The outside’s nothing special, dated stucco propped against a brownish, pinecone-littered lawn. But I was being practical here. When it comes to buying your first home, bells and whistles are for the birds. I knew this.
It’s like my property consultant — aka my mom — always says: “You’re looking at the bones of the house; remember, you can always change the skin.”
And what can I say? The place had nice bones. There was a well-kept modesty about it that appealed to me. But more, it was a house — an actual house — the kind that, no doubt, would earn me some major respect amongst my other twentysomething friends who, like scrubs, were still living in apartments.
Buying a house was my ticket off life’s proverbial kid’s table. After I got one, I was sure, everything was going to change.
I imagined living in the house as a grown-up, doing grown-up things, like wearing robes and drinking prune juice. Surveying the inside, I walked around nodding and “Mhm-ing.” I pressed my ear to the drywall and tapped softly in different locations. This would tell me how sturdy the place was built and, if nothing else, would trick my real estate agent into thinking that I actually knew what I was doing.
“You said this place was an ’83?” I asked him, leaning down to get a good read of the carpet’s topography.
“Yeah,” he said. “But the owner did a lot of renovations.”
“Mhm,” I grunted, rapidly flipping on and off light switches. “I’ll be the judge of that.”
I asked pointed questions: “Sprinklers: yes or no?”
“These appliances — they staying?”
“Scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate the area’s population of young, eligible bachelorettes?”
My tactics were working like charms. My real estate agent, Tyler Martin of ReMax Oceanside, was dizzy and off-balance — I could feel it. At any moment, he would break down and offer me the house $20,000 below cost.
I was positive this was how negotiations worked.
Talking to a lady at a title company a couple days later, though, revealed a different side of the home-buying process. The complicated, bank-involved, numbers-crazy, terrifying side.
She started by telling me about the money I’ll need for “doc stamps” and title insurance to close. Then she started asking questions.
“So this is your first house,” she said. “Do you have financing?”
Financing? I thought. Who does this broad think she’s talking to?
“Preapproval from BB&T, sweetheart,” I said. “That enough ‘financing’ for you?”
“What about first-time homebuyer incentives programs?” she asked. “Do you have an FHA loan? What’s your credit score look like? Have you heard of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program? What about USDA Homeloans? …”
She went on like that for what felt like an hour, machine-gunning question after question, 90% of which contained words I was certain were completely made up.
Quickly, I thought up an adult-sounding excuse (“Gotta go — W-2s!” I told her) and hung up the phone. I needed time to regain my composure and put this all back into perspective.
I thought about investments, bang for my buck, buyer’s markets, building equity. And after awhile, I was back to seeing clearly. At the end of my anxiety, I came to the revelation that life is about navigating your way through moments of sheer panic and their respective rebounds. It’s not about waiting for growing up to happen, but helping it along, tiny bit by tiny bit.
I made a lowball offer and tried not to think about it for the rest of the day. If the seller comes back with a counter, I’ll play hardball. If they reject, even better, because next time I’ll be a seasoned vet.
“Let’s the cut through the formalities, huh, pal?” I’ll tell future sellers. “Don’t let the youthful charm and good looks fool you; this definitely ain’t my first rodeo.”