Getting to the Homestead – Part I: Buying the Home


morning ice

I woke up today to a frosty February morning. Snow fell two days ago, but the birds have started to sing again at the edge the forrest. The gardens are still brown and sleeping, and it’s hard to believe things will be green in a matter of weeks. Soon, we will have been in our home for a year.

My husband and I moved into our reproduction colonial home last May. So far, our house and property have been a joy. It took us a year of rigorous searching, negotiating and crash-course learning to find and close on our perfect home. It’s everything we wanted, but not at all what we set out looking for.

Prior to actually viewing any homes, my husband and I had researched a fair amount about mortgages, land, agricultural zoning, and school districts, but nothing we’d looked into really prepared us for the emotional rollercoaster that we experienced. Although I am not an expert, I hope that my writing this might provide a little learned-wisdom to others.

There are four tips we wish we had been given before we started –

  1. Curb the Love
  2. Get a Team
  3. Keep it Real
  4. Negotiate

 The First Tip – Try not to fall in love with anything

You should like a home enough to buy it, but try not to fall in love with anything.

While not everyone will have the same experience or a bad experience, I recommend you try to be emotionally prepared for the weird and crazy things that might happen. If not, you could find yourself knee deep in passionate commitment to an 1800’s farmhouse house while ankle deep in rotting floor boards and ducking for cover from a collapsing roof because of a carpenter ant infestation that the Sellers did not disclose prior to the expensive inspection process (that was the second home we looked at).

The first home we viewed was built in the early 1700’s and sat along the historic Main Street of downtown Wickford, Rhode Island. From the back gardens, there was a view of the water, where sailboats glided by. The front office had large windows that overlooked brick sidewalks and the other historic homes, which had been beautifully maintained. To make it even more enticing, the home was also listed at the lowest end of our budget. Everything about this house was great, except that the windows were cracking, the roof was caving, the chimney was tilting, the septic setup was so old that it wasn’t to code and there was a hill of buckled floorboards in one of the upstairs bedrooms that had a peak reaching about 2.5 feet tall. The house was beautiful and it was falling down.

It was at this point of the house-hunting adventure, after I had spent a good half hour prancing around the property remarking at how “charming” it was and how it “just needed love,” as the Seller’s agent repeatedly warned to, “watch your step!” and “Please try not to stomp!” that my husband decided to have the talk with me – Although we had been pre-approved for a mortgage, that wasn’t enough. It was time to get a real estate agent to give us some guidance.

The Second Tip – Get a good team

This team usually looks similar to the triad of –

  • Realtor
  • Mortgage broker (if you need a mortgage and depending on your preference)
  • Real estate attorney

Fun anecdote – Once, a person I worked for paid for me to be part of a local “networking group,” which was very likely a pyramid scheme, and there was a 1-2-3 → realtor, mortgage lender and attorney trio who had clustered up and decided to call themselves “the holy trinity.” It made me want to barf and that might be part of the reason I waited so long to contract with a real estate agent. Immature, I know, especially because our real estate agent ended up being wonderful and necessary.

Although my husband and I found most of the homes ourselves, our real estate agent accompanied us during every viewing and offered us guidance and negotiation strategies that even we, two accomplished negotiators, greatly appreciated. It was encouraging to have a group of professionals to go to with questions regarding the aspects of real estate transactions, taxes and the like that we were not familiar with. Even though we were skeptical to start, we are glad we had a group of people in place to deal with the more unsavory situations that often come up during real estate transactions.

The Third Tip – Be Realistic

The third tip I’ll give is to be realistic about –

  • Your budget
  • Your skill level
  • Your needs
  • Your wants
  • Your time

My husband and I had some experience with building, roofing and shopping for really cool and overpriced antiques, but we had no idea about masonry, electrical work or plumbing. That meant that when we were under contract for the third historic property we had looked at, which had – knob and tube wiring throughout the entire home, asbestos wrapped pipes in the stone basement/all over the basement floor, broken windows and all the charm in the world, we were confident that things would be okay, if we had some help. Our home renovation loan was supposed to cover the $73,000 worth of updates that we needed to make in order for the home to be livable and insurable, and we were ready to take on the other beautification processes.

Unfortunately for us, while our real estate agent was top notch and our attorney was great, our first mortgage lender was neither. Our Christmastime closing came to a screeching halt when our lender’s underwriting department informed us that although we had been issued a promissory note, we could never qualify for the type of loan we had been urged by the lender to apply for. At first we thought this meant that the eight months we had spent looking at homes that needed major renovations had been a waste. In actuality, we learned a ton from the experiences we’d had, and that helped us get to the home that we finally closed on – the reproduction colonial.

We had viewed our current home three different times during a six month period, but had reasoned we should not buy it because it was at the top of our budget. We were stuck on the idea of “investing” in a historic home and bringing it back to its former glory because we thought it would be more economical and “fun.” Without the option of a renovation loan, this was no longer the case.

Without the loan, we would not be able to make all of the necessary updates up front. That would mean we would be renovating over a period of many years. Additionally, with all of our time spent renovating, we would not have time for any of the other things that we had planned. After a few glasses of wine, a bag of chocolate chips and some late night french fries from the pub up the street, we finally came to terms with the fact that we would need to give up on the HGTV renovation dream. After some coffee and aspirin the next morning, we got back on the horse, and called our real estate agent to let her know we were ready for more.

The Fourth Tip – Don’t be afraid to Negotiate

The money is worth it if you are going to get what you want, and you’ll be surprised what happens if you just ask.

After deciding to go a more traditional route with the home-buying process, our real estate agent referred us to a reputable mortgage broker. A few days later, we went back to the reproduction colonial. The home had been on the market for many months by this point. The Seller’s agent explained that they were having trouble selling because of the amount of land that came with the home. Additionally, the home was a reproduction of a 1700’s farmhouse, not exactly what most families were looking to buy these days. This information led to something spectacular – a negotiation. We were able to negotiate with the Seller to get the home to a price that was more comfortable for us, and still good for them.

Another eight months have now gone by and we are coming up on month nine in our home. A lot can be learned in eight months and a lot can change. Things have not slowed down for us here. After all, buying the house and the land was just the first step. Now that we have our home, we are into part two of our homestead adventure – Starting the Farm.