What it’s Like to Become a Homeowner

Well, readers, I have some news! After 10 months of living at home with my parents, I finally saved up enough for a modest down payment and I am – drum roll – PURCHASING my own place!!!

I do not exaggerate when I say that I have been waiting for this day my whole life. My mom doesn’t even believe in renting, she never rented or had a roommate in her life – just went straight from her family home to her first mortgage. At an impressionable age, she once used a water bottle to teach me the pitfalls of renting: She poured a little water down the drain to simulate rent payments never going toward anything. BUT, she told me, if you buy a place, that water goes into a different container… and comes back to you when you sell. Easy peasy!

Which is why before I even graduated high school, when it was time to plan for college housing, I talked to a financial planner about whether buying was an option for me.

I worked at Cold Stone for $6.75 an hour. It was not.

So, consequentially, I’ve spent the last decade-plus pouring my water bottle down the drain. But the time has officially come for me to pour it into a condo-shaped container instead!

The condo is perfect in almost every way (or at least, as perfect as I was going to get with my budget). It’s in my old college stomping grounds, within steps of all my old haunts – but far enough away from campus that you won’t see me on the news later under the headline “Girl Goes on Frat Boy Murdering Spree.” It has a brick fireplace and french doors to a balcony overlooking the neighborhood. The kitchen is immaculate, with upgraded appliances and a gas stove (which my dad appreciates) for all the, you know, cooking I’ll be doing. It checks all my boxes, including an open floor plan and a two-car garage.

So before I move onto the rest of this post, let me start by saying that this is AMAZING. I feel so fortunate to be able to take this step – by myself! And in San Diego, of all places! I know it’s amazing. I pinch myself every day because it’s so amazing. Its amazingness is not lost on me. I know!

But, that said, holy moly the homebuying process also sucks a LOT.

There are so many decisions to be made! There are the big decisions, of course, like the place itself and what you’re comfortable spending. But then there are medium decisions – like which is more important to you, a second bathroom or being walking distance to a grocery store? Would you give up a hundred square feet if it meant you could have a washer / dryer? Then there are smaller decisions, like how cool you are with a shorter escrow – obviously I’m excited to move, but to move in two weeks?! I’m not packed!

For me, it also means making decisions around furniture – since thanks to my recent move and break-up, I’m basically starting from scratch. Which means walking into Mattress Firm and having to lay down on a row of mattresses, one by one, and decide what kind of mattress person I am. Am I a softy? What does that say about me? What are the implications for my spinal health? My insomnia? Do I want a king-sized bed – which I originally said I did because I want this place to be the perfect oasis of comfort (and also because I want to sleep like a starfish)? Or do I want a smaller bed to have so much more room for activities?

And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface on things like decorating. At first the notion was exciting to me, because the options were endless! But then the thought of it started to become unbearable, because the options are endless. Do I want recessed lighting, or a ceiling fan? A four-person dining room table, or six? With a rug or without? The desk facing out the window for the view, or away from it for good feng shui? A sectional or a loveseat? Coffee table, or end tables, or both? Platform bed or box spring? WHAT COLOR WILL I PAINT THE WALLS?!

I read once that Steve Jobs always wore the same outfit for this reason – his black turtleneck, blue jeans, and New Balance sneakers protected him from something called “decision fatigue.” Every choice we have to make depletes us of tiny bit of energy, so he wanted to save that energy by giving himself one less choice every day.

We make an average of 35,000 decisions a day just in our regular lives… you can probably double that when you’re buying a home.

And not to be all woe-is-me, because buying a place by myself is probably my greatest life accomplishment to date… but lest we forget, I am a terrible decision maker by myself! I can barely be trusted to pick a restaurant for dinner, so questions like “How much can you comfortably afford each month” and “What do you want your home’s aesthetic to be” are enough to make my heart literally start pounding harder. I’ve written before about the disadvantages of being one half of a couple – losing your identity among them – but one major plus is having someone to bounce these ideas off of. Leaving me alone to debate the pros in cons of thousands of decisions within the murky confines of my own brain is, frankly, a recipe for disaster.

Of course I have a support system – my cousin is my realtor, my brother is an electrical contractor, another cousin is an expert in interior design. And my friends should be canonized for their patience as I’ve shown them listings and Pinterest boards. So, of course I’ve asked my family and friends for advice, support, and second opinions. But if I did this for every decision to be made or thing to be pondered, I would run out of family and friends fast.

So, when I am faced with a decision or a question I can’t answer, I’m often left to my network of homebuying professionals. And here’s the dirty little secret nobody tells you before you buy a house: No one person handles everything, so you will have no single resource for help or information. The amount of people involved in this process is actually staggering – the first phone call I made was to a wealth advisor, then a real estate broker (and his supporting real estate agent), who referred me to the lender, who has a team of assistants, and then there’s the bank managing your mortgage (which is different from the lender!), and then there’s your bank, with whom you’ll have to do a lot of dealings. Later on in the process there’s the inspector and the appraiser, and somewhere down the line an escrow agent, and that doesn’t even touch all the people on the seller’s side of things. The cast of characters parading through your life is long and confusing, and for the life of me I cannot remember what they all do or where they fit into the process.

And oh my god, the process! There is so much paperwork. So much paperwork. Imagine your own personal definition of what would constitute a “crazy” amount of paperwork. Now double it. And also add about a hundred more pages. Double it again, for good measure. That’s how much paperwork there is.

You sign paperwork about your loan, paperwork about your agent relationship, paperwork saying that you’re not a felon and don’t plan on running an illegal drug ring out of your house. You review pages and pages of paperwork from various institutions like the city, telling you about the unique hazards and zoning issues of your new home. You receive packets from your new HOA, and have to sign that you will not be too loud or annoying a neighbor. Your dog will not poop on the grass. You will not dry your clothes on the balcony. Each of these things represents at least a paragraph of text, if not multiple pages.

I’ve been in book clubs, you know? I’ve put myself in situations where I was committed to reading a certain number of pages within a certain amount of time. This agreement is a familiar one to me. So I feel at least moderately qualified to make the following statement: This is not a reasonable expectation! I cannot read and digest hundreds of pages of legalese within a five-day turnaround time.

And paperwork isn’t the half of it – the amount of time needed for this process has perhaps been the biggest shock to me of all. Between looking at listings, meeting with advisors, gathering pay stubs and tax returns and financial statements, trips back and forth to the bank, phone calls with realtors and lenders, going to inspections, email correspondence, etc. etc. etc. this could easily be a full-time job. And I already have one of those! To top it all off, as a first-time homebuyer I qualified for a lower interest rate if I took a $75 homebuying course online. This is an amazing program, for sure, but it meant adding schooling to my already ridiculous to-do list.

Next on the agenda is repair, since a few things came out of the inspection which will need to be addressed. So, I’ll now be tasked with coordinating with contractors and reviewing bids, hoping I’m not being taken for a ride. After that will come the actual move, which – if you’re familiar with the Nutshell Version – will be my 11th in seven years. And, I hold firm to the belief that moving is what happens in hell.

All this to say, as excited as I am for this next step, I am also counting down the minutes for the actual next step. Right now I’m still in-between steps… in this complicated, bureaucratic, logistical nightmare which is consuming 100% of my energy, emotions, and brainpower.

This was pretty exquisitely summarized in a conversation with my boss the other day, where we started to talk about my professional growth plan. Somehow this homebuying process came up, and I ranted to him for 20 minutes about it… and when I finished, panting a little, he calmed me down. He said to me kindly (but also a little like you might say to a crazy person wielding a knife), “Why don’t we wait until March to start any new plans?”

So, that’s what we’re doing – in my professional life and, it seems, in almost every other category. March is when I’ll be through the bulk of this absurdity, past the paperwork and at least somewhat moved in and decorated, and then I can breathe again.

In the meantime, though, I will work hard to maintain the perspective that this is AMAAAAAAAAAAAAZING!

4 thoughts on “What it’s Like to Become a Homeowner

  1. AMAZING is exactly what YOU are, my little dear! And as your grandma said a time or two, “I wish I were you and you had a wart!” 😜

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