Alice: The Hail Mary House
"Only crazy people buy houses while studying for the Bar Exam": This was how Alice summarized her home-buying journey in an email exchange with me. Somehow, regardless of the sanity of taking on these two endeavors at once, she managed to pull it off. She is now about to begin her career as an attorney and is a homeowner in South Buffalo, just a few houses away from her father. Read on for her story.
What led you to make the decision to buy a house?
I think from a cost benefit analysis, I figured either my options are rent - and have someone that takes care of things when they break but throw my money away - or invest in something long term. In my mind it made more sense to buy. Even if I end up ten years down the road getting married, getting a new place, I’m still building equity. It made sense to me to do it that way.
How did you decide to specifically live in South Buffalo?
I looked at houses based on price range rather than location, which is probably the opposite of what most people do. I looked on the East Side - the Medical Corridor and near Canisius.
My dad lives in South Buffalo now and I actually ended up buying on the same street three houses down from him. It’s great because we’re really close. I like the charm of South Buffalo and I like that things are actually affordable. I like the location, it’s a really quick commute to work. I like that a lot of young people are starting to buy in that area.
Tell me about the house hunting process. How long did it take, and about how many houses did you look at?
It took about six months and I looked at quite a few houses. I put an offer on another house and ended up being very outbid.
This house was my “Hail Mary” house. I managed to get it before it was put on the market. My dad saw they were doing construction on it. We used to call this house the “rat house” because I think previous tenants left garbage around and we’d see rats going in and out. We saw them doing work and it looked like they had gutted the whole place - it was freshly painted, fresh carpets, everything was new going in. My dad put a letter in the mailbox saying “hey my daughter is interested in the house and it would be so great to have her near me,” and I think they liked that and they wanted to sell it quickly. I was very fortunate.
What was the most stressful part of the process?
Not being able to move in after closing. I closed on July 7th. The Bar Exam was July 26th and 27th. I was in pure study, pure pressure mode, so there was no ability to move in. So I was staying with my dad, I could see the house across the street, I knew that it was mine but I couldn’t sleep there or move things until after the Bar.
Right after the Bar I moved everything in - I was pretty efficient about it because while I was studying I bought a lot of furniture on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. So I was able to furnish it very quickly, just not move in right away.
What stood out about the house you chose? Why did you choose it?
This is strange but the basement was a huge selling point for me. It was the first basement I wasn’t horrified by. Very dry, clean, freshly painted, no spiders.
The house is laid out very well. Going from the living room to the dining room there are arches that are really pretty.
Did you make any changes or do any renovations?
I put a new side door on. Other than that, I think I’ll have to replace the hot water heater in a few years, and I’ll have to replace a couple windows.
I planted a garden in the front yard. My mom (who happens to be a master gardener) helped figure out a layout, a simple stone ledge, we planted a couple bushes and some bulbs that will come up in the spring.
Tell me about how you financed the house.
I did the first-time buyer’s program with Owner’s Choice and I decided to go with a credit union because you can get a lower rate of interest than a regular bank. Owner’s Choice is wonderful, I had nothing but a good experience with them. They were very efficient.
What is the best part of owning your own home?
I don’t have to answer to anybody. If I make a mess, it’s my mess. I don’t have to deal with other neighbors or roommates.
What are your future plans for the house?
If I can get enough money together I want to put a deck in the backyard. I’d like to put in a door that goes out to the deck and garden in the backyard. The deck is definitely the long term goal - there’s something about that privacy in a backyard.
What do you wish you had known when you began the process?
Probably to be a little more patient and not to expect the same level of organization from other people that I have. There was a lot of disorganization and lack of communication.
What advice do you have for new homeowners?
Save up at least $10,000 and expect you are going to spend more than that.