Buying our first house. Part 1

In the fall of 2013, my wife and I took a big step and purchased our first house.  The transformation of this house, into our home, is something I plan on chronicling on this blog. Our home is a big part of our lives and a never ending source of experimentation and entertainment. 

And so it goes:

We had lived in Charleston for 5 years and had rented a 2 br/2bath apartment for that entire period.  We loved our apartment and the neighborhood, but it just felt like we needed to move on.  We had been married for a year, we had entered our 30’s and this just seemed like the next logical step…besides babies.  Being first time homebuyers, we knew that there would be a learning curve and that it would take some time.  I was correct on the learning curve, but way under-estimated the time.  It took a total of 9 months from the beginning of the search until the day we closed.

When searching for a house, you have to establish your priorities.  Luckily, for us, our priorities were aligned. 

Priority #1 – Downtown Location
We had been fortunate to have lived downtown during our entire time in Charleston.   We loved the quality of life that the downtown peninsula provided and were committed to staying.  Charleston has all of the benefits of living in a city while also maintaining the charm of a small town.  And most important to me was being able to ride my bike to work.  The LS3P office is downtown, so it is a short commute on foot or bike.  I am not as much a cycling advocate as much as I am an anti car/traffic advocate.   Sitting in traffic sucks and riding a bike to work kicks ass.

Priority #2 – Finding a Fixer-Upper
This should probably be listed as a necessity, not a priority.  Because of priority #1, and our small budget, finding a house that needed some work was the only way we could afford to live on the Peninsula.  In addition, I had aspirations of putting my architectural mark on some place.  I can totally understand why most people prefer a ‘move-in-ready’ house.  But since I design buildings for a living, finding a place that needed some work was not a problem and was a welcomed adventure.  And again I reiterate, a place that we could afford.

So that seems like a short and easy list right? How hard could it be?  It turned out that finding houses was not a challenge, but getting an offer accepted was a BEAST!

We found many good fixer-uppers during our search that were in our price range.  The procedure typically went something like this: 

•    House pops up on one of the real estate search engines that fits our criteria.
•    We contact our agent and visit the house that same day.
•    Within 20 minutes of looking at the house, we make an offer.  

I should add that many of these houses needed some serious work.  I’m talking houses that were leaning over and most likely haunted.  Correction, definitely haunted.  So the fact that we were making such hasty offers without knowing the ultimate cost was nuts.  That’s how we roll!

•    Typically the offer we made was a hair below the asking price. 
•    The buyer’s agent notifies us that there are 5 other offers and that we have 3 days to adjust and make our best offer. 
•    We make a new offer that is 10% more than the asking price.
•    3 days pass and our offer is rejected for a higher bid.
•    We remorse.

And this happened, not once, not twice, but 5 times!  It turns out that there were many others looking for a downtown fixer-upper.  The economy had roared back and the demand for housing in Charleston was at an all time high.  There were also a bunch of house flipping companies in the market that were offering top dollar and cash.  One of those companies was owned by Bill Murray.  That’s right, Bill F’in Murray!  Interesting Charleston fun-fact for outsiders:  Bill Murray is one of our most beloved celebrity residents.  It was my honor to lose out to Bill.

I had started to give up hope.  Or at least given in to the possibility that landing a house in downtown Charleston was not in our cards.  And how could I be expected to compete with Bill Murray!  Bill F’in Murray!  Luckily, my wife kept much higher spirits and continued her relentless checking of real estate listings.

And then one day our dream house showed itself!   Well, not quite.  I mean it was downtown, it was a fixer-upper, it had walls, a roof, a couple doors and some windows. But it was…kinda ugly. It definitely was not that charming old house you picture when you think of Charleston. I was actually convinced that the odd appearance of the house would give us a much higher chance of getting it.  I thought, how many other people would want that place.  In fact my email message to Danielle and our realtor, Chris, was: "It's just the kinda ugly I pictured for our first house." 

This is not our house.  These are examples of those charming old houses that people picture when they think of Charleston.

This is not our house.  These are examples of those charming old houses that people picture when they think of Charleston.

So this is our house.   I know right.  Uggggggg.  

I wanted to verify exactly what I said in the email mentioned above, so I dug out the actual email and took a screen shot so that I could share with you a few things.  #1, I wasn't lying, and #2, I have very poor grammar: 'board' should be Bogard, which is the street for the house, and 'out' should be our.  I also included the response from our realtor Chris. Chris is a friend and also an architect.  Coincidentally, this email took place on my birthday...in retrospect, maybe that was some sort of sign from the universe. 

The 'just the sort of ugly' email.

In a frantic haste, we scheduled a visit, saw the house, and put in an offer immediately.  All of that occurred within 24 hours.  After a few counter offers and some negotiating, our offer was accepted.

We had done it!  Home ownership here we come.

That is just when things got real hectic. Jump ahead to:

Part 2 of Buying our First House