Welcome to Thunderdome – House Hunting in the Triangle

 

All’s fair in love and war……. and house hunting.

Before I get into the meat of this post, I just want to say welcome back, faithful readers! I have been on hiatus for a while due to a number of things going on in our lives, such as work heating up for me, beginning the process to buy a house, trying to find someone to do our taxes, and other generally more exciting developments that will be revealed in the coming months. 

With that said, let’s dive right in to what has been taking up our free time on the weekends for a while – house hunting. Let’s face it, though, no one actually likes house hunting. Not really anyway. On the surface, it is exciting, especially if you are first-time home-buyers like we are. After years and years of moving from dorm, to dorm, to apartment, to apartment, you will finally have some place that is yours. And sure, people love watching Chip and Joanna Gaines flip houses while munching on a bowl of popcorn and adding their own commentary about how, “Oh, I would totally have done something different with that bathroom.” But when it comes down to it, buying a house is no walk in the park. 

As with pretty much everything in our life since we have moved down to the Raleigh area, we started our house hunt from the point of, “Well, we want to buy a house – now what?” Hubs, being the uber planner that he is, had a smart idea to get us started. Toward the end of January/beginning of February, he suggested that we should just go out on a few Sundays and check out some open houses. If you are not on a really tight deadline, I highly recommend this.  (Our apartment lease is up at the end of May, so we were a few months out at that point.) We had many conceptual ideas about what we were looking for in a house, but seeing how those ideas actually played out in real structures was a totally different experience. Not only that, but we saw things in houses that we both loved and hated that never even crossed our minds previously. Laundry area on the second floor where all the bedrooms are so you aren’t lugging your baskets of clean and dirty clothes up and down the stairs? Add it to the list of preferences. Steep driveway that is akin to taking your car up Everest when you drive a Honda Civic? Avoid, avoid, avoid.

During this same time (which did take some nudging reminders from Hubs), I also reached out to some friends we have made in the community for recommendations on a realtor. I’m sure some people can go this process alone, but we were really looking for someone who was knowledgeable, who we could trust, and who had a track record of positive experiences with our friends. I am thankful to say that we were able to get a fabulous recommendation. 

Now that we had an idea of what we were looking for and we had a realtor, what was next? As noted above, we had never been through this dog and pony show before, so we determined it was a good idea to sit down with Peter (our realtor) and talk through the process to see what we could expect buying in the Triangle. Let’s just say we knew things were hectic down here, but I don’t think we knew they were this bad.

One of the first things Peter discussed with us was how housing inventory is measured, which directly relates to how long properties are on the market. A certain, larger amount of months indicates a buyers’ market, a smaller amount of months indicates a sellers’ market. “Ok, makes sense,” we are nodding along. Then he hits us with the bomb that they can barely even measure it in days anymore. Days.

Let me now refer you back to the title of this post: Welcome to Thunderdome.

I have to admit, though, this isn’t necessarily a foreign concept to Hubs and me. You might remember my discussion about what trying to find an apartment in New York City is like in this prior post on the blog. A small refresher – one apartment we saw on a Sunday afternoon had literally nothing in the kitchen and was gone by 10:00am the next morning. The apartment we eventually ended up living in for three years, the listing went up on a Thursday afternoon, we saw it right after work Thursday night, and moved on it that evening. The problem is, this situation is more than slightly different. While definitely not ideal, you can always move after your one-year lease is up if things go south on your apartment. Buying a home is a serious, life-changing investment. You might have noticed from my posts that Hubs and I are generally meticulous, cautious people when it comes to big decisions. At this point I knew this sellers’ market on steroids was going to result in a significant lost of sleep, hair, and sanity.

After discussing how crazy the market was, we discussed a few other things with Peter such as what we were looking for in a home (understanding that we’re never going to find the perfect house and, again, the market, we had a few must-haves, as well as a few negotiable preferences), what areas we were open to, price range, and what the process is generally in North Carolina when you think you’ve found “the one.” North Carolina, unfortunately, seems to stick it to the buyer in one area, which I’ve come to understand is not generally the norm in other states.

I think pretty much everyone buying a home knows you need to have it inspected first. This comes into play in part of the offer/contract process in North Carolina – a buyer needs to offer “due diligence” money to the seller in order to obtain a time period where the house comes off the market and the buyer can have their inspector check out the home. If, for some reason, a large and previously unknown defect is found by the inspector making the buyer want to back out of the contract, the buyer loses the diligence money to the seller.

Now, this wouldn’t be so terrible but for the fact that there is no standard amount of diligence money, and with this insane sellers’ market, these chunks of cash can get pretty hefty. I’m talking $2,000 is relatively standard. This is because diligence money, as well as the time period requested to keep the contract open, becomes a vehicle that can make one buyer’s offer more appealing than another’s. A seller wants to sell, so who’s going to end up offering the most amount of diligence money and the shortest diligence period? At least, thankfully, if your inspector gives you the green light on your house, the money goes toward the purchase price, but the idea that you could lose $2,000+ is terribly nerve-racking.

Ugh, as I’m sure you can imagine, leaving this meeting I felt pretty weighed down with the stress of how much of a whirlwind this process was going to be. I reassured myself it would all be worth it in the end. Even though the process was crazy, things don’t appear to be slowing down in the Triangle anytime in the near future. We just needed to dig in and get this done now. And so, over the next few weekends, we worked with Peter to go see some homes, which was a whole other adventure.

Having grown up in the South, one thing I could really just never totally get on board with while living in New York was the cultural differences in how people interact, even though there was a slight reacclimation period when we moved to North Carolina. While New Yorkers are in your face, Southerners employ a different method. When you need to remain genteel on the surface, but want to stick it to someone, passive aggression is your vehicle of choice. (See Exhibit A, “Aw, bless your heart.”) It’s confrontation without overt confrontation, whereas New Yorkers have no qualms about telling you like it is straight up. (Or taking overt actions to make your life hell like blocking you into your parking space with their giant Ford Excursion SUV to the point where you can’t even open the door to get out of your car. Not that that happened to me in New York or anything…..) 

Hunting for houses in this market did not disappoint when it came to being able to see Southerners’ passive aggression on full display. As you can imagine, we were not the only ones checking out the prospective homes during our “private” showings with Peter. We tried to be respectful of other people’s showings – if they were currently in the house, we’d check out the back yard – but I can’t say we received the same courtesy, often meeting a, “Well, I have a scheduled showing as well” in a sufficiently passive aggressive tone. At one point, Hubs joked that we should park in the driveway of the house we were viewing to “assert dominance.” The more homes we visited, the more I think some people might have seriously taken on that tactic.

After a few weekends of wading through homes and throngs of other prospective buyers, we finally found one we thought could be “the one.” Peter indicated to us that frequently how things will go is that showings will occur on the weekend, the seller’s agent will collect all offers on Sunday, and a decision will be made shortly thereafter. With so many prospective buyers, this makes sense – why would a seller go with the first offer when it is almost a given you will be receiving and will have the pick of multiple competitive offers? Peter also recommended we go back to the house for a second look to ensure we really wanted to move forward on this one. This also made sense to us because when we initially viewed the house, it was one of 5 or 6 we saw over the course of an entire afternoon and the houses were really starting to blend together by the end of the day. This extra showing would also give us the opportunity to go through the rooms with much more of an eye for detail. 

If you are getting the vibe that I’m lulling you into a false sense of security here by noting multiple times that our actions “made sense,” your feelings would be accurate. As we were walking out of the house from our second showing, ready to head to Peter’s office and draft up our offer, another group was coming in and mentioned to us that the house had just become contingent as they had been driving over from another viewing. Peter had literally spoken with the seller’s agent an hour or so earlier, who confirmed we could go for the second showing, so we wondered if this was some tactic from this other realtor to decrease our interest in the house. Unfortunately, Peter did confirm with the seller’s agent when we got outside that the house was now off the market. “Well, I did email and text you.” (I now introduce Exhibit B for passive aggression.) The email was from 15 minutes after she had confirmed our second showing. A phone call would have been nice, I’m just saying.  

Anyway, you ever seen those Realtor.com commercials with Elizabeth Banks? The ones with the crazy “Not-Yous”? Yeah, we had just become the “Not-Yous” (sans muffin stealing and crashing someone’s house-warming pool party). 

Needless to say, this was disheartening. However, with that last thought, I think this post is getting a bit long, so I’m going to leave you with a cliff-hanger. O Tenenbaum house hunt: to be continued. 

 

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