Buying a house with my fiancé was supposed to be exciting and—dare I say—even fun. I love scrolling through Zillow as much as the next gal, so I was excited by the prospect of making one of those dream homes my own. I thought it would be one of those love-at-first-sight kind of moments. We’d wait patiently as our realtor unlocked the door, and after stepping gingerly into the foyer, we’d gaze around and then lean into each other, whispering, “This is it.” The deal would be sealed in a snap, and that would be that.
But now, after more than four months of searching in what is perhaps the most competitive housing market ever, I’m not quite so starry-eyed. So far, we’ve lost out on two homes we loved, one of which sold for more than 20% over the list price. We’ve seen many more homes that we liked get swept off the market in a matter of hours. To say it’s been stressful is a vast understatement. But here we are, still trying.
How am I not positively losing it, you may ask? Some days, it feels like I am, but most of the time, I’m focused on keeping calm and plugging on. Here are a few of my secrets to staying sane as a first-time homebuyer in 2022.
Remember: Finances First
This was the biggest piece of first-time homebuyer advice we received, and I’m so glad we took it: Get your finances in order first—before you even start looking. In a housing market this competitive, you need to be ready to make an offer as soon as you find a place you love. For us, the first step was getting a mortgage preapproval, which helped us nail down our budget and ensure we’re prepared to put down a serious offer at a moment’s notice. We also made sure we had a 20% down payment saved up, along with enough funds for closing costs and other up-front expenses, so we could feel totally financially confident heading into the process.
Schedule Your Scrolling
Homes can hit the market at any time and get scooped up before the day is done, which makes it very tempting to spend the entire day on Zillow, just waiting for that next house to pop up. In the beginning, I was basically doing just that: checking the app about every 15 minutes and constantly getting distracted by new homes throughout the day. To rein myself in, I started scheduling specific times for Zillow-scrolling. I set aside time during my lunch break and immediately after work to check the listings for the day and talk with our realtor if needed. House-hunting suddenly became much more manageable when I stopped frantically scrolling through listing photos all day.
When you’re making a decision this big, no question is too small or too dumb to ask.
Ask Questions, Lots of Them
Buying a house is complicated, and it’s not something they teach you how to do in school. As a first-time homebuyer, I often feel vastly under-qualified to make these sorts of decisions. The best way I’ve found to make sense of this whole hairy process is to lean on people with more knowledge than I have. We have a great realtor we trust to give us sage advice, and my fiancé and I are constantly on the phone with our respective parents asking a million questions. What is an escalation clause and should we include one in our offer? How worried should we be about a sewer backup problem? (The answer: very) When you’re making a decision this big, no question is too small or too dumb to ask.
Don’t Get Caught Up in the Craziness
We’ve heard so many stories of buyers waiving home inspections or offering several thousands of dollars over the list price, well above the home’s true value. These days, it seems like people will do anything to snag the house they want, but we’re determined not to give in to the frenzy. The last thing we want is to get surprised by a costly repair right after move-in or have to fork over tons of cash to make up the difference in the home’s appraised value. We’ve agreed that if we have to use drastic measures to get it, perhaps it’s not our perfect house after all.
Focus on the Goal
House prices are at a record high, mortgage rates have nearly doubled since we started looking, and now, some people are throwing around the word “recession.” It’s a scary time to be a first-time homebuyer. But they say the best time to buy a house is when you’re financially ready, and for us, that’s right now. Staying the course has been difficult amid so much uncertainty, and I’ve definitely wanted to give up more than a few times. But staying focused on our end goal is what’s keeping us going. Between all the stress and anxiety, I have to keep believing we’ll come out of this crazy process stronger and with a place to begin our life together.