How One Millennial Couple Survived Buying a House for the First Time

Home buying process
From left, Jen Smith cuts up a bell pepper as she and her husband, Travis Smith, talk in the kitchen of their new home they bought in St. Petersburg, Fla. Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder

I was totally clueless about what it would be like to buy a house.

I’d watched an obscene amount of HGTV, and everyone and their mom is a realtor. How hard could it be to find an affordable fixer-upper and make it Pinterest-worthy?

No “reality” show could’ve prepared me for this reality.

Nobody would want to watch our story unfold on a television show.

My husband and I aren’t an adorable couple on a farm or attractive Canadian twins. We hardly banter. But we do have plot twists, blank stares and lots of frozen pizza, so maybe it is worth giving us a show — or at least a YouTube video.

How We Accidently Became House Hunters

Our names are Jen and Travis.

We’re a typical millennial couple: we got married in our late 20s and we’re waiting to have kids.

The weird thing about us is we spent our first year of marriage putting 60% of our total income toward paying off our student loans.

Otherwise we’re totally normal.

We were perfectly happy renters — until our landlord called and said he was going to turn our apartment into an Airbnb.

We had 60 days to find a new place to live, and no money saved to do so.

The Search Begins

Home buying process

From left, Travis Smith and Jen Smith prepare to hang a photo in their new home in St. Petersburg, Fla. Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder

We did the responsible thing and started looking at rentals. That lasted one day.

Spoiler alert: Housing prices have increased a lot in the last two years.

We really wanted to be homeowners, but with no savings ready to be used for a down payment, we didn’t think buying was an option for us.

On the other hand, we’d become pretty good side hustlers and savers. So with nothing to lose, we called up a random realtor we found online and started our adventure.

The great thing about paying off your student loans is it brings your credit score up and your debt-to-income ratio way down. We were able to get pre-approved for our ideal loan amount within a few hours, even without a lot of money in the bank.

The Drama

We started looking at fixer-uppers, and I entertained dreams of quartz countertops and watching my husband do manual labor.

Unfortunately I’m not the only person who liked fixer-uppers. Investors who pay cash for houses snatch them up within hours of being on the market. Literally, hours.

So we looked at already-flipped homes. I spent my search repeatedly disappointed by ugly granite countertops, dozens of shades of taupe and inaccurate listing websites.

We found a house with acceptable laminate flooring and put in an offer for $5,000 under listing, because that’s how you play hardball.

I was so naive back then. We were immediately outbid by a full-price offer.

We put an offer in on another house later that week, and even though the listing agent gave a verbal acceptance of our offer to our agent over the phone, he’d actually already accepted another offer.

I was crushed and pretty much over the homebuying process. The competitive market, shady real estate agents and eating Cheerios for dinner were doing me in.

But I was in too deep. I was going to see this thing through if it killed me.

Love at First Sight

With a defeated spirit, I did what any adult does and threw more money at the problem. Our mortgage broker told us we could’ve been pre-approved for way more than we asked, but I didn’t want to be tempted by the number so I never asked for it.

But I did look at nicer houses to make myself feel better.

Travis got called into work, so I set out on my own with our agent. I found a tropical green bungalow on Zillow that had been listed 14 days prior. That usually means it’s already sold, but the open house wasn’t until the next day, and the pictures were just too perfect to pass up.

When we pulled up and walked inside, it was love at first sight. The cove ceilings, marble backsplash and quartz countertops made me forget every house that had ever hurt me.

Someone once told me that real estate is contrary to everything we’re taught about making big decisions. You’re supposed to take your time and research before making decisions, but in real estate, if you think too long, you’ve lost the deal.

I stopped thinking and offered all my money. Thankfully, my randomly selected real estate agent ended up being awesome and made me put my wallet away.

She wielded her magic to get the sellers to pay most of the closing costs, the fees in addition to our down payment and had contract details drawn up before we left the house.

Did I mention my husband hadn’t seen the house? He was less than thrilled, but when we went to the open house the next day to scare away potential buyers, he loved it. We met the flippers and made them our best friends so we could further ensure they would accept our offer.

The 28 days that followed were a blur of writing checks, filling out forms (online and on paper), packing, eating frozen pizzas and driving by the house to make sure the “For Sale” sign wasn’t still up.

Our Happy Home

home buying process

From left, Jen Smith and her husband, Travis Smith, kiss as they sit outside of their new home. Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder

When we finally closed on the house and finished signing that last stack of papers, I felt like a huge weight had lifted.

Moving in was a joy, minus getting sick from the extra hours I’d been working to afford the closing costs.

We made our first mortgage payment last month and only 16% went to principal — so much for not throwing away our money on rent! But we love it here, and no one’s going to turn it into an Airbnb except us.

Buying a house was nothing like what I thought it’d be. The market is completely different now from what I’d witnessed over the past 10 years. What had been a “buyer’s market” is ripe for sellers now.

There are a lot of things to consider when buying a house. If you decide it’s right for you, then I wish you as much success as we had!

Jen Smith is an editorial intern and the blogger behind Saving with Spunk. She writes about saving money and paying off your student loans now so you can do more fun stuff with your money in the future.