The last three months or so have been pretty... interesting. Around late January is when the insane Digital Overload planning crunch starts to take hold. Suddenly you realize that you've only got four weeks left until your event, and there's a ton of stuff that needs to come together so that it isn't an awful disaster. It's an incredibly stressful time of the year for all of us involved, and it doesn't let up until the Sunday evening that the event is all packed up and put away for another year.
I'm telling you this, because I am now going to tell you that, for some reason, Britanny and I chose this time period to purchase our first house.
Buying a house is fun... for a day or two. The first couple of times your Realtor takes you out to view houses, it's incredibly exciting. You're looking at these places, these bits of land thinking "Wow, I could buy this. I could own this." Cherish this feeling, because it is the last bit of enjoyment the process will give you until your closing date, when they hand you the keys.
Because unless you're fortunate enough to find your perfect house in the first day, you're going to have to do a bit of looking. My parents said "There is no perfect house until you build your own", and I found this to be largely true. We looked at 5-6 houses for each one that we would actually consider buying, and then even those were not perfect. They would be 99% perfect, but with some compromise or another to be made. "This one is close to the beach, but has no garage. This one has a great floorplan, but a tiny backyard. This one has a great kitchen, but the basement is too small." If you're buying a house alone, it's only you that has to come to term with these compromises. If you're buying with someone else, you both have to agree on things, which makes narrowing down a house even harder.
I will offer this advice to first-time home buyers: If you're serious about buying a house, don't look forever. Because you can look forever. There are always new houses coming on the market, and it's all too easy to think "Well... if I buy this house, then an even better house might show up tomorrow...", which will make it so much more difficult to make a decision.
On the flip side, don't buy a house just to get the process over with. And if you have to look at houses for a while, you will want that shit to just end. You'll start thinking "I'm never going to find a house that I like", but just have some patience. You will find a house. And when you do, the real fun starts.
Next, you get to make an offer on the house, and this is exciting/nervewracking all on its own. You make an offer (which you know the seller won't accept) and then he counters, and back and forth until you agree, or you say "Forget it" and walk away. We actually did that with the very first house we made an offer on... the seller was asking far more than we felt the house was worth, and he wasn't willing to come down, so we walked away.
So you find a house and agree on a purchase price. Congratulations, you've bought a house. Well, technically you've only agreed to buy a house, under a legally binding contract, because there are still dozens of things that can happen between now and closing that will cause the deal to fall through.
Next up is the house inspection, and trust me, you want to have a house inspection. It's a few hundred bucks, but it's money well spent. This is when a home inspector meets you at the property, and goes over the entire house with you pointing out everything that's potentially wrong with it. This can be a wake up call, because he'll always find something you didn't know about. Hopefully it's nothing serious, but this is where you have the opportunity to go back to the seller and say "Hey, this is screwed up... I want you to fix it." Or you can ask for a credit at closing, which is when you get money from the seller and you have it fixed yourself.
We actually got to this point twice in the last few months. After we walked away from the first house, we found another one, and negotiated a purchase price. During the inspection, the home inspector noticed that the ceiling was sagging in one area. We checked it out, and it turns out this weekend do-it-yourselfer had decided he wanted to turn two rooms into one large room, and blasted through a load-bearing wall without supporting the weight of the second floor properly. So that's a structural problem now.
I brought in a contractor to examine the issue, and get me an estimate on how much it will cost to undo the damage this guy did (jacking up the ceiling and properly supporting the weight). It was about $5k. So I told the seller I wanted him to credit those costs at closing (since his idiocy caused the structural problem). The seller said no. There was also Radon in the basement, and the seller refused to install a mitigation system. So I refused to buy his house.
It was for the best though, because although we then had to start the process all over again from scratch, we ended up finding the house which we are now closing on tomorrow. After a few months of stress, disappointments and restarts, and trying to juggle event planning, house hunting, normal work, etc, tomorrow we will be homeowners. Tomorrow, the nightmare ends.
Or rather I should say "Tomorrow this nightmare ends", because after we take possession of the house, we have three months to renovate prior to moving in, which I have no doubt will be an entirely new cup of nightmare juice all on its own.
It is an exciting process, buying a house. It's not an entirely fun experience, but it is definitely worth it in the end. Just bear in mind that it can be very stressful, and try to avoid adding to that stress by, say, organizing a big gaming event at the same time.
A couple more bits of advice. When you're looking for a house, recognize what can be changed and what can't. Location, floorplan, these are not things that are easily changed, so you need to be happy with them as they are. Nearly everything else is cosmetic, and depending on your budget, can be changed or updated. Paint alone is only $20 a can and can drastically alter the appearance of a space. If you don't find a house that's perfect as is, don't forget to also look for the potential behind whatever decor the current owners use.
Second, I would highly recommend using a local mortgage broker with an office near you. I dealt directly with my bank, via phone, internet and fax, and it was excruciating. It all worked out in the end, but it was at times painfully slow and frustrating getting through to them, getting updates, etc. I think it would be a far more manageable experience if you could walk into an office and talk to someone face-to-face.