Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Home buying redux. Or, what not to do when buying a house.

We couldn't have planned it any better.

For most of my marriage with Johnie I dreamed of owning a home in Kentucky. Before we even had actual plans to move I asked my grandfather to wait on carving our Wichita address into a piece of wood he saved for me from a tree we had planted together. Because I wanted my permanent address to be in my home state.

Years later, I finally know what that address is but I never could have imagined just how long and curvy the road home would be.

Even before we officially sold the home we loved in Kansas we were already looking for Kentucky houses. The first couple of years it was mostly casual internet searches and random open house viewings. We weren't even sure what city we wanted to settle in and visited houses from Frankfort to London and many places in between.

I felt burned by our real estate experience in Kansas and made a list of must-haves for the house and the process.

We began working with a (fabulous) realtor in the spring of 2013 (Jonnie Jean Young). By that time we had decided we wanted to settle in London -- someday -- close to our friends and church family. We found a house we were excited about but we were unable to swing the down payment necessary for a loan on a home that wouldn't be our primary residence for a few years.

The home search was suspended until the following winter. We had a diagnosis for my health issues and it was becoming clear to me that I couldn't keep up with my job and my personal life. We made the decision for me to stop working and, with nothing holding us to Frankfort, to move. By this time a couple of our friends were also home shopping in London. As we learned quickly, each of us had talked to our spouses about how we would love to be neighbors. So, we decided to house shop together.

We considered homes listed in the same neighborhoods. We considered house/lot options to build side-by-side. We looked at land to build a duplex. We looked at properties that included a primary residence and rental home on-site. We looked at large single family homes to remodel to fit our needs. Nothing quite worked.

With no solid prospects, Johnie and I, along with some other dear friends, secured a large rental home in London and continued the search. (In case you haven't already deduced this, Johnie and I don't do housing in the same way as most American families.)

In late July our friends called us about a house they were extremely interested in. It was in the same subdivision as several of our other friends. Actually, some of our friends had been interested in buying it several months prior before they learned it didn't qualify for financing at that time. It had been a foreclosure and by this point had been purchased by an investor.

Before: Bedroom
I had walked around the outside of this house a year or so previously. It was old and dirty and small. And kind of creepy. From what I had learned from our friends who had been interested in it before, it didn't have a lot of the things on my list. Johnie had asked me to look at it with him several times. I always said no.

But none of us were really interested in living in the house. It sat on an acre and a half of land and we were thinking we could fix it up as a rental and then build our two-family duplex at the back of the lot.

Our friends went under contract on the house in August. We began our house-building plans and my friend coaxed me through the front door by telling me it wasn't as bad inside as she had thought it would be.

By the time I actually looked at the house the outside had been cleaned up considerably from when I had just walked around the yard. And the inside had been aired out a little and some of the walls had been fixed.
Before: Dining Room

I stepped through the front door and it reminded me of our rental house in Frankfort. Which isn't a good thing. I didn't like that house. But I had to agree with my friend. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

The weeks ticked by. The end date to our lease crept closer. Home building plans got more complicated and expensive-feeling to me.

I have always wanted a master bath. I'd have one in the house we built. We would have a two-car garage. We were going to have everything on our list. And, someday, even an in-ground pool.
But, as we dreamed of all the nice things we would have in the house we were going to build, I began feeling uncomfortable with the price of those things. And I began feeling uncomfortable with my own greed and selfishness.

Before: Living Room
It sure would be a lot cheaper and less complicated just to live in the foreclosure house. We had lived in the Frankfort house for two years and this one was bigger than that -- with major remodeling potential. But still not wanting to actually live in that house, I decided not to talk about my thoughts with anyone.

The closing ended up getting delayed because of a clerical error with the deed. We were all assured that it was a matter of when -- not if -- it would be cleared up. It was right around this same time I posed the question to Johnie: "What if we just lived in the foreclosure house and didn't build?"

We talked with our friends and, later, with the investor, and a new plan was hatched. As we waited for the deed issue to be resolved, we subdivided the land into two portions. We would get the half with the house, our friends would get the other half to build. And because we wanted to move out of our rental house when our other friends would be moving out, the investor agreed to let Johnie and me determine, coordinate and oversee the work on the foreclosure house so it would be ready when we needed it.
Before: Kitchen

We thought that meant he would be paying for things and the cost would (basically) be rolled into our loan amount at closing. What it actually meant was he would let us work on and pay for renovations on the house before we closed.

So, yes, like stupid people, Johnie and I began working on a vacant foreclosed house we didn't own. By this time, I was starting to feel a little nervous. Because this was for sale by owner, we weren't using our beloved realtor. And because we were initially more interested in the land than in the house, we never had an inspection.

Before: Bathroom
We entered this work phase as we had entered the previous ones: Prayerfully. We knew we were taking a gamble and were risking any money we spent on the house, but we decided it was worth the risk. If it worked out in the end, it would be more than worth it.

We started slow with the work. That means we mostly just spent our time. We spent several days cleaning the house. And we spent a while deciding just what projects we would tackle before we moved in, paring them down considerably since the expenses were all coming out of our own pockets.

This might be a good time to mention that new plan we hatched was a verbal one. (Hence the initial misunderstanding about who would pay for what.) The actual contract wasn't revised from the original one. We were waiting for a full loan approval for Johnie and me since it had been so long since our first one when we began the process. And we needed the deed issue to be resolved.
After: Bedroom

Anything we would do to the house at this point would start costing more serious money. I wanted to paint all the rooms which would be several hundred dollars alone. I was at war with myself. If I spent the money and did the work and we didn't get the house, I would kick myself for being so stupid. But if I didn't go ahead and paint now when the house was empty and I had the time to do it, I would kick myself at closing for not doing that work when I had the chance.

I quizzed all my friends on whether or not to paint. One advised that I should sit with each decision... how would I feel about either decision years from now? And that helped me. If I didn't paint and we didn't get the house, it was inconsequential. If I didn't paint and we did get the house, I'd have a lot of added work and stress when we moved (something I try to avoid these days). If I painted and we got the house, then it would be really helpful and I could tell everyone how crazy we were to paint the house before it was even ours. And if I painted and we didn't get the house, I could tell everyone how crazy we were to paint a vacant house we didn't even own. I love a good story. And Johnie and I do crazy things like that. That's just who we are. We aren't really very normal. Decision made.
After: Dining Room

Toward the end of January, the painting was well underway. The contractor we had spoken with several weeks prior finally had time to do our projects. We scheduled to meet him at the house one Tuesday afternoon, the same day our housemates would be moving on to continue their missionary work.

Hiring the contractor meant some really serious money (or what I consider serious money). My nervousness only increased. We were going to be out of our rental house at the end of February and had a verbal agreement that we could move into the foreclosure house before closing, but still no actual revised contract.

I couldn't sleep that Monday night and spent quite a while talking with God about all my house worries. Everything felt so shaky, like it could crumble at any moment. So many times throughout the process I just wanted to throw my hands up, walk away from the foreclosure house and the dream of having friends as neighbors, contact our realtor and find a decent house like regular people. This was one of those times. I remember telling God that night, "we're going to be committed to paying this contractor tomorrow, and we don't even have a contract yet." In tears I fell asleep, resigned to continue on this unstable ground.
After: Living Room

The next morning we said an emotional goodbye to our friends, and as we were watching them pull out of the driveway Johnie's phone rang. It was our loan broker telling us all the loan and contract paperwork were ready to sign. The deed issue had been resolved a few days earlier. A couple hours before we met our contractor, we had the paper contract my heart had been hoping for.

Progress on the house went into high gear. We began going over to do projects on nights and weekends, or sometimes even while the contractor was there. One Saturday a friend came over and turned on the water for us and I held my breath and then thanked the Lord when all the pipes worked, minus a very minor, easily fixable drain leak at the bathtub.

And then, in early February, with the contractor finished and the paint almost complete, the appraiser came. Through the months of working on the house, I had fallen in love with it. It was good and solid. There were no roof leaks. The basement stayed dry. The hardwood floors were absolutely beautiful. I had the best dishwasher I've ever owned installed in the kitchen, as well as a stunning red sink with its own little story. The contractor added a gorgeous built-in to replace a non-functional window in the dining room. After all the work we did on the house, we uncovered no major issues.

After: Kitchen
I cleaned and prayed before the appraiser was set to arrive. I wanted to do everything I could to help the process. All along I had trusted the Lord that if we weren't supposed to get this house, then we would just get another one. But now I actually wanted this house.

The appraiser made me nervous. An appraiser caused a snafu when we bought our first home. We had already spent all our extra money fixing up this house, we didn't have anything to compensate for a low appraisal. By the time the appraiser arrived at the house, I was in tears from nervousness and sneaked out the back as he entered the front. Thankfully, Johnie was there and able to act like a sane person for the both of us. I told the Lord that if we weren't going to get this house, I wished He would have let us know before that day.

Before we even knew the results of the appraisal, Johnie received a job offer. It was work even more in line with what he loves than what he was already doing. And after a week of negotiations, we felt like it was doable for us. But, we learned, the new job would put us $250 above the annual income cap on the loan program we were using. If we didn't close before the job switch, we would need to switch loan programs, wait at least 30 days for a new income history and bring more money to the table.
After: Bathroom

As we were considering the job, the appraisal came in and was what we needed it to be. We still didn't have a firm closing date, but a good possibility that we could close in time for the new job not to affect things.

With fear of losing the house and fear of not being able to meet the (exciting) challenges at the new job pretty much the only things in our reasons to say no column, we decided not to let fear make our decision and Johnie accepted the new position. We continued on with our plans to move.

The rental house we were leaving was more than 3000 square feet. We needed to be out of it by February 28th, a Saturday. I had realized several weeks earlier that I could not move completely out of and then clean such a big house in one day. And we were already busy on Saturday the 21st. I'm sure my friends would have bailed me out and spent their whole Saturday getting everything wrapped up for me, but we decided to move all of our big things on Monday the 23rd. I planned to move all of our smaller things slowly, one car load at a time, the week before. It would cut down on boxes and packing and unpacking.

Except for that's the week we got the historic snowfall, followed by the historic cold.

We stayed snowed in our driveway until our landlord dug us out. And our friends got out and worked on our house for us those days. We had accumulated a list of projects that were to be fixed that week: New sink hoses to allow for running water in the kitchen, a new cord for the stove, the bathtub drain repair. We also learned in those final days before the move that what we thought was the thermostat wasn't. We didn't have one for the air conditioning. Only for the heat. (Thankfully, we didn't need it right away.) And also, the mailbox we thought was ours actually belonged to the neighbors.

48 hours before the move, the easy drain issue turned out to be way more complicated, we still needed to hook up the stove, and I couldn't even park in the driveway of that house because of all the snow. We weren't even sure if we'd be able to move into the house on Monday because of the snow. But we pressed on.

On Sunday, friends came over to clear the driveway and work on the drain.

Set to move the next morning, but still unsure how it would all unfold, I made another trip to Lowe's in tears Sunday evening. Still no working stove, still no way to take a shower.

"This is just how things like this go," my mom told me. She had agreed to stay the week with me to help me move. (Thank God she did.) "It's like when you read a book. We're at the part where everything is messed up. But in the end it all works out and everyone is happy."

"I didn't want to write a book, mom, I just wanted a story."

Thanks to several of our friends, the actual move went great. And, amazingly, the house felt like home almost instantly.

We still didn't have a working bathtub/shower, but we planned to travel back and forth from the rental house to finish packing and cleaning anyway. We would just take our showers there.
Our loan broker told us we could probably close on the house by the end of the week. And I had already started discussing our celebration -- for when we did close -- with our friends. We would all get to be at the closing table together. Us for the house, them for the land. I wanted to do remakes of all the crazy pictures from the first closing in Kansas. And then we were going to plant a tree or set a stone or start digging a footer -- something -- to signify this day. And then we were going to eat a delicious dinner together.

Throughout the week, my mom, my brother, my friends and I worked to get all the final items moved to the new house and get the old house cleaned out. Johnie was working faithfully each night after work to fix the bathtub drain. I was confident he would get it soon. My health was not doing great and I was needing to rest more than I preferred, but I was much healthier than I could have been and I had a lot of people helping. I felt hopeful.

On Thursday the bathtub drain still wasn't fixed. I was afraid I was going to have to take our friends up on their offer to shower at their house. And our broker called to tell us the final underwriter didn't approve our loan because of a fallen downspout noticed in one of the pictures. Any hopes of closing this week were dashed. If everything went smoothly with the repair and reappraisal, we could possibly expedite the closing to Monday, our broker said.

Johnie was pretty disappointed. His official two week notice went into effect on Monday. If the lending company required a third employment verification and if Human Resources disclosed his notice, we would be starting all over with a new loan program.

But Johnie fixed the downspout that afternoon, the appraiser sent in his paperwork, and we continued to work on getting settled into the new house and moved out of the old house. We had done everything we could do.

Friday morning I talked to my friend who was buying the land with us. I told her we may close on Monday, and that I was feeling okay at that moment. Some other friends had volunteered to get things wrapped up at the old house that day and Johnie had fixed the tub drain. I could take a shower at my new house! I got out of bed with a plan for the day and felt like I could actually accomplish it. My mom and I worked on some projects at the new house with plans to clean at the old house with friends after lunch.

But the broker called as we were eating lunch to tell us the paperwork had been approved and we could close that afternoon. If we (four, for the house and land) and the investor could get there. Johnie was ecstatic. I was nauseous. I had not planned to take a break from scrubbing floors to go close on a house. And the old house had to be cleaned because we were giving it back to the landlord the next day.

On top of that, neither of our friends were available at the same time.

I cried. I cried hard. So many things had not gone how I had imagined they would go with this whole process, and now my dream of a fun closing and celebration with our friends was also being shattered. I knew I was being a baby but it took me a few minutes to pull it together. The important thing was that we would all finally own this house and land we had worked and waited for.
We worked it out so we would filter in throughout the afternoon as we were available to each sign our portion of the documents.

I left the old house, not even completely sure if the investor would make it to sign his portion of the documents, and went to the new house to meet Johnie and change out of work clothes before heading to the title company.

I thought we would just sign our stuff and leave, but Johnie said he'd stay and wait for the investor to arrive. Our broker told us as soon as the investor signed, the house would definitely be ours. As we were waiting, I noticed I forgot to change my jeans and had brown stains on my knees from cleaning earlier. (Just another thing to add to the train wreck, I thought.)

The investor was late. And I was not feeling very good about what seemed like rushing through paperwork at the last minute on a Friday evening. This was a big deal for me and Johnie. I wasn't sure everyone else at the table understood just how invested we were in this house.

We tried to portray what we felt like by the time
 we made it to closing. This actually doesn't do it justice.
By the time all of the paperwork was wrapped up it was well into the evening. Though it wasn't said explicitly, we got the impression that the paperwork wouldn't actually be reviewed by the loan company until Monday morning. I left hoping we wouldn't get a bad news call the following week.

My friend met us back at our house when we finished up the closing. We hugged and cried and she saw the house -- with our stuff in it -- for the first time.

"We couldn't have planned it any better," she said. "Obviously, we didn't plan this."

What we did plan was that celebration we had wanted. And I told everyone, "legally, everything is done. But it won't be official until we celebrate."

Monday came and went with no bad news. And as the days passed, I began to finally settle into owning a home once more. I had dreamed for so many years about this, I had to keep reminding myself it was real each morning. It took us a while to switch from renting mentality (should we ask the landlord?) to owning mentality (we can do whatever we want with this wall!). But I am thankful to finally feel like I am putting down roots in a place I love surrounded by people I love.