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My House is For Sale. Or, Moving Forward Despite Nerves

Last Sunday my agent came over to give me feedback on the house and I signed the paper. Yesterday, around noon, my listing went live in the MLS. That afternoon I got a showing request for 3. Then another for 3:45, and another, and another… I didn’t get to go home until after 8. Then an agent knocked at 8:30, said they were running late and could they please see the house anyway? Today’s showing schedule isn’t as crazy (yet) but still pretty busy. Fortunately my youngest brother is going to be keeping the dogs out during showings today, I can’t afford to take that much time off of work.

When I signed the paperwork, I was nervous. My house isn’t as fancy as some of the fresh remodels nearby, although it does have some good points and is in move-in condition. But the back patio is still in progress, the sod guys didn’t come as scheduled because of some mix up (they should be there today), there’s still some debris from various projects on the side of the house, I never did clean the oven, and every other imperfection in the house stood out like they’d been highlighted in neon.

But I took a mental step back and a deep mental breath. The interior is clean, neat, and complete. So what if there are a couple of scuffs in the baseboard, most people won’t even notice or care. The backyard isn’t the neatest but the lawn is mowed and the unfinished patio is finished enough buyers can see what they’ll be getting. The front is tilled and clearly in progress as well. If buyers were put off I’d just keep working and later shoppers would see the finished product. I was still nervous but decided to push on.

Well, I don’t think buyers were put off. I already have word that one, possibly two offers are coming. Which doesn’t mean anything until I have them in hand and can see what they’re offering, but the feedback has been good.

So, I’m pretty much over my nerves about selling. I might have a contract this week, it might not happen until next, but I’m reasonably confident it will happen and soon.

But I’m still nervous about buying.

What if I can’t find what I want at the price I want? My main priority is the lot rather than the house, but I still want a house in solid condition. And if I do find something to buy I’ll have a higher mortgage. I’ve run the numbers a dozen times and I can afford it and still save, but… but… it’s more money to spend each month! The easy answer is to stay where I am but I’ve given this a lot of thought and I know the extra expense is worth it, but… but… it’s more money!

And what about the timing? I’m using my current house’s equity for the down payment so it has to close before my purchase’s closing. What if the contract falls through? Or what if I sell then the buyer withdraws and I’m stuck without a place to live. Which would be very difficult because I have 2 large dogs and although I have a few couches I could crash on they aren’t welcome in those homes and would have to stay at a kennel.

Just as with the selling process, my nerves will calm when I get going on the buying process. Once I have a contract I’ll know about how much I’ll get from the sale and won’t be working on guess work as much. I’ll start looking at actual properties and my fears that there will be giant holes in the wall hiding behind the pictures will recede and I’ll focus on more likely concerns. Not that I’d turn a house down because of some simple drywall issues, I’d just want to make sure it’s included in the price. There are worst things than having to board my dogs for a few weeks and renting while house shopping is a viable option as well.

I’m also nervous about the move itself, but that’s only because I have no idea what I’m buying. Once I have a house picked out and under contract I’ll get excited again when I can start planning out what to do with each room.

I don’t always handle change well, or at least the anticipation of change, especially when the future is up in the air as it is now. I know this, and I know the nerves will calm as each step becomes more concrete and the number of what-ifs is reduced. It can be a bit of a fight, but I need to keep my rational brain in control because if I let my nerves take the reins I’d never do anything new.

My Real Estate Story

In early 2009, I lived in a one bedroom apartment. It was an older but nice (to my low standards) apartment, I got along well with the manager, and it was was more affordable than many others in the area. It was my first time living without family or roommates and I was loving it.

Except for the noisy neighbors. And the noisy street. And sometimes even the neighboring complex was loud. I spent at least 6 months getting up at 3am to start work at 4:30am, which meant early bedtimes for me. Sometimes even ear plugs weren’t enough to drown out the thumping bass. Still, I learned to cope.

Then my idiot neighbor robbed my apartment. That was the final straw.

I had 6 months before my lease was up but I started looking at craigslist ads anyway, looking for basement apartments, carriage houses, garage apartments, or even small houses that might be affordable, anything where I’d have my own four walls. I didn’t find much, even carriage houses smaller than my apartment cost $200 more.

It was a good thing I’d started looking early because that gave me time to consider buying. I stumbled on some articles talking about FHA loans, which led to mortgage calculators showing how much I could afford, and eventually I took a plunge and talked to a mortgage broker at my bank. The result? I could afford a house!

The above process took several weeks. On one hand, I loved the idea of owning and being able to do whatever I wanted to the property. I helped my parents with enough house projects to know I could handle quite a bit of maintenance myself and having a yard would be worth having to mow. On the other hand, I was still a student with two years left and didn’t quite know what I’d do for a career when I graduated – what if Google wanted to recruit me? There are several clusters of tech employment in and around the city, if I stayed local I had no idea where I’d end up working.

Eventually I decided to pursue buying a house. The odds of Google calling were practically nil and having my own four walls and a yard was worth a commute. There’s enough work in the tech field locally that my chances of employment were very good. I also like the region and have no desire to move anywhere else.

The house hunt process was pretty bumpy. I bid on a few HUD homes but kept getting outbid. I worked with one agent who was totally clueless and lost me one house. Finally I found someone who knew what they were talking about and was actually interested in working with me despite my low budget ($100,000). That’s a tip I give any first time home buyer – get a referral if you plan to use an agent. And not just “my cousin is an agent,” but someone they’ve actually worked with.

Finally we found my house! It was listed at $92,000, my agent put a bid in for $80,000 plus help with closing costs, they countered at $88,000 plus closing with a note that there was another offer but mine was first so I got first crack at the counter offer. I accepted, and the house was mine!

I bought the house with a 30 year FHA loan and put 3.5% down. I’ve been paying $36/month for Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) on top of the principal, interest, tax and insurance (PITI) payment. The PMI can be removed this summer when the mortgage is 5 years old and my loan to value ratio is at least 80%.

I love owning my own home. There’s a certain freedom in knowing that it’s yours (and the bank’s) and being able to make changes as you want. There’s also more responsibility, when something breaks you’re the one who has to fix it or pay to get it done, but I even enjoy that part of it. My insurance company told me to replace the roof or they wouldn’t cover the house, so I did the job myself. I’ve impressed quite a few people with it, even the city’s inspector.

Even though the market was at the bottom there wasn’t a lot of inventory in my price range, but I was still picky about certain things. I knew I would have a hard time affording major repairs so I avoided houses with shoddy work visible, clear signs of foundation troubles, or just big question marks, as in “what will it take to get rid of that smell”. My house was a “toucher upper” with good bones and solid construction. It fit all my needs and most of my wants with enough room for future growth. It’s near 3 interstates giving me easy access to most of town. In short, it wasn’t my dream home but it was someplace where I could settle in for a while. I also got it for a great price and expected to build equity quickly.

There’s an element of luck in there, but I was right about all of the above. Especially the equity – after less than five years my house is now worth at least $150,000. Looking at recent listings, maybe even $160,000.

The short version of all the above?

  • I got tired of apartment living and wanted a house.
  • After a tumultuous search I bought a house for $88,000 with 3.5% down.
  • That house is now worth $150,000-160,000.
  • I’m getting ready to sell. Wait, I haven’t gotten that far yet.

I like my house, but it isn’t where I want to live for the rest of my life. I want space, privacy, elbow room, trees, fresh air, a yard large enough I don’t have to worry about throwing dog toys over the fence. I want views, nature, and no light pollution so I can buy a really nice telescope. Do I have to get it now? Of course not. But if I believed in astrology I’d say that the stars have aligned to make this the right time.

And so I’ve been getting the house ready to sell and should have it listed next week. Once I have a contract I’ll start looking for my next (and hopefully last) house and try to time the closings so that I buy right after I sell. Is taking on a more expensive mortgage the best financial decision? Nope. Will it be good for my mental health and well-being? Absolutely. And for that, it’ll be worth it.

End of the Month Reflection

It’s April 30th, and time to look at the month that was and the month that will be. Not that I actually do this every month, but I am today.

Early this month I made the decision to sell my house and buy another. I’d been waffling for months, worried that I wouldn’t be able to find something in my price range that I’d want to buy, so I went out with my agent to look at a few houses. They were all in good shape, soothing my concern that they were affordable because something was wrong, and so I’ve started the process of getting my house ready for sale.

I made $145 at the beginning of the month for a company I occasionally do work for. They’ve mentioned bringing me on for more projects in the near future but nothing’s happened.

I usually budget $50 for eating out but extended it to $100 this month. Partly because I knew I’d be busy and would be cooking less and partly because my youngest brother helps me out in exchange for fast food. So a lot of the extra is really a house expense. I might keep the budget the same in May.

I spent money on clothes! I budget $20/month but haven’t spent on of that until this last weekend, $30 for water sandals and $12 at the thrift store for 4 shirts. I’m one of those women who doesn’t like shopping and will only buy clothes after I’ve identified a need. I want to get a couple more button down short sleeve shirts so I’ll hit the thrift store again sometime in the next few weeks.

I made one large purchase, a new vacuum. It took me 6 months to pull the trigger on that $150 purchase. I don’t need the sleep on it rule, I need a “just do it” rule. Now that I have it I wish I had done it earlier, this thing is way better than my old one. The old vacuum was listed on Freecycle and was promptly picked up by its new family.

I saved $1100 in my DP fund (it used to be for the down payment, now it’s for house projects) and $450 went to my Roth. This was also my first full month of withholding for my job and I’m putting 6% into my 401k and $50/paycheck into the HSA.

My sleep disorder really hit me this month making everything more difficult. It’s finally getting back under control which means I should be starting May off right.

May will be all about the house.

I want to get my house listed this month. Which means deep cleaning the entire house, packing away the “clutter” and getting those projects finished off. I’ll definitely be hiring a handyman for some of those projects just so they get done faster, and possibly better. I might hire a service for some of the cleaning as well and will probably have the carpets professionally cleaned. Or maybe I should just call my mom and sister-in-law, they’re both almost fanatical cleaners… The clutter packing is all on me but I really don’t have all that much. I still need to send some of my instruments to my mom’s so they don’t “clutter” the living room and will be out of the way and safe from the whole house packing madness that will occur later.

After my house is listed it probably won’t take long to get a contract. Once I have that contract it will be time to start looking for my next (and hopefully last) house while I start to pack everything. I’m excited and yet nervous about this. I get nervous with any big change and have learned to push through it anyway but it’s probably part of the reason it’s taking me longer than it should to get some of this stuff done.

While my house is on the market I’m going to need to do something with the dogs while I’m at work. One option is to pay my youngest brother to take them out during showings, but he isn’t sure if he wants to do it. If he says no I’ll talk to my next door neighbors to see if they can help. Worst case I’ll put them in doggy day care, which isn’t cheap but they enjoy it.

My side projects will be taking a back seat this month but I’ll still work on them when I have the time, including this blog and an Android app I’ve been working on. The nice thing about these projects is that they’re totally digital which means they won’t make a mess in the house which will be exactly what I need when the house is on the market and I have to keep it in show room perfect shape.

I need to start getting my paperwork together for the loan pre-approval. Very, very tedious work.

I don’t have a posting schedule planned. Now you know why.

Is your May going to be crazier than mine? Let us know!

Where I’m At

Yes, I ended the title with a preposition. Sue me.

As I said in an earlier post the first step to getting control is figuring out what you have. Here’s my answer.

Note: Although I’m posting anonymously I might decide to reveal my true identity. Also, I’ve given the link to a few friends so some of the readers know who I really am. Therefore I’ve decided to be vague about certain details as I figure out where my comfort zone for disclosure is.

I’m not earning six figures but I do make a decent living, especially since I don’t have kids.

In savings I have $10,000 emergency fund in case of layoff, injury, furnace explosion or other emergency. I also have a few savings buckets for upcoming purchases, house projects and vacation. Finally, I have a few thousand set aside for a purchasing a new house. The down payment will come from the equity of my current home, this cash is for paint, flooring and other repairs that need to be done. Or things that I just want to do to the house.

For retirement, I have a Roth IRA and a brand spanking new 401k. I also have a TSP from a previous job. As I mentioned before I don’t have full access to this account because I lost the PIN. There isn’t much in there, less than $1000, but I still need to make a firm decision on what to do with the money.

My debt includes about $80,000 of mortgage debt at 5.5%. I haven’t bothered to refinance because I plan to sell before I’d recover the cost.

My student loan balance is around $21,000 at interest rates between 2-6.5%. I have automatic payments that include an extra $60 above the minimum and sometimes drop in to make non-scheduled payments as well. I’m on the standard 10-year repayment plan and all my loans are federal. I’m on a stashing cash phase right now, once I’m done and the house thing is settled I’ll be ramping up my efforts on paying these down.

I still owe $10,000 on the car at 2.7%. I round up the payment to the nearest hundred because I like round numbers but otherwise haven’t made any early payoff efforts on this.

I’ll discuss my debt more in another post.

When I look at my balances I think I’m doing okay, but could be doing better. I’m the kind of person who likes having a large savings account, it’s like a security blanket to me. I’d also like to start investing outside of retirement accounts but want to build up my on hand cash first. Add in the whole “I’m selling my house and buying another” thing and I really want to have cash reserves “just in case”.

I’m okay with my debt. School was a great investment, I’ve enjoyed my house and have really lucked out with the rising property values, and although I could have been smarter with the car I have no regrets. Again, more on my debt and attitude towards it in a later post.

According to Mint.com, my net worth is $70,000. Most of that is home equity.

When I look at my balances I mostly see wasted years. I wish I’d done more in my 20s, even a little more savings in an IRA could’ve been a nice boost… but for a variety of reasons I didn’t, and considering the short time I’ve actively been dealing with my money I think I’m doing okay. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is wealth.

Do you know where you’re at? What do you think about it?

The Real First Post

Hi! Welcome to my brand new blog. It’s so brand spanking new that it has absolutely no meaningful content! I hope to change that soon, and in fact have a few posts already written so I can get this going quickly, but here’s the fluff.

This is a blog about taking control of your finances. It’s about spending, saving, investing, retirement, dealing with debt, and pretty much any other topic that’s discussed in the personal finance world. It’s about taking the time to really deal with your money so that you control it, not the other way around.

I haven’t been perfect when it comes to money. I started late to save for retirement. I didn’t graduate from college or start my career until I was thirty. Many, many years ago I learned what it was like to have collection agencies call you. Fortunately I learned that lesson when I was young.

I’m naturally a frugal person. Sometimes I’m too frugal and cheap out when I should invest more into something. In starting to take control I’m learning to spend more on the things that matter while saving money on the things that don’t. That’s still a work in progress.

Why “Masters” and not “Mistresses”? Or “Masters and Mistresses”? Because anyone can master a subject but saying that you’ve “mistressed money” just doesn’t make since and it’s too long to say both. Yes, I’m a girl. You readers are ok with that, right?

Expect to see some changes to the layout and blog features in the next few weeks. Or months. I’m new to this WordPress thing and I didn’t want to wait until I got the layout perfect before publishing something.

Right, so that’s my disjointed ramblings for today, join me tomorrow for ramblings that are hopefully a bit more on point.