a four-month-long house story

Paul and I have been talking about buying a house for a long time. Encouraged by the lower prices in the current buyer’s market, we decided this spring to contact a real estate agent and see what we could find in our price range and desired location. We decided that we would buy if the right house came along and the mortgage was equal or less than what we currently pay in rent. That of course made our budget really low and limited our selection to foreclosures and short sales. But, we tried not to get hung up on the idea that we had to buy now, and told ourselves that we needed to be content to continue renting if we didn’t find anything.

This was easier for Paul to do than me. :-) Faced with having a baby in a one-bedroom apartment, I was feeling cramped and getting tired of renting!

Last March we put an offer on a foreclosed house that had good potential but needed work. That ended up falling through for various reasons, namely that when we sat down and crunched the numbers we didn’t have enough money for a down payment plus the work that was needed. (We estimated $7000 just to make the house livable, plus less important repairs that would be needed in the first year or so.)

After that, we stepped back and reconsidered the area where we were looking. We then found a neighborhood that I had previously refused to consider because of the bad reputation the area had. However, this neighborhood was one of the “good pockets” in the area, and it had everything we were looking for (nice residential neighborhood without an HOA and in a county with easy access to public transportation). We even found out that one of my friends from choir lived in the neighborhood, and she recommended it highly. We looked at all the houses for sale, and found this one that we both liked. It was a short sale, which is basically the step before foreclosure. So it’s not bank-owned yet, but all the offers needed to be approved by the bank. The house needed some work, but it had a lot of potential and met the needs that were important to us.

We put an offer on the house on May 5th. And then we waited. And waited. We at first got really antsy, then as the months went by we somewhat forgot about it. Every so often we’d look to see if there were any other houses out there, but nothing else fit our desires and price range. I had heard that the average short sale takes 2 months, so I tried to be patient at least that long. Meanwhile, we got everything squared away with the mortgage and anything else we could do while we waited.

Then, FINALLY, 2 1/2 months after our original offer, we received word – the bank had officially approved our offer! We were so excited. We ordered the home inspection and started making a to-do list so we wouldn’t miss anything. Then, the home inspection revealed some concerns. One, the house had settled under the dining room and needed some foundational work to prop it up again. Two, the inspector noticed evidence of termites. After thinking about it and consulting wise counsel, we decided to walk away from the house. Mostly we were afraid of the unknown – foundational problems could be very expensive, and I knew termites were a major concern. We told our realtor that we wanted to withdraw our offer, and I cried myself to sleep that night.

The next day we got a phone call. The listing agent didn’t want to see potential buyers slip away. She offered to pay for a pest control company and also a contractor to come out and give estimates, to see if that would change our mind. We decided it couldn’t hurt, so we said okay. The results: the house once had termites, but not anymore and there was no major damage. The house settling hadn’t compromised the structural integrity of the house, and while it does need to be dealt with eventually, it isn’t right away nor is it something that would be very expensive. Yay! We withdrew our offer withdrawal and continued on the path to buy the house.

We ordered the appraisal, and they came back with the news: the house appraised for $5k less than our offer. So, we had to go back to the bank and submit a new offer. Which resulted in – you guessed it – another wait. Meanwhile, we tell our apartment complex that we will not be renewing our lease and pray that the house works out so we’re not homeless!

Fortunately, the bank didn’t take another 2 1/2 months. It only took them 3 weeks! We actually received word that they had approved our offer the day before Savannah was born. We have to close by August 31st, which was only 10 days away. However, because I was in labor when I got the email, I really didn’t deal with it. I had contacted our insurance company about getting homeowner’s insurance, and emailed the agent the inspector’s report, and then promptly forgot about it and focused on, you know, having a baby.

It was funny. I called my mom Friday night and said, “Guess what! We got the house. Oh, and I’m in labor.”

Monday morning (the 24th) both our mortgage guy and our realtor were going full force in getting everything together so we could close by the 31st. Paul and I were… out of it. :-) I turned off my phone and let Paul deal with everything. There were three major things that needed to be done. One, we had to replace all the gutters on the house. Since the house was being sold “as is”, the owner and bank refused to make any changes/improvements. But we couldn’t get the mortgage without fixing the gutters. So, Paul and my dad spent two whole days at the house replacing the gutters. We also had to fix a small water leak that we discovered. The third thing was we had to get homeowner’s insurance. On Tuesday, we decided to call back our insurance company and found out why they had never responded to my email the previous Friday. After trying to get a hold of the guy all day, I finally called the main number and got someone else, and she said she’d have the agent call me back. He did and said he’d review the documents and get back to us in 24 hours. Well, by the end of the next business days we still hadn’t heard from him. Thursday morning our mortgage guy is antsy and we are both stressed. The insurance agent finally called us back and told us the house was full of problems waiting to happen and we were denied coverage. Fine, we weren’t very happy with them either. Paul talked to our mortgage guy who referred us to another insurance agent who recommended we go with state insurance for now until we can get in the house and fix the problems. We said fine, and were happy that the state insurance prices were about the same.

Oh and meanwhile, I am home completely stressed about the fact that I’m in a lot of pain and I can’t seem to figure out breastfeeding, and everyone has advice on what I should do and I just want to cry. And to make things worse, we have used all our cell phone minutes. We must have gone over our minutes by several hours last month… I am dreading that bill. :-(

Then, Friday afternoon (the 28th), somehow it all came together. The appraiser came by to check the gutters and the leak, saw it was good, and gave the go-ahead. The insurance somehow worked out. I do not know how it was done, but we were good to close on Monday.

Monday afternoon we showed up at the lawyer’s office to close on the property. It has almost been 4 months since we put in the original offer. We found out that August 31st was the drop-dead date. Had we not been able to close by then, the bank would have started over and we would have had to submit our offer and done everything again. I hadn’t realized that, and I am thanking God that we made it just in time.

So that puts us to today. We are homeowners! We have a month before we have to be out of our apartment, so we have hit the ground running! I am going to save pictures and description for another post. And I’ll end this post with a lesson: don’t consider buying a house being sold short sale unless you have lots and lots of patience. And I think God wanted us to have this house, because we were ready to walk away several times and each time He brought the house back to us. Here’s to many happy years for our family living there!