Six Firsthand Tips for Buying a Home in Portland
Last week, NerdWallet published an article about a couple’s Portland home-buying experience. Oh boy, the response brutal. The last name of the home buyers caught the eyes of a lot of readers, who jumped to the conclusion that these people are associated with a local, and prosperous, chain of brewpubs and hotels in the Pacific Northwest. The assumption was made that with a last name like that, of course this couple can buy a home in Portland’s insane housing market, because there’s no way they have debt.
Well folks, I’ve got to say buying a home is a process, whether you have existing debt or not. In 2016, I bought my first home with my partner. I was 23. I had student loans and a car payment. I worked at a nonprofit. Here are a few important takeaways from my Portland home-buying experience that I hope help you on your journey to finding a home.
Look Outside Your Ideal Neighborhood
The Overlook neighborhood is incredible (charming old homes, am I right?). When my partner and I first started dating he was living in an apartment in this neighborhood. It was conveniently located to everything I liked in the city and offered great restaurants and friendly neighbors. Why wouldn’t we buy here? Reality check: houses are $500K. I begrudgingly started looking outside this neighborhood for a home and found that prices were much more in our ideal range just a little farther north.
Expect the Unexpected
I love old Portland homes. I imagine myself walking across authentic wood flooring to fill every built in with all of my small, delicate treasures. Yet, I learned very quickly that these historic beauties were out of my price range and came with all the challenges of updating an older home. What I learned from reading numerous first time homebuyer articles is not to stretch beyond your means and do not buy a money pit.
So, historic home was quickly scratched off my list and I opened my mind to the possibility of all types of homes. Eventually we ended up buying the homestyle I initially didn’t like, until I started touring homes that were around 700 square feet. Once I got inside what I refer to as a two-story skinny mini house (you see them all over Portland) with multiple bathrooms and 1,500 square feet, I knew a small ranch-style would be a home we would outgrow.
A great learning opportunity was figuring out how much space we needed. To this day I cannot imagine living in some of the tiny homes we toured. It might be for you, but it wasn’t going to work for us.
Don’t Buy into the Bidding War
If you are buying a home, you have to know your limits. I had existing debt that was manageable, but was still debt. My partner also had student loans and credit card debt. Our first serious home-buying conversation was calculating exactly what we were willing to spend every month on a mortgage. We decided we would not go over $300,000 for a home.
We put offers on several homes and were outbid. Yet, with the help of our incredible realtor, we stuck to our promise not to go over $300,000.
Be Friends with Your Realtor
Now I’m not saying sweeten them up with fruit baskets and flowery texts. Be a genuine human and get to know your realtor. Our realtor was like a house guru. She took the time to find out what our limits were and she was brutally honest about all the things she saw as problems in a home. I quickly learned to heed her warnings and ask her an exhausting amount of questions.
What ultimately led to us buying a home was me literally hanging on every word she said. At one of our home tours, she mentioned that she knew another realtor was going to be listing a home just down the street. From that moment on I repeatedly asked her about this home. Texts. Emails. Phone calls. As a result of my persistence (I should say nagging), she got us in to view the home before it was listed.
We made an offer the next the day. The rest is history.
Negotiate. Seriously, negotiate.
Once our offer was accepted, we went through the process of paying for all the customary fees that come with closing on a home. One fee that could have led to us eating packaged ramen for six months was about $10,000 in closing costs. Our realtor encouraged us to ask the sellers to pay the closing costs up front. As a result, we agreed to raise our offer from $287,000 to $295,000. The sellers agreed.
Since we were already both hemorrhaging money to pay all the other closing expenses, being able to negotiate with the sellers was truly a saving grace, for our bank accounts and my sanity.
Set your limits and stick to them. Even in the short time we’ve owned our home, we’ve seen how much prices have gone up. It is daunting and disheartening. One thing I never want anyone to be is house poor. So, before you make the big leap into homeownership, make sure it is something you are doing for yourself, not a decision you’re pressured into or something you do because you think “it is the right thing to do.” The right thing to do is whatever keeps you financially sound and happy.