Lori and Jason: The Sabres House

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Lori and Jason began their house hunt with intentions of buying a double, maybe a fixer-upper, on the West Side or in North Buffalo. They wound up with a single family home in Hamlin Park with only a few cosmetic issues, proving that it is helpful not to get stuck on a single idea and to think outside the box! I talked to Lori about her lengthy mortgage process and not-so-lengthy house hunting process (this was the second house they saw!). Read on for more.

1. What made you decide to buy a house? 

I had made noise about buying a house for maybe 3 years. I knew I wanted to make that jump because renting was just throwing money away every month- at least with a mortgage I'd own a little bit more of my house with each monthly payment. I'd be building something that had more stability than stressing over whether my rent would be raised (inevitable) or if I'd have to find a new apartment because of management issues (possible). I loved my apartment and knew that I wanted it to be my last so I gave myself 6 months to make it through the buying process based around when my lease would be up. 

2. What challenges did you encounter when it came to applying for a mortgage as a freelancer/independent contractor? 

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Oof, you never have enough paperwork on hand. And it always seems like the people in charge of getting you a mortgage don't believe you. I had issues where they really wanted the word "permanent" to be in my contracts and I'd sit there going- no contract would say that; that's why you have a contract in the first place. I had the same employer for almost four years at that point so I felt like I had a solid base of reliability and stability there, but it was still a struggle.

I had an especially annoying situation where I was employed by one place primarily, but my contract was through an independent firm, and a third party handled my payroll. So there was having to explain that convoluted relationship over and over again because they thought I worked at a temp agency. 

The lender I was working with had run my numbers by averaging all the years I had perma-lanced with my main employer. Unfortunately, the underwriter didn't like that and instead worked out my numbers by using my worst year, which ended up knocking me down about 10K in terms of what I could look for. Ultimately it didn't really ruin anything; I ended up with a more conservative, easy monthly payment on a house I love, but it was initially stressful and deflating.  

3. What were your top priorities for a home when you started your house hunt? 

A designated space for work. I work remotely from home, so being able to close the door on work makes it so much easier to leave it at the end of the day and not bring it into other places in my home and life. Since I'm not originally from Buffalo I really wanted a guest room- not an office/guest room combo, but a second bedroom for people to visit or crash. And a yard. My partner, Jay and I fully intend on having a dog run around out there. Natural light was a must have. If it's not there, you can't really create it from nothing and my happiest living spaces have been the ones with lots of light.   

4. How is the house you wound up with different from what you were expecting to buy? 

I hadn’t given any thought to Hamlin Park. It wasn’t my top two neighborhoods and I knew next to nothing about it. But we looked at it and I fell in love with it almost immediately.

I really leaned toward getting a double for a while. So much so that that was what I kept looking for in listings. I couldn't really shake the idea that a double was the more practical choice because you have a rental that helps pay your mortgage. By the time I got my pre approval, I was opening up more to singles out of necessity of budget. 

I think the biggest thing was the location. I hadn't given any thought to Hamlin Park. It wasn't my top two neighborhoods and I knew next to nothing about it. But we looked at it and I fell in love with it almost immediately. I was also expecting that we would end up with much more of a fixer upper. The house was basically turnkey with mostly cosmetic issues (and a roof that would need tending to in the near future, but everything else was mostly new so I could forgive the roof.)

5. What stood out to you about the house you chose? 

It was (I should say is) a very unique house. There's the weird, almost chinoiserie wallpaper in the entryway, the woodwork, the ceiling beams in the dining room, 3 bedrooms, a separate bathtub and shower stall in a generously sized bathroom, a side porch for coffee drinking, a fenced in yard for future dogs, a side lot for a raised bed garden, parking for 3 cars, and a bar already built in the basement (a perk of having college kids be the previous residents). It's a very odd lot, covering a lot of the block and neither house next door is particularly close so we've got a lot of breathing room and so much natural light that comes in. It's painted Sabres colors (technically Canisius colors), and to a Habs fan that's deeply disheartening, but it does look super charming. The color choices inside were ... anxiety inducing. It wasn't hard to imagine what a difference fresh white paint would make in the space.  

6. What do you like about living in Hamlin Park? 

The mayor lives here! 

It's a nice, quiet neighborhood, even with the college basically being around the block. There aren't any bars or restaurants close by so you never have to worry about bringing the party home, but it's close to everything with the metro being right there and Elmwood just down Delavan. There's a fantastic coffee shop down the street and a real sense of community within the neighborhood. It manages to feel a little less “city” in spite of being right in the center of the city.

It manages to feel a little less ‘city’ in spite of being right in the center of the city.

An awesome perk about Hamlin Park is that it's a historic neighborhood. So one can go through the necessary channels to obtain tax credits on certain work done to the house.  

7. What is the best part of home ownership? What is the worst part? 

Having equity to my name, and a place to really call my own. Not having to concern myself with landlords, building managers, or all those little things that are out of your control when dealing with landlords. It's really given me a sense of stability. So long as I maintain it and keep paying for it, it's something that will be there in an uncertain future. 

Being responsible for things like a roof that needs to be replaced. The roof is always looming on the horizon and I'll be able to breathe some relief once we get it taken care of. There's a lot of really unsexy stuff, mostly. Having to get dehumidifiers and tend to filters but it's not as if that stuff really lessens my quality of life at the end of the day. 

8. What changes or renovations have you done already? What else do you have planned? 

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We've undone a lot of the questionable color choices. What is now our bedroom originally had three colors on the walls, so that was the first thing that needed to go in order to be able to sleep. We had to replace the floor under the toilet, and have been tiling the bathroom. The biggest change there is that we don't have subfloor- it's just tongue and groove, a genuine floating floor, so the transition into the bathroom is a bit higher than the hallway. Also, nothing is straight ... or totally level, as to be expected with a hundred plus year old house. Jay has been tearing up the yards and getting them ready to landscape and plant next spring. 

The biggest looming work is replacing the roof. I like to think that once we replace the roof, then the fun stuff can happen. Right now it's a matter of being practical over being exciting. Paint makes a huge difference and I like going slow with the work and furnishing the place. It's been nice to really live with the house and decide what we need/want from that experience. I hate temporary solutions especially when it comes to furniture because it's never really temporary. You get stuck with stuff you don't love, or even like and it just ends up being a waste.   

9, What is your best piece of advice for people planning to buy a home soon?

Get pre-approved for your mortgage first!

And if you're a freelancer- be honest about your money situation with your lender. There's no reason to try and make yourself seem more secure/consistent if you're not. They will find out. No one cares about your extenuating circumstances- they just want to see the numbers. It seems harsh, but if you get in the mindset that none of it is personal, then you'll be able to endure the process with less pain. Little to no debt makes a huge difference when you're a freelancer. My credit score was a big reassuring thumbs up to my lender.  

Sit down and get a really clear idea of what you can't live without and what you can make do with. I had a pinterest board that I spent about a year putting together filled with photos of rooms and features that I really liked. In time I was able to get a pretty clear picture of what I consistently gravitated toward. Just be honest with yourself. You'll save yourself a lot of heartache and frustration.

Margaret Healy