How We Survived the First Month

Woah. Ever feel like you’ve been in a whirlwind of life and then emerge from the other side with your hair blown in all sorts of directions, mind spinning, and body exhausted? That’s been us these last few weeks. You’ll have to forgive me for the light posting schedule, but hopefully when the dust settles, we’ll be back to our usual routine here on the blog. :)

We’ve been living in the new house for about a month and a half now and I can honestly say… it’s been an adventure. Parts of it have been great, others have been really hard (something I’d like to think through a little more and then I’ll probably put my thoughts into a post). But we’ve made it through the move and I thought it would be fun to let you know how we’ve survived our first month here.

With the last house, there was something in me that thought that everything needed to be painted, cleaned, and “put together” before we moved in. Hah! Little did I know how much of a process it is to turn a house into a home. After all, it took almost three years to get our house looking like it did when we left it! Learning that lesson with the first house has definitely helped shape a more realistic perspective with this one.

New House 1

We went into our first month in the new house with quite a different strategy. Rather than start a huge to-do list of all of the projects that we needed to get done and dreamed of someday doing, we limited ourselves to accomplish a few things:

  1. Make the kitchen workable.
  2. Make our bedroom livable.
  3. Check off a 3-5 item to-do list every week.

And that, my friends, is how we didn’t go crazy the first month living in this house.

As soon as we moved in, we unpacked the kitchen and got it into working order to limit the “which box are the spatulas in, again?” situations. And the all too tempting scenarios of “this kitchen is just too messy to cook in, let’s order out”. Getting the kitchen together right away really helped make the house feel more like home right off the bat.

The other saving grace (at least mentally) was painting and arranging our bedroom. I won’t spoil the surprise because that’s coming soon in another post, but the bedroom is no longer white and most of the furniture is moved in. Oh, and getting the clothes unpacked and organized in the closet was a major priority. There was just something about walking into a closet with trash bags full of clothes all over the floor that pushed my stress levels through the roof. So we whipped that closet into shape and it made a huge difference!

Having a place to eat and a place to sleep that felt at least a little “finished” was really helpful in making that first month bearable. The other big ticket item for us was carefully monitoring our to-do list to make sure it contained only things that were necessary and would make our lives a little bit easier from week to week. One of the things we held ourselves to was not letting the list grow beyond 3-5 action items. This made it so that by the end of the week, we were able to accomplish pretty much each item we had set out to do, as opposed to having a list that went on and on and just made us feel defeated.

Some of the items on our list for those first few weeks were buying a lawnmower (we have grass to mow now!)…

Our New Lawnmower

caulking one of the showers so we could shower (the other is in need of more repairs)…

buying a new hot water heater…

Buying a Hot Water Heater

painting the front door the color we wanted so we could then change the locks (stay tuned to see which color we chose!)…

Front Door Color Options

and getting basic things like internet, TV, electricity, water, etc. set up so the house felt more like home.

Breaking such a big job down into smaller parts really helped us to survive the first month and I can’t wait to show you some of the things we’ve tackled so far… namely painting the entire living space! Oh, and even before that… we vlogged our way through the entire moving process, so as soon as I’ve got that video edited, we’ll be showing you that too. Exciting stuff!

Thanks for sticking with us and being patient as we transition into this new chapter… until next time, have a great rest of your day!

Selling Our House FSBO (For Sale By Owner)

Psst. There’s a new video up on our YouTube channel today honoring Mitch’s 26th Birthday! Click HERE to see it!

Guys. This post is WORDY. Just to let you know. :)

Over the course of the last month, as the news of our move has come out, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about how we sold our house and what the whole process was like. So today, you get the story! Let’s start with the beginning…

We Bought a House!

We bought our first house in June of 2013 and lived there until March of 2016… almost three years! We always knew that our first love would be a stepping stone for us. It was the equivalent of our “first apartment” together, but we bought it so that we could get some equity in the game for when it came time for step two. With buying the first house, we used a realtor and had a wonderful experience. Our realtor’s name is Kay and if you are in the Philadelphia area and looking for a realtor, EMAIL ME and I will definitely send you her info. She’s a rockstar.

Of course, when we made the decision back in October that we were ready to move again, the first person we called was Kay. Just a heads up- when you begin working with a realtor, don’t expect your first meeting to be them showing you listings. I know it’s exciting and all you want to do is start looking at houses right away, but the first meeting will be going over your finances, goals, etc. Hang in there, the house hunting will come! Kay came over to our house and showed us some of the financial break-down: what other houses in our neighborhood were selling for, what our budget for purchasing was, what a reasonable monthly payment would be, etc. Over the next month or so, we went looking at properties with her and saw a whole slew of possibilities, but nothing that made us want to whip out the checkbook and stake our claim right on the spot. :)

Our House

Fast forward to the very beginning of November… my parents were driving around after church, just to see if they could find any properties to swing by. They passed a faded, hand-lettered FOR SALE sign on the side of the road, followed it into the development, and that ended up being the house we bought! The thing is, the house was definitely at the top of our budget (something we were willing to do for the square footage, the land it came with, and the school district). So much so that we had to get a little crafty with finding some extra cash to make it happen. Enter the For Sale By Owner (or FSBO) route.

Now, let me start by saying… we sold our house AND bought the new house on our own with no help from realtors because we needed to save the money that would have otherwise gone to paying commission in order to purchase the new house. I will say this: we managed okay and it worked out fine in the end, but it was by no means easy. We love our realtor and had always said that if we tried FSBO for some time and it didn’t work out, we would go back to her in a heartbeat. This decision was purely financial. Looking back, if we could do it over, we’d do FSBO again, but it is definitely not for everyone. If you’re thinking about, just understand that essentially you will be taking on the role of the seller AND the agent- not impossible, but not a walk in the park either. :)

That being said, if you’re into DIY and figuring out how to do things on your own, here’s how we went about it…

Selling Our House For Sale By Owner (FSBO)

First of all, you’ve got to start at the beginning and that means setting some goals and priorities… check out our last post about finding the right house to buy. Once you start that process, it’s time to think about selling your own house.

LISTING: To list our house, we went through an online company who listed our house on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service), which then feeds into the smaller databases such as Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, etc. Word to the wise- you absolutely need to get your listing on the MLS! This is what all of the realtors use to find properties for their clients.

WORK WITH REALTORS: I know, I know… this post is all about how we did all of this without a realtor BUT you can’t completely write them out of the equation! In a sale, the seller is responsible for paying the commission of both their own realtor AND the buyer’s realtor. The standard percentage of commission (at least for us) is 2.5% of the sale price. When you list your house, you’ll have the opportunity to write in the percent you are willing to pay the buyer’s agent in commission. As the realtors are the ones who will bring their clients to see your house (or not!), it’s a really good idea to work with them and agree to pay them commission! Think of it this way… why, as a realtor, would you spend time bringing your client to a property that you know you’re not going to be able to make any income off of? So, bottom line, make sure you offer commission- it’ll be what gets realtors to bring their clients in the door! Even though you’ll be paying the buyer’s agent commission, you’ll still be saving the percentage that you would have paid an agent for your side of the equation.

MAKE A FLIER: We made a good-quality flier with plenty of pictures and some of the basics of the house that we had available for anyone who came to see the house. We also posted them in local stores, but don’t really think that helped us at all… our prospects came almost exclusively from the MLS listing. However, a flier for prospective buyers to take home with them after they visit is a MUST because you are giving them something to remember your property with, take notes on, and look back on pictures of the house.

Flier (Front)Flier (Back)SHOWING THE HOUSE: It’s up to you how you handle the showings. You can do the lock-box option, which provides more flexibility for people to come and see the property at any time of the day. We opted to have people contact us directly (I had my cell phone number on the listing for people to call) and set up an appointment to see the house. That way, we could make sure we were home, clean and prepare the house beforehand, and make in-person contact with potential buyers (which is a very important step in the sales process!).

*Stay tuned for a post coming SOON about the process we used to show the house, plus some tips and tricks we employed that ended up helping us get full asking price!

BASIC FORMS: Ok, so you’ve listed the house, made your flier, have been showing the house, and now have an interested buyer! Congrats! The next step- and the way to make things official- is to get some paperwork going and a deposit paid. The two basic forms you’ll absolutely need for this are the following:

  1. Seller’s Disclosure: If a buyer is interested in the house, their realtor will ask you for this. Essentially, it’s a document that you fill out with ALL of the details about the property… you’ll need to disclose the ins and outs of the house. When certain things were updated, the age of the heating and AC systems, when they were last maintained, what type of water do you have, etc.
  2. Agreement of Sale: This is the document that the buyer will provide, stating that they want to purchase the house and all of the terms (how much the deposit will be, the price of the house, commission %, any Sellers Assist if they are going to ask for it, and anything they want included in the sale). Once both parties sign this document and the deposit is paid, you are technically UNDER CONTRACT and working on the steps toward closing on the property.

These two forms, we found on an online resource called PDFfiller… we bought a month’s membership and used their pre-made (and official!) forms that could be filled out and e-signed online.

INSPECTION AND APPRAISAL: The inspection is something that the buyer pays for… it is a professional inspection of the property to make sure that things are up to code. If there are issues, these are often used as bargaining chips or may be required to be fixed before closing. The appraisal (also paid for by the buyer) is the process of determining the value of the house- something that your lender will require before they will front you the money to purchase it!

FINDING A LENDER: Speaking of, one of the most important things we did was find a lender. The lender is the company that is going to approve you for the loan (if you’ll need a loan to purchase the property). My tip for finding the right lender is to shop around and get a few options before deciding. They will all have different rates and you want to find the right one for you. At this point in the process, you’ll be able to turn over most of the reigns to your lender- they will make sure all of the paperwork is in place for closing and will be able to offer you options for Appraisal and Title companies to use.

And that’s the basic, stripped down version of how we sold and bought our houses by ourselves! Again, the moral of the story is that it is do-able and should not be written off, especially if you need a little extra cash. BUT, be prepared… it’s a lot of work! Just remember, you’ll be doing the entire job of someone who does this for… well, their job! Best of luck to anyone out there going the FSBO route. Hope this was helpful!

PS. Don’t forget!!! Yesterday was Mitch’s 26th Birthday! We’re celebrating over on our YouTube channel (click HERE to see the video) with a fun Birthday Cake Challenge… oh, and while you’re there… SUBSCRIBE! That way, you’ll never miss a video (we post things every week there that are not shown here on the blog).

Happy Weekend, everybody! :)

Birthday Cake


How to Find the RIGHT House

Our house-hunting process started back in October 2015 and while it was, by no means, a totally smooth road from start to finish, we definitely feel like we hit the jackpot with the house we ended up with. We’ve got a major crush on our new digs and feel like God brought us to the exact right place to call home. Plus, we learned a lot along the way! Like how to sell your house by yourself (without a real estate agent). And how to show your home to potential buyers. And what the heck to do when it comes to negotiating for the best deals.

All of those posts are coming your way in the next few weeks, but TODAY we’re talking all about the steps we took to find the right house and the tips we would give to anyone looking to buy a new house themselves. Let me start by saying that the original title of this post was going to be “How to Find Your Dream House”. But then I thought about it. And dream houses are rarely attainable, realistic, or the best financial purchases. I really believe that if you start with the right house, it can definitely become your dream house with a little hard work. Something that we’ve learned after buying two houses is that there is rarely a house that has it all. Every single last “wish list” item. So to hunt far and wide for the perfect dream house might be for naught, whereas the search for the right house can be so rewarding when you find it. So let’s get to it!

How to Find the Right House

Tip #1: Know Your Budget. Trust me when I say, it’s a really REALLY bad idea to get on Zillow or Trulia and go “dream house” shopping without first having the “money talk”. It’s like going wedding dress shopping and falling head over heels in love with one before even thinking about how much you have to spend. Sure, you might love it, but the price tag might induce serious sticker shock if you’re not thinking about the cost side of things. And worse, we all know that it’s not the hardest thing in the world to convince ourselves and make excuses for why something is a good idea, all the while walking straight into what could be a terrible financial mistake. So, bottom line… KNOW YOUR BUDGET before you start shopping!

How do you do this? Start at the end and work backward. It all comes down to what leaves your pocket on a monthly basis. What you can afford to shell out every month for a house payment. We could talk all day about how to make a monthly budget and what Mitch and I have found that works best for us, but that’s a completely different post. If a post like that interests you, though, let me know in the comments below and maybe we can get it in the line-up soon! The basics are this: figure out how much income you bring in each month and make a list of everything you spend your money on in a month. This will give you a better idea of how much you can realistically afford to put toward a mortgage payment.

Once you have an understanding of how much you can afford per month, now it’s time to translate that into house prices. My advice is to spend some time playing around with an amortization calculator (here is a link to a free online one). Amortization is essentially the process of paying off debt in regular installments (ex. a monthly payment) over a set period of time. An amortization calculator is a tool you can use to plug in a series of numbers and it will spit out a monthly payment amount, depending on the numbers you plug in. It will ask you the loan amount (for simplicity’s sake, just plug in the cost of a house you find on Zillow), the interest rate (just do a quick Google search to see where the general interest rate currently is), the length of time you’ll be paying off the loan (the standard for a mortgage is usually 30 years), and the zip code of where you’ll be looking. Once you get all of that plugged in, the calculator will give you a guesstimate of your monthly payment based on that specific scenario. After tweaking things around and you find a monthly payment that will work for your budget, that will tell you the general pricing of houses to start your search with.

As we looked through listing after listing, the cost was our biggest priority. If it was out of budget, it was out of the running. We didn’t want to get into a situation where we fell in love with something that would get us into a dangerous financial situation.

Tip #2: Think About Your Goals. What is the purpose for your move? What are you trying to accomplish by buying a house? These are good questions to think about before you start looking because I’m telling you right now, the house-buying process is not easy. It’s long, involves a lot of paperwork, and anything can happen along the way. When you get mid-way through the process and are ready to pull your hair out, having the goals you set out beforehand will help to keep you in the game when the going gets rough.

Front Porch

Our goals were pretty simple… with our first house, we wanted the equivalent of an apartment without shelling out the money for rent. Something to start us off that we could earn some equity on. Skipping the renting step all together was a huge game changer in our finances and that was our main goal with House #1. For our second house, our goals were a little bit different. Still simple… we wanted a little more space, a little more storage, a little more land, and to be close to our families. That’s really it. :)

Tip #3: Make A List. I have a list saved in the “Notes” on my phone that Mitch and I made way back in the beginning of our search process. We made two lists regarding our future house: one list of things we “needed”, another of things that would be additional perks, but not necessary. This is important because throughout your search, you are going to see A LOT of houses with A LOT of features and it important to think through which are a high priority for you and which are not ahead of time. It’s easy to get swept up in what a house has to offer when you initially walk through it. Stay focused and remember your list. What can you live with out or add yourself later (that could potentially save you big bucks on the actual sale) and what things are non-negotiable (that you may forget about in the excitement of a double kitchen sink)? :) See where I’m going here?

Just for fun, here were our two lists…

House Must-Have List

Tip #4: Decide Your Priorities. These are different than your goals from Tip #2. Goals are the reason for buying a house, priorities are the road map for buying a house. To do this, take that wish list you just made and choose a few that will drive your search. For example, a few of our major priorities were proximity to our families, not on a main road, number of bedrooms, and some sort of outdoor space. Everything else we focused on later. Just remember, not everything can be a priority! Your priorities will help you quickly weed out the properties that are non-contenders.

Buying a House

When we were looking, any listing we came across, we looked at three main things first and foremost and if the house didn’t have one of those three, we kept moving and didn’t even consider it. Those three things were:

  1. COST- First and foremost. If it was out of budget, we didn’t even bother because why get attached to something that is unrealistic or could get you into financial trouble down the road?
  2. BEDROOMS- Did it have the amount of bedrooms (and to some degree, baths) that we were looking for? Yes, additions are possible, but that is something that would have to be waaaaayyyy down the road, so we wanted to make sure that the house we chose at least had a footprint that would be functional for us right away.
  3. LOCATION- Was it in the area we were looking for? Was it next to any major highways or roads (a big turn-off for us)? You can change a lot of things about a house. Location is not one of them.

A word to the wise… for the most part, your priorities should be things that are impossible to add or take away yourself from the house. For example, a dishwasher can be installed with a little bit of saving and maybe some re-working of the kitchen layout. On the other hand, if the house does not have a backyard, it will never have a backyard. Some things you can’t DIY… location, lot size, and school district. Just keep that in mind as you decide what is paramount and what can flex!

Tip #5: Use A Map! Thank GOODNESS we did this because otherwise, we might have ended up in a place that was not at all in line with our goals and priorities. When we first started, we had heard of a cute little up-and-coming town that was only about 45 minutes from all of our families. For awhile, we were focused on that as our primary search area. That is, until we pulled out a map and went back to the goals we had set out before, realizing that “somewhere 45 minutes” from our families was pretty much what we had before! The whole point was to move closer, so we took a good long look at the map to see exactly what towns would fit the bill. Chances are, you’ll find pockets of neighborhoods and properties that you did not even think were possibilities… no matter how well you know the area!

Spare Bedroom Map

Tip #6: Go For A Drive! While sites like Zillow and Trulia are great, it can’t hurt to jump in the car and take a drive around the town you’re hoping to buy a house in. For one, it gives you an idea of the area and you can get a handle on which neighborhoods you like and which are not really your style. Also, you just never know… you might find a hidden gem! Our house was listed on ZERO websites… it was just a faded For Sale sign that my parents happened to drive past as they were out looking one Sunday. They followed the sign, knocked on the door to get some more information, and the rest is history! If you don’t live close enough to drive out yourself (this was us), try and recruit a local friend or family member to take a spin around town for you.

Tip #6: Buy Beneath Your Means. You will probably be approved for a loan that is way more than you’ll need for the right house for you. That’s just the way it goes a lot of the time. And guess what? Your mortgage company will probably encourage you to shop according to what you’ve been approved for. HOWEVER, keep in mind that whatever the loan amount, is what you eventually have to PAY! This takes us back to Tip #1 of knowing your budget and what you can realistically afford to pay per month. Just because you are approved for a loan of a certain amount does NOT mean that you need (or should!) buy a house for that amount. Make sure the property you are buying aligns with your monthly available income, not necessarily the loan you qualify for.

Our New Lawnmower

Buying beneath your means is a good general-life practice. If you max out your budget, there will be very little wiggle room when it’s time to shell out the cash needed for random life pop-ups. For example, right out of the gate, we’ve had to purchase a lawn mower (a backyard comes with grass, apparently!) and a new hot water heater. If your budget is totally used up on the purchase of the house, this could be a dangerous financial game to play if you were to need emergency funds in a pinch.

Tip #6: Look For the Potential. We all know that Mitch and I are big fans of a house that needs a little TLC. It helps us stay in budget when house-shopping and snag opportunities to get more bang for our buck. If you’re willing to use a little imagination throughout your search, you’ll be more apt to find the diamond in the rough that just needs a little fixing up before it shines again. As you tour houses, keep an open mind. Most things can be changed and updated. We already talked about the things that are pretty permanent, but stuff like flooring, wall color, and even the house layout can always be changed. Being able to see past the not-so-great, straight to the potential is a beneficial skill to hone as you look at properties. It might end up helping you grab a great deal with most of what is (or can be) on your “wish list”! After all, our house was no pristine beauty (it was marketed to us as a fixer upper, so I don’t feel bad saying that on the blog) and we have all of the confidence that, eventually, it will be the dream house we have in our mind!

And THAT, my friends, wraps us up for the day! Wow, can you say wordy?! :) As I said, we’ve learned a lot from this process- both through what we’ve done well and what we’ve totally screwed up along the way. It makes my heart happy to think that some of the lessons we’ve learned could help the next home-buyer! SO, if you have any tips to add to the list, comment below so we can all benefit from the good advice! And until next time, have a great evening everyone. :)

PS. Want to Pin this post to look back on later? Here’s a helpful graphic you can use!

How to Find the Right House

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