GRS-reader Luneray is in the process of buying her first home. I’ve been following her weblog with interest, as I well-remember the stress from the two times my wife and I purchased a house. Here, with permission, I am reprinting the first installment of her Seattle homebuying adventure.

Oscar and I made a big leap into True Adulthood today. We’ve decided to buy a house, and we spent the afternoon with a realtor. Unfortunately, we hadn’t heard from our mortgage broker to see how much we’d prequalified for, so we don’t know how many of the houses we saw, if any, we could actually afford. I hope we qualify for $180k because that means we could buy a house that isn’t a total dump. A lot of the places we looked at have been rentals and it’s really amazing what some renters will do to a place. (To be fair, a lot of landlords don’t give a crap about maintaining their properties either.)

The realtor started out with a list of 79(!) houses that met our criteria. We narrowed it down by limiting the price to $175,000 but that still left 35 on the list. We walked through ten vacant houses and drove by at least five more.

There are some important things I learned today:

  1. I don’t know anything about architectural styles. When we met with the realtor, he asked us how we felt about ranch style houses, and I said that I don’t like them. But of all the houses we saw today, the ones we liked the best were all classified as “ramblers”, which gets lumped in with ranch style. I guess what I should have said was “I don’t like houses with long hallways.”
  2. What I mean by “needs cosmetic work” and what a realtor means by that phrase are two completely different things. To me, “cosmetic work” means I move in first and make the changes as I live there — for example, remove wallpaper or paint cabinets. It does not mean that I have to clear out all the junk, fumigate it, and totally replace the floors before moving in.
  3. Any room can be considered a bedroom, even if it’s a section of the basement with unfinished concrete walls and floors, no windows, no door, and water marks on the walls from previous flooding.

The first house we looked at was very old, very quirky, very charming, and I liked it a lot. It needed some work — everything was functional and in good shape, but the kitchen needed a remodel for efficiency reasons. The price was good, the neighborhood was “transitional” — meaning it’s a good thing that we have a rottweiler/pit-bull mix — but the house didn’t have a proper foundation. It was built on concrete blocks, but it’s survived 105 years and at least two major earthquakes. I wonder if it’s possible to put in a foundation for about $20k, because that was the price difference between that house and the cheapest of the next houses that we liked. (To be honest, I don’t think Oscar would be interested in this one unless it were truly the only one we could afford.) $149,900

My favorite of the houses was a little rambler that had been inhabited by the same person for the last 50 years. A lot of the furniture is still in the house, and it was like entering a time warp. But in a good way. The kitchen was small, but efficient, and the bedrooms were decently sized. And they were true bedrooms, even if one did have a freezer in it. (Good for those hot summer nights when you really want an ice cream bar but don’t feel like getting out of bed.) $159,950

One house had a fantastic yard. It was secluded and well landscaped. The house itself was fine, too, but needed some cosmetic work (by my definition of the term). Orange and gold shag carpeting? Gotta go. Gold and orange wallpaper? Outta there! And the dark wood paneling covering every other wall in the house? What were they thinking? Was it popular once to make your house as dark as a cave? And let’s not even talk about the rust-red carpet panel squares glued to the hardwood floor in one bedroom. $174,950

One house was a “flip”. Someone bought specifically as a quick turn-around investment. I guess you have to be careful with flips because sometimes a person will do extremely minor changes (like painting) but nothing else. In this case, the person did a lot of work: revamped electrical (to code, I hope), new floors, remodeled bathroom. This place also had a nice basement and nice yard. The yard wasn’t really landscaped, but the backyard was quite large. And it’s within walking distance to a nice yarn shop! $175,000

The final place we saw was technically three bedroom even though one of the rooms was so narrow that it would work much better as an office. This place had a nice kitchen, a great deck, and a very large yard (big enough for a nice veggie garden and space for the dogs to run around). It was on a busy street, but the front windows were triple-paned so it was actually pretty quiet inside. (Heck, we live next door to a bar. Almost anyplace would be quieter than the place we live now.) The only thing I didn’t like about it was that the washer and dryer were in the basement, which was only accessible from the outside. Not a deal-breaker but not ideal. $169,900.

Of course none of these houses is actually in Seattle. None of these houses is even in King County. They are all in Tacoma, within two miles of the Tacoma Dome Transit Center, with its frequent express buses to Seattle.

Look for more of Luneray’s home-buying adventures every Thursday at Get Rich Slowly.