On my way to being a first-time homebuyer in Georgia: Here’s how I won the contract in a wild market

On my way to being a first-time homebuyer in Georgia: Here’s how I won the contract in a wild market

I’m no real estate expert. I’ve never even owned property, but I am now effectively under contract for a property in metro Atlanta—no small feat if you’re familiar with this market, or really any market. The coronavirus pandemic has had a bewildering effect on real estate, which the White House confirmed in a report dated Sept. 1. The pandemic “shifted families’ preferences for location and type of housing, exacerbating existing supply chain constraints that—for several reasons—have persisted for many years,” White House officials wrote. “These pandemic-related changes interacted with the existing housing inventory shortage, resulting in sharp price increases for both owned homes and rental units.”

At the same time, mortgage rates have dropped to historic lows, driving an influx of would-be buyers to the market, Forbes reported in June. “Anecdotally, increasingly desperate tactics from would-be buyers are becoming the norm: ‘love letters’ from prospective buyers to owners of homes not on the market persuading them to sell, buyers waiving all contingencies including inspection, and buyers submitting multiple offers concurrently on multiple homes knowing they will most likely miss out on all of them,” Forbes contributor Mike Maher wrote.

I haven’t tried any of those tactics and would likely never waive an appraisal or inspection contingency, disarming myself of any negotiating power after landing the coveted contract. In my home search, however, I have had to get crafty to help my offer stand out. Here are five strategies I applied to my single-family home search after taking a multifamily investing course from entrepreneur and real estate investor Jullien Gordon

I wrote a letter of interest.

This mainly serves as a way of humanizing what can be a pretty prescribed process of submitting an offer. I knew I wanted my letter to stand out visually and in terms of content, so I started laying mine out with photos of my family and descriptions of my goals, weeks before I actually viewed the home I would put an offer in on. My goal was to communicate the truth of who I am. I wrote that I am a social justice writer. I wrote that I have two children who inspire most of my work, and I wrote that I wanted a home to not only own but to one day pass on to my children. I was honest about who I am, and I must admit I thought twice about whether or not to include my profession. It’s not always viewed favorably in the South, but I wanted to be true to who I am. When my offer was accepted, the seller’s agent told my agent it was my letter of interest that swayed the owner. He comes from a family of activists. 

I solidified conventional financing.

The financing piece of searching for a home was the most involved element. I started out looking to participate in the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America’s (NACA) home-buying program, which despite my negative experience I would still recommend exploring. It promises to pay closing costs, down payment costs, and other fees for buyers who in turn undergo the underwriting process up front and are held to other budgeting terms. I was excited to be a part of the program, but about six months into my journey, my NACA counselor informed me that I had been flagged as an investor and kicked out of the program. She directed me to the chief executive officer if I had any questions, which I had many of, but he never returned my email or phone calls. I was devastated. I felt like I was in this bizarre trap where I thought I needed financial assistance to obtain a home but was just overqualified enough to be ineligible for any assistance. I didn’t, however, give myself much time to sulk.

Frankly, I was out of time. My husband and I got word from the owner of the townhome we were renting that they were thinking of selling the place. Knowing the competitive rental landscape, I knew I didn’t want my family having to scour the city for another place to rent. So I hunkered down for a three-day period, contacting multiple lenders in search of a conventional loan with a low down payment that would also finance renovation costs. A conventional loan was important to me because the Federal Housing Administration financing known in short as the FHA loan (which would otherwise be perfect for a buyer like me) just wasn’t appealing to sellers who preferred all-cash and conventional offers. When I found a lender that was a fit for what I wanted, I got pre-approved in one day. 

I moved quickly.

My husband and I had been looking at properties for months to get familiar with the lay of the land, but I formally started looking with the intent to buy immediately in July. We had two property viewings set up on the Thursday morning my husband noticed a unique and instantly attractive home that hit the market minutes earlier. I immediately sent the real estate agent I was working with a text to set up a viewing, and at that point the seller’s agent hadn’t even worked out a plan for scheduling viewings or an open house yet. But when he did, he called my agent back informing her of his plan to do an open house that coming Saturday. He was only allowing people with pre-approval letters to view the property, and luckily I had already landed my letter. My agent, savvy as she is, made sure to arrange our viewing an hour before the open house, giving us a competitive advantage.

I offered above asking.

I took my husband and two small children with me to view the home, and we got the opportunity to meet the owner and chat with him a bit. I used that conversation to tailor my letter of interest, and I submitted both the letter and my offer the same day we viewed the property. I decided on an offer that was $5,000 above the asking price, based on what I could afford and what I thought the property was worth considering the other properties that had come on the market over the past year. I was comfortable with my offer because I could affirmatively answer two important questions: If I lost the property, would I still feel okay with what I offered? And if I got the property, could I afford to pay for it? It’s easy to get caught up in the competitive aspects of trying to land a home. And although it can feel like an intense game, signing up for hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt is no laughing matter. I wanted the home, yes, but I also didn’t want to put my family in a financially compromising position to get it. So I offered just slightly above asking price and after securing the contract, negotiated the price down based on needed repairs. 

I was flexible with my timeline.

After I submitted my offer, the seller requested that we move our timeline up. He wanted to close in 30 days instead of 45, which meant a shorter due diligence period to kick the wheels on the home, so to speak, and a shorter period to ask for a price reduction due to any findings from the appraisal. I said yes without much thought, but my husband, having purchased a home before, knew what we were up against. He scheduled our inspection the next day, and my lender actually was able to get an appraiser out there the next week. We were on track to meet our closing date if not for an unexpected family emergency that delayed the appraiser in returning her report. Luckily, the seller had a few more things to work out on his end too, so the delays didn’t jeopardize our deal.

I’d love to say that I’ve handled all the twists and turns in this process gracefully, but honestly, it’s been frustrating. I’ve been anxious and have tended to obsess over the most obscure details. If not for my support system and this amazing job that actually pays me to vent my frustrations, I don’t know how I would’ve come even this close to closing on my first home. I’m in constant prayer for peace and patience but also grateful, because I recognize fully how much of a blessing it is to only have the closing process to worry about. I don’t have to worry about if my family will have shelter, food to eat, or health battles to fight. I’m well. My husband is well, and my children are well. We will work everything else out. 

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