Buying a Home in Chicago

At the end of May, I told you guys how we’re really struggling to find a place to buy here in Chicago. Sadly, the struggle continues. I’m not gonna lie, I jumped into this home buying process thinking it would be full of fun and excitement. Yes, at times it is fun & exciting…but there are a heck of a lot of other emotions thrown in the mix too. Scary, stressful, anxiety-filled, exhausting, overwhelming…just to name a few.

Chicago-Record-AlbumWhen we got pre-approved, Finn came home with a bottle of champagne for us to celebrate and I remember feeling so ready for the journey ahead. Now that we’re knee-deep in the home search process, I’m feeling a little hopeless and unsure that we’re going to find “the one.”

IMG_5334Right now, there isn’t much inventory in the Chicago market. So the few properties that are listed, get scooped up in a matter of days…sometimes even hours! It’s crazy competitive, and I’m so nervous that I’m going to miss our shot at buying a good place that I’m constantly scouring MLS, Zillow, & Redfin. Every morning the realtor sends any new properties our way and I instantly zone in on any potentials. Is it in budget? What’s the HOA fee? How far is it from the train? Could we change the color of those cabinets, or rip out that outdated tile? Man oh man, I never thought my days would be spent crunching property tax numbers, and google mapping various routes to work!IMG_5344A purchase like this is such a big financial decision and I’m terrified that we’ll make the wrong choice. Plus in Chicago it’s just for such a small slice of real estate. We know that our place isn’t going to be huge (2 bed, 2 bath at most!) and it’s still going to cost an arm, a leg, heck maybe even a whole body! When driving back from Lake of the Ozarks a few weeks ago, I perused Zillow during our long drive home. Every town we went by, I looked at the available properties. I kept saying, “Finn, look at this one! This one is on 10.5 acres and it’s below our budget! Let’s move to the countryside!” or “OMG we could have a chicken coop in the backyard with this huge piece of property! What’s so great about living in the city anyways?!” But we keep reminding ourselves that suburban (or even country living) will always be there, and right now our priority as a newly married couple is to be near the action in the city. So downtown Chicago it is!

IMG_5340-001Honestly, I was hesitant to share all of this on the blog, but Bridget encouraged me to just put it all out there because it isn’t always rainbows and butterflies around here. We try to avoid being negative Nancy’s around here, but these feelings are a part of our homebuying process. Plus, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to look back at this post and think about how far we’ve come, and how our patience paid off! Fingers crossed that’s the case.

chicagoI think this is a good lesson in patience…a trait which doesn’t come naturally for me. I just need to trust that it’s all going to work out in due time, and stressing about it isn’t going to make our dream home magically appear.

IMG_5331So I know this isn’t much of an update, but I wanted to keep you guys in the loop! Hopefully the next time I write about the home buying process, I’m back with a set of new house keys & more champagne!

casey_sigI want to hear what it was like when you purchased your home. Was it an emotional roller coaster like ours?

  • Erin

    shopping for a home is the HARDEST THING ever. it’s really tough because you’re constantly doing comparisons with other people! for instance my sister lives more in the suburbs — they have a good sized yard and the house is 3000 sq feet. and they bought it for about $575k. While we live closer to the city, things are walking distance from us (groceries, metro, shopping, etc.) and we want to move out of our condo and into a house — if we’re lucky a tiny yard and a about 1800 sq ft is $450k and we still have to do renovations! soooooo hard to justify it, but it’s where we want to be in relations to our jobs and lifestyle we want to have!

    keep plugging away, and don’t settle! You’ll find the right home for you!

    • Thanks Erin! Isn’t that so crazy? Comparison really is the hardest part, especially for city dwellers. But like you said, just gotta keep plugging away and it will work out the way it should!

  • Trang

    It’s one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) purchase of our life. It’s a 30 year commitment (in terms of mortgage/debt). Don’t fret – the right home will find you. When it’s meant to be, it’ll happen for you and Finn. I know it is easier said than done because I’ve seen my friends struggle to find the right place to rent in Chicago – so many options and things that are good and seem right, do get snapped up immediately. And honestly, with the MANY fabulous neighborhoods you have in Chicago, I don’t even know how you would begin to decide. My husband and I always say that if we ever win the lottery, we are so getting a place in Chicago because we love, love, love that city. However, we’d be torn between great places like Bucktown, Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, Logan Square, Andersonville, etc…
    You guys will find THE house just for you, I just know it.

    • Trang,
      You are always so sweet & supportive. You’re right that there are so many wonderful neighborhoods in Chicago…narrowing it down to just a couple was hard! Fingers crossed that we will find THE HOUSE soon.


  • Heather

    You are not alone!! When we bought our house, we decided it had to be in the city because traffic in Atlanta is the worst and there is no way we wanted to deal with it even more! I would see a house online in the AM, set up a showing for lunch, and by the time I got there, they had better offers in. It was soo amazingly frustrating. Just keep at it and you will find the house that is perfect for you.

    • Thanks so much Heather! So crazy that it’s so competitive everywhere!

  • Kat

    Hey girls! It’s Katie again (I posted previously about you doing a Lowe’s “you survived the heat” giveaway since I live in PHX). Did you see what I did there? I know this contest is coming! πŸ™‚

    Anyway…. Casey, I totally know what you are going through! I am originally from St. Louis and I’ve lived all over the place, but PHX was the first place I tried to (and finally did) buy. As you know, St. Louis is a pretty cheap place to live, and with each move I made to a new city prices got a little more expensive. Like you, I was so excited when I got pre-approved and couldn’t wait to go out, find the perfect house for me, and buy it! During the process it was a roller coaster of emotion. There were three houses that I put an offer on and other people got because they paid cash above the asking price for them. It was a roller coaster of emotion and frustration, and with each house the excitement factor was less and less.

    When Matt and I decided to buy, our “non-negotiables” were 2 bathrooms and a pool. Drastically different, right? When I took a step back from the process, and the things I’d grown to want, and remembered the non-negotiables things got a lot easier. As if the process wasn’t hard enough, when we finally found the house we wanted the signing/payment process took place while I was traveling through China and Indonesia. Imagine having to sign and fax papers and transfer money out of the country. It was a nightmare! However, now we live in a lovely little home that has everything we wanted, plus the ability to make it feel like “ours.”

    Looking back the process was comedic. And the upside is that I got to see how lots of other people decorate ,which was really cool. πŸ™‚ We’re decorating room by room, but you can see how our office turned out here: It’s the only room completely decorated now, so I like to show as many people possible at any given time. πŸ™‚

    Hope you find some comfort in the process.

    • Kat,
      Wow thank you so much for your comment. You have no idea how much this means to me to hear a little about your homebuying process.

      We put a bid on a place yesterday at asking price…and found out late last night that we didn’t get it. Which was crushing! I keep thinking, how am I so sad about a home I was in for only like 12 minutes? I think not getting the house, combined with the fact that we have to do it all over again, is what makes it so emotional!

      I’m so happy you found your home and I’m officially obsessed with your office. It’s gorgeous. Amazing work.

      Hopefully I’ll have happier news for you soon!

      Thanks again Kat!

  • Kjaydee

    Ugh, that does sound SO stressful, but first of all thanks so much for sharing! It’s interesting to me to hear what buying a home entails in other markets!

    When my husband and I bought our home, we first got pre-approved and then slowly started looking. Buying a home in my area is a lot different than in Chicago, because prices are fairly low and there is a lot available. However, it’s still hard to find the perfect home in the perfect neighborhood that isn’t going to need thousands and thousands of dollars of work. I went into the process with the mindset of “When THE ONE comes along, I’ll know.” — the day we went to see our home for the first time, our realtor commented that I seemed so much more relaxed than when we had viewed other homes and that’s when I knew we had found the one. The price was right, and it had all of the things we wanted — two bathrooms, three bedrooms, a large fenced in yard and lots of outdoor space. Overall, it took us about two years from the time we thought of buying (before we were even engaged!) and walking into our home (1.5 months before our wedding). 2 years later, I couldn’t be happier with our decision!

    Despite our circumstances being very different, I think the best advice I ever got about the process is that you’ll know when it’s right because everything will work out. I have no doubt you’ll find your home, and all will work out! It’s easy to get stressed by the process, even after you find your home and you’re under contract, there are home inspections, re-negotiations and races to the finish to close (and money, money, money — they will never stop asking for money!) — but it’s all worth it once you’re in your home! Good luck!!

    • This is such great advice. I love when you said that you truly just felt relaxed in your home when you saw it for the first time…that is such a great observation! I’m still waiting for that feeling, and like you said it will all be worth it when we have OUR HOME!

  • Amanda Scott

    I bought in Edgewater last November, and while I don’t have a lot of advice, I figured I’d throw some stuff out there.
    1 Know what is REQUIRED and what you just really want (e.g. I’d trade a 2nd bathroom for an awesome location but a vintage building is required)
    2 Trust your realtor on location (they’ll know what small pockets of neighborhoods work for you, even if you didn’t think that was the place for you)
    3 timing is everything (my place was listed at 9pm, I emailed the realtor at 10 and we saw the place in the morning, if I was a day later I would have definitely missed out)
    4 Know the rules on rental (Know all your options for later, as renting out the condo can be a good way to pay off a house mortgage later)
    5 If you’re looking into different neighborhoods, try to stay in those neighborhoods for a small amount of time or at least get a full view of what life is like in the neighborhood, from parking to restaurants to the noise level at night. (Even though I would love to be in a place like Wicker Park or Bucktown, I don’t go out enough to make the noise & cost worth it)

    Best of luck!

    • Amanda, thanks for your words of encouragement! It’s great to hear from a fellow Chicago homebuyer. How crazy that places go that quickly?! I had no idea when we first started looking at places. Fingers crossed things work out…in the meantime I’ll be looking at listings 24/7 πŸ™‚

  • The whole home buying thing was stressful and we are in a much different market than Chicago! I knew as soon as I saw our current house online that it was “the one” and my husband was convinced pretty soon into our walk through. When you find it you’ll know and it will all work out!

    • I cannot wait to have that feeling Diana! Hopefully we know when it’s “the one!”

  • Brandi

    I feel your pain! We sold our home quickly, but have stuggled to find the right home to purchase. And what you said about everything going quickly is so true (even up here in Milwaukee). We’re now renting a house (because our offer on a house we wanted to buy fell through) and taking our time to find the right place. I’m hoping the fall will be a great time because the market won’t be quite as competitive. I truly wish you the best of luck!

    • Oh Brandi, that sounds difficult & stressful! I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize that the market was pretty crazy all over the country. Best of luck in your home search!

  • April Blake

    We were only looking at 3b, 2ba homes in a small section of our city and were getting annoyed with how awful they were in the price range we could afford. Luckily my mom randomly told us about a 2b 1.5 ba house in the perfect location that ended up being what we bought! Moms… they always know what’s best even when you don’t want to admit it!

    • Great advice April! I need to get my mom looking for us πŸ™‚

  • Ryan Malone

    I bought my home in Austin 3 summers ago (how has it been that long already?) and the process was super stressful. First, Austin has been on the list of the fastest-growing cities in the country for a while now, so there were a lot of people looking at the same time. Second, I am not a suburb girl, so the close-in neighborhoods I had my eye on were even harder to get into than the market as a whole. And third, I wanted to live in an up-and-coming area (where I was renting at the time) so I could really capitalize in the equity department as the area continued to appreciate and I worked my magic on the home and yard. There were TONS of investors paying in CASH that I was competing with…intimidating to say the least. In the end, I got a GREAT home…a small 3/2 that’s just perfect for me and my two goofy dogs.

    Here’s my advice:
    – Compromise on the home, not the neighborhood. You can change anything about a place except the location.
    – That being said, don’t be afraid to buy in an up-and-coming part of town. It’ll make you explore a different part of town that you weren’t familiar with and you’ll stand to make a lot more money when it does come time to sell your place later on.
    – Talk to more than one lender and see what kinds of rates they can offer you. The lender I ended up choosing gave me an FHA financing option (less down, higher monthly payments), 5% conventional and even a 3% conventional (which I hear is basically unheard of these days). My plan the whole time was to go with the 5% conventional (to have as much leftover for pre-move-in improvements), but at the last minute I opted to go with a 3% down conventional AND pay my PMI up front. So I had to bring about the same amount to closing as I would have if i put 5% down, but my monthly payments ended up being lower because I didn’t have to pay PMI. It pays to ask tons of questions to get things just right.
    – When you find a place you love, DON’T HESITATE. Put an offer in right away.
    – Get as many inspections done as you can during your option period. I bought an 50s home and wish I would have had the pipes scoped during my option period. I would have uncovered so many issues that I’ve had to pay for since then! I recommend getting AT LEAST the plumbing, foundation and roof inspected, but there are so many other things you can do. It may not make as much sense for you since you’re buying a condo, but it’s good to know anyway.
    – When it comes to homeowner’s insurance, do your research. Get several quotes and don’t just go with who you’ve had for car insurance since you were 16 like I did. Every state is different, but in Texas, not all providers offer a fixed deductible amount. My first carrier calculated my deductible based on my home’s value, so it went up year-to-year. I have since switched and am much happier with my coverage and deductible.

    – Don’t assume you’ll be able to leave your closing and move right in. Sometimes it takes up to a day or two for your financing to clear.

    It’s a crazy process, but I’m sure you’ll end up with a great home at the end. Good luck!

    • Oh my goodness, Ryan. You are a wealth of information! I actually just forwarded your comment to my husband so he could see all of the details (especially the financing ones!)

      How did you ultimately end up finding your current home? It sounds just like our situation with cash buyers and everyone wanting to buy in these growing neighborhoods! It’s scary going up that kind of buyer!

      Thanks for the advice! We really appreciate it and your support!

    • Ryan Malone

      I’m glad you find my ramblings helpful. πŸ™‚ The more you know, right? Feel free to get in touch with me directly if you have any more burning questions. I’m happy to help!

      As far as how I found my home, I used Redfin. It’s a great resource. I set up alerts for the zip code I wanted so it would email me listings as soon as they went up. I would advise against waiting for your realtor to send you listings because I have to imagine yours is very busy this time of year and isn’t going to be as on top of the market as you can be. Hone in on a couple of areas and set your alerts. If you’re genuinely interested, see the property as soon as you can. If your realtor isn’t available to show it, contact the seller’s agent directly.

      So I saw my house (and two other potentials) on a Friday evening (yes, I was that dork who sat at home with a glass of wine on weekend nights stalking the MLS. I texted my realtor right away and we went to see all three properties the next day. One was a MAJOR fixer-upper and while I would have loved to gut it and make it my own, I wasn’t sure that was wise for my first home (in hindsight…such a good call). The other two were really comparable. Both had three bedrooms and two bathrooms. I live in an old neighborhood, so both houses were right around 1200 square feet. One had an AMAZING backyard with huge trees, a gorgeous deck and great grass. But it also had a smaller “master” bedroom, a funky kitchen layout and was on a cut-through street (complete with bus stop in the front yard). The second one had a great open layout, updated kitchen and a small addition on the “master” bedroom (a small sitting room and WALK IN CLOSET) that made the room feel much larger. But the yard was small and not completely fenced, the house was uniquely situated without a true back door and it didn’t have the awesome outdoor set-up going on. So I put in a full price offer on Saturday evening (I was literally e-signing the contract while I was at a concert that night) and then went to the open house for the property the next day. They accepted my offer that night and apparently got four more offers on Monday, two of which were cash. So I totally lucked out. Timing is key. Had I waited to attend the open house before putting in an offer, I never would have gotten the house.

      Ultimately, I went with the property with the small yard and walk in closet option and I’m so glad I did. I finished the fence (I designed it myself), added a back door and really made the interesting orientation work in my favor. We’re all about weird here in Austin (and even more so in my funky transitional neighborhood). I’m in no way “done” yet; I have plans to replace the rest of the fence, gut the “master” bath and re-do some flooring among other things, but I had a realtor friend come by the other day and tell me how much she would list the house for if I were to decide to put it on the market tomorrow. Basically, I could profit about $100K on a home I purchased three years ago. Boom! Right place at the right time!

    • Wow, thank you for this Ryan. It seriously helps so much and we really appreciate the support. Hopefully we’ll find ours soon πŸ™‚