How to Almost Buy a House in 7 Days

February 28, 2010

We’ve been casually looking at houses for probably 4-5 years now. That’s what you do when your wife is a real estate agent who has access to the MLS 24 hours/day, and when your “starter” home (that fit your three-person family just fine, but not so much your four-person family) gets too cramped.

But in all our looking, the “right house” never showed up. Oh, we saw some amazing homes — but nothing that had the right combination of location, looks, amenities, and affordability.

Until Saturday, February 20th.

The whole family went out to the Home & Garden Expo and then, since we had nothing better to do, Cari suggested we go see a couple new homes that were just built about a half-mile west of where we live now. And thus began one of the craziest, most intense weeks of our lives.

In the end, we’re not buying the house. But I’ve been writing a diary of the whole experience, and decided to post it even though things didn’t turn out how we hoped.

Saturday, February 20
After visiting the Home & Garden Expo in Pasco, we returned home and Cari took us to see three houses that are all less than a mile from our current home. We really liked House A, and only kinda liked Houses B & C. We went back to House A to look at it again and everyone agreed it was a great house. Not perfect, but the imperfections were certainly things we could live with. Here’s a shot of the front, which doesn’t really do it justice in my mind, but that’s okay.

the house

Sunday, February 21
After church, we drove by The House again. Swooned again. Came home and talked more about it. I don’t remember what Cari said, but she convinced me we should at least see what it would take to make the move.

We agreed that our current house would need a lot of work in order to sell at a good price. Cari made “The List” of home improvements that would be needed here. We talked about The List, made some changes, and resolved to get cracking on it the next day. We also sorted out other things to be taken care of: financing, school boundary questions, etc.

I spent about three hours doing yardwork to make sure we’d have “curb appeal” on our side if we decide to move. Lawn cutting, trimming bushes, general cleanup.

Monday, February 22
Cari started contacting everyone on earth about home improvements to our current home: cleaning, painting, windows, new doors, etc. She made a a couple local visits to get info and names of people who could put down new carpeting. Appointments were made for the rest of the week.

She also called contacts in the mortgage industry to get information on financing. Our problem was that banks don’t like to lend to people who are self-employed for less than two years. I’ve been self-employed for only about 18 months.

Tuesday, February 23
8:00 am: Our regular house cleaner arrived to begin work. Not the regular, bi-weekly cleaning, but a special job focusing on our cabinets (kitchen and bathrooom) and the shower in the master bath, which had years of hard water stains. She brought an assistant. They worked until almost noon, but didn’t finish.

2:00 pm: Perfection Glass showed up to measure and look at our front door and our sliding glass door to the back yard. We talked about options for replacing both.

4:00 pm: Envision Construction arrived to measure the house so they can put together an estimate for replacing all our carpets (which are 16 years old) and the vinyl flooring in the kitchen and bathrooms (also 16 years old).

Having no luck with mortgage Plan A, Cari moved on to Plan B, a local credit union. Didn’t seem promising, but at least the door wasn’t shut on our self-employed faces. She contacted our accountant to let him know what’s going on and ask if he can expedite our tax returns because the bank needs our current income figures.

Cari also went shopping at Home Depot and spent about $500 on new kitchen fixtures (faucet, cabinet knobs, etc.), new lighting for several rooms, and new fixtures (showerheads, spouts, faucets) for both bathrooms.

While all this was going on, I followed the loan officer’s instructions and filled out their online mortgage application in the afternoon. I followed up with an email explaining my work situation, and that I’ve actually had my own clients — outside of my day job with previous companies — for a full two years. She called at about 5 pm for a quick, pleasant call. Unfortunately, she seemed to be saying that we’ll need to not claim any deductions on our tax return in order to qualify for a loan. Ugh.

Envision emailed their estimate on carpeting/flooring work pretty late: about $1,500, not including the actual carpet and flooring.

Wednesday, February 24
8:45 am: The guys from CleanCraft arrived. They’re a contractor/handyman service. They spent about three hours installing the new lights and shower fixtures. Didn’t finish the faucets, so have to come back tomorrow.

11:00 am: Guy named Gerald showed up to measure the house interior so he can give us a quote on painting. In our 11+ years, we’ve never done any interior painting, so this must be the original paint applied 16 years ago. Gerald calls back a couple hours later with an estimate of about $2,000. Only thing is … he’s a former contractor who’s no longer licensed and insured.

The loan officer, meanwhile, is still experimenting with numbers. She knows we can’t NOT claim any tax deductions. We spoke again around Noon to get a few questions answered.

Cari went back to Home Depot for some more odds and ends.

Got our estimate from Perfection Glass on the doors: about $2,800 total for both, much more than we want to spend. Plus they’re booked into April, and we’d need something sooner.

3:00 pm: Service guy from Garrison’s arrives to look at the oven we bought last year. One of the burner knobs is jammed. He used cardboard to make a temporary fix and said he’ll have to make some calls to find out why this one knob has a problem. (They’ve been out several times before for this same reason.)

In the late afternoon, we got great news from the lender: We may be able to qualify even with our normal deductions. We agreed to wait to see the final tax return. Our accountant said he should have it done by the end of the week.

Thursday, February 25
9:00 am: Guys from CleanCraft return to finish the work started yesterday. Replacing faucets is apprently much more involved than lighting. They’re here until about Noon. I spent the next hour talking with them about more work we’d like done.

4:00 pm: Window cleaning service arrived to do the exterior windows, which have years of hard water (from sprinklers) building up on them, not to mention general winter dirt.

I checked the school district’s web site and confirmed what Cari had said earlier in the week: By moving, we’ll be pulling T into a different elementary school zone. Even though we’d only be moving about a half-mile, and even though the current school would be a mile from the new house, she’d be zoned to attend a school that’s more than three miles away. I emailed a district official to ask how we go about keeping her in the current school if we move.

Friday, February 26
No visits scheduled today, so we played a waiting game on our accountant. We have estimates for painting and carpet/floor upgrades, but can’t commit to spending thousands on that stuff until we know what our tax hit will be. Unfortunately, our accountant told Cari this morning that he won’t have anything done until sometime over the weekend.

In the afternoon, we learned that someone else was interested in The House, so the mad dash was on. We decided to write an offer now even without knowing the financial side of things, but the offer will have a few contingencies in there that let us back out next week if we get bad news.

Within an hour of submitting the offer, the builder made us a counter-offer. They changed the closing date — moved it up a couple weeks from what we want, which will give us almost no time to sell our house. We have until Sunday night to reply to the counter-offer, so hopefully we’ll hear from our accountant by then.

Saturday, February 27
11:01 am: Our accountant called with preliminary tax return numbers. Unfortunately, we owe more in taxes than we hoped to. It’s a nice problem to have — we both had a good year in terms of income, but now it’s time to pay the piper. Even though we pre-paid a lot of taxes during the year, we still owe enough that the deal is dead. Cari emailed the seller’s agent. I contacted the people who were waiting to hear if we needed the house painted.

Kinda sad. We made a fundamental home-buying mistake: We fell in love with a house before we knew our full financial situation. We got emotionally attached to it. And now we’re letting it go.

We’ll learn and make sure this doesn’t happen again.


  • Reply Phil R February 28, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Bummer dude… on the positive side of things- your current house must look amazing. =)

  • Reply Tassoula February 28, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    You guys are amazing to have accomplished so much in such a brief amount of time. And don’t worry—the right house will still come along!

  • Reply Bob Mc Ilhenny February 28, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    You know what i am going to say -AN YOU THE SON OF REALTOR- I told your father he should have had you do more at the office than – I don’t remember you doing anything at the little white office !!!!!!!!!!!!!! But when you are a REALTOR like Cari- when she is buying it’s not business it’s going to be MY HOME-you & she are doing what every body else does so don’t beat youself up- just re think it and start over your friend-Bob

  • Reply GaryPaulson February 28, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Love the post. We have stayed in this house for 25+ years cause I cannot bear the thought of moving. But I am going to play with your idea of “The List”. Watching many of the TV shows of what people do to fix up their homes for sale, I wonder if they would have felt the need to move if they had done those things earlier.

  • Reply Dan February 28, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Well written dude. I know what you are feeling, as we are in the process of buying a cabin in the mountains. All of what you wrote above, I totally get. We also just missed a place that was perfect for us. The good news (which you already know) is that there are many other houses, and with you and Cari working together, you will find the right place at the right time. Then, a house will become a home.

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