The Small Home Buyers’ Guide Part 2: how to find the house of your dreams

Downsize Small Home Buyers' Guide ZoeAtHome.com

This is a story about knowing exactly what you want, doing your homework and seizing the moment when it comes. I am writing an eBook about fast mortgage repayment, and I’ve been thinking about putting some of the material on this blog. It’s not the kind of thing I usually write about here, so please let me know if you’d like to read more.

When we moved from the country to the city a few years ago, we wanted to live in a place where we could have access to the things we’d gone without for so many years: cafés, restaurants, nice shops, and services within walking distance. So we decided to rent a small house in a great inner city suburb. It would be expensive, so we toyed with the idea of moving to the outer suburbs to save money on rent while we looked for a house to buy. I found a few rental listings, but none of them were quite right. I just couldn’t imagine myself living there. I emailed some of the listings to my auntie (who is an expert on the property market) and she called me and said, “look Zoe, you’re not going to be happy in one of these houses. Rent a place for a year in the inner city where you can walk to the fancy shops and cafés so you can get that out of your system.”

So that’s what we did. We lived in that house for a year, and realised that was the area we wanted to live in permanently. We started dreaming about buying a house there, but we didn’t think we would be able to afford it. But nevertheless we kept thinking about it.

How to find the house of your dreams ZoeAtHome.com

And we did our research: I looked at listings daily and we went to auctions and walked all around the area to find out which were the better streets. I got to know the agents in the area, just because I went to so many house inspections. We wrote up a list of things we wanted in a house. And we got pre-approval for our loan so we knew exactly what our budget was.

That was a difficult moment for us. As a teenager, I’d read a book called Your Mortgage and How to Pay it Off in Five Years by Anita Bell and since then, I’d been interested in the possibility of becoming debt free. (Click here to see the most recent edition of this book). But no matter how hard we looked, we just couldn’t find any houses that were in our budget. In order to buy here, we would be in debt for a long time. Our dream (actually now more of an obsession) seemed impossible, but I couldn’t imagine anything else: the idea of living elsewhere, or having a large mortgage was unthinkable to me.

Was I a fool to dream about buying in this up-market suburb and having a mortgage we could pay of fast? A colleague of my husband gave us a pep talk. She said that she’d started out renting a house and became really interested in buying the house next door. So she did a lot of research to find out who owned it (it was rented out at the time). She even went to the local council to look through their records. Eventually she tracked him down an made him an offer… and bought the place with the help of a conveyancer: no expensive real estate agents’ fees involved. She said:

“Don’t settle for a place that ‘will do’. Picture exactly what you want and go for that. If it’s meant to be, you will get it.”

Her words were so powerful, and remembering them reassured us as we watched several properties get snapped up by others. They were either too expensive or didn’t meet our criteria, but still it was hard to watch them go.

Then came Christmas time, and we’d decided to have a break from house-hunting for a while. But one morning my husband decided to do one more online search. He was in a hurry, so he didn’t bother to put in a lower price limit. And up came a great little house in a street we’d never been to. It was small, but it had the right number of bedrooms and faced north with a lovely view. And the price was about $50,000 below our target range.

And this is the funny thing about real estate: sometimes the market throws up some great opportunities for those who are ready to pounce on them. The agent was under ‘must sell’ instructions from the owner. He was given two weekends to show the property and then it would go to auction… a week before Christmas. Not the best way to sell a house.

Thank goodness we had our finance ready to go…

Join me next time, when I will tell you how we won our house at auction!

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