So last week I showed you guys a glimpse into our home, where we’ve lived for a little over a year now. You all were so kind in the comments, and though it’s not perfect, the place is home right now, and I love that.

We don’t know how long we’ll live there, so in some ways, it’s hard to dive in to deep house-y projects when we’re not sure we’ll actually enjoy them for years to come. We bought the house as a fixer-upper, and for the most part, it stays that way in our brains—a project, an investment to live in while we mull over what’s next (especially as we get ready for next fall).

We employ a rather nomadic lifestyle, so we’d gotten used to the idea of renting, having lived in eight other homes the previous decade. We’d wanted to buy a house for several years, but only if it were an ideal situation that benefitted our family. We didn’t want to buy a nightmare at the expense of home ownership.

So here’s how our experience played out, when we decided that it was a good time to explore the idea of buying.

looking over the deschutes river

We had been completely debt-free for about three years, so we weren’t chomping at the bit to take out a mortgage—we’d tasted how good it felt to not owe money to anybody. If we were going to take out a mortgage, it’d have to be one that didn’t kill us.

And seeing as we weren’t in the business of focusing on our FICO score, it’d probably have to be a manually-underwritten mortgage, a rare breed our grandparents or great-grandparents probably first had: one not dependent on a credit score; only given based on a reasonably solid financial history and decent income.

But we knew we first needed to find a realtor, and since we had only been in town a year and didn’t really know anyone with our specific financial convictions, we decided to use the Endorsed Local Provider (ELP) program provided by Dave Ramsey. We had heard positive things from the system, so we figured we might as well give it a go.

It’s basically a database of local professionals who adhere to strict, solid financial standards—ones that don’t encourage debt, unnecessary risk, or biting off more than you can chew. I loved the idea of finding someone with a good local reputation. So, we filled out the info and waited for a response.

And now? A long story made short in four chapters.

Chapter 1: We found a good realtor.

We quickly got calls back from two realtors. One didn’t really seem terribly excited about working with a family with a respectable yet definitively middle-class income, admittedly, so the system wasn’t perfect. But the other one? Oh glory. She was a firecracker out of the gate.

Sarah, our realtor, killed it and dragged it home, if you know what I mean. Not only did she applaud and approve of our mortgage standards, but she had an insane amount of knowledge about the current local housing market and kept us in the loop on a near-daily basis about what was on the market. Plus? She was fun to be with.

boys playing with dad

Chapter 2: We found a good mortgage lender.

She found us the right mortgage lender, too, which was amazing (Wells Fargo, if you’re curious). The process took AGES—we had to fill out all sorts of paperwork, answer lots of questions, submit several years’ worth of bank statements, and endure recorded phone interviews with companies we pay bills to (our cell phone company, electric companies from past rentals, etc.), all to ensure our financial responsibility.

Chapter 3: We piled up a decent down payment.

And all the while, we kept piling up our down payment fund. Any extra cash went there. We eventually learned that our having a sizable down payment was key in us qualifying for our non-scary mortgage. We landed a 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage with a 3% interest rate, while providing a little over a 25% down payment.

Chapter 4: We flexed.

It took us awhile to find the right house. Most of the houses we looked at were either too small, too far out of town, too expensive, or would be swooped in and purchased by investors who could pay cash on the spot. It was discouraging at first.

But we flexed on our secondary standards a bit, and that helped. We enlarged the circle where we were willing to live, and we decided we were okay with one fewer room if it meant finding a way to build in an office somewhere in the house.

the kitchen, before and after

Eventually, we walked through the home we live in now, and though we had to squint in some places to see the potential, we felt that it was the best fit for our family right now.

It’s not perfect—the street is busier than I prefer, and our driveway is pretty steep, making it hard for the kids to ride bikes. I also don’t love the exterior color, and it’s not in our budget to paint that right now. But? The goods of the house outweigh the bads, and we understand better our non-negotiable priorities for our next home-buying experience.

Sarah walked with us every step of the way, from finding us a mortgage lender who would be willing to manually underwrite (such a hard find these days, believe me!), to getting us the right home inspector, to celebrating with us when we closed on our home. She even gave us a gift card as a housewarming gift, and just recently emailed me out of the blue, curious how our remodeling was going. Just because.

So, as first-time home buyers, here are the keys that made our experience positive:

• Patiently saving funds for a solid down payment,
• Having an amazing realtor who understood us, who didn’t laugh at our dumb questions, and who walked with us through the whole process,
• Flexing on our house ideals, and ultimately,
• Being willing to walk away from home ownership if it just wasn’t the right time.

I’m so, so thankful we had a good home buying experience. I mean, don’t get me wrong; I’m not jumping up and down to do it again. But when it’s time to sell this little fixer-upper of ours, we’ll know how it’ll go down. And we’ll call Sarah.

Positive lessons learned from first-time homeowners

This post is sponsored by Dave Ramsey’s Endorsed Local Providers.

What’s been your experience in the wild home buying world?