I'm an idiot, and I'm buying a house! Please help me with my journey.

Because I am getting a divorce, and my husband would like to keep the house I now live in (I’m in Hawaii, he is in Indonesia), I need to purchase my own place.

I’m not a stupid person (usually), but offhand I can’t think of any person with no diagnosed intellectual disability who is less prepared for handling this kind of thing by themselves. For nearly 4 decades of our relationship, my husband took care of EVERYTHING related to finances. When we bought the house I’m in now, all I did was smile vaguely, sign on the dotted line, and start plotting where to put stuff.

Thankfully, money is not a huge problem; I can pay cash, I don’t need a mortgage. Still, I know nothing about what I’m going to need to deal with.

I have a real estate agent and have been regularly examining listings and doing the occasional drive-by for several months now. I just toured a house that is - well, not perfect (nothing in life ever is), but damn close. It has two features that aren’t easy to come by which are very important to me.

So, I’m about 24 hours away from telling the agent I want to make an offer. Will you, my fellow Dopers, follow along with this process and answer my ignorant questions so that I don’t make any enormous missteps?

Here’s what I’m thinking at the moment is most important: I want to make sure that I am taking ALL costs into account, so that I am not hit with expenses I had not considered. I’ve looked up “closing costs” on line but after a cursory look I haven’t found a site that is helpful. (If anyone has site recommendations, I’m listening.)

So: costs. What should I be prepared for? What I know about, or think I know about:

[li]I have to pay for an inspection [/li][li]The seller will pay for a survey.[/li][li]I’ll have to pay for homeowner’s insurance.[/li][li]I have to pay to move my stuff, obviously.[/li][li]I should budget for any modifications I want to make so the house is livable for me (there are two or three things: an island in the kitchen, an asphalt pad so I can turn the car around in the poorly designed driveway, a screen door to close off an open area in the back).[/li][/ul]

What am I missing?

And here’s my super stupid question:I thought I would have to pay a fee to my RE agent? Or does that come from the seller? (See, I told you I was clueless.)


My hope is that this thread will conclude in a few weeks/months with a link to a photo of me smiling in front of my new digs. But getting from here to there is terrifying for me - I am really counting on Dopers to help, and I know you will. Wish me luck!

Here are a few things from having bought three houses:

Go back to the house, if you haven’t already. Go through it and visualize where your stuff will go. Do things like open doors, flush the toilets, and run the faucets. Look for holes and stuff that might be behind the furniture. It is easy to not see things on the first look.
Also, drive by the house in the evening. Any loud neighbors? Does it seem safe? Are there people walking dogs on the streets?
Make sure you know what stuff like window treatments stay and what leaves. That’s another source of expense - whoops, my bedroom window has no covering.
Find the nearest hardware store. You’ll be visiting it frequently.
No you don’t directly pay the realtor.
Don’t fall in love with the house so much that you can’t bargain, depending on what your market is like. Paying cash gives you an advantage. You don’t come with contingencies.
How old are the appliances? How old is the roof? How old is the plumbing? If the roof is 40 years old or something, you might need to budget for a new one.
When you go back to the house, look for staging tricks. I don’t know about your market but in mine staging is a big deal. They built a block of new houses one block from me, and touring them - not being the least bit interested in buying - was instructive. One bedroom had a tiny bed to make it look bigger. One room had the door removed, ditto. The bathroom had only light curtains - which wouldn’t do since it looked out over the back of a liquor store. Nothing wrong with staging but it might lead you to think you have more room than you do.
Oh, and at closing ask for the name of a handyman. Chance are you’ll need one, and it helps to have one who knows the house. On the other hand, if the work done is crap, good reason not to use him.
I’m sure others will have a ton of additional items.

One more thing. See if the community you are moving to has NextDoor or something like it, and take a look. You’ll get the usual idiots, of course, but if everyone is complaining about break ins it might be useful to know about it ahead of time. These are also good sources of recommendations for workers.

Most important thing about it is, buy the house intellectually not emotionally. In my house-buying experience I’ve found this is hard. I don’t know why. On preview: Yeah, don’t fall in love with the house. But as I said, I always did, and it was weird things. With the current house, it’s because the tub/shower in both bathrooms is separated from the toilet. In one bathroom it’s an actual separate room. I like this because I hate lying in a nice bubble bath and looking at the toilet because there is always something about a toilet that should have been cleaned but wasn’t, and the bath is not where I want to think about that.

Don’t use an inspector recommended by the realtor. There should be some kind of home inspection group and you can get a recommendation from them. My bad story: I had lined up a reputable home inspector who was a retired mechanical engineer with lots of home-inspection experience, but my realtor spoke of some time pressure and said she had someone who could do it sooner and we needed to. Well. That was a bad mistake. He was actually a personal trainer who WANTED to become a home inspector. Every step of the way he was like, “Well, this doesn’t look real good, maybe you should have an electrician check it out…I don’t know. Well, this looks like it could have been a problem at one time but I don’t know about plumbing, maybe you should have a plumber check it out.” And so forth.

In general going forward I am going to consider any time pressure at all a red flag. “Oh we better do this quick or somebody else is gonna buy it.” Okay. Let somebody else buy it. This is where you need the head and not the heart.

Yeah, I bought the house anyway.

IME the seller pays the realtor. The buyer pays for the inspection. If the inspection reveals problems that can be fixed, that can result in a downward price adjustment.

If you’re planning exterior modifications, make sure that you can actually do them. I.e., check for zoning, HOA, city rules, things like that.

As for what you have to budget, also IME there is always some furniture that worked in your old place but does not work in the new place. Like, my old couch looked fine in the old house, in the new house it was too long to fit one place, not really what I wanted in the other place, and in my new living room it looked shabby no matter what. In the previous house it was the dining room table; just didn’t work. YMMV.

There is also the issue of window treatments. When we looked at our house, it had curtains. They were ugly so I was going to replace them anyway, but when we actually took possession they were gone.

Oh! They also put in the contract that what went with the house in terms of appliancews was only the washer and microwave, in other words they were taking the refrigerator and dryer. It was a nice washing machine. When we took possession, there was a different washing machine and it was a POS. So** get everything in writing! including brand names and maybe even model numbers**

(We also had to put in a dishwasher. This place, built in 1956, had never had a dishwasher! Unbelievable. Well it has one now.)

Missed edit: A friend of mine bought a brand-new McMansion (I don’t call it that in front of her) for over $1 million, and the water in the upstairs en-suite bathroom does not get hot enough for a good shower, and nobody can figure out why. She’s had various plumbers and heat experts trying to figure it out. So she has this beautiful shower, top of the line, with a gas fireplace in the bathroom, and she has to either shower in room-temperature water or go to a different bathroom.*

This is something I never thought to check when looking at houses either. Does the water get hot? How fast? If you’re taking a shower and the automatic sprinkler system kicks in are you going to get scalded? Yeah, I don’t even know if it’s possible to check THAT out.

*She also has a long driveway with lights all the way to the street. Half of them have never worked either. She never looked at the place at night so she didn’t know. And like I said, brand new house.

Don’t buy, rent.

Some people believe they have to own. Believe me, renting is so much better. Neighborhood turns to shit, just move. If you were married for 40 years, you might not be a spring chicken. And you said you are able to pay cash, so, you must have a stash. What is the deal about having to own it? Rent and you have a stash to travel.

Rent. Don’t get in a hurry to purchase. If you feel you have to own, you can do it later.

Probably not the advice you are seeking. But, think about it.

Find out how old the HVAC system is, and its service history. If the house is over 15 years old and these are originals, you may need to get a new furnace, A/C unit, or water heater (they’ll be more energy efficient, anyway).

How old is the electrical wiring? Older homes can have aluminum wiring, and if someone installed modern plugs with copper, this can be a fire hazard.

Have a look at the panel and see how many circuits it has and how many are in use. The fewer the switches, the older it is and the more likely you’ll wind up having to rewire the house. Check that the heavy-draw appliances are on their own circuits (a circuit specifically for the kitchen appliances, for example, so that the range, fridge, dishwasher are not on the same circuits as the lights in the kitchen; also a circuit specifically for the washer and dryer). Check that the bathrooms and the kitchen have GFCI plugs.

Find out how old the windows are. Are they double or triple paned? How well do the outside doors fit? Do they have weather stripping to prevent gaps? Is the weather stripping flexible (good) or does it look stiff, old, and cracked (bad)?

If the house is over 20 (30?) years old, you may have to worry about asbestos insulation. Over 40 or so, and the original paint (which is no doubt under several layers) may be lead paint.

Has the house had a lot of renovation work? Was it hired done or was it done by the homeowners? This can be a red flag, because many homeowners aren’t aware of building codes and safety requirements. Lots of the house renovation shows, when they open the walls they’ll find that someone cut a supporting joist to run a plumbing pipe, or that the wiring is actually knob and tube and only looks modern at the outlet (but this last is only likely to be an issue if you are buying a really old house).

Hire your own real estate lawyer to examine the contract before you sign it. It can save you a lot of grief.

If possible, get a look at the utility bills for the last year. That’ll give you an idea of how much it costs to heat, cool, light, and keep yourself in water, but high bills can also flag hidden issues in the house. Ask the local utilities what an average cost is for a house like that as a comparison.

Find out what the property and school taxes are on the house. That’s an additional yearly expense you need to budget for.

Check with the local police department for crime statistics in the neighborhood.

Speaking of the neighborhood, take a couple of walks in your “new” 'hood. We did that, and met some nice folks.

And actually had a woman stop us and ask “You’re the nice couple thinking about the Winston place, aren’t you? Well, you need to know how she neglected the house. And let her dogs and cats pee anywhere!” So we took a handyman friend to the house with us, and he gave us an inventory of all the walls and flooring that’d have to be replaced to get rid of the effects of her pet care.

Too bad, it was a cute house in a cute neighborhood (biggest selling point? Chalk all over the sidewalks; happy kids everywhere). Twenty years later and we often say “Too bad about the Cat Pee House…”

What is the condition of tue driveway, is there a public sidewalk in front of the property? What is the condition of that? What I mean is, are there low spots where it looks like water pools? Is the driveway totally flat or does it slope ever so slightly away from the house. Possibly a low spot where the drive enters the garage? What about the foundation, any cracks or visible repairs? Take a bubble level and check the floors and counters for levelness. Foundation repair or replacement is not an expense you want.

Oh, yeah, you (obviously) want the driveway to he smooth and even and ever so slightly sloped so water runs off away from the house

+100 on this one.

You’re going to get a lot of advice in this thread, some undoubtedly good and some maybe less so, but I urge you to take this one very seriously. I just completed an out-of-state real estate transaction which went as smoothly as could be hoped for, solely because I had a local lawyer on my side, reading all the paperwork, interpreting things for me that I was unfamiliar with because of differing state laws, advising me on what was normal and what was not (who knew that termite inspections are not a normal part of homebuying everywhere?) Without the lawyer I would have been much more anxious throughout the whole process and I may not have done as well as I could have. The lawyer’s whole fee was less than $1000 and her services could have saved me thousands.

As a Realtor[sup]TM[/sup], but in the state of Wisconsin, I have some advice. Note that there are major differences between US states, so some things I say here might not apply to your state.

I highly advise you to hire a Buyer’s Agent. In my state, as a buyer, you have a choice from your agent – he/she can be a Buyer’s Agent or a Listing Agent, or a sub-agent of the Listing Agent. Obviously, representing you instead of the seller is to your advantage. There probably won’t be any cost associated with your choice. Ask about this.

Who pays for what (inspections, tests, etc.) is not set in law. Any party can pay for any item. Granted, there are conventional practices, but these can be altered in the offer. If you want to make the offer more attractive, offer to pay for more items. If it doesn’t matter, don’t.

In my state, it is unethical to recommend any specific workman such as inspectors or plumbers. We are required to supply a list of choices for the buyer to chose from. With regards to appraisals ordered by lenders, federal law requires them to choose, in rotation, from the next appraiser on the list. The intention is to remove bias.

Get a lawyer. Who handles real estate.

Congratulations on finding a house!

Ask your real estate agent to do an estimated set of closing costs for you. They should be able to put that together easily.

I look forward to hearing more as this all comes together. :slight_smile:

I second this.

I have bought only one house and it was nice dealing with someone who was not paid by the seller.

That’s a good idea. Around here another thing to look at are the test scores from the various schools. Real estate values are strongly dependent on this. Might not be true in other places.

If I had followed this advice the last time I bought, a bit over 20 years ago, I would have been out a million bucks in appreciation. Just sayin’

Just popping in to say I’m reading and digesting the responses … thank you all … I’ll come back with more specific comments in the next 24 hours or so, but I am very appreciative of the care going into the above posts even though I’m too sleepy/emotionally wrung out(*) to answer right now. Questions will follow soon.

(*) Related although tangential point: After posting the above, one painful task I soldiered on through today was talking to the STBX about freeing up money for the purchase while the divorce paperwork remains in limbo. Not a fun conversation to have, but avoiding it doesn’t do anyone any favors, so I bit the bullet and did it. Sigh, yay me, whatever. It shall be worked out.

The first property I bought (in 1987) was for $37,000. I spent $2,400 on it and sold it a year later for $51,000.
I bought my current home in 1989 for $75,000. It’s now valued at $260,000.

Of course I’ve paid no rent in that time (and as a home owner my credit score is outstanding.)

There are several advantages to buying over renting: Taxes first. Even if you have no mortgage, or maybe especially then, all the money you have invested in the house is paying dividends in the form of rent. And all those dividends are untaxed. It is my pet peeve that renters are subsidizing home owners, but they are. Second, any changes you want to make you can. Of course, you will need local permits for major structural changes, but there is no one to tell you not to hand pictures, install shelving, renovate the kitchen. And third, it is a great way of saving for retirement. The house I bought 47 years was sold in the spring at 31 times the purchase price. Accordingly to an inflation calculator it should have sold for somewhere between 5 and 6 times. When you rent, the rent you pay is just money spent, no return.

Voyager – thanks, your advice helps me think I’m on the right track. I’d never heard of NextDoor; it looks like a good resource (somewhat to my surprise it does seem to exist in the neighborhood I’m looking at).

Hilarity – thanks for the tip about the inspector. I don’t think any modification I have in mind would need a permit, but you’ve reminded me that I should at least find out. (Permits are next to impossible to get in a timely fashion here; nearly all of the RE listings mention “unpermitted structures.” This house has an unpermitted roof over the lanai. People are very open about these things, it’s just the way things are in East Hawaii.) The window treatment question is a great one – I already checked and they are leaving the blinds, which is quite important to me as (and this I know from tiresome experience) considerable time and expense can be involved otherwise. This house doesn’t have a dishwasher – neither does the one I’m in. (Strangely, they both have disposals, which aren’t that common around here.) I swear, I spend an hour or more a day doing dishes. Getting a dishwasher installed is #1 on my list of things to do.

harmonica moon, I’m always interested in different points of view but it would take a lot of work to convince me to rent. I’m 60, and not to be bleak, but I want a home I can live in for the rest of my life, or have as an asset to sell should I need to move to some kind of care facility. And I do want to be able to make modifications so my living space really suits me. Plus, I have 3 cats. Just doesn’t seem like a good fit for being a renter.

Morgyn, thanks, I wouldn’t have thought of the electrical questions (except I did think of the GFCI outlets, and then forgot to look when I was in the house). HVAC concerns are minimal around here as neither AC nor heating are needed (pretty great temperatures year ‘round, windows open all the time, and we just use ceiling fans on hot days), but the water heater is key.

Digs – love the Cat Pee House story. The house I want is in a fantastic (by my standards) neighborhood – quite rural with lots of nature everywhere. You’ve just made me focus on the fact that the house next door is also for sale. That has potential in terms of making friends; at some point maybe I can team up with another newbie, if whoever buys the other place is compatible.

DorkVader – the driveway is about the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s long and sloped, with gracious palms lining the drive; quite beautiful, in fact. So you drive up and then it just ends at the garage, meaning there is no good way to turn around, so you get to back down that long driveway. Good grief. (Pic here, taken from standing at the front of the garage looking out.. The previous owners dealt with this stupidity (which all the houses around have) by driving over the grass and parking in the back under an awning. My agent says, “we call that a Puna garage.” So I guess it’s a Hawaii thing. (Puna is a section of the island that has a rep for attracting, um, free-spirited types.)

Since neither the back-down-the-driveway or Puna garage options appeal to me, I’m going to put in an asphalt pad next to the garage so I can turn around and drive forward.