Buying a house

Dear sisters,

Next up on Kevin and my quest to become boring adults (step 1. move to the midwest, step 2. expect a baby) is step 3. buy a house! This is all very tongue in cheek of course, while it seems like we are doing the staid “being adult” things, it actually feels pretty exciting and crazy! You’ve kind of been on the home buying journey with me since we started looking in August, but I’ll do a tiny recap here and share some of the things that were surprising to us.

It all started back in June when we first came to La Crosse and looked at some affordable rental properties. We quickly discovered that we were really picky. We wanted a house that accepted pets and had room for a growing family and was in the $700-1000 range and was in a nice neighborhood. Just from our quick search, it seemed really hard to find that. I’m sure we could have eventually, but we realized there were a lot of homes for sale. The allure of getting some return on our money was too strong to resist, combined with the generous gifts from our parents we knew buying a home could be within our reach. We came back in August for a week to do a more intense home search and to meet some real estate agents to work with and meet banks and mortgage people. Through the months of August and September we got listings sent to us that met our criteria from our real estate agent Brianne. Our criteria were–$85,000-120,000, 2-3 bedrooms, 1-2 bathrooms somewhere in La Crosse. We made a list of our top 10 right before moving here and within our first 3 days in WI we saw 6 of them. The home we ended up with was one of them. We put in an initial offer on October 10th, and we closed on November 10th!

The front door on 22nd St. We rarely use this since our driveway is on the other street (Redfield). We enjoy our corner lot.
The front door. We rarely use this since our driveway is on the other street.

Things that I think helped us not stress out about buying a house:

1. Research the process. We read a lot of articles about buying a home, about the mortgage process, about everything we could think of. It made us feel a lot more secure going into houses and meetings at banks. Kevin spent one night putting together a model that showed us our mortgage payments at 5 different banks with the rates they quoted us and how much money we would be putting into the house over a 3-5 year period that we would get back if we sold it at the price we bought it. Seeing how much money we get back is so nice, because we’re not sending that to a landlord and never seeing it again. Even if we lose some money on the house, we won’t have lost a monthly rent check.

2. Have an agent you trust. We definitely thought we wouldn’t work with a real estate “buyer’s agent” when we started the process, but being across the country and moving into a market and state we knew nothing about convinced us it was ok. The nicest thing about our agent is she gets paid out of the negotiated price and splits the commission with the listing agent. Since our house was for sale by owner, it was especially nice to have her taking care of the details since the owner can sometimes not know the home selling process as well and he only loses a small part of the price for her commission. Our agent knew the area and market really well and was just super capable, we never doubted her opinions on things.

3. Keeping it in perspective. Everyone we talked to would joke about how we were signing our life away and the “joys of homeownership” (which we experienced when our fridge broke 4 days after closing and we had to buy a new one, who wants to get that home insurance that covers appliances when you know you’re going to replace them in the long run??!). We haven’t ever really felt overwhelmed by this whole thing because we realize this isn’t our forever home. We didn’t have to be super picky about the house we bought because we knew we wanted to move in right away, sure, we could have kept looking and found a house that might have had a better yard, but we wouldn’t have gotten all the perks of this house (en suite bathroom in master suite, his and hers closets). We bought it knowing we’d be leaving in a few years and feeling confident that it was a solid purchase. We had a contractor friend look at the house before we even put in an offer and he assured us it was a solid buy in a good neighborhood. During the home inspection that was reinforced to us. I think I am better at letting go of stressful situations and worries than Kevin is, though we are a good team. I often take care of the minute details of a plan whereas Kevin always sees the big picture and often stresses about how we’ll get there (i.e. budgeting for things!).

We're now on the corner of 22nd and Redfield. It makes the house look more exciting to be on a corner lot, I think.
Here’s a view of our corner. It makes the house look more exciting to be on a corner lot, I think.

Things that surprised us:

1. Babysitting the mortgage process. We were fairly prepared to get our mortgage, we had a lot of the documents we needed from the get go and were able to do a lot within the first week to get it going. Because we were getting gift money our parents ended up being involved, having to sign letters and send bank documents to prove they weren’t getting loans to fund our loan. We discovered that what we thought was good enough for the bank, often wasn’t, and they needed more from us, but wouldn’t come out and tell us that until we explicitly asked, often in person. Emails are easy to disregard when you’re busy, scheduling a meeting the week before you close and hearing you still need to submit documents that you thought you didn’t need isn’t that fun. When the bank has 3 weeks to work on your mortgage and they do most of the work in the last week it seems a bit like procrastination, but in the end, we closed on time and cleanly and it was all good! It just took a bit of double checking on our part (for example, they forgot to apply a credit from the seller to our closing costs, but we caught it before we had to close, so that was great!).

2. How easy it is to buy a house. Take this with a grain of salt. It is overall fairly easy to buy a house, even if you have a small down payment and poor credit you can get a loan, just not as great of a loan as you might wish. The process is fairly streamlined and considered just another one of those every day things banks do. It’s not as scary as it seems at the beginning!

3. How much bigger and more expensive a home feels. The square footage of the trailer (840) vs. this home is a bit different (1100), but add in a finished basement and a garage and we don’t have enough stuff to fill this place up! Our guest room/baby room is pretty much empty and the basement only has my sewing machine and a dresser in it. Even though we didn’t put out much of our own money to get the house, it still feels like money is tight. We have so many goals to save for we don’t know what to buy first! Luckily, the fridge broke and that was an obvious thing to buy. Next we want a couch…or a guest bed…or rugs…or maternity clothes…or new clothes for both of us…or christmas gifts for family!

The driveway view up to our garage. We always use this door.
The driveway view up to our garage. We always use this door.

Last list, I promise: My favorite things about the house.

1. Great bathrooms. The bathrooms aren’t pretty, but they are so nice compared to the rentals we’ve had. The water heater is never ending, so we can take super long showers or I can fill up the super deep tub and it’s boiling lava hot, just the way I like it. It’s luxurious to have great water pressure upstairs and downstairs. The upstairs showers has a tiled bench in it! That just seems extravagant.

2. Not having a long skinny house (or basically, not living in a trailer). It’s strange to go from living in a very cute, nice trailer, into an actual house. The first night Kevin started patting the walls and said, “You know what’s amazing? The outside isn’t 4 inches away.” Our house has real walls and a nice sturdy stucco exterior. The floor plan isn’t one long hallway with tiny rooms off of it and we have a real basement instead of empty space on cinder blocks (or, a superhighway for mice).

3. Freeeedom! If things go wrong, yes, we’re the people who have to take care of it, but that’s great! That means we get to do it our way, instead of dealing with maintenance men or a landlord’s timeline.

4. Proximity to stuff! We’re a block away from a great grocery store and lots of little restaurants and shops, but our neighborhood feels quiet and cozy. If you drive or walk a mile away there’s a movie theater and lots of restaurants and stores. Some of our favorite places to get house stuff and groceries are a bit of a drive away, but it’s nice to know we have so many options close by!

Since I don’t want to post a million photos. Let me leave you with a home tour, which includes the gender of the baby :-)! Kevin finds my commentary to be superfluous, you all know a kitchen when you see one, so you can mute it if you just want to see the splendor of our home sans my jibber jabber.

Love,
Jewel

P.S. Sorry about the massive length of this post.

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7 thoughts on “Buying a house

  1. Nice post and nice video! It looks much different and much nicer with your furnishings in it. We hope to see it in person in May probably but are very happy that you gave us a video tour again. Slowly furnishing the house the way you want it is one of the fun parts of buying a house and settling into a place for a few years. Your first baby will be born in this house! How exciting and wonderful…

  2. Jewel!!! I love everything about this video. First of all, I think it is safe to say that you are officially an adult now. Husband, baby, house… I think that is everything on the adult list. Your house is looking so cute already 🙂

    1. Thanks Erin. I agree, we’re living the dream from the 1950s ;-). Remember, if you ever have a speech conference or some reason to travel to the Wisconsin/Minnesota area we’ve totally got a guest room (and a guest bed someday…).

  3. It does look like a nice cozy house for you guys! I’m jealous, buying a house has been a long drawn-out process for us and so many of our circumstances are different…so it’s not so simple. I’m glad it was fairly simple for you! And I’m so happy about baby boy Aagaard! Love the ultrasound pic on the fridge. 🙂

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