We've both heard horror stories about property buying gone wrong. Somehow, some way we had none of that. Our entire experience, from looking to closing, was as smooth as Michael Jackson's dance moves. But that doesn't mean we didn't learn a few lessons along the way.
1. Everyone knows a good realtor.
I thought photography was a competitive industry, but it seems like a walk in the park compared to the real estate industry. Anytime we mentioned to anyone, anywhere, that we were in the market for a place of our own, we heard the same line: I know a really good realtor if you need one! As much as we appreciated the help, we essentially stopped telling people that we were looking. We got really tired of the thanks-but-no-thanks game. That said, if you're in the market, I do know a pretty good realtor ;)
2. 1960s architecture rocks my socks.
Buying a place is scary no matter what. But one of the real concerns Cliff and I had was finding a space big enough to meet our -- well, to keep us completely spoiled rotten. You see, the apartment we previously occupied was 970 square feet... and it had only one bedroom. You could hold a three-ring circus in there.
We already knew that our apartment building was built in the 60s. The more we researched property, the more we learned that 1960s-style architecture suited our needs. (And, frankly, I would recommend it to anyone). Characteristics include spacious floor plans, plenty of storage, and solid construction. Seriously. you can't go wrong.
3. Don't be afraid to drive a hard bargain.
Before we made an offer on our unit, Cliff and I did as much research on the property as possible. Among other things, we learned that it had been on the market for more than 100 days and we were the only people who showed serious interest. (I know! We couldn't figure it out either!) We used that information to our advantage and put in a really low offer. There was, of course, some negotiation, but we were able to purchase the property well below the seller's asking price. We feel like we got a great deal!
4. Don't be afraid to drive a hard bargain.
We did ask the sellers to pay some of the closing costs, but because we put in such a low offer, we were afraid to ask that they pay full closing costs. Now that things are said and done, I wish we would have asked for it all. There's no guarantee the sellers would have agreed, but because we didn't ask, we'll never know.
5. Know your rights.
I wasn't going to this story, but I was inspired by Justine LaViolette. Like Justine, I suffer from anxiety. Attacks can be debilitating, but thanks to a strong support system and great health regimen, I'm feeling good these days. Part of that regimen includes Louie. He's more than just a pet. He's a friend and companion animal. When I have flair-ups, he can sense it. He becomes much for affectionate--which helps me find the balance I need to feel better.
Our condo building's policy on pets is confusing at best. Technically, pets aren't allowed, but under the ADA, landlords and building managers cannot deny service and companion animals. Because I wasn't fully aware of my rights under the ADA, I ended up divulging much more of my medical history than I needed to (and was comfortable with). In the end, though, everything worked out. Louie's been welcomed into the building. I'm happy. Cliff's happy. And I'm positive Louie is happy :)
6. Beware of the "hidden" costs.
It costs a lot more to purchase property than I ever could have guessed. Cliff and I actually started this process two years ago, but put everything on hold -- twice -- so we would have more time to save. It's amazing the amount of time and effort that goes into purchasing property -- all by people you never even meet! Even though we worked with a lender who constantly sent me spread sheets detailing every cost from attorney's fees to taxes, there was still a great deal of sticker shock when it came time to write that final check. We have zero regrets, though!
7. No property is perfect.
Let's face it. Cliff and I are young do-gooders. I work full-time at a health non-profit and he's an educator. We don't make a lot of money. We decided long ago that if we were going to drop most of our savings on a down payment, the place had to be perfect.
We're in love with our condo, but the bathroom is a little small and the unit has more hallway space than I prefer. I started focusing on those things relentlessly. It wasn't until our realtor reminded us that no place is perfect that I realized we had actually found the perfect property for us. Our condo meets every requirement we laid out for ourselves when we started the buying process: balcony, nice kitchen, two bedrooms, wood floors, lots of space. We almost didn't put in an offer because we were missing the forest for the trees.
8. We are fortunate.
Purchasing property hasn't made me a different person, but it has made me look at the world differently. I was blessed to be raised by parents who included me in discussions about current events, social justice and economic equality--or in this case, inequality. As a result, I've always been aware and have tried to help those who are less fortunate. Now, though, I am even more aware, especially of our area's homeless population. While Cliff and I have a home to go to that we've purchased, so many don't have any kind of home to go to at all.
This acute realization makes me feel obligated to help homeless when and where I can by offering to purchase for them food or water. Such a small gesture can make a huge difference. Please, if you see someone who is homeless, don't ignore or treat them with disrespect. They are human beings, just like you and me.