Process of Buying Our First Home

Non-formal “dining room” / eating area

Other wall in dining room area

Hi guys! So I thought I would write about this topic because I realized I’ve never written about it before and a lot of you have asked for posts more about budget, finances, etc. so I feel like the process of buying a home definitely falls into that!

This summer will be 2 years in our home. For those of you that aren’t familiar, we live in Raleigh, North Carolina (which we love), and are in more east Raleigh –about 10 minutes from North Hills. I feel very grateful that we found this house because at the time Stephen wasn’t working and we just had my nursing salary to go off of (I was blogging at the time but when you’re self-employed and in a variable income business, you have to have at least 2 years of proven income for it to be included in what you’ll be approved f0r). So, I thought that we would be a little limited in terms of options but we ended up finding a house that we really loved in terms of location and the inside. As a side note, that is one of the nice things about Raleigh. This area is definitely appreciating (on average 5-7 % each year) but it’s still a fairly affordable city to live in compared to other similar cities. Obviously it’s less expensive than big cities like LA, NYC, Seattle, etc. but it is still more affordable than cities like Austin. But, it is still big enough and “up and coming” that there is a ton to do. I think the last 5 years its been voted in the top 10 as best cities for young professionals. So even though the area is continuing to appreciate, there are still properties that are reasonably priced for what you’re getting in return. Basically, I feel like it’s a great area to move to–it’s like the perfect “sweet spot”!

Anyway–one of the first things we did  that I would definitely recommend is finding a realtor (that you trust!!). I feel like the best are through referrals–but we just happened to find ours, Chip Barker, at a coffee shop one day. We were thinking of starting to look at homes in the next few months and we overhead him on the phone with a client lol and we were like hmmm we kind of like him, maybe we should ask for his card?! And the rest is history. He honestly made the home buying process so much easier. He knew the area better than us, but also had insights when looking at homes that Stephen and I wouldn’t have known. We even almost put a significant offer down on a house and instead of letting us and him making a decent commission, he told us up front that after seeing it, the house was way over priced and pointed out several issues with it that we may have a few years in. So finding a realtor that has your best interest in mind, and not just making a sale, is key! If you’re in the Raleigh/Durham area, I can ‘t recommend Chip enough.

The next thing is to find a mortgage broker and find out how much you’ll get approved for–we happened to find a realtor first, but finding out how much you’re approved for can really be the first step. I feel like this and a realtor kind of go hand in hand. When you find out how much you’re approved for, I would consider not necessarily buying at the top of your price range. Everyone is different and you know your finances, but just because you’re approved for a certain amount doesn’t mean that you need to buy a house worth that. Some things you may want to consider–how long are you planning on being in the house for? If it’s more of a long term property then you may want to spend more at the top of your budget so it’s a home you can grow into. Or maybe you’ll only be there for several years and know you’re going to move so buy on the lower end so you have a lower mortgage, or so you can put down at least 20% to avoid PMI. So no wrong answer here, just things that may be helpful to think about!

Master Bedroom

corner in living room –full blog post on re-design here

Keeping that in mind the next thing that I would think about is your needs vs. wants, and talk with your realtor about these. Some of the things that we were looking for that were more of a “need” was a house with natural light, within 15 minutes from downtown/main shopping areas, 3 bedrooms, a “light” kitchen (ie. lighter counter tops–I didn’t want to have to replace darker ones). Some of the things we wanted but were willing to be more flexible on was having a garage, a big/fenced yard, renovated bathrooms, etc. Basically, we were willing to put some work into a house but overall we wanted it to be move in ready. If you are open to more of a fixer upper, or even one that requires more cosmetic changes, you want to make sure you include that in your budget.

Keeping all this in mind, we started looking at houses in Raleigh and Durham. The market here is kind of crazy (in a good way if you’re selling, bad thing if you’re buying lol). The first two houses that we put in offers on went on the market that Saturday morning and by 5pm that night had over 10 offers (way above asking). After a couple months of looking, our realtor brought us to the house that we’re in now. We kind of got lucky in the sense that this house had actually be purchased a couple months prior but from what we understand the woman who ended up buying it had something come up where she needed to withdraw her deposit. So we ended up seeing it before there was an opportunity for an open house, etc.

When we walked through our house for the first time, I knew it was it. Stephen was not so sure LOL (because how it was decorated–men can never see past that! Ha). So how did I know? I’ll first say, I knew that we weren’t going to get exactly everything we wanted (because of our budget) so I was willing to compromise some but also wasn’t just going to take whatever. The paint colors and furnishings in the house were atrocious LOL (I’ll share a few before photos at the end of the post if you’re interested) but I could see so much potential. There was a ton of natural light though almost every room in the house, the ceilings were taller than standard height which made everything feel even more spacious), there were hardwood floors through the ENTIRE house (this is very rare especially in our price range but something I actually really wanted), kitchen had light colored granite countertops, and the ceilings in the master were vaulted (again, making everything feel bigger), a sunroom (such a nice bonus) and it was 10-15 minutes from the main shopping areas in Raleigh. Since this was our first time buying a house, a lot of these things weren’t even things I realized I wanted (ie. tall ceilings) but once I saw it all together I knew it would be perfect. What it didn’t have: no garage, no big kitchen/island, not a ton of closet space, no updated bathrooms, not a huge yard. I say all this because there may never be the perfect house depending on your budget, or what is available in your area, but you have to look at everything and weigh the pros and cons.

We put in an offer that day and the rest is history! A few other things to note about closing on a home (and I’m definitely not an expert but just a few things we learned). Most of the time you can put as little as 3% down on a house (don’t feel like you need to have a 20% downpayment in order to buy), but also remember that there are closing costs involved that you need to budget for. Aside from our downpayment, we paid about 5-7K more (from what I remember) in additional costs.

Anyway guys! I hope this blog was helpful! As you can see, I above shared some photos of our house now, but if you want to some before photos of what it looked like when we walked through–keep scrolling! Thank you to Nora Giannini Interiors for all the design help (definitely reach out to her if you need help re-designing parts of your home). Ps. You can also see our full kitchen before & after here.


Before kitchen –see full before & after blog here. kitchen island wasn’t permanent, we asked that it be removed prior to us moving in.


before dining room

before bedroom. fireplace was temporary (Yeah, I don’t know LOL). We asked that it be removed before moving in

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  1. Yvonne
    May 19, 2020 / 1:58 am

    MAn you weren’t kidding that before is hideous! Love what you’ve done with the place!

    • Claire Guentz
      May 20, 2020 / 7:08 pm

      haha I know right?! thank you!

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