Jenna & Jayson: A Blessing in Disguise
Jenna and Jayson were engaged and living in an apartment on Buffalo's West Side. They were thinking about purchasing a home in about a year. Then, one night, they awoke to the sound of glass windows shattering and the smell of smoke. The apartment below theirs had caught on fire. Luckily, they were able to escape safely (and they had renter's insurance!) but their home was rendered uninhabitable. They moved in with family and decided that instead of moving into another rental, they would change plans and buy a home. It was a stressful few months (to say the least), but they wound up with a lovely single family home in Tonawanda. I interviewed them about their especially dramatic home buying experience - read on for more!
What led you to make the decision to buy a house?
Jenna: Unfortunately, there was a fire in our gorgeous rented apartment on the West Side. We lived in an upper/lower which we really had no concrete plans to leave. Buying a house was a far off aspiration but the fire was a blessing in disguise because we settled into our new home months before our upcoming wedding!
You went through the extra challenge of not having a home (having to stay with relatives) while going through the house hunting process. How did that impact you?
Jenna: It definitely added stress to an already overwhelming experience. I personally felt rushed to find something quickly even though I know that we shouldn't have felt that way! Jayson and I are so fortunate to have a huge and wonderful network of friends and family here in Buffalo so we tried to split our time with everyone so we weren't too much of a burden. We mostly stayed with my cousin Lisa and her fiancé Kyle who had just purchased and renovated their own home in Kenmore. They are located in the same area we were searching in so it was convenient, plus we were able to pick their brains whenever we wanted. They sent us Zillow links, went to open houses with us, and explained what to look for in those early stages.
Jayson: It was really tough. We were between three different houses sometimes which meant that we never had the right paperwork or documents with us. Our stuff was so disorganized and scattered about. We were lucky that we had family and friends available and willing to house us at the drop of a hat. Everyone was really helpful looking at houses with us too.
What qualities were you looking for in a house?
Jenna: We really wanted something we could grow into, not just the typical starter home. Jayson moved around a lot during college, then I went to Savannah, GA for graduate school and came back to Buffalo two years later so I was tired of moving! I wanted a yard for our doggie and areas to garden in, a layout that we could entertain easily in and natural light – those are the things that make my soul smile! I did not want an absolute project, I was very nervous that we would buy something that required a major renovation right off the bat which I wasn't mentally prepared for.
Jayson: I wanted a yard, a big kitchen and a good location. We love making dinner together and I wanted a house that we could utilize the space. Jenna and I also love being outside so the potential for a patio or finding a house that already had one was a huge plus.
What obstacles did you encounter in the house hunting process?
Jenna: Everything just moved SO quickly. I had expected to be able to save money for another year which meant that we weren't as prepared as most to start looking for a house. I think the mortgage felt like the biggest obstacle – always under scrutiny and no one seemed like they were on our side even though we were pre-approved. It was also difficult because every phone call and email came through during work hours and required a prompt response. I have to give a lot of credit to my team at Parkway Digital who remained understanding through it all.
Jayson: Well, we put a bid in on the very first house we looked at which really scared us! It also opened our eyes to the entire house buying experience (including being outbid) so we felt much more prepared with our second offer.
What stood out about the house you chose?
Jenna: People kept telling us "you'll know when you find the right house!" I always rolled my eyes and brushed it off because it was so clichéd. Then lo and behold, I walked into our house and almost immediately said "I love it here. It feels like home." The spaces were big, it had charm (french doors out to the patio, a wine/canning closet, brick facade) and the "issues" were all cosmetic. I could just so easily envision us living there. It was also encouraging that you could tell the previous owner really cared about the house, it's in great shape!
Jayson: Everything! It was everything we were looking for. A great yard, potential for a huge open layout on the first floor and right when we walked in, I knew it felt like home. The garage is the best for extra storage and a finished basement sealed the deal.
What renovations and changes are you currently working on, and what do you plan to do in the future?
Jenna: We have painted some, updated the fireplace, replaced literally every light fixture, and focused on the gardening/outdoor areas mostly. We are currently working on the bathrooms. Upstairs in the master bedroom, we are turning a half bath into a full. Downstairs, the full bathroom just needed cosmetic work but the layout is staying the same (phew). Next year we will knock down the walls between the living room, kitchen and dining room to achieve the coveted open concept layout!
Jayson: I have currently torn out the half bath upstairs to replace it with a full bath with a walk-in shower. We took some space from a crawl space that wasn't being used. When that is complete, we will carpet the upstairs and then begin work on the downstairs bathroom, just cosmetic stuff. We are taking advantage of the nice weather and sorting out the yard work when we can. We did have to take out a garden that was along the back of the garage because we didn't want it damaging the sill plate but added another in the corner of the yard.
Now that you've moved in, what do you love the most about your house?
Jenna: Honestly, everything! A garage was something I never knew I wanted but I LOVE having, the patio is a total dream and I love that we moved in at the perfect time to take advantage of it. I really enjoy coming home and investing time in the space and planning/dreaming up new ideas with Jayson. He is incredibly handy so I love watching him take pride in the projects he completes! The location, which we were so-so about, has turned out to be a wonderful convenience, it's quiet and yet we easy access to the 290 and are a quick drive away from just about everything!
Jayson: I love that it's ours. I love having something we can put our own touch on and can work together on.
What is the best part of homeownership? What is the worst part?
Jenna: The best part of being homeowners is sitting back and knowing that Jayson and I somehow managed to pull off this feat among an incredible amount of chaos. We own a house that we will be able to make memories in for years to come. We always knew we would come back to Buffalo and I can't think of a better way to show our dedication to a city we love than by becoming permanent residents. Nothing at the house has broken or surprised us yet so I'm assuming that will be the worst part. Fingers crossed!
Jayson: The best part is having something so great to call our own, to work on and get a real sense of accomplishment that we're doing something to help build our future together. We really haven't had a worse part yet (knock on wood). We've been extremely lucky with the house so far compared to some of the horror stories you hear from other people about buying their first home.
What advice do you have for people that are thinking about buying a home?
Jenna: Prepare and research as much as possible, stay organized (make copies of everything, save all the emails), and work with people that you trust! No one in the banking industry would take the 2 minutes to describe to me what an escrow account was but luckily I leaned on Margaret for A LOT of guidance and advice and she became an incredible resource to us. I consider myself very lucky that our paths crossed when they did! I was also incredibly thankful for our lawyer, Deborah Kennedy, who was so agile throughout the entire process. It is thanks to both of them that we were able to close early on our house!
Jayson: The best advice I can give is to really look at the potential of what you can do with the space, theres so much stuff that can be done to make it into what you are dreaming of.