Well, it’s flippin official–I am now a homeowner! Hence the month long hiatus. I knew I’d neglect baking, blogging and photographing a little bit, but the whole home buying process really takes it out of you… especially when you’ve got your entire life packed up, have a mile-long list of things you have to take care of, getting used to a new kitchen space, new oven, etc. Food blogging definitely goes on hold during life changes. So thank you for your patience!
Anyway, just a warning here: I’m going to dive in and talk a bit about my home buying journey. It was a long, exciting and exhausting rollercoaster ride of a process, and I feel like I literally just need to process. Those of you that have been following along for awhile now may have picked up on the fact that I started searching for a home about a year ago. It was toward the end of last July, to be exact, that I really started taking the house hunt seriously by hiring a realtor. Thoughts of house buying floated around in my head for awhile before that, but I didn’t expect to really jump the gun in my mid-twenties. Many signs were pointing to “YES”, that now is a good time especially with all of the press that Portland gets on a day-to-day basis, thousands upon thousands are frocking here and jacking up real estate. No joke–Oregon has been the #1 state people have moved to in the last 2 years. Being that I’m pretty set and comfortable with living here in Portland for as long as I can foresee, it didn’t make sense to continue to gamble on increasing rent hikes and live in a cluttered 500 sq foot apartment (food bloggers understand… you can only have so many props and boards before it starts to get a little insane and you no longer have room to sit at your dinette table… that was one of my many issues). Plus, interest rates were at one of the lowest lows, which was another important perk.
Since I knew absolutely nothing about real estate, I signed up for this awesome free Homebuying 101 course through a local credit union (I’ve recommended it for several of my friends and they all say it was super duper helpful so if you live in Portland and have any interested in buying at all I highly recommend a class with these guys–they’re super knowledgable and will answer any and all of your questions. And no, this is not sponsored at all in any way, I just am super grateful for their wonderful course and can’t recommend them enough). I walked out of there feeling empowered and way more confident about what all of the real estate terms meant. It was like learning a new language. And since I was doing this all on my own, I needed as much knowledge as I could get my hands on.
And then the RedFin/Zillow obsession started. Those of you that have recently bought a home in this modern digital age will know what I mean. You download the app to your phone, bookmark it to the top of your browser, get instant email notifications from RMLS listings. You think, “Oh I’m just going to start getting an idea of what’s out there…” and then you start saving/”hearting” homes you like, attend a few open houses, and you get bitten by the bug. It’s really hard to stop the momentum once you start. It’s almost like an addiction. That feeling of if “I’m looking at houses and fall in love with one, I’ll be screwed if I’m not pre-approved and looking with an agent” was just way too strong to keep going on my own. So I jumped on the wagon.
Some weekends all I did for hours upon hours was house hunt and conduct my research, either digitally or by pounding the pavement. I did this all on my own (but eventually with my realtor and Jonathon as my second set of eyes), with a few frantic phone calls to my dad (he’s a contractor/builder/carpenter and my #1 confidant for all things house-related) sending him the link to the listing, enthusiastically telling him all the details from A to Z about a particular house as we would go through the photos together, discussing pros and cons, what to avoid, what to look for. And then after a month or so, I started feeling more confident and could discern what neighborhoods I liked and could afford, the style of house I liked and could afford, what I loved and didn’t want. I already had a pretty solid list of deal breakers, which you absolutely need to have… otherwise you get lost in the sea.
Here are a few of those things:
- Ideally no smaller than 1400 sq feet (this may sound really big to some people but in Oregon most Bungalow homes have basements and that takes up a substantial amount of actual ground-level square footage)
- Front porch, enclosed or not
- Driveway (bonus if there is a garage and it isn’t shared)
- Brick fireplace (bonus if there are built-ins)
- At least 2 bed, 1 bath (originally this was 3 bed, 2 bath but after discovering most of those homes were out of my price range and I would be competing against families that had more money to afford those homes, I began to settle for less and loose hope)
- Kitchen that was workable for several years, but had potential for my remodeling dreams
- Dishwasher, or at least space to install a dishwasher
- Northeast (or Southeast) Portland
And believe me, there were moments when I thought I was being super duper unrealistic and picky with my desires. That my realtor was going to do off with me and tell me I was insane because in the beginning when I was getting my feet wet and getting a solid idea of what was out there, I didn’t really like anything I saw. But I had to remind myself how big of a purchase this was, and of course I have to be able to discern what I want and don’t want. That’s the whole point, and everyone does that. But I’ll admit, that self-consciousness/conscientiousness really got to me most of the time and then I started getting frustrated with myself because I thought I wasn’t being flexible enough. Well I am here to tell you: never settle for less. This is a success story.
Since I started looking at the end of last Summer, the peak of the listings had already passed a bit. People start to list more in late Spring/early Summer so I felt I missed the boat and that I was too late. But on top of that, the real estate market in Portland is especially especially difficult. It’s 100% a sellers market, and being a buyer is TOUGH. You basically have to give blood in order to compete in this crazy, unpredictable game. I knew it would be rough, but you don’t really understand it once you get your heart broken several times on houses you fall in love with because you were outbid $70k over asking by 10-25 other people… sometimes with all-cash offers. But you have to go all in, head first. I felt like such a little fish in a big sea of sharks… and let me tell you, there were some nasty ones.
The first home I truly loved that had everything checked off on my deal breakers list but unfortunately had foundation issues and reeked of cigarettes. The second was in a neighborhood I didn’t initially see myself in. It was in North Portland, in the Woodlawn pocket, and it was a very well done flip. A super cute bungalow, super spacious, nicely done functional and large kitchen with lots of cabinet storage… and I was neck and neck with buyers who happened to be represented by the guy selling the house! So of course they got it. I was completely heartbroken and seethed for weeks (actually months, to be honest) over that one, but eventually moved on. Long-term I probably wouldn’t have been very happy with the commute.
The third was actually two blocks south of Portland proper, in a nearby town by the name of Milwaukie. It was priced super reasonably for a 2 bath home, felt a little more county style with unpaved roads and no sidewalks, but I could see myself doing just fine living there. That one had a lot of interest, and offers were expected to be due within 24 hours of the listing going up. I remember rushing down on my lunch break to look at that one, and trying to come up with a number at the very last second to tell my agent (who happened to be out of town) how much I wanted to offer on it. Then I had to scramble to put together a letter to the seller (which is required with every home you offer on… if you actually want to end up getting the house) and get it in before 4pm and I had to work until 5. Talk about STRESS. That part of the process I did not enjoy–the rushed, spur-of-the-moment decision making because there was literally no time to waste. If you saw something, you had to act with lightning speed. And even then, there were probably 10 people in line ahead of you that already put in offers well above yours. And you never know what kind of numbers they throw on the table… it’s a total gambling game that slowly drives you to insanity. It was at about this point that I really was going insane and little did I know, I was only half way there.
But it got better. The more homes I “lost” out on, the stronger my heart got, the more I persevered and pushed on. For those of you that know me, you’re probably familiar with my personality trait to be very driven and motivated with my eye on the prize. I never give up. Especially after I’ve warmed up. If I want something, I go after it and make it happen. So even though it was super discouraging at times and felt like I had just ended a relationship after a one night stand that I had high hopes for, I was too invested. I was beginning to feel like I needed to win the lottery and be able to put in an all-cash offer once late winter rolled around and the interest rates were super duper low. It was as if a flip switched and literally there were 15% more buyers and 10% less homes for sale (these are rough fact percentages I remember reading around that time on RedFin). As if the market wasn’t already more challenging enough. I’ll never forget my first real eye opening experience when this cute Victorian went for $61k above asking price. Reality started to hit home… I was beginning to thing it was never going to happen.
I had nervous breakdowns some nights before bed. I felt like I was the only single woman out there fighting for myself to buy a home, competing against all of these families with six-figure salaries who would blow me out of the market. And it happened… about 3 more times. It was around offer 6 that I knew I hit the jackpot. I found the home I loved more than any of the ones I had seen before (and in those 10 months I viewed at least 100+ houses), that had everything I could have hoped for checked off on “the list” and then some. It randomly popped on the market one Saturday morning back in May, and coincidentally had an open house around the same time as another house close by I had planned on viewing. It was one block away from my deal breaker boundary line, but still in a great pocket, and priced low enough so that I could be competitive and offer above. I walked in and immediately knew this is my house. Without a doubt. 1926 Bungalow, original prairie style windows, original hardwoods, painted brick fireplace with surrounding built-ins, open circular floor plan, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, original kitchen cabinets with added modern flair of subway tile and cup pull knobs, pedestal sinks in both bathrooms, a masted bedroom upstairs with walk-in closets, basement, driveway, garage, LANDSCAPED yard with a trellis covered in grape vines… I was in heaven. I expressed my enthusiasm and love for the home to the selling agent (I was there solo without my agent) and said I would be driving home ASAP to write up my letter and offer, and I did just that. With a bit of a competitive push thanks to my wonderful agent, I GOT THE HOUSE.
I got the keys about a month ago, but just moved in about two weeks ago. I’m mostly settled, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t procrastinating on unpacking all of my boxes… and making ridiculous amounts of trips to Home Depot for power tools and ladders, so much so that the employees know me now. The cats (especially nervous nilly Swayze) had a difficult time adjusting the first week but are now about 90% acclimated and running around like ding bats loving all of the extra space. I’m finding all of the little repairs that need to be done, and of course I am anxious to have everything just so immediately… but that isn’t realistic. And I have been working with myself to slow down and try to just enjoy this period of time where the house isn’t very cluttered and I have yet to really make it my own. Because I’m sure I will look back on this time very fondly and maybe wish it was like it is now. I don’t have a dresser, I’m sleeping on my mattress directly on the floor, I’m rotating through the same 5 outfits and uniforms. But I kinda like it. Life has been chaotic and messy and full of change the last month (I even ended up serving on jury duty for a week-long trial… the week before I was supposed to move!) so having a limited amount of things to choose from makes it easier for me to make important decisions that really matter without the clutter.
Oh and did I mention I HAVE A DISHWASHER?!? I hate washing dishes more than anything and having a dishwasher is so life changing. It’s as wonderful as I expected it to be! Not only do I not have to do about 90% of the dishes, but they come out spotless and sparkly and squeaky clean… literally! I never knew my baking dishes were so dirty until I cycled them through the washer. Having my own clothes washer and dryer is pretty righteous too. No more waiting around all day for 5 other tenants loads ahead of mine to finish. I can do it in an instant. I’m so appreciative of the convenient perks that I held out for. And being able to garden is super lovely too. I can pick fresh stems of lavender whenever I please! And I just planted an elderflower bush this past week.
It’s pretty safe to say, without a doubt, that I am enjoying my new home owning lifestyle. It has been a scary, unpredictable ride but the timing couldn’t have been better. I was especially starting to feel pretty stagnant being in a small, cramped kitchen with no counter space. A huge part of what motivated me to buy was to be able to have more room, have a larger/more functional kitchen and a dedicated studio space for this blog. So this is relevant in a way, even though it’s not a recipe. I am excited to be more consistent with my baking, blogging and photography in the upcoming months, and I want to continually improve my skill. So thank you all for reading along (I’m amazed if you got this far!) and for your support. Thank you for understanding why I have been away so long, and I promise I will make it up to you in the future!
Here’s to a new chapter on The Baking Bird. I hope you continue to follow along and see where this takes me!