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House Hunting

by Meghann on April 22, 2014

Did I forget to mention we’re house hunting? Oh yeah. We are.  The truth is, it’s been a pretty slow process so far.

We “officially” decided we were ready to move back in December. Derek purchased our current place back when we were first dating and, truthfully, I’ve never thought of it as “ours.” It’s always been “his” place that I moved into three years ago and it’s no secret that I’ve been ready to find somewhere new since day one.

The townhouse/condo/attached home (I never really found the proper word to describe it) served its purpose while we lived here, but it’s time to move on. The simple fact is:

  1. We’re not a DIY couple. Our current place requires a lot of work and we just don’t have the energy/desire to make the improvements. One of the requirements for the new place is that it must be move-in ready. We’d like a flipped house after it’s already been flipped.
  2. We’ve outgrown the space. We’re pretty much bursting from the seams in our tiny two bedroom space and need more room. We’re not parents yet, but we are planning to have 2-3 kids in the near future and would like a four bedroom house to accommodate them.
  3. We’re done with our homeowner’s association. I won’t go into too much detail, but we are not happy with our current HOA and a recent special assessment was really the last straw. We’re looking exclusively at places with moderate HOA fees and involvement.  If there’s a gate or a community pool, we’re out.
  4. We need a yard. A REAL yard, with a fence, where I can let Maddie out and let her roam free. Or somewhere we can let future kids run around and let them burn off some energy.
  5. We need a bigger kitchen. Our current kitchen is tiny and cramped. The fact that the washer and dryer are both in there (yes, our washer and dryer are IN the kitchen) doesn’t help. You can’t open the dryer and the fridge at the same time, which has oddly become a big problem when I’m trying to cook and Derek’s doing laundry (yes, it’s a problem we’ve experienced enough to become frustrated over it).

I could probably go on and on, but the bottom line is that it’s time to move. We’ve been scrimping and saving the past couple of years and we’re finally at a place where we feel comfortable putting a decent down payment on a house that we can see ourselves in for the next 10 years.

Like I said above, house hunting has been a slow process and we’re okay taking our time. When we first decided we were ready to move, we truthfully had no idea where to start. Where should we live? What can we afford? How many rooms? What are we willing to budge and not budge on?

We want to stay in Tampa proper. It’s crazy how much cheaper (and bigger!) houses become when you start looking on the outskirts of town, but the idea of being so far from friends (and longer commutes) does not appeal to me. I’d rather invest a little more upfront, have a little bit smaller of a house, and stay in Tampa proper.

After reviewing our current finances with a fine tooth comb (and speaking with a financial advisor), we’ve finally reached a budget that we’re both comfortable with. Obviously, we’d always prefer to spend under budget, but I’m not going to buy a house just because “it’s so cheap.” Quality over quantity. We’ve also been preapproved on a mortgage within that budget.

We originally started looking at three bedroom houses, but after speaking to a family who were expecting their second child and in the process of selling because they had outgrown their current place, we decided to focus only on four bedroom properties.  We don’t want to move again in 3-4 years, we want to stay for at least 10-15 years ideally.

The more places we look at, the more we’re discovering what’s important and what’s not important to us. A large kitchen and master bathroom are huge priorities. We’ve also recently discovered that a large backyard is important. We found our dream house last Wednesday. Everything was perfect – perfect! – except the backyard. It was a beautiful backyard, but it wasn’t a great backyard for kids. We opted not to put an offer on the house because we couldn’t see ourselves settling on an impractical backyard, especially when a small backyard is one of the reasons why we’re leaving our current place.

I can’t guarantee we’ll find our dream house tomorrow, next week, or even next month, but we are definitely heading in the right direction.  It’s another first adventure for us as a married couple. I can’t wait to find us a place that’s “our” home and I’m just excited to taking the journey together.

Any advice for a first time house hunter?

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michelle @ A Healthy Mrs April 22, 2014 at 8:37 pm

Ooooh, so fun! We’re starting to think about moving out of our starter home, and I’m already excited! I hope you & Derek find the perfect place soon 🙂
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2 [email protected] April 22, 2014 at 8:57 pm
3 Becky @ Olives n Wine April 22, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Before we moved to Chicago, we owned in an association and by the end, we were SOOO fed up with the HOA. Ridiculous assessments and annoying neighbors abound in those things, haha! I am with you on not being a DIY-er either. My suggestion would be to pick the top 5 things you NEED in a house and then learn to be flexible with the rest. So, if a big kitchen and closets along with a fenced in yard are yours then make sure your place has those or you’ll regret it!
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4 Becky @ RunFunDone April 22, 2014 at 9:50 pm

We bought our first home less than a year ago. I would say: 1) Find a realtor who is super quick and responsive. 2) Look at as many places as you need to in order to feel comfortable with the market/comfortable in making an offer (we got better than our realtor at predicting what houses would sell at because we saw so many houses). 3) Don’t get emotionally attached to any house. Ever. 4. estately.com is updated way more frequently than zillow or trulia, so it’s much more reliable for looking at houses online.

Good luck! It’s an EXHAUSTING process!
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5 Stacy April 22, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Awww….we got married exactly 6 months after ya’ll and we are going through the process of building a house right now.

I’m a little concerned though—we’ll be in a subdivision with a community pool…what is problematic about it? Our HOA fees are only 40 per month, so I figured it was “worth it.” What are your experiences?
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6 Meghann April 24, 2014 at 3:53 am

It varies by HOA. Don’t let my personal problems scare you, $40 per month sounds like a great deal for HOA fees.

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7 Laura April 22, 2014 at 10:26 pm

We avoided any places with crazy HOA involvement when house hunting and ended up in a neighborhood with no HOA at all. I can’t image being told what you can and can’t do with your house. One house had an HOA that didn’t allow outdoor clotheslines.
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8 Rachel April 22, 2014 at 10:37 pm

How exciting! Have you listed your current place for sale?

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9 Linda April 22, 2014 at 10:39 pm

My advice would be BUILD! We built our first home and upon completion it was worth at least 25% more than what we paid. Four years later, we sold that house and moved into the big, beautiful family home with the huge garden and room to grow (and opportunity to develop / renovate to add value). It’s a huge investment and, while creating a “home” is first and foremost, you have to remember to choose an opportunity that will provide future growth.

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10 Sara @ LovingOnTheRun April 22, 2014 at 10:45 pm

That is so exciting! We are moving in June and while we are not buying a house we will be renting a home (We’ve been apartment livers up until now) and one of the MUST haves for me was some kind of yard for our dog. She just needs more freedom!
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11 Molly Rose April 22, 2014 at 11:02 pm

My husband and I are (kinda) in the same place as you guys! We are in a condo in Tampa and it is perfect for us right now. Probably next year we will start looking for something bigger/a house. In a non-rushed way like you two 🙂 We deff want to stay in Tampa too for our work but where!??!!? South Tampa, Carrollwood, and Lutz are where we go back and forth with. But who knows! Best of luck house hunting, its a chore, but it is good you are picky and know what you want!
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12 Erin April 23, 2014 at 3:45 pm

My dad lives in Lutz in a four bedroom house with a yard (that’s not currently fenced but could be) and has been talking about downsizing for awhile. If you’re seriously interested in maybe moving out there, let me know. Maybe you could convince them to finally take the plunge and sell their house!
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13 Christine @ BookishlyB April 22, 2014 at 11:05 pm

Be prepared for Mello Roos (if that’s a thing in Tampa… I don’t know)! For some reason here in Southern California the realtors were pretty hush hush about telling us about them upfront and I’d have to double check myself. One house we looked at had $5,000 worth a year! Almost double the property tax! Ugh.
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14 Meghann April 24, 2014 at 3:54 am

Looks like it’s only a California thing http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mello-Roos. You had me worried there!

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15 Emma April 25, 2014 at 9:00 am

It is also a thing in FL but is called a CDD. I’ve never heard of them being that much here though.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_Development_District

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16 Ida April 22, 2014 at 11:07 pm

No advice, sounds like you guys have a good approach going, but i love reading about the adventure of house hunting and hope you do more posts on this topic! good luck:)

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17 Jessica April 22, 2014 at 11:39 pm

Man, I have heard nothing but bad things about HOA’s and I live all the way across the country from you… so maybe its the same everywhere. 🙂 To me, the whole point of buying your own home instead of renting a house or apartment is that you don’t have to follow anyone’s potentially nit picky rules. My husband and I are juuuust getting started looking into buying soon so I am looking forward to following you along in the process. Thanks for sharing and good luck!

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18 Jojo @ RunFastEatLots April 22, 2014 at 11:47 pm

That’s exciting that you’re buying a house! Good luck in the search. It may take a while, but when you find the one, it’ll be worth it!
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19 Anne April 23, 2014 at 12:27 am

We bought our first house a year and a half ago. I just want to tell you to not be discouraged. We found what I thought was the perfect house, but my husband was hesitant because it was a foreclosure. We went away for the weekend, and it was gone by the time we got back (as expected). I was REALLY bummed. But then we found a house that just felt right, and we both knew it the first time we saw it.
Other than that, be sure to get a home inspection. Best of luck!!

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20 Homa April 23, 2014 at 1:08 am

Hire a plumber with a sewer camera to check the lateral line for any property. Inspectors don’t really check issues like pipes with roots or what have you that might turn a dream home into a money pit.
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21 Ryan April 23, 2014 at 7:47 am

You should check out St Pete. We live in the Euclid-St Paul neighborhood and it is great. No HOA, great houses (a lot that are post-flip) and it’s minutes from DTSP. It’s going to be really difficult to find any place in Hillsborough that isn’t HOA ruled to death.

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22 Nikole April 23, 2014 at 8:03 am

My only advice is to keep in mind that there is probably no perfect house but like a husband, find the one that has the important qualities you are looking for and the annoying things you can learn to live with 🙂
Think about stairs if you are going to have kids. We have a front to back split and now with two kids I hate it! Too many stairs! Another thing to watch if no HOA is if people park on the street. Our street is horrible with so many cars on it all the time. Drives my husband bonkers.

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23 Sarah @ Blonde Bostonian April 23, 2014 at 9:23 am

Loved house hunting when my boyfriend bought his condo. Like you, he bought it when we were dating and it honestly took a really long time after I moved in for the place to feel like mine too. We hate our HOA and our building’s management company (two different companies in our building) and I can’t wait to move to a house. Another couple of years and we’ll be there.
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24 Courtney April 23, 2014 at 10:29 am

We stopped and started looking a few times before we found our home. It is a hard process, but my only advice is to STAY AWAY from watching HGTV. Watching shows like Holmes on Homes about disaster stories and International House Hunters just made it harder to trust anything or remember what was actually important to us! Enjoy the process! Hopefully it is something you grow old in and never have to do again!
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25 Emily @ Relishments April 23, 2014 at 10:43 am

Be patient! My husband and I looked for our first house for over a year, finally settling and closing a year ago. Though we were pretty sure what town we wanted to live in, our dream house ended up being in the next town over. We’re so happy here and so glad we were flexible in our search. You’ll find the right place, it just takes time!
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26 Jess @ Flying on Jess Fuel April 23, 2014 at 12:00 pm

This sounds dumb, but one of things I wish we’d considered is which direction the house faces and where the sun rises/sets. Our backyard is to the West and pretty tree-free, which means the sun beats down on it in the evening. It’s too hot and uncomfortable to eat dinner out there for most of the summer, which really sucks. It’s something I never would have thought of our first time around, but I’ll definitely pay more attention next time around!
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27 Carly April 23, 2014 at 12:03 pm

I would interview multiple realtors, especially if you’re going to sell the condo as well as buy a new house. When we sold our house we interviewed three realtors and picked the one we felt understood our needs the best. Similar situation to yours, my wife inherited the house and I moved in, then we sold it and found a house together.

One thing that helped a lot was going to open houses even without our realtor, just to get a feel for what was out there. We even went to open houses where we knew the house wasn’t right for us, just so we could see why houses were priced where they were-it helped us grasp what was worth paying up for and what was overpriced.

I would also look at houses outside your area even if you’re dead set on certain neighborhoods. You never know what you might find, and if you can get 2x the house for the same cost and a slightly longer commute, that might end up being worthwhile long term. My commute is longer than it would have been if we bought by my office, but our house cost 1/2 of what it would have if we bought near where I work.
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28 Rachel W. Miller April 23, 2014 at 8:19 pm

Nothing insightful to add to this, I just wanted to say good luck! I actually loved house hunting (closing was another story) so hopefully since you aren’t in a rush you can enjoy it for what it is and you’ll end up with a place you love!!

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29 lilah April 23, 2014 at 9:35 pm

I bought my first house in 2012. It’s definitely an exciting time but also nerve-wracking.

My advice is to just take your time and look at a lot of houses, it will really give you a good idea of what you want, where you want to live. My husband and I came into the process wit a pretty clearly defined list of what we wanted/didn’t want but that list changed and evolved over time when we saw what was in our price range.

The other thing to consider (and maybe this is coming from someone who lives in a neighborhood of smaller hoems) is that maybe you don’t have *have* to have 4 bedrooms. I think often we buy things just to take up space in homes and the more space you have, the most stuff you buy.

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30 Mary April 24, 2014 at 1:57 am

We are currently in the process of buying our second house. The house we live in now I bought on my own before my boyfriend moved in and even though he’s been living here for three years now the house is still set up as ‘my house’ so it will be great to move into a house that we have chosen together and decorate ourselves the way we want it to be.
My top househunting tip would be set a list of ‘must haves’ for a house and stick to it, although you sound like you’ve pretty much done that already.
Also, look at lots of houses, and when you think you’ve found somewhere you like, drive by at different times in the day to see how busy the street is/if the area was tidied up just for your arrival/etc. If you can chat to any neighbours beforehand that’s another good idea so you can get a feel for the community.
Good luck with the hunt! 🙂
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31 Runner Girl Eats April 24, 2014 at 6:16 am

Good luck! We loovee our current house…but the neighborhood isn’t the best for when we have school age kids. Luckily that is a few years away so hopefully we will find something that fits our budget/needs by then.
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32 Paige April 24, 2014 at 10:04 am

It is such a good idea to know exactly what you want when you start looking–and most importantly not to “settle.” I really enjoy house hunting–It’s an exciting journey. I can’t wait to see where it leads you and Derek! 🙂
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33 Amanda S. April 24, 2014 at 10:23 am

Advice….Get a Home Inspection! Enjoy the search. We moved into our first home just over a year ago and I love it. Also, don’t stress. I have read so many stories of people finding this process so stressful and for me it wasn’t. I had just moved cross country 6 months prior and only 5 months before that gotten married. Throw in a few more incredibly stressful things and I should have been incredibly stressed, but I looked at it as an adventure and it was. Good call on the 4 bedrooms. We have 4, could probably live with 3, but the extra space is sure nice. Have fun & Good luck!

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34 Laura April 24, 2014 at 12:47 pm

So exciting! We have 4 bedrooms and only 1 baby right now and I am SO happy we have 4. Our room, baby’s room, guest room and office for now. But when we have another, we will still have a guest room- which is huge for family that comes to visit.
Our experience with an HOA has been pretty positive. One thing to think about, the neighborhood across the street from us without an HOA has RV’s and boat’s parked in people’s driveways and in the street for months at a time. Some yards look kind of crappy and things are not kept up as well. Yes, our HOA sends us a letter when our yard gets a little brown, but at least our neighborhood looks nice and all the common areas are kept up very nicely- also a good thing for resale value. Just something to think about!!! Good luck!!

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35 [email protected] April 24, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Its like buying a wedding dress. Youll know the perfect spot when you find it!
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36 Ashley April 24, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Good luck! We bought our first house a year ago and it was a LOOONG process. We looked for over 6 months before finding one, but it was totally worth the wait.
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37 Chelsea @ Designs on Dinner April 25, 2014 at 9:30 am

I have no advice, as my husband and I are still renting, but house hunting is an exciting (if somewhat stressful) process. Good luck!
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38 melissa @fitnessnycblog April 26, 2014 at 2:03 pm

So many exciting things in your future–house+kids! Yay! I watch hgtv obsessively, and yet I can offer no advice on the actually house buying process. But I’m excited for you and I’m sure I’ll learn a few things from your hunt!
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39 Heather April 29, 2014 at 6:57 pm

My husband and I may be moving to Tampa for a new job (if all goes well!) and I am just curious about your thoughts on areas to live? I have no idea, honestly. My husband would be working in Tampa and I’d be in St. Pete. Would love to hear any insight you have as neither of us are familiar with the area (apart from a quick weekend trip years ago).

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40 Kelly May 2, 2014 at 12:30 pm

I commented on your other post as well since I love talking about housing. 🙂

My advice:

1. Get a good realtor you trust and who is experienced. When I first started looking I used a realtor through Redfin because I liked the idea of getting a commission kick back. It was bad idea. There were mistakes made with both of the contracts I did with that realtor. I ended up getting a different realtor who was on the ball and it was a much better experience. Because of him I was able to find out about a home before it even hit the market and he was a pro at negotiating.

2. In the beginning, I found it helpful to look at a wide range of homes. It helped me to get my bearings and to confirm that my priorities were really my priorities.

3. Be prepared that you may not get everything and anything you want, no matter how long you look or up your budget so staying focused on the true priorities is important.

4. Be prepared that finding the home you love is just stage one in the journey. Things do sometimes fall apart when it comes time to negotiate a contract or you get the inspection. I always worried I’d never find a house I loved as much as the one I initially put in a contract on, but I did.
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41 Kelly May 2, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Of course I wrote a long comment and then thought of more I wanted to say. 🙂 I wanted to add that I think no matter what shape your house is in when you buy it, it is hard to avoid some DIY work down the line (especially if you want to stay 10-15 years). Seems to be just part of home ownership because things do have a tendency to break, fail, etc. with use. And I would also add that buying brand new doesn’t excuse you from these kinds of things. For my first place I bought new and still had things that came up that I had to fix in the first 5 years of home ownership.

If you buy a flip especially I’d just make sure you are clear on what was fixed and what wasn’t. Sometimes it is just the cosmetic stuff and the truly costly stuff (i.e. HVAC, plumbing, etc. has been left untouched). I’d also be curious about the quality of the work. I know my fear with buying a flip would be that someone might not be qualified to do the work they are doing so things might seem okay on the outside but might be a mess underneath making for more work and headaches in the end. Which isn’t to say there can’t be some very good flips or gut rehabs, you just have to be careful.
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42 Kath May 9, 2014 at 8:46 pm

Very smart to consider 4 bedrooms!! We are busting at the seams when just 2 years ago we had oodles of space 🙂
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