It took us three months to find our first home. We wrote five offers. I wrote five mushy and pleading letters. We saw approximately thirty homes, walked through sixty bedrooms, and stressed through multiple Sundays waiting for deadlines to close. We learned about gutters and limestone basements and detached garages. We developed a thirsty text-based relationship with our realtor, jumping on new listings like they would disappear if we didn’t put out some kind of virtual signal. Zillow became a live updated Pinterest thread of porch havens and bad backyards and funky basement layouts. I started waking up in the middle of the night wanting to scream “NO INSPECTION, BOILER HEAT IS FINE” to my husband’s sleeping body because all we could think about were all of the ways we could flex to get a home.
House searching consumed us because, in its closeness, it felt out of reach. We were beat out in offers where buyers paid all cash and asked for no inspections. People were slapping earnest money down sight unseen, craftsman style homes and ramblers the unicorn of our little first home super-storm of the housing market. We struggled through every loss, trying not to think badly of our destiny and ourselves. I obsessed over Google Maps street view, sourcing nearby gas stations and coffee shops when we’d walk through homes, every single letter I’d write, and timing.
“Buying a home is the weirdest thing,” my husband told me once after losing our third or fourth offer. “It’s a big decision in our life that we don’t really have control deciding the outcome. Someone else makes the decision for us.” He was right. We can pick the house we like, sure, but someone else is going to tell us yes or no. Week after week, we relied on a couple of strangers to review our desperate offer and my pleading, honey-like letter. The first few sentences: Homes are built on so much more than cinder blocks. They’re built on love and character. They bottle our memories like giant mason jars filled with light.
Ugh. Honestly, I won’t be able to look at any of those letters again. They feel so sad.
The home buying process wasn’t a flawless, professionally narrated exit into the next step of our life. It quickly became a stage for testing our patience, not letting our hope beat like a flag in the wind, and trying to understand that good things take time.
The thing is, millennials are finally buying homes. And there…aren’t any. According to this Insider article, there have been twenty times fewer homes built in the past decade than in any decade as far back as the 1960s and housing prices are up 18% year over year (Insider). Right now, buyers are bidding $50,000 over asking price only to lose to a twenty-something couple whose parents pay in cash or the alternative. Or, they’re settling for an over-priced two-bedroom with a bathroom that looks like an American Girl playset and a basement filled with tetanus. You know what, just add that to the tab of millennials and bad economic luck. (Writer’s Note: I’m not bitter. Shrugs myself into oblivion.)
Before buying a house, I had this idea that it would be a lot like a House Hunters episode on HGTV. We’d be given three choices named like Friends episodes (e.g., The One with the Open Kitchen, The One with the Big Backyard, The One Close to the City) and we’d get to choose our dream home based on out-weighing the positives and merrily picking one. In one month, HGTV producers would visit our home and see how we were enjoying the green grass with our golden retriever, Bob, who loves the Big Backyard.
Reality check! The home-buying process wasn’t a flawless, professionally narrated exit into the next step of our life. It quickly became a stage for testing our patience, not letting our hope beat like a flag in the wind, and trying to understand that good things take time.
I don’t want to paint an entirely negative picture for first-time home buyers. At the end of the day, we did end up in the perfect place for us. All the work that went into shopping and offers and financing was entirely worth every good shower cry I had in those two months. So, to those thinking about buying their first home soon, or those in the middle of the process, this little write-up is for you. These are all the things I would have loved to hear during the process (Writer’s Note: or DID hear and didn’t listen). This isn’t an advice column for finances, finding the right realtor, inspection advice, etc. It’s an emotional check-in piece. While searching for a home, it’s easy to learn so much and come out of it feeling like a beat-up, wet alley cat. This is the reminder post that the end result can be beautiful.
Without further ado:
The first two homes we put an offer on…I was obsessed. And when I say obsessed, I was on Pinterest matching paint colors to 1920s craftsman homes. The first home was, indeed, a craftsman with dark wood trim and gorgeous, intricate treatments and wallpaper. The second was a cherry-colored Cape Cod dreamboat with a giant backyard. I imagined myself living in both of them in deep, excruciating detail. I was sitting on the deck having coffee, hosting parties, and decorating for Christmas. I took a million photos and videos on my phone and watched them in bed before snoozing off into a multitude of home-owning fever dreams.
ROOKIE MOVE, Brit. The craftsman home sold before we could even make an offer or finish the letter. And the Cape Cod home went for all cash, over the asking price. I was heartbroken. Dramatic as it was, hearing news about both put me out of productivity for the entire day and it felt a lot like human-to-human heartbreak. For that, I suggest leaving your emotions at the door, even if you wear them on your sleeve. Don’t take photos. Don’t send your mom videos with captions like “THIS READING NOOK THO.” Leave the excitement for the house that becomes yours. Home buying is like dating. You don’t confess your undying love for someone on the first date that doesn’t even advance to the second! Learn from me!
Home buying is like dating. You don’t confess your undying love for someone on the first date that doesn’t even advance to the second! Learn from me!
I know this is an obvious one. But, for some reason, it wasn’t obvious for me. I wanted a house so bad, I was almost willing to live in anything that checked the boxes on the surface.
One of the first homes we saw was built in 1900 and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever laid eyes on. It had tall ceilings and character for days. Our realtor quickly warned us that it was a flip house and wasn’t done “well.” Fixes were sloppy and we’d take a big risk putting in an offer. I, of course, had a full twenty-four hours of star-glazed eyes. I wanted it despite everything because it was so beautiful in photos—and imagine Thanksgiving and a chandelier in the dining room! After a good night’s sleep and some real soul-searching, I knew it wasn’t right. Sometimes, it takes a while to feel out that pit in your stomach, listen to the fear in your husband’s voice, and give yourself some breathing room.
This one is a tough one. Because, even though you shouldn’t settle, there may be some things you’re going to have to let go of. Finding a unicorn that checks every single box and colors within the lines is going to be a game of irrational Candy Land. If the negatives outweigh the positives (i.e., the house seems oddly small and there’s a shared driveway but the neighborhood is perfect) decide if the negatives are going to work for you. Our general rule was if something felt remotely “off” we wouldn’t go for it. The perfect neighborhood didn’t outweigh space. However, if it needed a serious new paint job and everything else fit the bill, we’d jump on it.
Small things can always be fixed and as long as it feels like home, passes inspection, and gets appraised right where you want it to—it doesn’t get much better than that.
[insert siren emoji] Especially your significant other! [insert siren emoji]
If you’re looking for a home solo, be kind to yourself. The process can chaff some wear and tear on your doubt meter, that’s for sure. We were looking at houses Wednesday through Saturday after work. It became a job in itself. It drove my husband nuts when I’d start remodeling the home in my head, plotting out irrational paint colors based on hope alone, before we even heard about our offer. We constantly had to check ourselves and remind each other to be patient and kind.
Before our offer was finally accepted, I remember going on this dark, sappy emo walk. I listened to movie scores on Spotify and wore sunglasses and teared up roaming neighborhoods near our apartment. Our offer was accepted that night and we hugged and I cried again. We were given a good break and allowing ourselves to soak it in reminded us house shopping can make you feel alone and weird. But it can quickly remind you to check yourself. Being kind in the process is important.
If there’s one thing I’ve discovered about buying a home it’s to take is very, very slow. Molasses speed slow. If you go any faster, your brain is going to pop out of your earholes in smoke. And this goes for every single step: finding a realtor, planning your finances, saving money, deciding what you love, deciding where you want to live, deciding how big the house should be, and seeing your first few houses.
We sat down with our realtor twice before starting the process to go over what we liked and didn’t like. Then we saw the first few houses with no pressure to buy but to merrily understand what we wanted. Being physically in a home quickly helped us understand little intricacies like how big we wanted our yard to be or proximity to the city. Pumping the breaks felt like calming a Thoroughbred because we were both excited, but we tried not to rush on anything (slapping down an offer, making a quick closing date, or getting rid of our apartment). For the most part, moving slow and steady helped alleviate stress. And it reminded us that the best home for us would come along when it was ready and we were doing all we could to make it happen.
It really is!! You’ve worked hard and saved money. You have good credit. You take care of your finances. Buying a house is monumental. Especially for the millennials who have been stifled with student loan debt. It’s easy to let the stress bury you in a fit of doubts, stress rashes, and uncertainty. The only thing I can offer here is…try not to let that happen? I would have punched myself in the face reading this two months ago, but the truth is real. Buying a house is a big deal. Take a moment and find pride in that.
Buying a house is monumental. Especially for the millennials who have been stifled with student loan debt. . . . Take a moment and find pride in that.
Lastly, one of the best things about being a home buyer is the feeling you have when it’s all done; or, if you take a moment to let it sink in, finally getting to sift through all the memories and feelings the walls will soak up. I’m being sentimental because we’re closing on our home this week and the relief and magic of the whole thing really washes over like a tidal wave after the entire experience. Progress is twofold. It’s how you feel when you make a big decision and sign a million papers to make it official. But, it’s also the shitty moments before that when you cried openly in public listening to the Free Willy soundtrack on your Sunday emo walk. Remember that.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her baby brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagram, read more about her latest book, Borderline, and (most importantly) go hug your mother.
BY Brittany Chaffee - May 18, 2021
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.