You should get your shit together before you make the biggest investment of your life; and while you’re in the process of making the biggest investment of your life, keep your shit together and tight. Buying a house–no, buying a house with a partner–is not for the faint of heart.
I have owned my apartment for over 10 years now but the knots in my stomach are much tighter this time because we are buying our home together. My anxiety has doubled and it has manifested while I sleep.
In the first dream, I was treading in a cave and I could feel the water gently sloshing up to my face. Alec was in the water with me trying to help me move towards the cave’s opening. I actually don’t remember the second dream, but I abruptly woke and sat up gasping for air because I smelled smoke; but I guess the smell was not real enough to make me check the candles in the living room–I went back to sleep as fast as I woke up.
The real work starts after you’ve created your wishlist and narrowed down your dream home choices. It may be months from the first time you inquire about a house to the day you lock a rate; deals may fall through in between, so it’s important that you stay diligent until you get the keys. Here’s what I learned throughout our home-buying process:
- Do your homework – Find reviews of the people you will hire to help you get through the finish line. They’re your real estate agent, your lender, and your lawyer. They all won’t be positive reviews, so let your gut make the final decision. When you first talked to them over the phone, were they pleasant? Did they take the time to answer all of your questions? Did they reply to your emails in a timely manner? When I sent a courtesy email and told a potential lender that we have decided to go with another, they emailed back and bad-mouthed the agent we chose. His true colors showed up and made us more confident about our selection.
- Read everything! – You must read every line of a contract before you sign your name. Check misspellings; make sure they have the right social security number; double-check prices and ask about any information that seems unclear. My loyalty to my bank over the years earned me the free help to check a competing bank’s numbers. My bank knew they couldn’t beat the interest rate our lender was offering, so they advised me to go ahead without them. Who knew my bank’s mortgage agent would help me decipher another bank’s contract?
- Organize all your paperwork – While you’re still shopping for the perfect home, your lender will continuously ask you to prove that you can afford your future home until you seal the deal. Group all your paperwork by category: bank statements, paystubs, investments, tax forms. Establish a naming convention so you can easily find them and order them by date. Mine was something like FirstNameLastName_BankName_MonthDayYear so that the same types of documents were grouped together but were still identified by our names. And then back everything up in the cloud!
- Stay consistent – Until you move in to your new home, do not make any life changes. Do not switch jobs; do not make any big purchases; do not open or close lines of credits; do not get married; do not move money you cannot provide a paper trail to; do not accept money you cannot provide a paper trail to. Even if the Republic Bank of Your Parents gives you money, you will have to prove that it’s a gift. Consistency is the key when all of the institutions’ eyes are on you.
- Manage the people – Do not assume that just because you have paid people to help you buy a house that they will do their job and tell you what the next step is. Alec and I had to be on top of everyone throughout the process. I was the person emailing everyone, “What else do you need from us to keep moving forward?” I was reminding our lawyer to contact the seller’s lawyer about contract updates and timely signatures. Our inspector had to be reminded twice before he sent us the oil tank and termite inspection reports he completed a week prior. Throughout our home buying process, we were also passed around from assistants to junior associates because imagine this: we weren’t their only customers! We established good rapport with them because we knew they did the paperwork before their bosses followed up with us.
- Manage your time – Whenever we needed to make appointments with contractors and architects, we gave them several time slots in our schedule so they can pick whichever time also worked for them. Our favorite contacts were the ones who sent us links to their calendars and immediately followed up with meeting invites once we all found an agreeable date and time. When contracts needed to be signed, Alec and I set aside time after dinner to read them separately but finalize together. If you are buying a house with someone, this is not the time to be passive.
- Divide and conquer – Alec and I shared a specific calendar with house-related dates so we were both aware of deadlines that we needed to meet. We took ownership of different things: I was the one researching contractors and he was the one sleuthing for building plans around the neighborhood we were interested in. While I have been designing my dream kitchen, he has been researching home security options. If I did the research for all the home insurance options, he reviewed them and picked which was best for us. If I wanted to scream-email because I was managing the people, he made sure my draft was polite before I hit send.
We’re almost at the finish line in our home-buying process and I’m aware that more adulting is needed as soon as we close, but that’s for another post.