Jeff & Michelle: Down to the Wire

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Jeff and Michelle participated in M&T Bank's first-time home-buyer savings program, which allows new home buyers to receive matched funding for every dollar they save toward a down payment. The catch, however, is that these buyers have a limited window to find a house to use this down payment money - and for Jeff and Michelle, it became a pretty close call. Luckily, after the repeated disappointment of being outbid multiple times, they finally found "the one." Check out their story below. 

What led you to make the decision to buy a house?

Michelle: We had been renting for about two years when we decided owning would be a better option for us.  I was fed up with renting, it seemed like a waste to be putting money into something that wasn't ours.  Having the loudest neighbors living above us (although I think everyone says that) wasn't helping the case to stay in our apartment.

Jeff: I had been renting for five years and it seemed logical to put money into a home. I also felt it was the next step in my relationship with Michelle. Plus most apartments don’t allow pets and I wanted to get a dog.

What were you looking for in a house?

Michelle: When we started looking for a house I knew I wanted a garage and a basement.  Coming from a small apartment with very little storage room I knew I needed space to keep everything organized and not lose my mind!  A fenced in yard was also high on the priority list because we knew we wanted to get a dog soon.  No house was going to have every item on both of our wish lists so we would look at the pros and cons of each house and weigh our options when it came to other things we wanted in a home.

Jeff: The few must haves on my list were garage, basement, and a good foundation.  I was okay with doing some work but ideally wanted something more move in ready.

Tell me about the house hunting process. What obstacles did you encounter? How long did it take?

Michelle: We would look online every night and make a list of houses we wanted to see and nearly every house would already have offers on it.  Open houses that we had planned on going to would get cancelled because an offer was already accepted.  We put offers on eight houses and we would get outbid or another offer was cash. The market was so competitive and having only a six month period to find a house seemed impossible.  We had an offer accepted on one house but we ended up backing out of it because the home inspection was awful. 

We put offers on eight houses and we would get outbid or another offer was cash. The market was so competitive and having only a six month period to find a house seemed impossible. 

Jeff: The house hunting process was stressful. It consumed our lives.  Every day after work we would come home and search online.  We had to be flexible and make quick decisions about going to look at houses and putting in offers. Overall, the process took five months. 

Michelle: I saw the house we ended up getting while Jeff was at work.  They had one offer on it already and that was the only day they were showing it.  I texted Jeff and told him this was the house and we needed to put an offer in right away.  I will be forever grateful that we got this offer accepted. Jeff didn't see the house until the inspection, but luckily he agreed, this was the perfect house for us.

What in particular stood out about the house you chose?

Michelle: This house had most things we wanted in a home.  It checked all the major items on our wish list; a basement, garage, fenced in yard, and a solid foundation.  It also had a lot of extra things we liked such as four bedrooms, the basement was finished, and my favorite - air conditioning. 

Jeff: Nothing at first because I was unable to see the house.  It was showing for one day and I was working. All I had to rely on were Zillow pictures and Michelle and her father's judgement.  Once I finally got to see the house (after our offer was accepted), the backyard stood out the most.  It has a nice wood fence, two car garage, and a concrete patio.  I also liked that we would be able to add on to the existing house in the future.

Did you use any special kind of financing?

Michelle: We used a first time home buyers program.  We saved money through the program for 10 months and then had 6 months after that to close on a house.

What changes have you made to the house since you bought it?

Michelle: I built a pretty sick bar in the basement as a Christmas gift to Jeff.  We painted all but two rooms, ripped up carpet, the basic stuff.  Some of the bedrooms and nice original hardwood floors underneath the carpet and others we put new flooring down.

Jeff: Our first few changes that we made were repainting three out of the four bedrooms (the two downstairs bedrooms were neon green and hot pink - yikes!)  We also ripped up carpet in those bedrooms and found the existing hardwood floors in two of them were in good shape, so we kept those, and put in new flooring in our bedroom.  As a Christmas gift, Michelle built a bar in the finished part of the basement, which is awesome. 

What do you love the most about your house?

Michelle: I love having a place that is all our own and having a yard.  I really missed having a yard to sit outside and enjoy when we lived in the apartment.

Jeff: I can’t pick just one thing I love about this house.  In regards to our wish list, it checked off all the boxes, and then some!

Do you have any future plans for your house (such as an addition, a remodel, etc)?

Michelle: This spring/summer we plan on replacing some windows, working on the landscaping in the backyard, and adding a small veggie garden.  In the future I would like to remodel the upstairs making it a master suite with a bathroom and walk in closet.

Jeff: We do have future plans to make changes/additions.  Our house now only has one bathroom so we would like to add a bathroom upstairs and have it be part of a newly remodeled master suite.


What is the best part of homeownership? What is the worst part?

Michelle: The best part is knowing that this house is ours, we can make it our own and be proud of it.  The worst part is that you can't just call the landlord when something goes wrong.  We have walked into the basement a handful of times to find standing water on the floor.  One time was from the hot water tank breaking, the other times the main drain pipe had clogged causing water to backup into the basement.  With every problem we have encountered I have learned something new, so I guess there is always a silver lining.   

Jeff: The best part is the privacy and having a place of our own.  The worst part is the responsibility of dealing with issues. 

What advice do you have for people who are just starting their home buying journey?

Jeff: Make sure you really love the place you are putting an offer on. There was one house we put an offer on and that night we started hoping we wouldn’t get it because we didn’t fully love it (thankfully we were outbid like every other house we put offers on). 

Michelle: The best advice I can give is to be patient, don't rush the process.  You will find the right house, just keep an open mind and stay positive!

Margaret Healy