First Time Home Buyers Hit Some Snags

Even with low interest rates, a good house is hard to find.

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The adventures of a first-time home buyer continues.

My house hunting urge usually kicks in strongly on Sunday mornings, when my husband likes to watch Sunday morning talk shows but I’d prefer to read or work at my desk. Our one-bedroom apartment, with the living room that also serves as our dining area and study, doesn’t make it easy for us to do different things at the same time, especially when one is loud. I start imagining how nice life would be if we had a bigger place -- one with a separate study, separate living room, and separate kitchen.

So after four years of living in our apartment – which, I must admit, became easier over time as we got used to sharing such a tiny space – we have officially jumped into the home-buying market. Interest rates are low, prices have come down, so buying a home should be as easy as picking out a new sofa -- right?

We started by sitting down with a real estate agent for a two-hour discussion that included contract law along with the risks of radon, asbestos, and lead in area homes. She also let us know that finding a spacious kitchen in our price range wasn’t going to be easy.

Then, the real fun began – visiting houses and imagining our lives there. The first day of open houses ended with us running gratefully back to our light-filled apartment and collapsing on our futon in despair. The houses in our price range were, in many ways, much worse than our current apartment. They had no light. The basements smelled. They seemed kind of gross.

The next weekend, we asked our agent, Jane, to take us to a couple houses we hadn’t seen yet. The first, an arts-and-crafts bungalow, looked perfect from the outside. It was on a quiet street filled with pink azalea bushes, and as we waited for her on the front porch, which protected us from the pouring rain, we peered in at what looked like a warm and spacious living room. As she unlocked the door and we stepped in, she immediately pointed out the light. “Even on a day like this, you can tell this place gets a lot of light,” she said. The living room was nice, but when we walked into the kitchen, she stopped to point out the tiles. “When they’re 9” by 9” like this, it means they probably haven’t been replaced, which means they probably have asbestos in them,” she said. Yikes. I was ready to get out of there. But then she explained that as long as you hire the proper experts, the carcinogen can be safely removed. But still, that would cost money.

Our trip into the unfinished basement also raised some alarms. It smelled damp and looked pretty unappealing; I couldn’t imagine asking a guest to sleep down there. The attic was similarly creepy and required a step ladder to access. Sujay thought the bedrooms and closets were way too small.

Still, as we left the bungalow, something about it stayed with us. Sujay and I felt like we had some kind of connection to it. “It’s sort of like dating,” we joked. We were also starting to compulsively check on house listings with the intensity that some bring to Match.com.

The second house we visited was objectively nicer, with three floors and larger bedrooms, but the bars on the windows outside and street that felt like an alley turned us off.

So, needless to say, we're still looking.