Jill & Ben: Patience Pays Off
Jill and Ben were New York City renters who moved back to Buffalo expecting home ownership to be a breeze. They quickly realized that although Buffalo is an easier market than New York City, home buying here can still be tough! All told, they spent 18 months looking for a home. The time they put in was worth it in the end - they wound up with a pretty perfect North Buffalo beauty from 1910. Check out their story below.
What led you to make the decision to buy a house?
Ben: I guess it's the "American Dream," right? We had lived in a couple of different one-bedroom apartments in New York (including a fifth floor walk-up), and then a bigger two-bedroom when we moved to Buffalo. During that time, we never had a garage, basement, attic, or anywhere to store non-seasonal items, or really anything at all. We both just wanted a little more room, and a yard to call our own.
Jill: We had been long-time renters, mostly in New York, and my mom helpfully pointed out how much money we'd spent over the course of doing so (pro tip: never calculate that number). We'd always planned on buying a house eventually, and since we were putting down roots in Buffalo, it seemed like the right time.
What were you looking for in a home?
Ben: At first I think we didn't really care - we just knew we wanted something. Once we actually started looking at houses, we came to build and develop a list of "must-haves" and things that we would like. We knew we wanted a single-family home with driveway, at least a one-car garage. We knew we wanted at least three bedrooms and more than one bath. We wanted a house that was relatively updated. I'm not super handy, and we knew that we a fixer-upper wasn't really the house for us.
Jill: Ultimately, location and character. We wanted to live in a walkable neighborhood in the city of Buffalo, and were definitely seeking that old house charm as well.
Tell me about the house hunting process. What obstacles did you encounter? How long did it take?
Ben: The hardest part of the search was the lack of inventory. Putting together our list of "must-haves," and getting qualified for a mortgage was pretty easy. Finding a house that we wanted was another story. I don't think we were super picky, but a lot of the houses that were on the market either required a lot more updating that we wanted, or seemed to have asking prices that did not leave any room for updates.
We found a house that we liked somewhat early on, but did not get the house. After that, we looked for about 8 more months, going to open houses and spending hours on Zillow without a lot of interest in the houses that were available.
Jill: We were renting in the Elmwood Village, and that started out as our target neighborhood to buy in as well. I think moving back to Buffalo, we had BIG ideas about what we were going to be able to buy... like, someone was basically going to hand us a mansion for $100,000 (#naive). After working out our budget, though, and going to a few open houses, it obviously became clear that this was NOT the case. The Hertel area of North Buffalo became our new target neighborhood, but it was still super competitive. We saw one house we fell in love with, but didn't end up getting it. In general, we just weren't seeing much on the market and weren't loving what we DID see.
Ben: Finally, one day Jill and I somewhat simultaneously heard about a house through friends. We both had mutual friends with the couple that was selling, so we reached out to them and were able to visit before the open house. Almost immediately upon seeing and going into the house, we knew it was the one for us. Strangely enough, it did not have a couple of things on our "must-have" list. It has only a single bathroom, doesn't have a closet in the master bedroom. Even without these items on our list, however, we knew that the rest of the house more than overcame these deficiencies.
We put together an offer that day, and were able to agree to terms on the house all before the scheduled open house.
What in particular stood out about the house you chose?
Ben: It just had the right feel for us. It has really nice hardwood features on the ground-floor, a big front porch, and a deck. The kitchen is not super modern, but is usable and fits our needs. The yard is really nice, the house as central air (something we never even thought about when putting together our list), and a driveway and garage. It only had a single bathroom, but it was pretty roomy. All in all, it just felt like a house we could turn into a home.
Jill: So many things! Our 1910 house has plenty of charm - pocket doors, leaded glass windows, beautiful woodwork, high ceilings. We also loved the front porch and back deck. Finally, the house had clearly been impeccably maintained and well-loved. A 100+ year old house can come with lots of surprises, but we were lucky to find one in such great condition.
What changes have you made to the house since you bought it?
Jill: So far, we've just painted. (And by "we," I mean the wonderful painter we hired when Ben and I quickly realized we should get some help. Shout out to Kahuna Koatings!)
Do you have any future plans for the house?
Ben: We currently are putting an addition on the back of the house, including a second bathroom, mudroom, and extension on the kitchen. It is a bit of a mess, and I am a little concerned that the garden will look horrible this year, but am excited to have a second bathroom.
What do you love most about the house?
Ben: In nice weather, the outdoor space is great. We have a nice front porch and deck. The house is walking distance to the whole of Hertel Avenue, and just fits almost all of our needs without any work from us.
Jill: I still love all the character that led us to buy it in the first place. It's a really comfortable house, too - exactly the right amount of space for a first home without being overwhelming.
What do you wish you had known when you began the home buying process?
Ben: Patience. It is a long and tiring process, especially with inventory as low as it is. Your "must-have" list will evolve over time, and even then, some houses just have what you are looking for without actually checking off the items on your list.
Jill: You're not going to get everything you want and you'll just make yourself crazy trying to find it. At the beginning, I would have said not having a second bath was a deal-breaker - but I'm so glad that we bought our house without it because it was right for us in so many other ways. Figure out the non-negotiable items and be realistic, then go from there. Also, getting outbid is real, especially in the competitive market today. And it will suck. But there will be other houses that you love even more.
What advice would you give to people who are about to embark on a home buying journey?
Ben: Be patient and flexible. The right house will come around, and at first glance it might not have what you are looking for, but keep going. Don't buy a house just to buy a house or because it theoretically checks one or more boxes on your list.
Jill: Be patient! In the Buffalo market today, it's really easy to get frustrated but finding the right house will be worth it. I remember (sorry Ben, throwing you under the bus) at one point leaving an open house we didn't love, and Ben saying "BUT IT CHECKS ALL THE BOXES." I think we're both glad we held out for our house! Buying is a really emotional process, too, and you can't make decisions based on whether it looks right on paper. The right house is out there.