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Are You Ready to Buy a House?

By Kristi Waterworth – Nov 16, 2021 at 10:10AM

Key Points

  • The hardest part of buying a house isn’t financial, it’s setting expectations and handling the stress.
  • A perfect house doesn’t exist, but your must-haves list can keep you on track while shopping.
  • There may be some difficult conversations between you and your partner -- or with yourself.

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Buying a house is a difficult process, fraught with danger at every turn. The purchase doesn't end with your contract -- in fact, that's when it's barely begun.

So, you've watched every episode of House Hunters, you belong to at least five different social media house-shaming groups, and you've even been checking out local listings online, all in an effort to get a good feel for what the whole home buying "thing" is all about. But are you really ready to buy a house?

Not to scare you, but there's a steep learning curve with homeownership -- and it's an even steeper one with homebuying. The stakes couldn't be higher, especially when it comes to your first home. It pays to take it slow, make sure you understand what you're getting into, and be positive you're as ready as you can be for this new stage in your life.

Two people look intently into a tablet while sitting on a couch.

Image Source: Getty Images

The big three of homebuying

I was lucky enough to work closely with homebuyers as a Realtor, especially first timers, for many years. It was one of the great pleasures of my life. During that time, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to prepare people for this ghastly process, and I figured out that you could pretty much sort the whole thing into three groups of problems to solve.

First, you've got the basic stuff, your financials. This is what every website will write about: your credit report, your income, your down payment, etc. This absolutely has to be right before you even start shopping, especially in a market like we have today. Save yourself a lot of stress and deal with that first.

Second, you've got your hopes and wishes. Almost every first time buyer goes into homebuying with an idea of what they want. But they quickly find out that they can't have their entire wishlist because House Hunters is not a balanced mix of TV and reality (forgive me for saying so).

Third, you have your emotions. Hooboy. If your relationship with your significant other isn't solid, you're under a lot of stress at work, or your dog is sick, you may well not survive the emotional upheaval that most buyers experience.

Dealing with your homebuying hopes

There has been endless amounts of literature devoted to financials. We're going to skip that and get into the good stuff. When you're looking for a house, it can be really frustrating that you can't find what you think you want, and that's at least twice as true when the market is so tight. So, before you even begin shopping, make two lists. One is going to be your must haves, or the things you absolutely need, like a bedroom for each of your kids.

The other list will be your nice to haves, or the things you'd like to have but aren't deal breakers. I know you have all this in your head, but once the chaos of home shopping starts, you're going to need a list to refer back to -- ask anyone you know who's closed on a home lately.

Forget everything you've seen on TV. Your market is almost certainly going to be different, and what you can buy with your money may be significantly less in quantity and impressiveness. That's OK -- you can always upgrade your house, so long as you have geography and structure on your side. There's nothing wrong with an entry-level house; we all start in them.

Managing your emotions

You may think I'm a real jerk for saying this, but at least half of a Realtor's job is helping you manage your emotions. No, really. Buying a house is a weird sort of emotional journey, where you learn a lot about yourself and, if applicable, your partner. It will be an anxiety-filled ride, from the moment you find a house that gives you that weird tingle through the contract submission, the home inspection, the appraisal, the loan approval, and, finally, the walk-through.

I've bought and sold dozens of properties and have been an agent for hundreds more, and I can assure you that I'm not immune to it myself. On my last home purchase, my anxiety literally got so bad that I threatened to take the down payment money and run away to Mexico. It wasn't pretty. It was a challenging closing, but still... after a decade in the business, you'd think I'd be cool as a cucumber. Not so much. And this was in a much more favorable buyers market, on a house that had literally been vacant for four years.

Are you ready to buy a house? Are you sure?

When I was asked to prepare you for buying a house, it wasn't the financial stuff that I was worried about. Everybody will prepare you for that, absolutely everyone. Fewer will tell you the truth about what it's like to buy a house.

How you'll wake up in a cold sweat because you can't remember which one had the fireplace and which one had the yellow wallpaper because all that's left in your brain is one congealed image of an endless flow of houses you've toured. Or how the stress level will cause you and your loved ones to come to blows over something as inconsequential as the number of outlets in a potential future home's living room.

Or how you may learn, purely by accident, that the person you thought you knew best in the world is enamored with shag carpet that literally looks like it's made from shredded Muppets. Or worse, you realize YOU love it...

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