Colin & Andrea: A Buffalo Homecoming
Meet Colin and Andrea. Colin grew up in South Buffalo, and Andrea grew up in San Diego. They met when they were both living in New York City - and after just a couple of dates, Colin had already made his intentions to eventually settle down in Buffalo clear. After a few years, with a detour in Chicago and a wedding in San Diego, Colin and Andrea made their triumphant homecoming to Buffalo.
Unlike some other house hunters, who sometimes spend months or even years searching, Colin and Andrea acted fast - and wound up buying a lovely little home in the heart of North Buffalo. Read on for their story!
You guys got married, changed jobs, and moved from Chicago to Buffalo in one year. How did you decide to add purchasing a home to that long list of milestones?
Andrea: Well, when you put it that way, we sound crazy! I think we ended up in our home quicker than either of us expected! We both started new jobs in Buffalo when we moved over the summer and wanted to get our feet under us financially before we started looking for a house. We were in a great apartment on the West Side with no real sense of urgency to dive into the home buying process before we were ready. But, we saw our house during our daily Zillow search, scheduled a showing for the first day it was on the market and knew we had to give it a go.
Colin: We lived in New York and Chicago for several years each before moving to Buffalo. At one point, we sat down and figured out how much combined rent we had paid over the last five years. It was...staggering. So, in addition to wanting to have more space (for ourselves and, eventually, a family) we wanted our monthly payments to be an investment. When we moved to Buffalo, we knew we were going to be buying a house in the relatively near future, so we figured it couldn’t hurt to look even if we weren’t in a huge hurry. So, when we saw one that fit our needs and our budget, we made our move.
Andrea, you're a newcomer to Buffalo, and Colin, you moved back after ten years away. What expectations did you guys have about the housing market here? Did anything surprise you about house hunting in Buffalo?
Andrea: As a native Californian who has lived in Manhattan and Chicago, I was delighted by Buffalo’s affordability (I think I used the phrase, “The houses in Buffalo are pretty much FREE!”). But my experience in these cities definitely gave me a skewed view of reality and Colin obviously had to take me down a notch. I quickly realized how competitive the market is -- clearly we aren’t the only ones with the intention of moving to this affordable city.
Colin: My expectations were certainly a bit different than Andrea’s. I had casually glanced at housing prices in Buffalo for several years, and watched them go up significantly. Since my sister had recently bought a house in North Buffalo, I knew the market was going to be much more competitive than when I left in 2007. Plus, we went into our housing search knowing that many houses we saw would need some additional investment. So when figuring out our budget, we kept that in mind.
How did you pick North Buffalo as your target neighborhood (especially since Colin grew up a South Buffalo boy)?
Colin: Even though I grew up in South Buffalo, I spent so much time hanging out around Hertel when I was in high school that it felt as much like home as my own neighborhood. We knew we wanted to live in a walkable neighborhood, near bars and restaurants. Hertel, to me, is the best location in the city in that regard.
Andrea: I fell in love with the Elmwood Village and Hertel neighborhoods because they both have that walkable, city-yet-neighborhoody feel. The homes in EV are gorgeous, but honestly way bigger than we needed. Not only would be paying for more square footage and the location, but the cost of furnishing and keeping a massive house warm during these balmy Buffalo winters was more than we could handle. Hertel offered us that same vibe, but was more aligned with our size and price range.
What kinds of things were you looking for in a house?
Colin: Having lived in small apartments, we weren’t overly picky - any extra space was going to be appreciated. There were several things that wouldn’t have necessarily been deal breakers, but were still important to us. I really wanted a front porch. We also wanted to make sure we had a fair sized backyard for our dog and at least 3 bedrooms. We also wanted to find a house that didn’t need a huge immediate investment to make it livable.
Andrea: After living in an apartment for so long and bouncing around from city to city, I wanted to move into our “forever home” with no intention of ever. moving. again. So, naturally, my forever home needed to include things like 4+ bedrooms, 2+ baths, big yard, big porch, massive kitchen, etc. Once Colin reminded me that finding the home that worked for us in the next 5-10 years was a more realistic approach, that list softened a bit. In the end, the must-have list included a single-family house, great location, a basement or attic for storage, minimum three bedrooms and a yard for the dog. One bath would be okay as long as we could see a place for us to eventually add one in.
How long did the house hunting process take? What obstacles did you encounter?
Colin: Our search was incredibly quick. We had casually looked online on a regular basis, but we hadn’t planned to get serious with our search until just before we found our house. We went from seeing our house on Zillow to having our offer accepted within one week. Luckily, we were only up against one other offer, so we got it for right around asking price.
Andrea: Yeah, we got really (really) lucky. We were prepared to hunker down for a long journey (see Colin’s sister and brother-in-law Jill & Ben), but this ended up being the second house we saw. We found the house online on Monday, walked through on Wednesday, got pre-approved for a loan on Thursday, saw the house again on Friday and made an offer, and found out our offer was accepted that Sunday. We had whiplash (in a good way).
What is your favorite thing about your new home?
Colin: The house is big enough to be comfortable without being so big that it’s an inconvenience. The front porch and gated backyard are huge pluses - I’ve never had an apartment with its own outdoor space, and I’m excited to sit outside in the summer to read. The street (and neighbors) are wonderful. We love the location, obviously, especially being so close to the North Park Theater. We were spoiled to have three small movie theaters within a few blocks of our apartment in New York. It’s great to be able to decide last minute to go around the block on a rainy or snowy night to catch a movie.
Andrea: We have so much space! Again, we had been living in 500 sq ft shoeboxes for the last four years, so having a guest bedroom, a man cave and a kitchen with more than 2-ft of counter space is A DREAM. The man cave does get an honorable mention in the “favorite thing about our new home” competition - I’m digging the fact Colin’s baseball and Star Wars memorabilia is out of the living room.
Do you plan to make any changes or renovations to the house in the future?
Andrea: There are a few “non-fun” updates we have to make coming out of our inspection, like new chimney caps and fixing a patch on the roof, and we need to give a few rooms a fresh coat of paint. Beyond that, in the next 18 months, we want to add a half bath downstairs and a deck in the backyard. There are a few other cosmetic updates I’d like to make (like updating the porch columns to anything other than rod iron), but those are much lower on the priority list.
Colin: We have a couple projects in mind, as Andrea mentioned, but we can do them on our own timeline, since the house is in great shape and doesn’t need any major changes to make it livable (apart from a couple minor repairs).
What advice do you have for other first time home buyers in Buffalo?
A: While the advice most people give is to be patient, I’m going to go the other way and say things can go from zero to 60 fast, so be ready. We went from casual Zillow browsers to having our offer accepted in six days. Second, it’s not all about you. We thankfully had a pretty painless loan approval experience -- we were able to get everything into the bank quickly, our inspection and appraisal went smoothly, and we were ready to close within a month. What we didn’t account for was the seller was going through their own home buying process, and hold ups in their process meant hold ups in ours.
Colin: Be ready to move on the house that you love. Everything happened very quickly for us, and if we’d waited or second-guessed, we would have missed out. Also, make sure you’re comfortable with your budget! Going from paying rent with all utilities and repairs included, to paying a mortgage and gas, electric and water bills can be a big change!