Thursday, March 06, 2014

Buying a House

The three most stressful things in life are moving, starting a new job, and buying a house.  In a rare stroke of genius, Mike and I decided to do all three at once.

Buying a house has been the most frustrating, overwhelming, informative, and rewarding process of my life.  My initial experience with becoming a home owner was limited to what I learned from House Hunters International and Property Virgins.  You may be shocked to know a camera crew does not actually follow you around and the homes in your budget will likely be much older and smaller than the couples on TV can afford.  Also, when you buy a house, it's going to be a seller's market.  When you're ready to sell your house, it will be a buyer's market.

Our realtor, Pam Schrage with Keller Williams, was referred to us by a family member.  She has been so patient and informative during the whole process and we would definitely recommend her.  Pam showed me the house on January 26, a Sunday.  I immediately liked it a lot and knowing it was a foreclosure made me love it.  We could get a great deal.  Unfortunately, there was already an offer on it, but because the banks are closed on weekends we had time to make an offer.  In an effort to avoid getting out-bid, we didn't lowball the bank and only offered $900 below the asking price (which still happened to be $13,000 less than what the house appraised for).  The bank accepted our offer on January 29th but stipulated the house would be sold "as is," meaning they wouldn't make any updates or repairs to the property.

I originally saw the house without Mike as he was still in South Carolina tying up loose ends.  After the bank accepted our offer, we went back out to see the house with Pam.  Mike saw the house for the first time after we'd already decided to buy it, but luckily he loved it.  There were some obvious repairs to be made which we expected with a foreclosure.  The prior owners obviously didn't have the money to maintain it.

We signed about 537298513 documents in the span of 2 weeks.  We had to re-sign the same documents several times as mistakes and typos kept surfacing and other information needed to be updated.  We had to confirm Mike's Veteran status to be eligible for a VA loan and low interest rate.  We had to get the homeowners insurance quote and send in copies of literally every piece of personal information.  Bank statements. Tax returns.  Pay stubs.  Proof that our house in SC was being rented and that we had enough money to cover that mortgage in case our tenant was late on a payment.  We had to explain where every penny came from.  Then there were more forms.  Forms upon forms.  I signed my name so many times it stopped looking like my name and started looking like a foreign language.

For most of the four weeks after we decided to buy the house, I was grumpy.  It seemed like every day either the realtor or the lender would call and ask for something else, or tell us something had fallen through and we needed to resubmit certain paperwork.  Then we had the house inspection.  Termite damage. The roof, windows, and water heater all need to be replaced.  The pipes had burst during the snow storm in January and we had some wall and water damage in the kitchen and garage (which luckily the bank took care of fixing).  It was very overwhelming when I looked at the full list and I often wondered what the hell we were signing up for.  Luckily Mike and my mom were able to talk me off the ledge.  Most of the repairs were minor and nothing some elbow grease couldn't take care of.  The roof, windows, and water heater all need to be replaced, but not at once.  We can attack those things over the next year or so.

When we had the appraisal by the VA, they listed a few repairs that needed to be made before they'd approve the loan.  This was a week before we were scheduled to close and seemed like more money out of pocket to buy the stupid house.  I guess we had some good Karma in reserve because the listing agent decided to take care of that for us - a few shingles were replaced, some holes in the vinyl siding were fixed, and the tree limbs near the house were trimmed back.  We're scheduled to close tomorrow.

It's been a five-week process with lots of frustration but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Finally.


Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Warm before the storm

Monday the temperature dipped below 20 degrees and the roads were icy and treacherous.  Sunday was a different story.  Less than 24 hours before the deep freeze, Mike and I were walking the dogs under bright, warm, early spring sunshine.

We are scheduled to close on our house this Friday and I wanted to visit a few parks near our neighborhood.  About 9 miles down the road from our place in Suffolk is a little spot called Bennett's Creek Park.  There are boat ramps, fishing docks, wide open fields, and a Frisbee golf course.  The Frisbee golf course is woven amongst the trees along the banks of Bennett's creek.  It's also a nature trail, so Mike and I took Bella and Boomer for a walk there.  Bella took a quick dip in the creek before we started exploring.  There are high cliffs and low lying inlets, thick with mud at low tide.  It was beautiful but fairly crowded.  Everyone was out enjoying the unusually warm weather, especially with the threat of snow looming in the forecast.

We walked for maybe a mile, winding between the pine trees and dodging the occasional Frisbee.  A group of golfers yelled "FORE" and I watched a purple disc land clumsily in the reeds a few feet in front of me.  We headed back to the car after about an hour.  There were too many people around to really enjoy the afternoon with the dogs, so we left.  At least now we know the park is there.

I wanted to check out one more place before heading back to my mom's house.  The Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge is just a few miles in the opposite direction from our new home, so we drove through Suffolk to the Jericho Ditch entrance.  According to a historical marker in the gravel parking lot, 9-mile Jericho Ditch was dug by slave labor in the early 1800s to provide access to Lake Drummond.

A trail runs parallel to the ditch - it's a long, straight, flat path.  Boring by all accounts but deserted and unspoiled by people.  We walked the dogs for a while until deciding to turn back and head home.  Because the ditch is home to all manner of nasty creatures, like venomous snakes and ticks, we couldn't let the dogs run free.

Once we got back to my mom's house I checked the weather.  The wind had already picked up and the temperature began to drop.  The next day we would get snow.

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