It’s a buyer’s market…how hard can it be?

That was my thought a few months ago, when I decided to try to buy a house.  With foreclosures and short sales out there, I had visions of a cozy little one or two bedroom place of my own, leaving the Renting World far behind.   I could own a place and build equity, all the while keeping my living expenses at a fixed rate.  Bye-bye landlord; suck it temporary housing!

Uh, not so fast.

As a gal born and raised outside of Washington, DC,  Dupont Circle and anywhere above Eastern Market (I knew full well Capitol Hill was never gonna happen without my scoring big in the Lottery) were my “Where I’d Like To Live” dream team.  But though it’s a buyer’s market right now?  It’s not a  giveaway folks.  In fact, though buyers can pick and choose from all sorts of gorgeous stuff out there, in DC?  There’s still stiff competition and bidding wars continue.  Sigh.

Next stop?  Baltimore, Maryland.  It’s a cool city that’s about 45 minutes from friends and family in the DC area, and with I-95 being a short trip from just about anywhere in Baltimore City, traveling is a snap.  But, Baltimore ain’t exactly the safest neighborhood in the world.  Still, some areas, like Federal Hill, Fells Point, Canton, Butcher’s Hill, Patterson Park and, my personal favorite, Pigtown, are great, with plenty to see and do.  Plus, for the most part the rowhouses in this city have been built at the turn of last century, which means gorgeous touches you don’t see in newer construction.

I got myself a realtor, a mortgage broker, and developed an unhealthy obsession with Redfin and Realtor.com.

TIP: don’t expect your realtor to do all the looking for you.  If you want to see what’s out there, surf around!  If you stumble on something that your realtor hasn’t come across for you, ask him/her for the details.  Then go see it!

After looking at somewhere around 30 or more houses all over Baltimore City, I decided to focus on Pigtown.  Also known as Washington Village, it’s a newly minted National Historic District, one of several in this city.  It’s not the safest neighborhood in the world, but the area is definitely turning around.  Word is that if you buy East of Scott Street, Pigtown is pretty much just fine.  But anything after that (especially the area I call “past The Bend in Washington Boulevard”)?  You’re rolling the dice.  Bearing that in mind I looked around and found…something past The Bend.  It’s a pretty place:

And it’s a foreclosure, which means it is priced lower than a lot of similar homes in the neighborhood.  The problem?  Next door.  Let’s just call it “Red”:

Cleveland Street Beauty...and "Red", the Beast

Terrifying, right?  Well, I asked my realtor if there’d be any problems with Red/”the house next door”.  Her response?  Nope!  So I put an offer in on Cleveland and hoped for the best.

TIP: a realtor may be working with you, but he or she is working, plain and simple.  Do as much research on a property, area or specific street until you feel comfortable.  DON”T let a realtor push you!  If a realtor tries to push you into making a decision you’re not ready to make?  Find yourself a different realtor.  And don’t sign any exclusivity agreement until you interview that realtor — remember, they’re working for you, don’t you want to hire the best?

I’ll go into specifics of my putting a contract in and how I lost and finally “won” Cleveland in later posts, but right now let’s just jump to the fact that I’m closing in a week.

Ahh, closing.  Everyone says it’s stressful, but I hadn’t had any real stress issues at all.  Until my friend the former real estate attorney, my former realtor and several sweetly protective friends voiced their concerns.  But all seems well, and I’m waiting for underwriting. I’d gotten pre-approved, or so I thought…turns out I’d only gotten pre-qualifed.  So I may not get my mortgage.  It’s all in the hands of the underwriter.

TIP: everyone talks about getting pre-approved or pre-qualified.  They are not the same thing!  Pre-approved is what you want; that means the underwriters have taken a look at all of your paperwork, reviewed everything they need to, and have said you’re good to go.  Pre-qualified means the loan officer plugged your information into the computer and has printed out a tentative approval.  TENTATIVE, which means you’ll have to wait for underwriting to approve — or reject — your loan, regardless of what your loan officer has told you.  Don’t waste precious time, tell your loan officer you want to be pre-approved before you start looking at homes!

With interest rates for mortgages at rock-bottom, they can only go up from here.  My rate, 4.875% for a 30-year FHA, is golden!  But I locked in for 30 days, since that’s what my loan officer and my realtor said everything would be wrapped up by then, no problem.

TIP: there’s almost always a problem.  Things inevitably pop up at the last minute, from the title company stumbling upon ground rent in a city place to sellers not being able to close on their own property and not being able to leave the house you’re dying to move into.  Go for a 45 or 60 day lock-in for your mortgage rate, and make sure they won’t charge you any more than you’d be charged for a 30 day lock-in.  If they do?  Go elsewhere; there are plenty of mortgage lenders dying for your business.

Trust me on that last tip; I feel like the girl who never had guys interested until she had a boyfriend.  I can’t go to my bank or surf a real estate Web site without someone asking/wanting to chat about getting me my mortgage.  Yes, it’s a pain in the *#(@% to do the work to shop around, but it’s worth it.  You’ll be paying this mortgage for years, you want to get in as low as you can go.

That’s it for me right now.  I’ll be blogging about real estate, home decorating and Baltimore Web sites I’ve visited, and of course I’ll keep blogging/ranting about my home buying process.  And one day, perhaps sometime soon she said hopefully, I’ll start blogging about how it feels to own a home.  Hey, it could happen.

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