My 23-year-old niece Megan is house hunting, and as anyone who’s dipped a toe in this crazy market would understand, she’s feeling desperate.
Hoping to pass along some comfort and advice, I told my niece that I knew that desperation well. In 2013, my husband, Scott, and I were trying to buy a house in a similarly insane seller’s market. I warned her that desperation might tempt her to make poor choices, pouncing on a house that, in hindsight, she’d sorely regret buying. After all, houses don’t come with a return policy.
I told Megan how Scott and I nearly bought not just one, or two, but three houses that, looking back, we’re so glad we don’t own today. Here’s our story, which I hope will help teach my niece and others how to navigate today’s market, and to install some safeguards that might prevent some rash decisions you might kick yourself for later on.
How homebuying desperation begins
Scott and I didn’t start out desperate. On the first house we viewed where we lived near Chicago, we lowballed, assuming we’d get it since we were waiving the home inspection. (Scott is a contractor.)
To our surprise, the seller refused. Then a cash buyer swooped in and snapped it up before we had a chance to counter.
This was the beginning of the market’s takeoff, and it would become more insane. Within weeks, as we started looking with more urgency, multiple offers began popping up on properties in the area. Prices were climbing incredibly fast—beyond what we could afford. Many times we’d line up a showing just to have it canceled because the property went under contract before my husband and I could get there to take a look.
By then, we were scared—and fear had a strange way of obliterating caution and common sense. Suddenly it was all too tempting to want to “make do” with any house we saw just to be done with the process, and overlook warning signs staring us right in the face.
These are the properties that almost brought us to the brink.
House No. 1: The Mold House
I can sum this house up in one word: mold. The smell of it was overwhelming—and it was everywhere. We did a quick walk-through of the first floor, then went into the basement. I felt like I had descended into an alien cave.
There was mold on the walls, the floor, and the ceiling—it looked otherworldly. The stench caused Scott to start sneezing uncontrollably. I opened a door and couldn’t believe my eyes: Giant mushrooms were attached to one side!
Upstairs, I peeked inside a bedroom. In the middle of the floor was a dead chipmunk greeting us with its own special stench.
Instead of running away, we started entertaining the idea that maybe we could buy this house and replace all the drywall. Thankfully, neither of us caved, but as is the case with most couples, this unified front would not last.
House No. 2: The Blue House
We still talk about this one. Scott went to look at this property with our real estate agent. It was a plain, blue-sided home that had an awful layout, a tiny bathroom, and some damaged wood flooring.
He didn’t like the property, but there was nothing really horrible about it. So I started to push him about making an offer—even though I’d never been inside. Every time we looked at another house we didn’t like, I’d badger him about buying the Blue House. While this may sound like a running joke, it wasn’t. I was serious.
The fear that we weren’t going to find anything was heavy on my mind, and this house kept getting passed on by other people. Instead of seeing that as a sign we should walk away, I started thinking it was a sign we should buy. I thank my stars to this day that Scott didn’t cave.
House No. 3: The Tiny House
If the Blue House was my downfall, the Tiny House was surely Scott’s lowest moment. We went to look at this property, and I knew immediately that we could never make it work due to its extremely small size.
There was, however, a three-car garage, and Scott began trying to convince me that we could make it work.
“Most of our stuff could fit inside this third garage stall,” he argued.
I told him I thought he was crazy. He began measuring the space. Something had to give.
How to keep desperation from leading to bad decisions
The good news is, right after the Tiny House fiasco and one really tense conversation in which I tried again to get him to bid on the Blue House, we decided to find a smarter way to move forward. We were pursuing crazy possibilities, overlooking disastrous scenarios, and becoming depressed. Our relationship with each other was beginning to fray, and that was just unacceptable.
We decided to draw up an agreement between the two of us as a way of keeping things on track.
First, we made a basic checklist of “must-have” home features that we both thought were essential, such as a basement for storage and a garage.
Second, we instituted a 24-hour rule. Even though the market was moving fast, we didn’t want to be forced to make a decision we’d regret later. Many times our perspective would change on a home that we were enthusiastic about just a day earlier.
Third, we both had to sign off on the property. This seems almost too simple to include, but it’s ultimately what kept us from buying the Blue House and the Tiny House. In those cases, one of us had the common sense to toe the line and not cave.
As I told Megan, these three rules kept us on track and we ultimately found a house that we not only could afford, but also are in love with to this day.
All these years later, I’m so glad we worked together, stayed patient, and found such a beautiful home. And once in a great while, just for kicks, we drive past the Blue House and have a good laugh.
**Post from Realtor.com by Catherine L Tully 11/4/21