Offbeat House Hunters: Our experience home shopping on a budget

March 19 | Guest post by Viviane Brock
Who here loves HGTV's "House Hunters"? Let's play the Offbeat Home version with three houses for $150,000 or under.

Whenever I watch reality TV shows about purchasing a house, they seem to be geared to a price point that is completely unattainable to my family and me. While people have "budgets" they are more like "responsibly within our range of affordability" type budgets rather than "family of three living off of $44,000 a year" type budget (our situation).

While we had managed to save up enough for a down payment, with a series of contract jobs, my partner and I felt like a string of apartments was all we could look forward to in the future. While this wasn't terrible, the real estate in our area meant that paying monthly rent was often the same as a "starter house" mortgage, utilities, insurance and incidentals of owning a home.

Then I became pregnant (surprise) with baby #2, and at the same time (even bigger surprise) was offered a full-time permanent job. We had a four-month window where we could purchase a house, or wait at least two years to qualify for a mortgage. So we went house hunting, for a house $150,000 or under.

When considering what we wanted in a house, we made a list of what we were looking for based on our lifestyle:

  1. Walking distance from my work and the main bus terminal, so we didn't have to be dependent on a car
  2. In "move in condition," any cosmetic renovations (ie: painting, drywalling, tiling, refinishing floors) were fine, but we are expecting baby #2 in the near future so we were not looking to do any major DIY fixes (roofs, windows, basement, foundation etc)
  3. Outdoor space appropriate for children to play in

  4. Two-to-three bedrooms
  5. Good storage space
  6. Finally, a kitchen that allows you to see into the living room (so we can cook and clean while keeping an eye on our toddler)

While we looked at many houses, I will compare just our top three…

House #1: The lowest price range, quirky. surprise house

House 1

This house ticked many of our boxes on paper. At $129,000, it was well within our price range. It was about a 30 minute walk from my work, had a decent size yard, and an excellent wrap around porch, as well as great lighting throughout. I can honestly say I walked into this quirky home and was rapidly falling in love with it. The crazy wrap-around stairs! The all cedar master bedroom! The 1930s kitchen! I couldn't get enough, around every corner was a surprise, and I could feel my inner DIY'er who loved a challenge start making the house my home in my head.

My husband however, was seeing the number of renovations we would have to make just to bring the building from "quirky and a giant baby deathtrap" to just plain old quirky. Neither of us was impressed with the strange kitchen with stair leading into the basement. Being kitchen-lovers ourselves we could see how user unfriendly the set up would be.

Still, we had hopes that perhaps, if nothing else turned up, we could still find a quirky house in our price range.

House #2: Upper end of our price range, estate sale, carpeting (bleh!)

House 2

We looked at this house only because it fit with our price range and it was in the area we wanted to live. Neither of us were really jazzed by the photos on the real estate site, and both of us were grossed out by the peachy beige carpet we saw in the living room.

When we got to the house, we realized how close it was to our public library, and three of our friends with children the same age as ours. The location was closer than the first house and the yard fenced in — all these things very much in its favour.

When we got inside, we were all quiet for a bit as we walked around. Then we started getting less quiet as my toddler tore around like she owned the place. It was spotless. There were no weird cracks, or renovations needed, or structural defects we could see. The kitchen was central to the main floor of the house, looking over the backyard and into the living room at the same time. When we hit that carpet in the living room, we tugged up the corner and revealed the original hardwood underneath. The house came with fridge, stove, freezer, washer, dryer, dishwasher, snowblower, lawnmower, curtains: everything apartment dwellers with kids need but don't own.

Our real estate agent revealed it was an estate sale, the same couple had lived in the house for more than 30 years, and had died recently. Their children were selling. Which meant one of two things — either they would be emotionally attached and not want to sell, or they would take less than they were offering. We were understandably excited and glad we checked the place out. But onto the next!

House #3: Upper end of our price range, newly renovated, and across the street from our kids' school

House 3

This house had my fingers crossed and triple crossed. It was the shortest walk from my work, was in the newest, renovated condition (the last house was very much stuck in the 1970s) and had just dropped in price by $20,000. New roof, new windows. Could this be it?

One definite fallback for this property is that was occupied when we looked at it, with three lodgers, who were filthy. It is really hard to get into a house that covered in filth and has people who wish you would get the hell out of it. The first thing we noticed was that to get into the house, there were about 40+ outdoor (unshoveled) steps you had to walk up up the side of a hill to get to the front door, from where you can park. For people in Northern Ontario, Canada, this spells "winter shoveling nightmare." The backyard was also set into a hill, so in reality only had the space of a small walkway and porch. The outside, while well landscaped and newly spruced up, was very user un-friendly for people with children.

Inside was all well and good, until we hit the kitchen. The floor was questionable and spongy under our feet. When we headed down to check the basement it was a dirt floor nightmare. It seemed like the renovations to the rest of the house were hiding the fact that the floor was experiencing moisture seepage, and possibly issues in the foundation. Pretty on the outside, crummy at the center. One look at that basement told me all I needed to know: No, thank you.

Which house did they choose?

In the end, we saw several more houses — some strange, some so totally falling apart, that they are not even worth mentioning. We decided to make an offer and do a house inspection of #2. We were able to purchase it for $14000 less than the asking price and were given two enthusiastic thumbs up from our house inspector regarding the structural integrity of the house. With some cosmetic fixes, we are going to have a lovely house for the next five plus years to raise our family in, and best yet, invest money into something we own instead of rent!

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  1. I LOVE THIS. So glad you were able to find a house that met your parameters within your budget. We've been looking for 3 months now, and have made a few offers with no luck yet. I'd love to see "Offbeat House Hunters" become a regular feature. There is something so mesmerizing about seeing inside people's houses, and guessing why they made the choices they did (space planning= beyond many people.) That has been my favorite part of looking πŸ™‚

    63 agree
    • I totally want to see Offbeat House Hunters as well. I was actually kicking myself after buying our house for not taking more and better pictures because I thought – MAN, I love creeping other peoples house hunting, maybe people will want to hear about ours? I guess you all still liked the pics I took! Hopefully more offbeaters will make this a feature!

      8 agree
    • Enthusiastically seconding this! Ariel, this would be an unbelievably awesome semi-regular post!

      3 agree
      • Psst: Ariel is not the keeper of post regularity on Offbeat Home… and neither am I, really! It's actually up to y'all to submit posts like this, if you'd like to see more!

        So those of you on the house hunt, snap some photos of your top three choices, and get to submitting you "Offbeat Home Hunters."

        2 agree
      • Just to expand on what Megan said here: I actually have very little to do with what posts appear Offbeat Home & Life. As publisher, I do all the business stuff, but not a ton of post selection or production. Megan is the Managing Editor — so when it comes to selecting content, it's all her. (Although she's right that ultimately she can only select from what's submitted… SO GET SUBMITTING!)

        2 agree
  2. This is giving me real estate blue balls! I really enjoyed this post though, since those house hunter shows aren't realistic for many people and their budgets. As a terribly indecisive person, I also love how you led us through your decision-making process.

    10 agree
  3. Awesome! This is much better than regular House Hunters. Even on the episodes with people looking for "starter homes" it seems like their budget is always way bigger than mine and they still want granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances and so forth. I'm not sure they understand what a starter home means.

    27 agree
    • Sometimes it all has to do with the area you live in and the budget you have to work with. Around where I live (Surrey, BC) the lowest you'll find a house at is around $350k – maybe take 50 off for a condo or an older attached townhouse. Newer builds are all smaller, and are usually around $400-500k, and the older larger houses are more because they usually come with more land. But if we were to move to Windsor, ON, for example, an older house that would cost us $400k in Surrey, would likely be around $150-200k instead. Much closer to our budget.
      Kinda annoying living in one of the most expensive areas of the country… But it's better than dealing with winter!

      7 agree
      • I hear you – I'm in Vancouver. The house we rent would sell for well over a million dollars… and it's a tear down. I LOVE the idea of a $150k budget! I could afford that! …but here, I could maybe buy a parking spot for that. :/

        4 agree
      • I live on Vancouver Island and even though it is a ferry ride to Vancouver or Surrey, house prices over here are steep compared to many other places in Canada. We briefly talked about moving to eastern Canada but honestly leaving the mild weather on the west coast was not an option. We were able to buy a very small house, under 1000 square feet, in a "transitional neighbourhood" for a quarter of a million. Houses less expensive than that were falling apart and in very dodgy areas. We are just thankful we could get into a starter home in such an expensive area.

        1 agrees
        • We're moving to the island this summer and it's absolutely disheartening to think about how much we're going to end up spending for housing. I found a lovely 3 bedroom single family house out on the east coast for $270k. We are likely going to end up paying significantly more than that for a 2 bedroom condo that we're going to have to try to sell in three or four years and hopefully not loose too much money. So frustrating…

          1 agrees
          • What part of the island are you looking at? It depends on where and what part of that town you want to live in.

          • We were in Langford, BC (just outside Victoria on Vancouver Island) and were paying 1100$/month for rent in a lovely 2 bedroom condo. Buying is out of the question for us pretty much anywhere, but definitely on island. I hope we make it back there someday.

    • "I'm not sure they understand what a starter home means."

      Do they even MAKE "starter homes" any more? I feel like I have a pretty high tolerance for living in low-budget housing (not to mention a desire to live cheaply!), but there just isn't any available where I live. Every development going up has a banner that says "Luxury Condos/Homes" with prices $250K and up up up. I don't care about stainless appliances or granite counter tops and could survive just fine with base-model cabinets and polyester carpet. Grrr! [end rant]

      12 agree
      • It depends on where you live. I know starter homes are still built in some parts of the Twin Cities metro area (mostly second ring suburbs). That being said, while I can see foregoing stainless steel appliances and granite countertops, the cabinets may be worth a close look when buying a home. Some base model cabinets are actually pretty nice, but if they're made of particleboard they might not hold up (especially if there's a plumbing problem or the drawers are poorly assembled). The cost of fixing/replacing those cabinets is not one you want to have to handle if you can help it. So if they're charging a bit more for a home that has solid plywood cabinets, I could see paying a little extra even on a starter home. That said, most people aren't likely to think about that sine the counters and appliances are much more attention grabbing. *shakes head*

      • I feel like it's coming back around a little. But in a lot of areas, the only things left for sale are the "McMansions" as my Mom says, which no one can afford anymore.

        1 agrees
    • I get slappy angry when I watch those shows & some idiot complains, "well the granite countertop isn't exactly the color I would've picked" or the wall in one room isn't their favorite color, or the appliances aren't stainless steel. You're concerned about appliances when you're spending half million on the house? Buy a f#@$ing can of paint or spend another few thousand to get the appliances you want & shut the hell up! Morons. Drives me crazy the insignificant things people get fixated on.

      4 agree
      • To be fair I think a lot of that is a function of how the shows are filmed (ie faked). Since they're already at least in escrow on a house the other two homes are either homes of friends (usually the furnished ones) or homes for sale that someone agreed to let them film in (the empty ones). Since people are doing them a favor (especially if it's a friend) they don't want to say really mean things about the house and/or they might think the houses are perfectly lovely and that's why they come up with these ridiculous things to complain about; they have to have a reason to not pick them. That's my theory anyway. I'm also convinced this is why they sometimes make completely nonsensical choices; the house they really should have picked belongs to a friend or didn't come on the market until they'd already made a purchase.

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/house-hunters-fake/

    • Ugh totally. I don't even end up enjoying those shows because the people are so damn finicky and their budget is $650,000+. Like Liz Lemon said, "WHY CAN'T PEOPLE LOOK PAST PAINT COLOR?!"

      2 agree
  4. Now I wish I'd taken better pics when we were house hunting- I've got plenty of the one that got away (and possibly the one we *sent* away) but we must've looked at dozens before finding the one we ended up with.

    Please come back and show us after pics! Ripping up gross old carpet is the best thing you can do to a house, as far as I'm concerned.

    9 agree
  5. Thanks so much for this. House hunting is so much fun, isn't it? Congratulations on finding the right place for you and your family.

    3 agree
  6. LOVE THIS POST! Congratulations!!! It looks so awesome – I would have picked #2 too. No way you could buy such great places for that money where I live, and all that land…. More like $700-800k here, but we don't have snow. I like your search criteria too. Baby or not, I would always choose cosmetic vs. real damage (and that dirt basement does look super creepy!).

    5 agree
  7. I love this post! I would love for it to become a feature, not even necessarily for house hunting but living space hunting in general. The possibilities are endless!! You all have talked about what it's like to live in RVs, yurts, quirky apartments and houses, refurbished Blue Birds, but how about finding them? THAT WOULD BE SO TOTALLY COOL.

    25 agree
  8. This sounds a lot like our house hunting search. We did tons of online searches to determine what we could get in our price range and what was important to us. We (only) looked at 8 houses before making an offer on our house because it was the best of what we saw in our price range.We saw some houses that were okay, but not that great. Some that had been remodeled on the upstairs, but had scary-red-flag basements, and some that were just odd, and one that smelled horrid! We got the most for our money by looking slightly out of our 'desired' neighborhood/town. We live in a medium-sized-town in WI, USA. We technically could afford $140,000, but really didn't want to spend that much. We ended up offering close to the current asking price so that we didn't offend them and loose the deal. We got a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house with a finished basement and fenced in yard for about $120,000. We have now lived in the house we picked for about 6 months and we love it!

    2 agree
  9. Glad everything turned out well for you!

    I should do a post about my house hunting experience. We kept seeing houses where you had to take your laundry outside and then back in to a seperate part of the structure to get to the washer and dryer. O.o

    • Too funny- that's the exact reason WHY we're looking for a house. Every apartment we've ever lived in has had that setup, and in Maine, that makes laundry day a chilling experience 8 months out of the year!

      • The experience, of course, is only made worse by the fact that most of your warm clothing is probably in the wash, which means you get to wear whatever odds and ends you can scrape together while dashing through the cold lugging laundry… ugh. I really like our current (rental) house, in that the laundry is just downstairs!

        4 agree
      • Maine! Woot woot! We're moving to Vermont soon so similar issues. The house we want has the W/D in the mudroom though, which is still better than having to walk outside.

  10. I've had a similar experience. My partner and I are looking for a house in about the same price range and have been looking since early February. Everyone says that it can take time and that sort of thing but it is really frustrating when people's response to our lack of a house is, "Have you thought about spending more money?" Seriously. We've actually gotten this response. From someone who is half a million dollars in debt. And has no life insurance. I'm not hating on that particular person, but I know that my partner and I don't have that kind of risk tolerance. Could we afford to buy a more expensive house? Sure. But just because you can afford it, doesn't mean everyone wants to pour all their income into a house. We're moving into a house so we can pay LESS than our current rent & utilities, not more. Ugh…

    16 agree
    • My mom always said that you don't want to be "house poor". AKA spending so much money on a down payment and a mortgage that you can't go anywhere or do anything else. Half the fun is decorating and exploring your new neighborhood. If you're just sitting on folding chairs eating ramen it might not feel worth it.

      13 agree
    • We has actually looked for a house two years previous to this and maaaaaaaaaaaaan the pictures from that would have been totally funny to post online- it would be "crackhouse hunting". The market was much more in the sellers favour last time and we decided not to buy at all. Waiting was the right thing for us to do, and now we are a few weeks from moving into a place we can't wait to be in, and can totally afford!

    • I've been fascinated by how comfortable with debt many of my fellow Americans (and in particular my peer group) are. We have friends who told us that they financed everything in their living room along with well over $50k in student loan debt and it just blew my mind. I have my fair share of student loans but you can bet that when the time came to upgrade from a Walmart futon we literally found the cheapest couch in the furniture store. We take the same approach with a house – live within or below your means and you'll end up with plenty of money to do fun things.

  11. This is great! The process of house hunting feels so mysterious to me now, that it's nice to see some nitty-gritty that gets me thinking about what to look for and what deal breakers might pop up. Hopefully one day I'll be able to actually put it to use. Thanks for posting your experience and congrats! Looks like you picked a lovely one.

    2 agree
  12. I'm weeping at those home prices. We desperately want to move to a bigger house but the average home price here is $1 million.

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    • I want to buy a house, but a 20% deposit when the average 3br house here is over $500k…not going to happen. So, renting forever it is πŸ™

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      • Just FYI, hardly anyone around here puts down 20%. There's a newish thing where you also don't have to pay PMI – you basically borrow the difference to get to 20% at a slightly higher interest rate, and then take out a regular mortgage for the other 80%. If you really do want to buy, you should explore your options that don't involve a massive down payment.

        2 agree
        • Also check out local programs for first-time home buyers, you may be surprised at what's out there that can immensely help you. I bought my first home because of a "First Homeowner's Club" program several banks were offering. You basically open a savings account, put in so much per month (depending on how long you want to do it, minimum 9 months max 3 years) and you end up saving $1,700 of your own money–and they GIVE you $3 (it's up to $4 now) for every dollar you save. You end up with $7,000 to put all towards closing costs (and you don't always have to put down 20%, as someone already mentioned). The money from the bank is a grant–the only catch is that the property has to be owner-occupied and the $5,000 you got is forgiven after 5 years ($1,000 every year you live in the place). I bought a double, rent out the downstairs apartment and my mortgage is practically paid for from my tenant's rent. When I first bought the place I figured I could always hold onto it and rent it out if I was ready to move sooner than the 5 years was up, but it's going on 7 and we're just looking at buying a new house now. And we're looking into the NACA program which is national and a great deal–no closing costs, no down payment, reduced interest rate, no PMI. A whole lot of paperwork/jumping through hoops (attending their informational session and some volunteering) but it's totally worth it if you're not in an incredible hurry to buy.

          2 agree
      • I am in this boat, except I am DETERMINED to buy. I don't want children, I don't care that my career is not "what I love to do" – all I ever wanted in life was my own home, and I must get it. SO: I did the math on 20% of $500-550 (the bottom of the market within 30 mins of San Francisco), and while, as mentioned here, the 20% is not required (although all I hear about now is big corps supplying this in cash and sweeping all homes out from under new buyers' feet in the Bay Area), $100k in 5 years means saving $400 per week ($20k in 1 year calls for the same savings).

        If there are bills or freewheelin expenses you can eliminate to make that happen, between you and your partner ($200 per week each), you've got it! I am starting a mutual account for us for just this purpose, and possibly getting a second job to supplement while I save. I'm pretty sure I spend almost $200 just going out to eat and/or drink in this city in the average week. Whether we are able to save $20k in one year or an additional $20k for each year we continue to rent, this should get us into a home eventually. Good luck!!

        • I also like this perspective, and have a note next to a money-jar, next to where I drop my purse each day that says: "$20 1000 times is $20k! You can do it!"

          I mean, even if you put $20 in there each day, you'd have $7300 at the end of the year. Seems like a stretch for most people, I know, but the more you can eliminate expenses, the easier this will be. We actually have a [very nice] roommate, something I swore for years I'd never do again, but it's SO worth it.

      • Hi,

        My husband and I just bought a three flat in Chicago and we did not have 20%. We actually did an FHA loan. We have the great credit scores, not a ton of debt (student loans), but there was no way we could do 20%. (Who honestly can these days?) If you are interested in buying a home, look into FHA.

        1 agrees
  13. This is so cool! I just bought my first house this summer and since we were looking for a duplex for me, my husband, my sister, and her fiance, it was a little trickier. We wanted three bedrooms, they wanted a yard, we wanted to stay in Portland, they didn't want tiny closet spaces… We looked at SO MANY houses and even paid for an inspection on one in Oregon City, but it turned out the beautiful remodeling job was covering up a moldy roof, crumbling foundation, and a sewer that was going to back into the house! Since our budget was low we saw some truly sketchy houses and walked in on more than one crop of ….um…special plants. Trying to make sure you're actually checking off what you want and not being swayed by pretty fixtures is hard. We all found our dream duplex though so it worked out great.

    2 agree
  14. Oh man, I can't even imagine doing a post on OUR house hunting fiasco. We house hunted for about 2.5 years and saved on rent by house sitting for 8 months, living in a camper for 6 months and 14 days, and then living in a studio/guest apartment built into someone's horse barn for about 8 months.

    We looked at (as in, at least physically drove to the location and pulled into the driveway, bare minimum) approximately 110 houses. We were limited by budget (which, as time went on and we became more desperate, went from $150,000 absolute max to $200,000 absolute max), and location….we needed to live in one of the 8 towns in my husband's patrol district. Alas, 6 of those 8 towns were COASTAL, which (at least here in Maine) means $$$$. We also wanted AT LEAST one acre of land to allow for gardening and other outdoor pursuits. The coast of Maine has this weird dynamic where you'd have multi-million dollar mansions right on the shore…and then a mile further inland you'd have a dirt road trailer park where the local trash lives (yes, I know tat's not PC, but it's true). So…we looked at a lot of houses with trashy neighbors. We looked at two houses that were both on the same road as the town dump…one of which was on a private dirt/mud driveway named (I shit you not) Riff Raff Road. We looked at houses with crumbling roofs, houses with no running water, houses with too much running water (in the basement), houses with no further potential than tearing them down simply to get the lot and foundation. We made offers on three houses, and backed out of a contract on a fourth.

    Finally, FINALLY, with a stroke of pure luck, my husband got called to remove a live anaconda abandoned in one of these shitty houses…and found out the house was going on the market THAT DAY. The house was one bad owner away from being a tear-down…but it was on 10 gorgeous acres of open rolling farmland, and it had a giant bonus building just waiting to be converted into my (he of many toys) husband's dream garage. It was toward the top of our price range…but the bones were good, the foundation was solid, it had the original oak floors instead of nasty carpeting, and, oh yeah, it had TEN ACRES OF LAND!! We just managed to get under contract and buy the thing back in July, and have been fixing it up ever since. We've had a make-shift kitchen set up in the basement (microwave, hotplates, and a toaster oven) while we renovated the kitchen, and we are FINALLY almost done with that portion.

    So anyway, my "house hunters" article would be pretty complicated.

    10 agree
    • You should write that article! Perhaps just write up your top five choices, including the one you got? Then maybe write another post about the process of fixing up your current house, because that sounds like it has been an interesting process too.

      On a side note: what part of Maine are you in? (If you don't mind sharing.)

      1 agrees
    • We're from Maine and have been looking for houses in Vermont, which I think has a similar home-buying market. In the more rural Maine towns the houses are dirt cheap, but there are also, you know, no jobs. The coastal towns are bananas. I'm glad you guys found something!

  15. Great piece. I definitely echo the calls to make this a series!

    My husband and I started house hunting for our first home 2.5 years ago because there were so many foreclosures and great deals in our area that it seemed ridiculous to spend more on rent than we could on a mortgage. But, we had no idea what we were looking for beyond "cheap" and "habitable." We went through dozens of houses over six months and saw all sorts of disrepair and pink and purple carpeting (who does that, and what are they hiding?!). It all worked out great in the end, though. We got a lovely 3/2 for well under $100K, which, as a native Californian, I'm still in shock about.

  16. "Then I became pregnant (surprise) with baby #2, and at the same time (even bigger surprise) was offered a full-time permanent job. We had a four-month window where we could purchase a house, or wait at least two years to qualify for a mortgage."

    Wait, what? How does being pregnant affect your ability to get a mortgage? I feel very naive all the sudden…

    2 agree
    • WOAH. I didn't check this page for a day and all of a sudden my post is up and there are so many amazing comments! As to the maternity leave- I am the main wage earner in the household. Mortgages are based on how much you are earning now, a year ago, and a year from now (sort of) plus your down payment etc. If you are on maternity leave in Canada, you are making up to 55% of what you regularly earn, to a cap of about $44000 (or somewhere thereabouts) unless the company you work for "tops you up". Since my income is not huge to begin with, halfing it would make my husband and I no longer qualify for a mortgage. Then, after the year of mat leave is up, banks would look at my last years earnings, see maternity leave, and be hesitant to give me a mortgage based on past earnings until I had been back at work for at least six months to a year. Hence- if we didn't do it now, we had a long time to wait!

      • Ah this makes sense. I didn't quite consider the impacts of being on EI in terms of the reduction in income. (And obviously that makes a huge difference if you're the main wage earner).

        Man. So glad to read this. This will be another helpful tidbit in the next few years as we hope to buy our first home… and maybe have some little ones in the same timeframe!

  17. This sounds very similar to our house hunting experience, on a similar budget looking for a similar size house! Except we looked at 1-4 houses every single weekend for 6 months, made offers on 8, and paid for inspections on 2. Whew. So glad that's over.

    We ended up getting the cheapest and least quirky house we'd looked at. It was funny, by the time we looked at it we were so exhausted we spent about 15 minutes on the walk-through, looked at each other, shrugged, and said "There's nothing obviously wrong with it, let's do it."

    We also compromised in quite a few areas. There's no yard, but there's two huge parks within half a mile. And this year my husband is building raised beds on the verge by the sidewalk. And, of course, the most important thing is that our mortgage is half what we'd be paying to rent a similarly sized house. It all works out!

    1 agrees
  18. Lol, real estate blue balls.

    For those living in areas where the median house price + down payment is way out of reach (looking at you $500k Seattle) google for community land trusts in your area.

    We have 11 or so in Washington and their entire mission is to keep homes (and communities) affordable. They are some maximum income restrictions, but they're often flexible and provide credit counseling, etc. to get people ready for the big leap.

  19. This needs to be a regular feature. I love House Hunters. The good thing about the high prices they feature is that I think it keeps me from getting ridiculous expectations for when I finally buy, because while the houses are in a high price range, they certainly meet those prices by being in neighborhoods close to large cities, often being brand new, and looking like the set of a catalog. I live in a much lower priced neighborhood in one of the most affordable states there is, and this show definitely brings me back to Earth on what I can expect to find.

    One tip: when my parents moved in to our house, the entire thing was hardwood floors, except for the bedrooms. However, those were hardwood floors, but the carpet is nailed down over the hardwood so we were able to tear it up easily and you could never tell now. Is there any chance that is the case with the living room?

  20. This is great, and perfect timing for me! We've just started the pre-approval process and will be going to an open house on Sunday. Home-buying is pretty intimidating and we have a really short timeframe in which to find one else we have to rent for another year (which we don't want). This is very reassuring and eases my nerves and anxiety a bit.

    • It can go really fast. We went in for credit counseling/help figuring out a timeline on a Friday–found out we prequal'd. Saw houses on Saturday. Put in an offer on Monday. So, four days. We've been in our house 7 months, and we love it πŸ™‚ It is such a trip owning a place.

    • This sounds EXACTLY like our situation! Except we are 2500 miles away from where we want to buy a house (eek!). I agree with the other commenter that it can go by quickly especially if you have your banking ducks in a row and the inspection goes well. My only advice is to have all your documentation ready (tax returns, pay stubs, bank account info if you aren't lending through your bank, etc.). We were prequalified and still had to re-explain our situation and all of our various quirks, and I guess now that the economy has been clusterf*cked most banks will essentially make you go through approval again even if you've been preapproved. Their answer won't change if your situation hasn't, but it still can be kind of a pain. It does look really good to sellers though!

  21. Loved this submission and all of the comments! Inspires me to start taking pictures again when we look at houses.
    Maybe when we find ourselves happily settled, the reflection will be fun. After 3 years (with many breaks), 5 offers, 2 contracts, and a baby we do not find the search fun anymore.
    We are also in the "under $150k" range because we are holding firm on a one income mortgage. We want to be able to keep our house if one of us loses a job or is unable to work!

    2 agree
    • Agreed on buying a single-income swingable place! I don't know if that's at all realistic where I live ($150k won't even buy you a small plot of dirt here), but we will sure try. That's a fear of mine, as well. Life is so darned fragile.

  22. This post is *my favorite* possibly ever on Offbeat Home! I really wanted to scroll down and see which one you got, but I patiently read through.

    It will (hopefully) be next year before I'm house hunting, and the major sticking point I can see already is that most of the starter homes in my potential budget only have one bathroom. I need at least one and a half before I'll even considering packing up my boxes again.

  23. Hi Vivi! Great post. I notice you too are in Northern Ontario. Great to see an article up from my neck of the woods. Congrats on the new home and beautiful hardwood floors! πŸ˜€

    1 agrees
  24. Great article! We (my hubs and me) are in the process of buying our first home. After looking at umpteen homes (some of which we were afraid to look at, they were so sketch at the outset) in our price range (under$130k. Super low.) I found a home that looked great but was in a town that is known to be mostly not-nice trailer parks and run-down houses and industrial places. Not good. Luckily, my prejudice was mostly unfounded πŸ™‚ We looked at the house and discovered that it is in the same nice neighborhood as our UU church – a neighborhood with a GOAT farm (with mini goats! Squee!) and alpacas and our new house is only a 10 minute walk to a river. We have lucked out. There is still about a month before we can close and move in, but when we do (and start renovating) I hope to submit an article here πŸ™‚ At the very least I'll do a before/after on the kitchen (hasn't been updated since 1979…). Good luck to my fellow hunters!

    3 agree
  25. My boyfriend & I just bought our first home, there was very little in the area (being close to work was a high priority) in our budget ($450,000). We knew we would need to be ready to jump as soon as something we liked appeared. The condo we ended up buying went on the market at about 2pm, we looked at it at 5pm, put an offer in at 6pm just to find out there had already been two other offers on it! After increasing the offer a few times it was accepted at around midnight. It was really nerve racking to go take another look at it the next day, but in the end we're happy with our "impulse" buy.

  26. We are in the process of buying our first house so I loved reading this! The house we found was adorable, well-built and just what we wanted (except that it's a 2BR instead of 3…but there's a den that can be made into a room methinks). We're currently dealing with the home inspection, which found a red-flag basement…but the sellers just agreed to fix it up (and not cheaply!) and no major damage or sponginess in the floors. The home inspector told us, "This is a critical time in the life of this house…if you put a little work into it now, it'll last a long, long time." We're taking that to heart at this point and hope that it all goes down without a hitch.

    Along with picking a house if this is going to be a series, I'd love to see more information about getting through the mortgage-process – what can come up on the bank side (that one payment you forgot to make on your student loans), figuring out a downpayment and PMI and interest rates, VA loans (which is what we're going through now) and other federal programs, etc. Our bank has been GREAT so far but I think it could be really helpful to have a straightforward rundown of the process, which I've yet to find online.

    • I think its hard to find a "straightforward rundown" of the process because the process itself is NOT straightforward and varies completely depending where you are. For example, we are Canadian and in Ontario, so student loans pretty much don't have any affect on your mortgage getting capabilities. It is considered "good debt". But if you missed paying your credit card or cell phone bill- RED FLAG! Its also different with the minimum down payment amount (We can put just 5% down, then pay a hefty chunk of extra insurance because of that), whether or not you go directly with a bank or if you use a mortgage broker. Then there is the whole insurance thing, oy! Its best to find a trustworthy real estate agent, person you know who just bought a house or house hunting blog in your region. Otherwise the info just does not apply!

  27. Today is my one year houseversary. Our home buying process was astonishingly easy. We were recommended a mortgage broker who was a "tough love" type who encouraged people to buy within their means. When we showed him the MLS listings for the houses we were looking at, his first reaction was, "Oh good. I don't have to give you guys the 'house poor' speech. You're actually being really conservative." He didn't mind taking hours to answer all our questions. He appreciated that we were taking the process seriously.

    We looked at about 10 houses, but the one we ended up buying wasn't one of the houses our real estate agent picked out. It was a house I found online and then asked the agent to arrange for us to see. It was literally one block away from the house we'd been renting for five years. I had my heart set on staying in that neighborhood, so I'd been watching the real estate listings for years. I really knew the market. It's actually a really expensive area (I live a mile away from the governor's mansion). I knew exactly which section of the neighborhood to watch, which search terms to use, and I had all kinds of crazy email alerts set up, which is how I found the house before the agent did. The price was bang on budget for us. If one of us lost our job, we'd be fine. We'd have to eat out less and drop our cable, but we'd be fine.

    The house is PERFECT. It's a 1930s bungalow, and I love me a bungalow. It's exactly the right size for us. Obviously an area we love and know well. The neighbors here all know each other and are super friendly. We're easy walking distance to a university with a really good basketball team (we're sports fanatics). It has a two car garage which, for our neighborhood, is a freaking coup. The family that lived in the house before us loved the house and took amazing care of it, so the inspection turned up almost nothing, and the few issues it did reveal so horrified the owner that he fixed them I think as a point of pride more than to make the sale. The only reason they sold it is that they wanted to have more kids, and the house is really only big enough for three. The wife actually cried when they handed over the keys. I don't blame her. I think I want to live in that house until I die.

  28. This was such a fun read!!! I LOVE house hunting (my husband and I are studying to become realtors), but hate the show because, well, who really has the kind of budgets those people have? And I can't stand how horrible the people usually are who are looking at the houses "Ugh, I hate the color of this room. We can't buy this house." "I have to have granite countertops or I won't even look at a house." "This house only has 3 bathrooms – we need 4…." Blah, blah, blah. I like looking at real houses for real people.

    Congratulations on the purchase!!! House #2 looks fabulous and that's totally the one I'd choose, too!

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