Reassurance That You Can Buy a House without Losing Your Shit or Your Shirt
As a 29-year-old anxiety-prone woman who recently purchased her first home, there is certainly no more qualified voice on the subject of home ownership on the whole Internet. Sit back, relax, and take a ride on the Pep Talk Express.
18 Months Out: Get that Paper
Squirrel money away in savings, earmarked only for home buying. (It helps if you have one of those savings accounts that require you to actually go to the bank to withdraw money—big pain in the butt, huge payoff.) How much depends on your situation, but knowing I had at least $6,000 in the bank helped me feel less crunched at a time when I used “hemorrhaging” multiple times to refer to my finances.
12 Months Out: Reading, Writing, ’rithmetic
I have a weekly habit of writing down my checkbook balance (YES, I balance my checkbook), then doing the math over and over to make sure I won’t overdraft or live outside my means. Though obsessive, this is good practice for people wanting to buy a home.
Take a few months to assess your own financial situation. This will leave you feeling BALLER-level confident or on the verge of a Demi Moore in “St. Elmo’s Fire” level breakdown, just rocking in the breeze in your cold, empty apartment. Either way—better to know where you stand.
There are tons of calculator tools out there. Take them with a grain of salt. You are a teeny, behbeh snowflake, not a formula! There are benefits of homeownership that simply can’t be measured—like being able to paint walls or no longer having an Australian Shepherd living above you.
It’s good to read articles and blogs about home buying, too, but they can devolve into Cosmopolitan first-period horror story territory. Talking directly to recent first-time home buyers can soften the blow, so make friends with people who are more grown-up than you so you can ply them with questions.
9 Months Out: Just Lookin’
Scope online home listings in your area. This is either fun or soul-crushing—depending on your personality—because houses you like probably won’t be for sale when you’re ready to buy. It’s good to get a sense of the market, though, and adjust your expectations accordingly. (Read: Lower them—nowhere to go but up!).
6 Months Out: Assemble a Team
Find a realtor who has plenty of experience where you want to buy (bonus if you feel comfortable crying in front of this person). Pick a lender based on how quick they get back to you and their willingness to repeatedly explain loans to you. Eventually you’ll also add an insurance person in the mix.
I can’t overstate the importance of the ick factor. These are people you’ll be dealing with a lot, so don’t settle for OK, and certainly not MEH.
3 Months Out: Make Them an Offer They Can’t Refuse
Summon your strength and be Cool Girl. Don’t let the home know how much you like it; wait a little while to respond to its texts. Maybe even keep seeing other houses.
Once you have an accepted offer, you will have to collect a bunch of financial materials so that your lender can process the loan. Ask your lender for a checklist and be prepared to turn that ish on a dime.
Buying a home for the first time can feel completely overwhelming. If you’re a sort-of adult with mostly stable finances, rest assured you can do it—there are plenty of yokels who become homeowners every day! Just do like Samuel L. and hold onto your butt (and follow these guidelines):
Keep a big binder to hold papers until you have the mental capacity to deal with them. (A big binder is also a good place to keep all those financial papers you’ll have to give your lender.)
- Take a home-buying class if your city offers it—this was so helpful to me (and FREE).
- Get an inspection. Seriously. Just spend the money.
- Work with a realtor, lender, and insurance agent you can stand.
- Evaluate your needs and set your expectations low (an OK rule for life too).
- “Just chill” was the best advice I received during the process. This means relax, of course, but also lay low: Don’t apply for new credit cards, don’t take on other debts, don’t switch jobs—these things can make the loan-approval process even more of a headache.
- Be prepared for the ultimate disappointment: “SOLD” signs are not as ubiquitous as TV commercials would have you believe, so you may have to just take a picture of your goony face sans-sign in the front yard once the house is yours.
- You’ll never be “done” as a homeowner, so just calm the eff down and ride the wave.