Q&A: Epiphany in Baltimore
Some of you read blogger Epiphany in Baltimore and have followed his efforts to buy a home. (Thanks to the Wonk reader -- whose name now escapes me -- for pointing me that way. Let me know who you are and I'll credit you properly.) I thought it would be interesting to chat with him about his experience, since every buying story can help other would-be buyers … and often would-be sellers, too.
Throughout the interview below, I've included links to his blog for all who would like to see how each step unfolded in real time. And that's why I'm identifying him by his online name: He's a teacher whose personal blog links to a blog about his job, and he therefore prefers to stay anonymous.
Q. When did you close?
I just closed on Thursday! I've been living in the house for a couple of weeks, though, with a pre-settlement agreement.
Q. What did you end up buying -- the Baltimore rowhome rehabbed by St. Ambrose that you were serious about?
Yes, I ended up going with the St. Ambrose rehabbed rowhome in Belair-Edison. It's three-bedroom, with a balcony, finished basement, and a nice yard with a private fence.
Q. How much did you pay?
Q. Which "first-time buyer" grants and/or mortgage programs did you use? How easy or hard was it to line everything up? Do you have any advice for others?
My mortgage is through Healthy Neighborhoods, with a 3.75 percent interest rate. I definitely recommend checking out Healthy blocks in Baltimore and considering going through HNI to get that great interest rate. St. Ambrose was extra-helpful in helping me figure things out, as was my real estate agent, Bob Burkhard (who I met at the Live Baltimore office, which was my first stop).
Q. You mentioned on your blog in December that you were renting and weren't motivated to buy a house. What changed your mind?
I had some credit card debt I wanted to eliminate before I started house shopping. I really needed a new car, too, and didn't think my car would last long enough to shop for a house. Basically, I just wanted to get my finances in as perfect shape as possible before I went through the process. My credit score is around 675, and [I] wanted to get it up over 700.
Then, my landlord/roommate told me ... that she wanted to change her living situation and wanted me to look for another place to move into by April. I never wanted to rent again, so this is what motivated me to just see if I could do the house thing; I didn't really have savings, but I had just got my tax return back so I had a small amount to go from. So, basically, I decided to buy a house because I needed a place to live and realized that my financial situation didn't need to be absolutely perfect to do so. Hearing about Barack Obama's stimulus plans were another minor factor.
Q. How many homes did you end up looking at? What did you think of the options in your price range? And how did you decide whether asking prices were fair or not?
I looked at probably 20 to 25 homes; it was at a breakneck pace. I'm a teacher and a baseball coach, and my season (and 12- to 14-hour workdays) starts on March 1, so I basically tried to get everything figured out in the span of two to three weeks. I had a few ideas about neighborhoods I wanted to live in -- Belair-Edison (where I was currently living), Waverly (very near my job and a great neighborhood), Lauraville, and Ednor Gardens-Lakeside.
I did a lot of research online and joined a few online groups for each community. And, in the end, it ended up being mostly about price; the houses in Belair-Edison were just nicer in my price range than the ones in Ednor Gardens (my second choice). I saw really cool houses in the latter neighborhood, and one I just loved in Waverly as well, but they needed a lot of work and were $15-25K more. ... Plus, I got such good vibes from St. Ambrose; both their mission and their houses were so nice.
As for prices, I got a handle of things by looking at a whole lot of houses, looking at websites (Google addresses and it pops up real estate sites), and, most importantly, by listening to my real estate agent, who ran analyses whenever I was really interested in a house and guided me in the process.
Q. Did anything surprise you about homebuying, either positively or negatively? (Or both?)
I found the process really exciting and fun. The only negative was how long everything took after I picked out a house. Part of it was that I was so pressed for time, and so excited, so it probably made everything seem longer than it was. But, for example, the Baltimore City grant took a really long time -- twice as long, at least, as it says on the application -- so leave yourself plenty of time.
Q. Bottom line: Happy you bought now?
Absolutely. Now that I've closed, I'm going to amend my taxes and get the $8,000 first-time buyers tax credit.