Home & DIY

(Almost) Escrow | Our experience with buying our first home

The dream of buying our first home has always been a one step forward, two step back sort of process. Whenever we seem ready to take that step, something happens like a change of job, school loans, or a new baby (aka Samantha)! This year, though, has been nothing short of amazing. A good job for Micah and a booming photography business has taken care of the financial side of things and a tinier-by-the-day apartment has forced us to look into roomier accommodations to say the least.

Now, we are the farthest thing from city people and pretty much hate living in Anchorage. The traffic, the noise, the people walking by our windows at all hours of the night. We detest it and have wanted to move out to the Valley for years now. But the timing never seemed right. Our jobs, friends, family, and church are all here in Anchorage and we could never make our schedules work with the 45 minute commute (especially since Micah and I are working opposing shifts).

Since we will be needing something bigger within the next six months or so, we began looking at renting a three bedroom apartment in town. Instantly, that idea was shot down since 3 bedrooms of any size in a decent neighborhood are downright outrageous. So we started talking about buying something. Of course, anything decent was out of our price range, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

We talked about buying for a few weeks, but then the idea was placed on the back burner as we enjoyed the gorgeous summer and buying a house became just another faraway dream. Then, about three weeks ago, househunting came up in a random conversation with a friend and we started looking at condos here in town. On our way back from a church outing, we drove by a few in a neighborhood to see how we liked them and they gave us enough of a push to start talking about buying once again.

A few days later, while standing around after church, I filled out a loan application with our bank on my iPhone and sent it off and they called to schedule a meeting the next day. But then we got busy and I didn’t call them back until the following Monday (I really hate talking on the phone) and we went in that very afternoon to get pre-approved.

Turns out, it was a good thing we had gone in when we did. Interest rates are the lowest they will be for several years, and since we’ll be going off of 2012’s tax return, it means better programs and rates overall. If we had waited until next year and used 2013’s tax return, it would show a much higher income and would make us ineligible for the reduced interest and opt us out of one program entirely.

God and His timing, I tell ya.

On the way home from the bank, I contacted our buyer’s agent and sent over a few of the places we had seen on the website for showings. Apparently, we had to stay away from condos since they weren’t approved under our programs, and had to instead go with Zero Lot Line or Single Family Homes, not an easy thing to do in our price range in the city.

We were so excited Monday night that we could barely sleep. Or at least, I could barely sleep. Micah snored just fine. Tuesday morning we got the kids ready, loaded them in the car, and headed to the first address. Of course, we were a little too prepared, arriving fifteen minutes early. Apparently that was a slight breach off house showing etiquette since we watched the owner leave, which was more than a little awkward for both parties.

Once Quake (our awesome agent) arrived and we exchanged greetings, it was time to see the home. In all honesty, it was a depressing, albeit eye-opening, experience. The neighborhood was sketchy at best, the house was a duplex-style ZLL, with no garage, a tiny yard, and the nicest thing about the the inside was the wood floors in the living room and the kitchen cabinets (though not my style in the least!) and when Quake saw our faces, that realtor’s sixth sense of his kicked in and he began to work his magic. First, he asked out about our goals and plans. We told him about our jobs and lifestyle but most of all, how we really did not like the city and wanted to live in Palmer, but didn’t know how to make it work just yet. Maybe two years or so down the line we would finally get out there.

He smiled and told us that when we bought a house, we really needed to plan on living there for at least five years, or plan on shelling out a lot in multiple closing costs, and deal with the rising real estate prices. Then he went on to ask some general questions about our lifestyle and the complications keeping us from realizing our dream of a quiet country life. Turns out, a lot of the “complications” were either excuses or minor things that were fixed with a some schedule rearranging and a little compromise. Then he said those magic words, “I think you guys should just buy in the Valley.”

That was apparently all we needed: someone from the area who made the commute and knew the pros and cons of buying here and there and could just talk us through the muddled thoughts and ideas in our heads. Micah and I looked at each other and said, “Let’s do it. Let’s move to the valley.” From that point on, all the pieces started falling into place and suddenly everything made perfect sense. There was no more confusion, just absolute certainty that this is where God is leading us and that He is already preparing the way for us.

Quake promised to head straight to Starbucks and send us listings for the Palmer/Wasilla area and sure enough, I received an email from him before we even got back home. See, I told you he was awesome! We narrowed it down to two different properties, a 1995 cedar-sided home with a lovely yard, sunny rooms, and lots of character and a new construction with a family-oriented layout, bay window, and the kitchen of my dreams. With our favorites sent back to Quake, we anxiously waited for Friday to arrive for the showings.

Sure enough, Friday morning we got to the real estate office fifteen minutes early and sat in the car finishing our coffee while we tried to contain our excitement. People are right when they say that home shopping is the most fun part of the process, because it truly is! There is something so exhilarating about peeking into places and imagining your life in different houses and rooms, envisioning the memories, and planning where you’d hang the family pictures or put the bbq grill. Since most of the homes in the Valley are about three decades and newer, we were looking forward to seeing a much better selection than Anchorage had to offer.

First, we sat down in the conference room with Quake (in some of the most comfortable leather chairs our tushies have ever touched, I might add) to go over the paperwork and general process. If you are in Alaska and need to buy a home, The Kristan Cole Team is the only way to go! They think of everything (including toys in the conference room for tagalongs) and genuinely care about their clients and their goal to find the perfect home for their families. We’ve been nothing short of impressed by them.

In our price range and desired area, we narrowed the choices down to six and from those six, down to three that weren’t tied up in foreclosures or short sales. Since we need to wrap things up by the end of the year, we don’t have a very long window and wanted something move-in ready, which would also be easier to finance with our lender. Of the three choices, our two favorites were on the list, though we were leaning toward the wood home.

We got in our cars and followed Quake to the first address. For that one, we literally walked in the door, saw that there was frost damage that had not been disclosed, and walked back out. On to the next spot, our first favorite house.

house1 Pros:

Great curb appeal
Wood siding
Front Porch
Awesome Yard
Shed
Deck
Southern exposure for rear of the house

Really, this house we kind of fell in love with from the outside. In fact, Micah leaned over to me while we were standing on the deck and said “I really like this place!” and that’s a big deal for him. But then we went inside… While the home was had been well take care of and featured a lot of custom features, like archways and extra storage, and even an extra half bath, the kitchen was small and outdated, the washer and dryer were located just off the kitchen behind these bifold doors, which is a big no-sale for me, but it was the upstairs that really did us in. Talk about tiny. I’m not one for getting claustrophobic, but even I felt closed in when standing in the hallway. And the rooms were extra-small and as Micah put it, felt like they had squeezed three bedrooms where there should only have been two.

Micah was really leaning toward that home but I knew that I could not live in an upstairs like that, especially since my office would be upstairs and there was no room for the kids to run and play inside (and with our long winters, we needed space indoors)!

The last home we looked at was the other house that had caught our eye. It was at the very top of our price range, but featured a $15,000 loan forgiveness ($3,000/year for every year we live there) and $7,000 energy rebate for having Five Star Plus appliances, which made it $2,000 less than the above house and $10,000 less than the crappy/depressing ZLL we had seen in Anchorage.

house2

The moment I walked through the front door, I thought “this feels like home” and that feeling only got stronger as we walked through the house. From that lovely front room with the big bay window, to a huge open concept floor plan, which works perfect for our lifestyle, to everything on a single story so no stairs for me to fall down (which happens more than I care to admit) it was perfect.

Pros:
Ranch home
Open concept floorplan
Front room
Big back yard
Wide garage
Dedicated pantry
Amazing custom kitchen
Pantry
Big Laundry closet across from bedrooms
Five Star Plus Appliances (including a washer and dryer I kind of drooled over)
Good sized bedrooms

Here are some more shots of the house:

picture-uh=762571b87d729b653b0fb3e8bdf8e40-ps=2a414c77c19ac5735c49fb5e2d5b839 picture-uh=348bfe6824f67131f28ee56c1ad02e-ps=21df4b845ff8a3c132f466d04b6c4e92-1 picture-uh=1856737b2e2d7709a3d53c3fd48b947-ps=c5149d7aaf68abd36760e6639342fea picture-uh=3487f8659b015fd9fdf3f5159bf154-ps=293cbd6639451aa6a8301ad98951eb30 picture-uh=5422a3f0e45822eb16e074f852f855d8-ps=9fb04b4edfa0f487d421dc5b82e7244 picture-uh=224025c1e6197fbcad7d4c2f178150-ps=9fba715064e684395a99868acdd85d0 picture-uh=9d39a4ab95875aa98b96645e658fea29-ps=a6c9cbcb414ca798c48bd31c9e85d6d7
And to top it all off, the home is an accessible design, which means we’ll have to add some bathroom cabinets, but also means extra-wide doorways, roomy hallways, and huge bathrooms. The kids were running full-speed from the master bedroom to the living room and back again, laughing their heads off, and that’s when I turned to Micah and we said, “This is it.” I could see ourselves living here, making memories, getting our first puppy, grilling on the back deck, having birthday parties and Thanksgiving dinners. This was not just a house, it was a home waiting for a family.

We followed Quake straight back to the office and filled out all the paperwork right then and there. Apparently there had been over 30 other showings, but only three families had made it through approval with the developer but none had put in an offer yet, so there was not a moment to lose. Although it was 4pm on a Friday afternoon, Quake pushed through, got ahold of our lender and the developer, and put in our offer before the close of the day. Then it was just a matter of waiting until the next day for the final word.

That was one of the longest nights I’ve ever had and my email was checked no less than fifty or so times. Why I thought the email would come at 3am, I don’t know, but I checked, just to make sure. Saturday morning was overcast and rainy but I headed to the studio for sessions, all the while hoping and praying for good news. We were just wrapping up with our last clients when I got a voicemail from Quake saying to call him. The message was completely neutral and didn’t give away anything, so my heart was pitter-pattering when I called him back. “Congratulations on the house! They accepted your offer!” And that’s when I started smiling… and I didn’t stop until time for bed. In fact, I think I fell asleep still smiling.

Now, the house has been taken off the market and they’ve accepted our offer, but we still have one last bit of approval to get from one of our programs before we set a closing date, but we’ve put down our earnest money, thus the (almost) escrow. All in all, it’s amazing how fast things moved. Met with the lender on Monday, met with the realtor on Tuesday, saw houses on Friday and made an offer the same day, offer accepted on Saturday, and we’re hoping for a closing date within the next few weeks (but definitely before Christmas). It’s a little bit of a whirlwind, and yet it’s still not moving fast enough for this excited girl. Hopefully tomorrow’s start of the week will yield more good news and we’ll get the final approval needed to move forward. Until then, we will just continue to wait impatiently.

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