Handy-Dandy Guide to Buying a House

I wrote this years ago right after buying my first house. That was in 1995ish. Then I updated it after buying my current house.


  1. Get yourself a digital camera if you don’t already have one. Get one of the good ones that doesn’t require an act of God to get the files off of it onto your computer. After all, you’re about to spend several tens of thousands of dollars on a house, so what’s another $600 or so? Go for it. You won’t regret it.
  2. Spend 3 to 6 hours every weekend visiting the (open) homes of people you don’t know. Go through their closets. Rifle through their personal effects. Flush their toilets. This is supposed to teach you what you do and do not like about different homes. It’s also a handy way to learn intimate things about perfect strangers. (“Hmm. Someone takes Percocet. And lots of it….”)
  3. Take pictures of every room. Take extra pictures of things you like. Take extra pictures of things you hate. While you’re at it, take pictures of their furniture, artwork, and decor—it might come in handy when it’s time to decorate your new house.
  4. Go to a bank and ask to be pre-approved for a loan. Handy things to take along with you: a blood sample, your entire net worth written out in more detail than you tell the IRS, several paycheck stubs, your first-born male child.
  5. Get pre-approval. Be prepared to explain why you paid your MasterCard bill late in 1987. In May. You remember that day, don’t you? Sure you do. Can you put that in writing? Can you get it notarized?
  6. Get a Realtor (and make sure they are a buyer’s agent and not that other scum who works for the seller).
  7. Get your Realtor to make appointments to take you through people’s homes that aren’t open houses. Go through their closets. Rifle through their personal effects. Flush their toilets. Make disparaging remarks about everything you hate so your realtor has some idea what not to show you again. Above all: don’t be polite. If you don’t like something, speak up. For instance: “You know, I really like the breakfast nook in the kitchen. What I’m not too crazy about is the swirling vortex of evil in the pantry.”
  8. Take pictures of every room. Take extra pictures of things you like. Take extra pictures of things you hate. While you’re at it, take pictures of their furniture, artwork, and decor—it might come in handy when you break in later to…um…when it’s time to decorate your new house.
  9. Repeat 2, 3, 7, and 8 as often as possible, and for as long as it takes. Don’t restrict your hunt to just weekends. Go at lunch. Go after work. Go during that boring weekly meeting after calling in (cough) sick. (Tip: If you lie down when you call in sick, you will sound sick even if you’re not. Perhaps I’ve said too much.)
  10. Find that Perfect House™. The One™.
  11. Enter Hell.
  12. Put down Earnest Money. In short, this is a bribe. It’s a way of paying off the people who are selling the house to show them you are serious and not yanking their chain. It may or may not be refundable (but it almost always is). It could be anywhere from $500 to $2000.
  13. Agonize over your offer. If you go too low, they’ll discard it out of hand without even considering it. If, however, you go too high, you could end up paying more than the house is worth. But if you really, really love it, maybe it’s worth a little more. But on the other hand… (Repeat this step ad nauseam. Literally. Buy stock in Proctor & Gamble (they own Pepto Bismol).)
  14. Make your offer. Discover that you have to actually state things on the contract such as, “Owner consents to leave behind window treatments, stove, dishwasher, and patio.” Discover from your Realtor how much “closing costs” you actually have to pay. Step 14 is a little like watching your first-born child toddle off to her (You promised the male one to the bank, remember?) first day in school. Through a war zone.
  15. The seller counteroffers or accepts. Go over their proposal with your Realtor. Discover just how many extra costs there are associated with buying a house. Lawyer’s fees, courthouse fees, black-eyed fees…
  16. Repeat 13 through 15 as many times as necessary. Increase your holdings in Proctor & Gamble. (You’ll thank me later.)
  17. If the seller accepts your offer, go to 18. If the seller rejects your final offer, go to step 9.
  18. Go back to the bank and apply for the actual loan. Handy things to take along with you: a sample of your lung fluid, your entire net worth conveniently written in the “$” field of a check, a pin to prick your finger with so that you can sign in blood, a notary public, a change of underwear, a black candle, a pentagram, and a book of Latin incantations. You might also want to remove all mirrors from your current home at this time.
  19. Hire an independent inspector to inspect The House. Go with him/her/it. Crawl under the house and in the attic. Ask every dumb question you think of, like, “Can you tell if there’s been any structural damage?” or “Is that a femur?” or “That stain over there…does it look like blood to you?” Find out that termites will tunnel through basically anything (including styrofoam) to get to wood. Find out just how many places in a house use caulk.
  20. Remove your checkbook from your pocket/purse. Kiss the cover. It will be the last time you ever see your money again. Set up your salary to be deposited directly into your mortgage account. Place the bank’s loan department into your auto-dial.
  21. Set a closing date. Start practicing your signature. You’ll want to do this a couple of dozen times a day in various sizes and at various angles. This is to protect you from writer’s cramp or carpal tunnel syndrome during the actual closing.
  22. Go to the closing. Meet the “opposition” for the first time. Discover that they are just as eager to get rid of the house as you are to get it. This is your time to pump them for information. Who collected their garbage? Who supplied their water? Electricity? Phone service? Did they have Internet (and if not, what century did they time-travel here from)? Who through? (A)DSL? Who supplied their cable TV access? Cablemodem? What speed did they get? Did they have gas? Who was that with? Who painted their house? Who did the roof? When was that? When was the last time it was re-sided? Who did the landscaping? Who monitored their security system? Who was their tree surgeon? Who was the moron that thought raspberry and chartreuse would be a good color scheme for the master bathroom? (I mean, really. Raspberry and chartreuse?) Did they have a pet? Where did it hang out? Did it ever pee on the carpet? Where? Who cleaned their carpet? What is the master security code? Where are the remote controls for the garage doors? Which neighbors are likely to be annoying? When is the mail delivered? Who’s on First? What? No, Who. I don’t know! Third base!
  23. Sign your name and/or initials approximately 30 times. In pentuplicate. Notice that the sellers only sign theirs about 15 times. In pentuplicate. Be prepared for closing to take anywhere from an hour to two hours, just in case something goes wrong. For instance, the bank screws up your PMI and doesn’t calculate it in. Or the wire for the money that’s being paid to the sellers didn’t come in before closing and it’s expected any minute now. Or any one of a hundred other things that could go wrong.
  24. Prepare to move into your new home. Do all that paint work and repair work that you noted needed doing when you were taking all those pictures way back in steps 3 and 8. Discover that maybe raspberry and chartreuse isn’t quite as bad as you thought it was…
  25. Discover that there are things your wonderful Realtor never told you and that you didn’t think to look for. I mean, seriously, who turns on the hot water and lets it run for 5 minutes during an open house? Next time, you will. Unless you like that KLUH-KLUH-KLUH-KLUH-KLUHHHHHNK sound it makes once the water turns hot.
  26. Discover the “hidden” costs of owning a house. Property tax. PMI. Neighborhood association fees. Buying a garbage can or 7. Lawn care. Paint. Cleaning the rain gutters. Kids selling M&M’s for their church (and/or hiding the bodies). Neighbors who want to borrow stuff (and/or hiding the bodies).
  27. Think back to how simple your life was before you started at #1. Sob inconsolably. Vow never to go through this again. Ever, ever, ever.
  28. Years later, forget #27 and start over at #1.
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