the worst realtor ever and hired the best realtor ever, looked at close to 30 homes, and only put in a total of three (!!!) offers. Based off these numbers, I would say I had a very easy home searching process. My closing experience, however, was far from pleasant. As the state of California was shutting down, I got really close to losing the house. (More on that later). All is well now, and here I am 3 months later, to tell the story.
The First Few Steps to Buying a Home
In November of 2019, I applied for a pre-approval loan. I had to send in proof of assets and income via paystubs, bank statements, and tax returns. My broker ran my credit score and verified my employment. I used a couple of different online calculators to determine the cost of a home I could afford. I discussed my budget with my broker, and he put together a loan package for me. My biggest hurdle was proving freelancer income. Unfortunately 1099’s and PayPal receipts aren’t considered real income to the banks, but I did have enough steady income to get a hesitant pass. At the time, it seemed like this was the biggest problem in the world, but looking back now, it was so little compared to the rest of the process.
I know some people don’t find pre-approval loans necessary, but the housing market in California is so competitive that having one gives you an advantage. It also proves to the seller that I’m ready to become a home owner, and I have the funds to secure it. My rates really fluctuated between lending firms, from a whopping 6% to as low as 3.2%, so definitely shop around!
our paint remodel, courtesy of Clare Paint
Finding the Right Realtor
Finding the right realtor that understands your needs is one of the most important aspects to finding your home. You want a realtor who is on your team, on your side, and willing to fight for you. Because of my traveling schedule, I wasn’t able to attend all the open houses, nor view all the homes I wanted. My realtor was always there when I couldn’t be. And he understood my needs well enough that I could trust him to view a house for me without me being there. On days that he couldn’t be there, he sent someone else from his firm.
My realtor was also very transparent with me–he never wasted my time, and it never felt like he was just trying to make a sale off of me. When you’re looking for a realtor, make sure you shop around and meet up with them so you can get a feel for how they work. You can even attend some of their open houses and meet them in a non-threatening work environment. Having someone represent you is so important in the transaction process, that you don’t want to hire just any realtor. I also want to note that my realtor responded to my texts almost within the hour, and that’s when I knew he was constantly on his A game. If you’re in need of a realtor, feel free to DM me!!
What I Wanted in a Home
In December I began my search. My dad is a heavy believer in feng shui, numerology, and astrology. So he ran my birth date, birth time, and location through some chart to see how the stars were aligned when I was born. Not really sure how this all works though haha. BUT he ultimately told me that my house needs to face West or East for the most prosperity. Who am I to deny some good fortune (nor the wise words of my sweet father, who was very adamant about this), right? So I told my realtor, the direction of the house was a non-negotiable. Plus, any house that faces these directions would give me the best natural light.
So now, onto the actual house itself. I didn’t want a home that was already perfect, but I did want something that was turn-key ready. A good foundation (good bones, good roof, newer HVAC) but I was open to fixing anything cosmetic. I also love the idea of being able to fix parts of the house with my own two hands. I made a wish list for my realtor— big backyard, as much open space as possible, large kitchen, and natural light. The rest, was up for debate.
Putting in Offers
We toured several houses privately and attended a handful of open houses. The very first house I looked at, I considered my dream home. It had an open floor plan with a new kitchen, perfect island and farmhouse sink, and the most beautiful backyard. My realtor advised me “you can like the houses, but don’t fall in love with them.” I knew it was too good to be true, too. There was no way I would be able to buy the very first house I looked at. I submitted my offer for the house and of course, ended up being outbid, and by $20,000.
In between looking, I was working and traveling full time so I flew home for open houses on the weekends. When I couldn’t make it, I asked my sister and realtor to go look at houses in my place. A couple months later, I found another house that I really liked but was outbid again. This time, by $50,000. The housing market is so tough in California. Not only do houses come and go so quickly but people always bring extra cash to the table. I never offered more than the asking price, but houses were consistently getting sold for more. Not being able to attend the first day of open house would also cost me a chance to buy just because offers were always quick to flood in. After months of looking, I became discouraged, impatient, and extremely defeated.
the sweetest living space, by Castlery
Finding THE One
I was in Bali at the beginning of March when my realtor called and said a house came on the market that I should look at. It had a spacious backyard with a white pergola, and it faces East with huge windows. On March 14th, sister toured the house for me and told me it was a great house with a lot of potential.
My realtor verified the house was priced correctly and told me this house was going to be a quick sell so I’ll need to make a decision soon. And by soon, within the day. At the time, I was literally at the Tegallalang Rice Fields in Ubud with Cherrie, and with hardly any service, and on a blind leap of faith, I put in my offer the morning of March 15th.
On the morning of March 16th, my realtor told me the seller accepted my offer!! I couldn’t believe it. Cherrie and I cried over the news in our hotel room. I was going to be a home owner! After 5 months of searching, I finally had a successful bid. At the same time, I thought, holy shit. What if I hate this house in real life? But I had a really good feeling, and was just so happy to have the opportunity. March 17th, I signed my counter offer, and booked my flight home from Bali to begin the closing process.
On my way home from Bali, the US went into lockdown and I had a lot of trouble returning home. I was stranded in Singapore for 3 days, plus 2 additional days of travel time. And upon arrival into the US, I decided it was best to quarantine for 14 days. So, although home, I was still not able to see the house, but I certainly saw a lot of photos. The sellers were also still living in the house at the time too, so I couldn’t just swing by. Luckily, I managed to get one Face Time session in during one of the inspection days.
The Closing Process
Fast forward three weeks, I finished home inspection and repairs, signed all of the contracts, found home owner’s insurance, and officially closed from my room in quarantine. My sister and realtor really pulled through for me while I was stuck in a room eating Hot Cheetos and cup noodles. Can you imagine the amount of stress my sister was under? She was terrified I wasn’t going to like the house but she is my sister and I trusted that she knows me best.
My biggest hurdle occurred a week before closing. California was on lockdown, and many banks announced they were putting holds on signing mortgages due to Covid. Furthermore, I went on a voluntary unpaid leave at work, and although I was still employed, I was not considered an “active employee.” The underwriter saw that as too risky to sign off the final loan. At this point, it was too late for me to find a new lending firm and start the process over again. And even if I did, there was no guarantee another company would sign a loan for me, nor would the sellers wait for the process to go through.
I really only had two options at this point, as I was days from closing. I could walk away from the house and start the searching process all over again. But at the time, no one knew how long it would take for California to open back up. There was also uncertainty if people were going to put their houses up for sale, or how one would go about touring houses during a global pandemic. My second option was to go with a hard money lender. The process was very quick, and the interest rate was painfully high. (I went from 3.2% to 9% on a 3 month minimum). But I am in the process of refinancing now, and hoping to get an even lower rate than what I was originally offered. Fingers crossed!
On April 14th, I came to the final home inspection and saw the house for THE VERY FIRST TIME. The backyard was everything I could have asked for! And as for the inside– well you guys have already seen the work we’ve been putting into it. This home buy has been one of the greatest adventures of my life, and renovating with Trey has been an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
If you made it all the way through, you’re the real MVP. I hope this post gives you a little more insight on the process of becoming a home owner. Let me know if you guys have any questions below!
Oh wow! What an experience! I bought my flat last year after more than a year looking for one that matched my requirements but also my budget 😉 It’s quite tough! So congratulations for being a house owner!!
Have a wonderful weekend!
Eli – Curly Style
Eli! Thank you so much, it’s been such a roller coaster of emotions but I am so happy with my new home!
So informative ☺️🙌🏽🙏🏽I appreciate all of the details!
Still remember the time when you told me the news! I felt like I was the one who bought the house! It’s been a long journey and you made it! I am just so proud of you!