Surviving the Home Buying Process: An Honest Review

Last time I mentioned the home buying process, I shared how there were some discrepancies between the required repairs in our contract and what was actually finished. When Pete and I had our final walkthrough of the house on settlement day with our realtor and mortgage banker, we made the unfortunate discovery that most of the large repairs were not at all addressed. Just to name a few: the main beam of the house in the basement was still cracked and hadn’t been sistered, a large washer/dryer hookup and vent revealed itself that had been cleverly hidden from us in the bedroom, there was electric work which had not been properly updated, chipped lead paint had not been addressed and the basement walls weren’t scraped or painted as promised.

We were infuriated and heartbroken. To have this happen during our settlement day made us want to walk away from the house entirely. We were baffled as to how both realtors weren’t on top of things and that we were all discovering this together on what was supposed to be an exciting day for us. Leading up to the settlement, our realtor, Patricia Wise Strehle, made us feel incredibly neglected and as if she was not interested in our well-being. Due to her inability to stay on track and meet deadlines, our settlement date was pushed because paperwork had not been supplied on her behalf. Paperwork which had been requested far in advance, so there was no excuse as to why it had been ignored up until the very last possible minute.

Pete and I were incredibly on top of things and couldn’t have done anything differently to make sure all deadlines were met. We worked together wonderfully with Adam Schwartz from the Integrated Financial Group, who handled all things financial and relating to our FHA loan. He was so dedicated to easing our nerves after this situation that he even emailed us from the hospital several times while his wife was having a baby. It was vastly different dealing with the realtor and financial advisor. Needless to say, we felt very taken advantage of by Pat.

When we sat down at settlement, we made it clear how we felt regarding the repairs not being made. The idea of creating an escrow account was brought up by Pat, and soon after there were back-and-forth debates for a couple of hours between ourselves and the seller. We weren’t in the same room, so we’d have to request an escrow amount from our realtor, who would speak to the seller’s realtor, who would speak to the seller, who would give the realtor his input, who would speak to our realtor, who would speak to a very agitated us. Not a fun way to spend a Cinco de Mayo. Eventually, we settled on $2,000 provided to us from the seller and $500 from Pat, who was willing to offer a small percentage of her earnings to prevent us from walking away. Pete and I originally requested a higher escrow rate, because there was no way of telling how much the sistered beam and other repairs would cost without several professional quotes by contractors. One of the realtors randomly threw out the number “$200” in conversation regarding how much the beam might cost, which Pete and I immediately argued with and said that would absolutely not cover it for the amount of damage the beam had. At the end of the day, we had $2,500 to work with and a lot of quotes to get. We had been excited to begin working on home renovations, but instead we had to focus on getting the required repairs finished within the time frame of one month.

We began collecting quotes and decided to work with Tony Hourmouzis, who was recommended by our financial advisor. The house had to be raised to relieve pressure on the beam to allow the contractors to remove the old one and install a new support beam. This also included removing ductwork to gain access to the beam, all which was photographed and provided to the seller. According to Tony, the seller had the opportunity to make the mandatory repairs to the beam on his own and failed to do so, so as the new homeowners we had the right to hire whoever we wanted to make the repairs.

Unfortunately, the seller decided that he only wanted to allow us to mask the problem instead of repairing it. He decided to only offer us “$200” of our escrow funds toward the sistered beam. This is where our problems began. Once we heard that news, we soon found out that the seller didn’t believe it was necessary for us to make the other promised repairs under our escrow account. The basement walls were chipped, sealed and painted. The electrical outlets which didn’t pass inspection were updated. The hidden plumbing was removed. All of these repairs were made per our signed and agreed upon addendum. Items which were clearly stated in our FHA appraisal conditions and escrow agreement were being completely excluded by the seller because he didn’t feel like paying us the full $2,000 owed. Our final invoice ended up being over $3,000 (including re-inspection and all necessary repairs), so Pete and I were correct in trusting our gut that these repairs weren’t exactly minor.

Overall, this escrow dispute lasted two months. Two long months of Pete and I waiting to receive news about the escrow funds and feeling awful that our contractor Tony was left unpaid because the seller did not want to address the obvious. Pete and I drafted formal letters, with attached legal documents clearly backing our case. When we received no response, we had an attorney acquaintance draft a legal letter to the seller, stating that it was our final demand for the release of the funds before we would file a claim in the county court.

Pete and I were confident that the entire amount in escrow was due to us, and refused mediation (having to pay a fee only to likely have the seller tell us he wouldn’t budge), as we found it was not an appropriate solution. We gave the seller until mid-June to respond and heard nothing back until the end of the month, when we were getting ready to submit paperwork to the court. We finally were given word that the seller had agreed to release the $2,000 in escrow funds. In mid-July we received the escrow check and immediately paid our very patient contractor.

I really wish I could say that we would have done something differently, but I truly believe we were intelligent about researching the home buying process in advance. Our major mistake was our choice of realtor, who we had heard nothing but rave reviews about initially. Unfortunately, her typo-filled emails during this entire process were incredibly brief and vague and made us feel like we couldn’t rely on her for help. Pete and I ended up finding all of the houses we went to see on our own (we toured five houses total) because she kept discouraging us from being able to meet our criteria within our budget. We were pretty certain that it wasn’t unheard of to ask for a house with A/C for under $200,000. Because of her large oversight during the final walkthrough of our house, the first few months of homeownership were incredibly stressful for us. Had there been better communication and attention to detail on behalf of Pat, we fully believe this entire situation could have been avoided. I hope other homebuyers will learn from our mistake and not be afraid to ask for references from their realtor before entering such an important process.

We were amazed, however, by how patient and understanding our contractor Tony was during this entire process. We felt awful that none of the funds could be released until an agreement was made between us and the seller, but we knew we were in the right and refused to be taken advantage of any longer. We would definitely recommend him for contractor work in the Philadelphia suburbs.

After speaking with several professionals in the financial field, we put our trust in our mortgage banker, Adam Schwartz, who was incredibly professional and helpful from day one. He made himself available at all times (even when his wife was in labor!) to answer our questions, no matter how silly they might have been. We had a lot of questions during this entire process since everything was so new to us, and he went above and beyond his job. We felt like he was doing the job of the realtor and mortgage banker at times, and he even came to our settlement to make the process easier for us. We would absolutely recommend him to anyone hoping to look into the loan process for a new home, he was a pleasure to work with. He even bought a chipmunk print from my illustration shop for his daughter and he still reaches out to us to check in on our latest home renovation projects.

Anyway, I’m really proud of Pete and I for working together during that frustrating time, instead of letting it get the best of us. We were both fired up numerous times throughout the escrow process, but when one of us had flared tempers, the other would pat them on the back to let them know it would all work out, and vice versa. I think we’re a good team and I’m looking forward to our relationship growing even more during our lessons as newbie homeowners.

For fellow homeowners out there, what were some of the stressful situations you had to deal with during the process? Did anyone else have a similar escrow experience, or are we the only ones out there with such wonderful luck?

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Crafty Balboa is here!

Crafty Balboa is tomorrow, so be sure to stop by if you’re in the area and want to check out some local talent! It looks like we’ll be lucking out with some absolutely gorgeous weather, so I’m pretty darn excited. I’ve been sick all week so my ambition to create new work for the show during my free time has been pretty low. I promise to keep knocking out these new “two word” paintings I’m doing, using phrases my Twitter and Facebook friends send me. Feel free to comment below with more suggestions and I’ll do my best to make as many as I can within the next month or so!

In other news, our house settlement has been pushed to late next week, oi! We’re not sure on the exact date yet but we’re crossing our fingers that things will be finalized soon so we can dance around like happy homeowners.

I hope to see some of you at Crafty Balboa tomorrow! Pete, Betty White and I will be at our table from 11am to 5pm at Tasker & Passyunk Avenue in Philadelphia, so be sure to say hello!

Nesting News: Our Color Palette

Last time I updated you, we were gearing up for our home inspection. Luckily the seller agreed to make a majority of the changes we deemed necessary for moving in. We’re aware that with an old house comes all things old, so we’ll be saving our initial funds for emergencies (at least 6 months of mortgage payments, just in case!), updating the insulation by adding spray foam and replacing the ancient furnace and air conditioning systems once our 1-year home warranty expires. We’ll have to put major renovations on the back burner and update the house in creative, budget-friendly ways for the time being.

Pete and I have been discussing what we envision for our home’s color palette, since we know one of the first things we’ll be doing is removing wallpaper and painting a fresh coat in every room. Eventually (probably next summer-ish), we’ll want to tackle painting the exterior of the house. By “we” I mean Pete, because I have no balance and will absolutely end up hanging upside down by a shoelace if I have to stand on a ladder for an extended period of time.

While browsing Behr for paint inspiration, Pete stumbled upon an image of this house. We decided to base our potential home’s color palette on the photo and plan to give our home’s exterior a similar aesthetic, with mossy green and sandy hues (“spirited green” and “peanut butter,” to be exact).

I came up with a quick illustration that represents the color palette we are currently leaning toward. As one of our first DIY projects, we plan to make a mason jar chandelier, if you’re wondering why that snuck its way into the sketch. I think I might start drawing one original illustration per week to coincide with blog topics (or is that way too nerdy?).

How did you come up with a color palette for your home, or did you just wing it and take on one room at a time?

Before & After Inspiration

Our house inspection is this Saturday, so we’re crossing our fingers all goes well on that end. We will be working on saving for any potential house emergencies for the next few months. That being said, we will have to be creative in figuring out affordable ways to modernize the house if it ends up being ours in a couple of months. Since we don’t want to spend on any major renovations right away, we will be removing wallpaper and painting for the most part. Once we have our goal amount of emergency savings, we can begin renovating the kitchen, which is number one on our makeover list.

Here are some affordable before & after ideas for sprucing up our potential new home:

“After” Image Source

In the smaller bedroom upstairs, wood paneling covers the walls and ceiling, which can hopefully be revamped with some cheerful color and painted white ceilings.

“After” Image Source

The sunroom is pretty as is, but could use a fresh coat of color and trim, maybe something subtle and earthy to go with the blue floors.

“After” Image Source

I’ve mentioned before my obsession with white fireplaces, which I think would look really lovely with grey walls and pops of color incorporated in the room.

“After” Image Source

The bay window area needs some love, which could be accomplished by hanging airy curtains with new hardware and an area rug.

What are some simple ways you’ve given your home a new look on a tight budget?

Potentially Home: The 1st Offer

As planned, Pete and I went on our second house hunting adventure this weekend. We checked out two houses, the first was the house I posted photos of last time. It was incredibly small and not at all what we had hoped for, so we moved onto the second house. I saw this house listed online but it didn’t have any photos, so we took a risk and went with our realtor to see it in person.

You all know my love for bunnies. If being greeted by a bunny at the front door isn’t a good luck sign, I don’t know what is. Let’s not forget there is also bunny wallpaper galore in this house.

The house is a two story bungalow from 1940 with four bedrooms, two bathrooms and 1,342 square feet.

When we first stepped inside the house, this enclosed sunroom made me fall in love with the place. With a little modern lovin’, this room could be amazing. I really like the distressed blue floors and I’m sure the room could look a lot more airy if given a slight painted makeover.

Once you step through the sunroom, you enter the living room. Hardwood floors and a brick fireplace greet you with the first of many wood paneled walls (eek).

The living room leads to the dining room, with a beautiful bay window area. The hardwood floors are throughout the house and have some great details that would be absolutely beautiful with some refinishing. It’s safe to assume all wallpaper would be removed and painted with painted walls throughout the house.

The kitchen is a bit of a downer and cramped, but I think it could be revamped with some creativity in the form of extra storage, painted cabinets, wood floors and wallpaper removal. The door in the kitchen leads to a mudroom, which takes you outside to the backyard. There’s a lovely fenced in area where we could garden, along with a shed and concrete area that needs some TLC.

We are still waiting to receive the house’s disclosure, so we are anxious to find out when the appliances were last updated, in addition to when the roof was last replaced and if there have been any major problems.

This area of the kitchen could be better utilized with counter space and storage, as opposed to a breakfast nook, considering we usually eat our breakfast in the living room anyway.

The first floor has two bedrooms and one bathroom. We would obviously remove the wallpaper from the bedrooms and give the bathroom some updating, but for the most part, the foundation of the rooms gives us a great starting point.

The wallpaper border in this room has bunnies and hearts on it…something tells me this would be the room where our critters would reside (although we wouldn’t make them stare at that wallpaper).

I didn’t get any good photos of the basement, some of these are just shots I took with my iPhone and others are photos I snapped quickly when we toured the house for the second time with Pete’s mom and brother. The basement would need the most work, but we could take it one step at a time and not overwhelm ourselves with too many projects at once.

Inside the kitchen there is a door that leads to the upstairs. A wood paneled hallway leads you to a full bathroom (sorry for the awful photo) and two bedrooms. The latter room would be our guest room and the other would probably be used as an office space since it’s the smallest of all four rooms. And yes, we would do something about the wood paneling (probably painting it to start). The office could later be turned into a nursery if we decide to have a mini version of us (years and years from now, people!). It’s just good to know we would have a lot of space to expand our family…if that means housing goats or a baby (I’m leaning toward goats).

Anyway, we really love the place and can see its potential. We placed a bid on it yesterday, so hopefully we will hear back early this week about whether or not our offer has been accepted. If it has, we will need to review the disclosure (the offer is contingent on the disclosure). If we are unhappy with what we read in the disclosure, we’ll continue spending our weekends house hunting! If the disclosure looks good, we’ll move forward with the inspection process.

It’s been really fun browsing blogs for decorating ideas with Pete and watching home improvement shows together. I think we’ll be great at tackling renovations together, after all, he is incredibly handy and I’d like to think I’m pretty darn crafty. If this ends up being our home, it will need a lot of work, but I think it’s something we can handle if we take baby steps. As a side note, I have a strong desire to paint a fireplace white, and I’m pretty lucky that Pete and I have the same taste for decorating and that he goes along with me on these things. When he recently mentioned liking subway tiles, I fell in love with him a little more. I think buying and having a home together will be great for our already-happy relationship and I can’t wait to (hopefully) spend weekends together cursing about how hard it is to remove antiquated bunny wallpaper.

Update: We have agreed on a price with the seller, which is only a few thousand more than our original bid. We’re saving nearly $20,000 since it was listed at $200,000 and we’d be getting it for $190,500 including sellers assist ($11,000). Pretty darn excited! Next up: Inspection and finger-crossing.

House Hunting Part Deux

I’m really looking forward to house hunting this weekend with Pete. It’s hard to fall in love with a house online when there aren’t any photos of the bedrooms, bathrooms or basement, but judging from the interior and backyard, the place above in Glenside is definitely what we are looking for in a quaint, new home. The other house we are visiting doesn’t have any photos online, just a street view on Google maps. I’ll be sure to take photos to document our process…who knows, maybe we’ll be on our way to placing our very first bid on a house.

I can’t wait to have a house that is officially ours. I’ll admit I’ve become addicted to house blogs like Young House Love, but I have to remind myself that I’m not a mastermind when it comes to interior design and we’ll have to take baby steps in the remodeling department. I have a feeling there will be a lot of trips to flea markets and estate sales this summer to furnish our new abode. As much as I’d love to be able to afford to deck out our digs with gorgeous furniture from Anthropologie, I know that’s not realistic for our budget and we can probably achieve a similar look with some elbow grease and creativity. Plus, I think we’ll have more fun working together on thrifty furniture makeovers (and our credit cards will thank us later).

I’m really going to miss our current apartment, it is lovely and it feels like we live in our own little secluded bubble most of the time. But it will be nice to be able to have some more freedom (having guests over after 10pm) and our own backyard. Betty White will be able to bark her little head off if we leave to run errands. I’m hoping by giving Betty more room to run around, she will relax a bit and her separation anxiety will improve. She’s gotten a lot better and being able to take her to work has certainly helped her in remaining more calm. I’m really grateful that things have been able to turn around and she is a happy little pooch again.

*Speaking of Betty White, how many times can you spot her in these photos?

Adventures in House Hunting

Last weekend, Pete and I began our first afternoon of house hunting together. We looked at three houses in Montgomery County, which is where we’d like to live for under 200k. We’ve already been pre-approved, so we are sticking within our budget and devoting most of our free time to browsing houses on Trulia. We lucked out with an awesome loan officer and a devoted realtor (both who Pete met prior in a business group), so we are excited to begin the hunt for our new abode.

The first house we looked at was a Cape Cod style house in Glenside, PA. The photo online looked quaint and charming (albeit teensy), but in person it was pret-ty depressing. The neighborhood wasn’t very chipper and the house itself was much smaller than we envisioned. The basement was a total downer (see photo for the lonesome computer desk set-up) and had a history of flooding, so we were automatically turned off. Despite stalking the house prior on real estate sites and Google maps, it looked much different in person. Lesson learned, don’t always trust what you see online!

House #2 was a cute home in Abington, which is ideally the area we’ve decided we’d like to live. The owner is a 90-year-old woman who doesn’t really recall when (or if) the major expenses were last updated. It seems as if the electric, roof and heating might not have been replaced since the house was built in the 40’s. One of the main things we loved about this house was its vintage charm. The house was filled to the brim with gorgeous antique furniture that made it a bit easier to imagine ourselves living there. The olive green patterned floor in the kitchen made my jaw drop. The backyard was also quite large and had a nice patio area, which is a total plus. One of the major con’s is that the house has a ton of stucco, wavy plaster walls and popcorn ceilings galore. Lead paint + sanding an entire house filled with textured walls and ceilings = a bit of a nightmare. My gut tells me it might be a bit of a money pit with all of the potential major expenses up front, but we are still keeping it in our minds as a possible contender.

The third and final house we looked at was a disaster unfortunately. Everything was falling apart, the windows were left open (I don’t even want to think about the critters that made a home there) and the place was totally abandoned. This was an eye-opener and made me realize that it would be good to do a drive-by in the future when possible, as to not waste our realtor’s time when the real thing does not live up to the photos.

This is our must-have list for our future humble home:

    • Nice location/safe neighborhood
    • Good schools
    • Roomy backyard
    • At least 3 bedrooms
    • Central A/C (for our critters who need to remain cool)
    • Taxes under $3,500
    • Somewhat move-in ready (not a major TLC job as far as the main structure goes)
    • Near a train station for easy access to Philly
    • A less than 45 minute commute to our jobs

This is our would-be-nice-but-we-can-live-without-it list:

    • Wood floors (can always be added later)
    • Fireplace
    • Basement or attic storage
    • Front porch
    • Garage

Hideous wallpaper, unfortunate carpeting, terrible tiling and outdated kitchens/bathrooms don’t really bother us. I see those types of things as future DIY projects Pete and I can tackle. It’s fun being able to look past some unfortunate decor trends to look ahead and discuss potential makeover jobs we can do together. I look forward to memorizing the aisles of Lowe’s and getting our feet wet with projects and upgrades.

What are some of the things you learned while starting the house hunting process? If you own a home, how many houses did you visit in person before you found “the one?”