Buying a home can be a bit unpredictable. Sometimes, your list of must-haves changes part way through home shopping. Other times, your home financing can get held up at the last minute. When I bought my last home, there was no shortage of surprises. Though I came into the process well-prepared, there were many instances when I had to think on my feet and adjust my expectations.

Here are 5 surprises I never anticipated when I bought my last home:

Surprise #1: What I Thought Was Most Important To Me In A House Actually Wasn’t What Mattered Most.

When I was house-hunting, I found a home that seemed like everything I’d wanted: beautiful open kitchen, finished basement, deck outside, wood-burning stove, an end unit. I fell in love with it. I wrote a letter, placed an offer higher than what I’d wanted to pay (but still within my budget), and was selected! Perfect, right? Nope.

During the home inspection I crawled up into the attic with my inspector and we found water damage, plus a bucket that had been left to catch leaks. The owners refused to fix the roof, so I walked away from the house. More important to me than the stove and the deck and the kitchen? The knowledge that I wouldn’t have to replace the roof soon. The house I ended up purchasing had a new roof which was less than a month old!

Surprise #2: No Matter How Well-Prepared You Are, Something Will Pop Up. Having Someone You Trust On Your Team Helps Mitigate The Surprise When That Happens.

I came into the homebuying process armed and prepared. As a self-employed individual, I knew that my financials were key. I had a profit and loss statement from my bookkeeper. I knew my budgeted monthly payment price. I knew which type of loan I wanted. I’d researched methodically.

And yet, there were still gaps between what I had and what I needed. I suddenly needed new tax documents. I needed investment papers from my retirement accounts. And the first time I’d looked at loans, the loan officer had missed that I used my home for business, which disqualified me from a grant program I’d counted on using.

This changed my financing options: I needed a different loan and a different source for the down payment. When I came back to buy, I went with a different lender—one where I had a relationship with a teller at the bank and could ask all of my questions. They were amazing and would ping the processor with my concerns or inquiries. Knowing that they had my back eased an already-stressful time.

Surprise #3: The Enormity Of My Decision And The Loneliness It Spurred

I got really lucky with the inspector I chose. He worked with my realtor and I had the chance to work with him twice (due to pulling out of my first offer because of the contingency). As we went through, he would point out things I needed to do periodically, like change the furnace filter, etc. I asked a lot of questions and could tell that he was surprised by how much I wanted to know.

I asked about marks on walls, about attics, about disposals, about anything and everything. There are so many moving parts to buying a house, and I was the single focal point for keeping it all running smoothly, even with a supportive realtor. I felt very isolated by the emotional burden of purchasing alone. All the decision-making was mine and no one else’s.

During that time, I was also the primary point person for my grandfather who was in hospice. It was a lot of balls to juggle. I had always heard about how exciting it was to buy a house. I was surprised that walking through the house and learning about all my new responsibilities made me feel more alone than I ever had before.  

Surprise #4: I Didn’t Feel Differently After Signing The Closing Documents

The actual closing was anti-climactic after all of the hustle and bustle of shopping, visiting, inspecting, and so forth. I’d brought a fountain pen and was told I couldn’t use it because it had purple ink. The closing person didn’t really want to answer my questions about all of the documents I was initialing or signing. When it was done, the owners (two sisters) left to go sign for their new property.

My realtor gave me a gift card to a home improvement store (I was planning to paint all the walls!). It felt practical and I was unexcited, almost deflated. My sister was with me for the signing and afterwards we drove to the store and bought new locks. After I changed the locks we ate takeout—Roy Rogers—on the floor. That felt more real than the signing or the handshaking with my realtor. It was my house and I could take care of it.

Surprise #5: Who Showed Up To Help — And Who Didn’t

You’d expect that your best friends would be there for something as big as buying a home, especially for a first-time, single buyer. And some were. I’d been texting one friend about how overwhelmed I felt and she immediately looped in another childhood friend and within minutes they’d planned for us meet that week at her house after the kids went to bed. They brought food and wine and we talked through options.

Another friend took an hour’s worth of public transportation to meet me at the train and help me move boxes in my car for an entire day. She listened to my vision for the house and she came the day after closing. Yet, one of my closest friends at the time didn’t help one bit. In fact, it was one of the straws in the breaking of our relationship. The whole process helped clarify my community for me.

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