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We are in no way real estate experts–not even a little bit. We know only as much as any other first time home buyer, but we are at a stage in life when a lot of our friends are just now thinking about buying homes or are just a few years off from that season, so I thought it might be interesting to share what we learned in our experience featuring some doctored photos of some of the houses we toured.

Nashville on the move -- realtor

1. A good realtor is absolutely essential.

Because we were so new to the process, we had a lot of questions about how the process worked, how to make wise use of our money, what parts of town were good, etc. Our realtor could not have been more helpful. He was quick to respond to emails when we needed him, he showed us a wide variety of houses, he was honest about which houses were good buys and which were not for us. He helped us navigate through every step of the process, and we owe our lack of stress to him. Find a good realtor, and if you’re in Nashville, use Allen Perry.

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2. Not every house tour is going to be like House Hunters, but they make for funny stories.

On one house tour, we arrived to the house to find that the family was still there, the house smelled weird, the basement door was locked (which took us five minutes to unlock because it couldn’t be unlocked from the main floor), and the basement tenants had just woken up and were walking around in pajamas and bathrobes while we toured the space. We did not buy that house. But we still laugh when we think back on it.

At the very next house we visited, we walked in and found teenage boys asleep in two of the bedrooms when we tried to walk in and tour them. Oops.  We did not buy that house either.

Enjoy the process of looking at both the good and the bad.

3. Just because a house is taken off the market doesn’t mean it is no longer available. You have to be willing to ask questions.

Let me tell you a little story.

We began our house search process in October 2012. It went a little something like this:

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– Mid October – Met with realtor and learned what the home buying process is all about. Discussed what we wanted in a home.
– Late October/Early November – Got pre-approved for a loan so that we could start looking at homes with an exact number in mind of what we could spend (we planned on staying well below our pre-approval number)
– Rest of November – Received daily emails from our realtor with homes that fit our criteria. Began compiling a list of houses we wanted to tour.
– Dec 1 – Saw our first batch of homes. We saw about ten houses in one day in two different areas of town. My favorite on the list was a cute little red brick ranch. There was something special about it, but we still hadn’t narrowed down where in town we wanted to be, and with the holidays coming, we decided not to rush our decision.
– Jan 1 – I hadn’t been able to get that red brick ranch off my mind, and we made a final decision that we wanted to be in the part of town where that house was located. On Jan 1, however, we noticed that the house had been taken off the market. – Jan 5 – Emailed our realtor to let him know that we were really interested in the red brick ranch, but that we noticed it was no longer available (yet there were no signs that it had actually sold). We asked him to do a little investigating to see if the sellers would still be willing to sell to us. We knew they had been eager to sell and that the house had been on the market for several months.
– Jan 7 – We heard back that the sellers would be willing to sell it to us if we gave them the most recent asking price. It was a great deal and well within our budget. We were thrilled.
– Jan 12 –We toured about ten more houses and saw the red brick ranch for the second time. We saw several lovely houses that seemed perfect for any other family, but when we walked into the house that would soon be ours, it immediately felt like home.
– Jan 14 – We put in an offer on the little red brick ranch.
– Jan 17 – An offer was finalized and we set a closing date. We were ecstatic! Since the house was technically off the market when we offered, we didn’t have any competition, and the process went very smoothly.
– March 22 – We closed on the house (after a lot of details in between). We did a happy dance. We immediately got to work fixing it up.
In our case, the sellers were just tired of all the stresses that come with having a house for sale and decided to stay another year. If we hadn’t been willing to investigate and ask questions even once the house was taken off the market, we never would have gotten the house we wanted in the timing that was right for us.

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4. Do your research and know your wants, needs, and “NO WAY” items in advance.

Do your research in order to be realistic. When you are on a limited budget (as are most first time home buyers), you probably can’t get everything you have ever dreamed of, but it is still important to know what you want.

Every person has different needs, and it is important that you really think about how you are going to use a home before you begin looking. For example, we much preferred an older house that needed a little more work to a tract home in a newer neighborhood. We knew we would rather have more rooms (even if they were smaller) than the same square footage with fewer bigger rooms. Our list looked a little something like this:

Must Have:
– At least 3 bedrooms & 1.5 baths
– A space for a small music studio
– A nice yard
– A nice kitchen space (we were okay with upgrading an old kitchen, but we didn’t want to have to expand a tiny kitchen)
– Covered parking
– At least 1400 square feet
– A safe neighborhood
– Basement space

Would be nice:
– Wood floors
– Fireplace
– A master bathroom
– A finished basement
– A kitchen that is open to the living room
– A space for a banquette (I really wanted one.)
– Outdoor entertaining space

Things we are okay with fixing:
– Old carpet
– Old wallpaper that needs to be removed
– Yucky paint colors
– Outdated kitchen

NOT Okay:
– On a major busy road
– Has structural problems
– Flooded during the great Nashville flood of 2010
– Bad layout (we didn’t want to knock down walls or do any major remodeling)

House Goals:
– Be able to host guests & entertain regularly
– Have space to make music
– Have room to grow our family down the road
– Have some elements of a fixer-upper

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5. Don’t knock it til you try see it.
I loved our house from the first time I saw the MLS listing. Jeremy, on the other hand, thought it was only “okay.” He didn’t like that the basement had tile floors, and he wrote it off as average and not that interesting. He almost convinced me we didn’t even need to see it. Even after the first walk through, he really liked it, but not as much as I did. I couldn’t stop daydreaming about it. After the second viewing, however, he was as much in love with it as I was. I’m glad he gave it a chance!

There were also a few homes that looked amazing online, but were a big let down in person. You’ve got to let yourself walk through a house before making any decisions!

So there you have it. Five things we learned when we bought our first house. We don’t plan on doing any more home buying for many years, but I am sure there is still so much to learn. We are thankful to be done with the search and enjoying the blessing of our home.