First Time Home Buyer: Real(tor) Talk

by Randall Cleveland

Ah, the American Dream: a home, 2.5 children, a dog, a huge American-made sedan that gets four miles to the gallon, and a beautiful little lady to fix supper every night. Obviously all that's dead, but since I'm 30 and finally financially stable enough to afford the fancier brand of Instant Mac & Cheese, my wife and figured it's time to think about buying a house.

And for a long time, all we really did was avoid thinking about it, because buying a house is intense and full of variables and details and jesus just writing about it makes me want to put it off. But ask around! The time is right! Interest rates are super low! There are lots of homes recently foreclosed on or vacated for slightly less horrific reasons and hey, if you don't do it now you'll be kicking yourself later. At least that's what everyone tells me. So I figured I'd document my foray into home ownership.

Nice house
"Offer $30,000. Let's see if they bite."

My wife and I have rented for five years, and we've been lucky to have more positive experiences than negative. Our current landlord tends to answer my phone calls with the phrase, "Don't touch it. I'll replace it." I like the idea of a landlord. I like the idea of someone else having to do all the replacing and renovating and paying for stuff that breaks. But lately the trade-offs have grown to be grating. We have weird neighbors who avoid us in the stairwell. We share walls with a very lovely single mother and her extremely rowdy and easily-upset five year old boy. We share a four car garage with a woman who constantly leaves her door open and got my $1,000 bike stolen. And our upstairs neighbors ratted us out to our landlord for using our smoker in the backyard on a Thursday afternoon when most people are at work. WHO GETS OFFENDED BY THE SMELL OF CEDAR CHIPS AND SMOKED FISH? Savages, that's who. So we agreed it's time to move.

Except how the hell do you move? How much money do you need? Where do you get financing? How do you even sift through all the houses on the market? How do you know you're not getting an old Scooby Doo murder house that's going to ooze blood from the walls or, worse, need a new roof or something? We had no idea. That's why we decided to get a realtor.

Realtors have a reputation similar to car mechanics: you're reasonably certain they're f---ing you over, but it's a professional courtesy for them to keep it from being obvious. When I hear the word "realtor" I can only think of the people from my hometown: the gleaming overly white smile, the bleached blonde hair, the failed assumption that their youth and beauty would carry them beyond high school.

Missy Caulk, Tech Savvy Agent in Ann Arbor, Michigan
"I thought Homecoming would last forever."

So we went to meet with a realtor. Actually TWO realtors, who I'll call Ronnie and Dave since I don't have their express written consent to talk about 'em. They came highly recommended from some friends of ours who recently bought a house of their own, so we sat down for coffee and a meet and greet. Ronnie's a mile-a-minute woman who I'm guessing is in her 50s and within 12 minutes of meeting us had told us all about getting drunk at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, somehow winding up in St. Louis, and trying to walk to Columbia, MO before winding up stranded at a liquor store/bowling alley somewhere along the lonely I-70 corridor after jumping out of a moving vehicle because the guys she was hitchhiking with were creeping her out. Dave had a nice shirt.

We sat down and they went over the process, talked a lot about what we're looking for, our price point, neighborhoods we liked, and what to expect. We shook hands and walked out of their office with realtors of our very own and an appointment in two weeks to go looking at houses.

Of course none of this matters at all without getting pre-approval from our bank, and oh what a joyous occasion that's going to be.

Have questions about home buying? Got advice for Randall? Can't fathom how anyone would want to own rather than rent in this economy? Let us know in the comments!


Flickr photos Nice house by JarZe, Missy Caulk, Tech Savvy Agent in Ann Arbor, Michigan by missycaulk used under a Creative Commons License.