Hey guys! I know I haven’t been exceptionally present on here for a few months and, besides teaching, a large part of that has been due to house hunting. It’s time consuming, it’s boring, and it eats your soul.
Or, at least, it tried to eat mine. And I’m barely exaggerating.
So let’s settle in for story time. If you’re someone who’s looking to buy your first home soon, this might be kind of enlightening for you.
It all really started over last summer. I was looking for houses on Zillow because, frankly, it was the easiest website to find information on and to understand. When I had free time, I would start poking around and seeing if there were any houses in my general area that I liked. Every now and then I would see one that was kind of cute, but I didn’t ever do anything about it.
Well, finally I saw a house I thought was really cute, something I thought I could actually move in to. The way Zillow works is, if you don’t have a real estate agent, they kind of “assign” you one from your area. I requested more information on the house and I almost immediately got a phone call from Zillow. They connected me to an agent, who told me that the house I was looking at was actually now off the market but Zillow hadn’t quite caught up yet. But she was going to help me look for houses from then on.
Let’s call my agent “Bridget“.
For the next, oh, 3 months, Bridget sent me daily emails with houses in the area for sale in my price range. These were automated emails asking for feedback–what did I like about this house? What did I not like and why? I responded to these fairly regularly…and found out much later that she wasn’t looking at them at all. She’d call or email me every few weeks asking if I’d seen anything I liked rather than looking through my feedback.
RED FLAG #1: Your real estate agent is having you do all the work that technically they should be doing.
In late September, I saw I house I feel in love with. It was a little ranch with a huge great room, windows in the roof for sun, brightly colored walls (I hate beige), and a lot of quirky personality traits. I loved it.
I met Bridget in person for the first time while seeing this house. I came after school and my parents were going to meet me there as well, since I had literally no idea what I was supposed to be looking at. My parents and I beat Bridget there by about 5-10 minutes. When she got there, she basically followed us into the house and just stood there, telling us to look around and ask any questions we had.
RED FLAG #2: Your real estate agent doesn’t do her homework.
Bridget was very accommodating, but she knew nothing about the property. She pointed out a few things to us that she saw along the way, things that the owner would probably need to fix before we bought the house, but she said that wouldn’t be a problem.
I’m not kidding you at all when I say that this house was a bachelor pad. The floors in the garage were painted with team logos. One bedroom had his favorite baseball and football teams (pro and college) painted on 3 of the walls. All of the walls were painted some kind of primary color–lime green, royal blue, red-orange, gold, black, etc. But the weirdest thing of all was that in the “sports room” (that team bedroom I mentioned) was that there was a framed, signed photo of a naked woman on the wall. I’m pretty sure she was a stripper because it looked professionally done.
RED FLAG #3: If the seller can’t be bothered to clean up the house before showing it, it’s probably a sign they can’t be bothered to do other things.
After about a week and a half of debating, I impulsively made an offer on the house. I don’t do anything impulsively, let me tell you, but this house just wiggled its way into my brain and it was the cutest thing I’d seen in a while. I loved that it had character when so many other houses looked cookie-cutter.
I very quickly realized that Bridget had no idea what she was doing. About two days into the process, I got an email from another agent at Bridget’s office listing the next five things I needed to do and the dates they needed to be done by. (Example: getting the earnest money check to the realtor’s office, scheduling an inspection, etc.) The earnest money needed to be delivered by the next day or I was out of contract.
Stuff like that would have been nice to know earlier so I could actually feel prepared, you know? As a first time home buyer, I didn’t have a clue how the process was supposed to go.
Everything went more or less smoothly until the inspection.
I hired the highest rated company I could find in the area and took a half-day off work to go to the inspection and see first-hand what needed to be fixed. I figured having it explained to me would be better than just reading a report.
I left school shortly after noon to head toward the house. I got a call two minutes into my drive from the inspector and the conversation went something like this:
Inspector: “Hi, is this Holly?”
Me: “Yes, it is.”
Inspector: “Hi, this is Jesse from the inspection company. …Are you planning on coming to the inspection today?”
Me: “Yes, I’m actually on my way there right now.”
Inspector: “Um…you may want to delay for a bit. Grab some lunch or something.”
Inspector: “Well, I just got here a few minutes ago and the owner is still here. I knocked, I unlocked the door, I called out that I was from the inspection company and a man called from the bedroom, ‘I’m not dressed!’ It’s uh…it’s probably going to take him twenty minutes or so to pull himself together and leave. He said, for some reason, that his realtor had told him the inspection was at 4:30, which is just ridiculous. I’m so sorry about this, this never happens.”
Inspector: “Again, I’m so sorry. I’m leaving myself for a little while to give him some time. I can call you when I’m back?”
Me: “Ok, sure…”
I cannot make this up, I promise you. So I went shopping for about 45 minutes before I got a call saying it was ok to come to the house.
And the inspection went terribly. I’ll give you the highlights (or lowlights, if you will):
- None of the windows had cranks to check if they could even be opened.
- Most every window was rotted out so badly that you could literally feel the wind blowing in underneath them.
- Flooring wasn’t finished in places where he would have had to cut the wood/laminate in awkward ways. He just covered it with a rug.
- Drains that were slow/plugged, he just pulled out the stopper to make them work better.
This guy didn’t care a flip about the house and it showed. Badly. I mean, there were even beer bottles left in the backyard. FOR A SHOWING.
And that’s when the trouble really started.
RED FLAG #4: Make sure your agent is actually an advocate for you and not just himself/herself.
Bridget told me after the inspection some really insane stuff. Things like the listing agent was only giving me 24 hours to make a response to the inspection (what I was asking them to fix). Having no idea how much windows cost, I had to quickly do research on that. Looking at roughly $600 per window to buy and install, I asked for about $2,700 dollars, knowing I was going to fork out some myself.
Bridget thought my number was too high. The listing agent balked and tried to bully me down.
I stood by my guns. My parents had just put in new windows three months earlier. I had friends at school who have rental properties and are constantly doing fixes like this. I trusted their judgment.
The only time I ever saw Bridget actually working was when she was trying to convince me that I was in the wrong. She sent me picture after picture of windows with their prices attached. She hired a company to come out and do an estimate for the windows to prove that I was wrong. (Boy, did that one backfire–his number came out to be almost exactly what I asked for.)
She was calling me all the time to tell me this or that. The listing agent was demanding that I give them more time to decide. (By this point, I was furious with them and was giving them 24-48 hours to respond to things because that’s what they were doing to me.) The listing agent was furious my bank hadn’t done an appraisal yet. The listing agent was furious I wasn’t paying for the survey.
RED FLAG #5: If something feels wrong, it probably is.
I’ll spare you the minutiae of it all and simply say this: it got to the point where just looking at my phone made me grind my teeth together. Bridget was calling me all the time at school and I eventually got really rude with her.
Because I had a damn good feeling that someone (Bridget or the listing agent) was trying to take advantage of me for being A) single, B) a female, C) young, and D) a first time home buyer.
They just didn’t bank on me being stubborn.
I went through the contract with a fine-toothed comb. My friends and family (who viewed me as a daytime soap opera and asked almost every day, “So what’s the new drama?”) gave me names of other realtors who might be willing to help me. By this time, I knew I wanted out. You couldn’t have paid me to buy this house anymore.
I called up a new realtor and explained what was happening. He was appalled. He told me that, if the inspection response from the seller wasn’t satisfactory, then I could legally back out of the deal then.
I asked for $2,700–and they offered me $1,300. I was out. I wanted my earnest money back.
And that was a sticking point.
RED FLAG #6: Seriously, and I cannot say this enough, NEVER EVER get into a situation where your realtor and the seller’s are from the same company. You need an advocate on YOUR side.
Bridget and the listing agent, Bob, worked in the same office. They talked. And, from what I heard from other sources, Bob was a real MFer. Nasty, rude, etc. I think he truly thought he could take me for a ride.
So I signed paperwork to get out of buying the house. After days of not hearing back from the seller, I called Bridget. Why hadn’t they signed it yet? Wasn’t there some kind of time table on it like on every other contract I’d had to sign?
No, she told me. We couldn’t force them to sign it so we just had to wait. And in the meantime, because I was in a contract with him, I couldn’t enter into a contract with anyone else.
Oh, but he could continue to show the house and try to sell it.
It was such BS. But I waited. And waited. After a little over 2 weeks, I’d had enough. I called my helpful, non-Bridget realtor again and asked him what I could do next. He told me I could take my case to the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and they could decide whether or not something was amiss and get me my money back. The downside? It took a long time, probably a couple of months. The upside? While the case was in contention like this, the seller couldn’t even have the house on the market.
So I told Bridget that’s what I wanted to do. I simply told her I would find the paperwork and file it myself. She must have talked to Bob because within 24 hours, I had the signed contract in my hand and my earnest check ready to pick up.
Seriously, sometimes you just need to pull out your broomstick and pointy black hat and make a stink.
Bridget hasn’t contacted me once since, and I’m fine with that. Instead, I partnered up with my helpful realtor and I’m currently in the process of buying a house I think will actually work for me. While it is covered in beige (yuck), it has a lot of potential. And the sellers are working with me–when the inspection showed a few things were wrong, like one shower not working, they agreed to get it fixed.
This process has been much smoother because I learned from past experiences. And that’s what I wanted to pass along to you guys. House buying can be tough. Just make sure you read the paperwork, know what your rights are, and find someone who knows what they’re doing and will advocate for you. That has literally made all the difference. This time around has been so much calmer and less stressful because I know I’m not the one stuck in the middle of all of this; my realtor’s taking care of it.
Learn from my mistakes!