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Confessions of a First-time House Hunter

You might’ve have picked up on the fact that my husband and I are house hunting. It all started in February in 2015, when we were like, “Hey, let’s buy a house!” And then changed our minds and rented…and then got the house itch again.

We’ve since switched from looking for a cute fixer-upper in the suburbs to keeping our city vibes a bit longer, and have been hunting for our first home in our favorite urban Chicago neighborhoods since May. 

Anyone who tells you house hunting is fun has either never done it, or gotten incredibly lucky. We saw dozens of houses, opened our search to include new neighborhoods and even stretched our budget. 

And then, a couple weeks ago, it happened.

We had spent another evening hitting a handful of houses, none of which were “the one,” until we arrived at our last showing. It was a cute, brick walk-up in one of my new favorite neighborhoods — lots of tree-lined streets, cute restaurants and families. From the moment we stepped inside the condo, I could see us there. A nice, wide living space, dark hardwood floors, two nice-sized bedrooms and an amazing walk-in closet. Plus, an adorable patio that we could enjoy with guests. Our hearts lit up with excitement, we put an offer in, and after some negotiations, WE GOT IT! 

Words cannot describe how happy I was — a combination of relief, joy and pure optimism. We were so excited, we told all of our friends, family and coworkers. We spent that night walking around Home Depot, dreaming up all of the DIY possibilities and pinning our favorite ideas until after midnight. We scheduled the inspection for the very next day (mostly because we were so eager to see it again!)

Well, we learned a hard lesson. Don’t celebrate until the fat lady sings (i.e. your closing).

The inspection revealed a couple big issues with the building —  and big expenses we could incur if we moved forward. Even if we pushed the seller to make repairs and do all he could in advance, the risk was too great — the long-term damage (think water & unsealed brick for two decades) had already been done.

We were totally heartbroken, but had to rescind our offer.

I never expected to feel as sad as I did. It was like I had let someone — something — into my family, just to get it taken away quickly. I had gotten my hopes up so much in such a short amount of time, and then had to re-tell everyone I shared my good news with about my hearbreak, which only made it worse.

Now it’s like a bad ex-boyfriend. Every time I hear the street name, I cringe and get angry all over again. So dramatic, I know! But back to square one we go.

I’m trying my hardest to stay optimistic (and remember that in the grand scheme of life, this little hiccup will be small potatoes). 

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Choose a realtor you can trust. We are lucky to have my mother-in-law as our realtor, and I am so thankful. There’s nothing more valuable that asking for her opinion and knowing she’s going to fight for you to get what you want. When picking a realtor, I highly recommend using a friend or family member’s recommendation, or asking another realtor you know to refer you. You’d be surprised by how connected people are. (And if you’re in need of a reco for the Chicago burbs or city, email me!)

Pick your battles. Unless you’re a millionaire, you can’t have it all. It’s unlikely you’ll get the fireplace, dark wood floors, rooftop deck, granite countertops, walk-in closet and marble bathroom sinks. (A girl can dream, right?) Especially if you’re looking in a big city like Chicago, you could miss out on great properties if you wait for the all-perfect home (they go quick!) It’s important to have a sense of what you’re willing to sacrifice, and what’s a dealbreaker. And this list may change as you go. 

Don’t get too attached. This one’s now pretty obvious, but in talking with my sister-in-law, I learned that it’s not just the inspection that can make a deal go bad. There’s also the appraisal, plus more negotiations if the inspection reveals something you want fixed that the seller isn’t willing to do. There’s a LOT that can happen before your closing date (and commonly does), so don’t get your heart too set on a house — even once your offer is accepted.

Don’t get desperate. This is a hard one, because I’m totally there. I AM DESPERATE. We are probably going to have to renew our lease month-to-month (which is significantly more expensive), and I just want more than anything to find the right home. But at this point, we have a really good sense of what we want and don’t, and we aren’t willing to cave. This is not just another rental — this is our first big investment. So it’s important that to feel confident in it!

It’s okay to be emotional. The one thing that surprised me in this whole experience is just how much of an emotional rollercoaster this is. I’m not a particularly emotional or dramatic person — I rarely ever cry. (Dan says he can count the times he’s seen it on one hand!) But seriously, you guys — I’ve been crying about this house thing at the drop of a hat. Anytime anyone asks me about it, I feel tears well up. WTF, right?! After talking with a few other women that have been there, I learned that I’m not alone. It’s okay to care about this — you should!

Can you tell I am basically pep-talking myself in this post?!

If you’re also house hunting, I’d love to hear about your experience, too. And if you’re already a homeowner, your advice is welcome!

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