Confessions of a First-Time Homebuyer – Shopping Surprises

While we did plenty of research, preparation and soul searching before we began shopping for homes, we’ve still discovered a lot of unexpected things about ourselves and the real estate market and process as a whole. Here are the top 5 things that have surprised us so far:

It has been a little over a month since my girlfriend and I took the leap and decided that NOW was the time for us to buy. With five plus years experience working for the Coldwell Banker brand and hours of HGTV television shows under our belts; we thought we’d be grizzled veterans who wouldn’t be surprised by anything. We were wrong.

While we did plenty of research, preparation and soul searching before we began shopping for homes, we’ve still discovered a lot of unexpected things about ourselves and the real estate market and process as a whole. Here are the top 5 things that have surprised us so far:

1. Pre-Approval is Easy

For most people, buying a home will be the single largest and most complicated purchase of our lifetimes. For the uninitiated, the paperwork and all the rules and regulations and requirements that go along with financing a home can strike uneasiness and fear into the best of us.

With that being said, to this point, I’ve been shocked at how easy the process has been. When my real estate agent put me in touch with a mortgage advisor to obtain my pre-approval I thought that it would take weeks of back and forth to receive it. Once again, I was wrong – I received it in minutes.

It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you hear that you’ve been pre-approved for a mortgage at X amount. The ease with which we obtained it coupled with the solid advice we were given gave us confidence and reassured us that we were qualified buyers with real buying power now. It threw us head first into home shopping mode.

2. Technology has Changed Everything. For the Better

In being a tech advocate and working on our various mobile platforms in the past, I’ve certainly been well aware of how technology has changed the way homebuyers shop for homes. I fully expected to scour through our mobile app and send my real estate agent just as many listings as she’d send me. However, what has surprised me is how technology on the back-end of the real estate process has made life a whole easier, neater and greener.

After seeing a few places, my girlfriend and I put an offer on a single family home a few weeks ago and I fully expected to receive a fat packet in the mail that I’d have to review, then sign, then somehow send back to my agent, who’d send it to the seller’s agent , who’d have to send it to the seller who was working in India, who’d have to sign again, etc. etc. I can only imagine how long and arduous that process must have been even a few short years ago.

Yet, with a simple product called DocuSign, my girlfriend and I were able to review documents virtually with my agent, sign it digitally which would send it off to a whole other continent in mere seconds! This collaborative tool saved us presumably weeks in time and saved a whole lot of trees as well. While things with that home didn’t end up working out (that’ll be a whole other blog post), we found out pretty quickly that it wouldn’t work and were able to jump right into looking at homes again; instead of waiting around for weeks and possibly missing out on something perfect.

3. Things You Didn’t Think Mattered Do

At the start of our home searching process, my girlfriend and I made a list of our ‘must haves’ and our ‘nice to haves’. While we did a great job of outlining what we wanted in our future home, we’ve been surprised to discover things we thought that didn’t matter actually do.

A few examples of items that matter a lot and factor greatly in our opinion of a home when we’re visiting it are:

A.) Home flow – It was hard to articulate it before actually visiting listings, but we’ve come to find over time, that we have a “flow” we prefer. Actually, it’s not even really a flow of a home that we prefer, it’s more of the flow of a home that we know won’t work. It’s a feeling you get as you walk through a home and envision your life there. It’s something you can only get from physically being in a place.

B.) Laundry – In many urban areas, most condos do not offer a washer/dryer within the actual home. We’ve been surprised at our delight whenever we’ve encountered a condo with an in unit washer/dryer. We’ve added it near the top of our list now because we know in the long run it’ll save us time, energy and even money.

C.) Odds & Ends– We’ve been surprised by how sharp our eyes have gotten. Small things actually do matter, like: Why is water pooling by the backyard door? What do you get from your condo association for the fees you pay? What are the percentages of homeowners who live in a building? What did the home sell for previously?

4. Buyers are Motivated. Properties are Moving Fast!

In my local market, homes are moving like Cracker Jacks at a baseball game; seriously fast! Homes seem to be hitting “pending” status almost as soon as they officially hit the market. Real Estate is most definitely back. My girlfriend and I put an offer on a fantastic condo on our favorite street that we fell in love with (after our first offer on another home fell through) but we were not only outbid substantially , the buyers bought it in cash!

In another instance, we were sent a listing that my girlfriend liked but I was on the fence about. After 2 weeks I warmed to it and decided that we should go see it. We saw the home and fell in love with it! Problem was that someone swooped in within those two weeks and put an offer on the home already. The moral of the story is that buyers like us have to move quickly and decisively because if we won’t; somebody else will! Homes are moving quick!

5. You’ll Know if it’s Home

‘Home’ is such a personal and important part of our lives; maybe even the most personal and important. It may sound stereotypical, but you absolutely do get a “feeling” whenever you walk into a listing. From my experience, I’d say that you know whether a house can be your home within seconds. Within those first few seconds you get a very specifc feeling that washes over you; a feeling that words do little to amply describe. You instantly imagine your furniture in certain places, breakfast on Saturday morning with your loved ones, get together’s in the backyard and even a little one running around barefoot one day.

I hope these recollections and home shopping surprises resonate with those of you who look back on your first experience on buying a home and to those who are thinking about doing it for the first time. It’s actually a lot of fun and not as bad/scary as I thought it’d be. I don’t know when my girlfriend and I will find ‘home’ and I’m sure they’ll be more surprises along the way; but I won’t stop searching until I get that feeling of ‘home‘ again.


Senior Manager, Content & Multimedia at Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC. In his role he manages content strategy and execution across several platforms. He’s held other roles within the Marketing Department ranging from Previews & Product Development to the day to day management of the redesign. Besides being a marketer, Gustavo is a filmmaker, musician and writer.

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1 Comment

  1. 'First Time Home Buyers Week' Recap | Coldwell Banker Blue Matter
    May 23, 2013

    […] Confessions of a First-Time Homebuyer – Shopping Surprises […]


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