Adventures in Home Buying: The Timing

The first in a series about finding a dream home for the first time.

People who crow that life is about timing usually fill me with fury, but I have to concede that these days, timing is a very unyielding mistress. My husband and I live in a Center City apartment, the lease on which is up this July. When we signed a few years ago, the longest part of his commute was the wait for an elevator in our building. Within a month of renewing our most recent lease, his commute ballooned from three blocks to 20 miles via the Schuylkill. We reluctantly went from being CarShare people to car lessees and set about finding a garage that wouldn’t bankrupt us. He began plotting alternate routes to King of Prussia and I continued to enjoy my 15-minute subway commute.

We had long-ago agreed that this would be our last apartment before buying something. Between the two of us, we had spent the last decade or so living in almost every neighborhood downtown. When we moved into our Center City high-rise it felt a lot like a real estate rumspringa before buckling down and finally investing in property. Within a month or so of the new commute, we knew the jig was about up.

By September we were meeting with a realtor friend and making our case for breaking our lease to the titans of development who own our apartment. In short order I became a believer in some aspects of life being about timing. Our landlord was willing to let us leave the apartment early — if we were willing to pay an additional month’s rent and pay something ominously called “make-ready” costs up front, all while continuing to pay our rent until a new tenant could be found. The costs still outweighed the price of garage parking in Center City and we decided to be uncharacteristically patient.

In the meantime we started doing research. We found a mortgage lender who treats us with respect even when I ask questions that utterly blow our cover as functional adults who understand FICO scores and mortgage programs. This was how we learned the magic of mortgage math. When you make settlement, accrued interest is built into your costs for the remainder of that month and — unlike with renting — your first payment is actually due another month after your first month of occupancy.

Since our lease is up in July and our last month’s rent is already paid, the magic of mortgage math means we can actually settle on a home as early as May without having to make double payments. Huzzah! That also gives us the benefit of time to do things like paint and have furniture delivered over two months instead of one. Take that, landlord! Friendly Lender and Realtor Friend advised us that with an escrow period of 30-60 days, we could be looking at making an offer in March. March! March was soon, even in September.

Here’s the part where I assume everyone on Earth is more organized than I am and already has an encrypted file living somewhere in a backed-up cloud where they have been diligently saving years worth of tax documents and wage statements. Good for you! This part took us a few weeks to dig up. It took me another day of staring longingly at a bottle of Ativan before I felt ready to turn said documents over to Friendly Lender along with our Social Security numbers.

Since we were doing all of this harrowing money- and credit-related work, spending our evenings going through bank statements and examining our savings and our credit card debt and our retirement funds, we thought it would be a nice break to take a peek at some houses online. Just a peek.

Yeah, right.

Next up: The Crying