Well, bless our hearts! We just bought the sweetest little fixer upper in the Eastwood area of Louisville, Kentucky and I just cannot wait to show you around. Why don’t you help yourselves to a refreshing Louisville Cooler (we have plenty of Old Forester and Woodford Reserve to go with our orange juice in this house) or a sweet tea if you prefer and come along with me whenever you’re ready!
We are settling in now and so happy with our new-to-us fixer-upper. We feel like we landed in exactly the right place, though we didn’t at all expect to end up in Kentucky when we first set out. There were challenging twists and turns, frustrations and setbacks, but it came together when the time was right!
As I write this in May of 2021, the market is absolutely bonkers. If you’re out there trying to buy your first (or second, or third) home, I hope that our story inspires and encourages you to keep trying. Maybe it’ll even give you a fresh idea or two of how to find and claim your own dream home in unexpected ways!
how DO you know it’s time to buy your first home?
So, after two decades of renting, how did we know it was time to buy our first home?
Well, first, Greg got locked in the basement thanks to the broken door handle that never made it to the top of our landlord’s priority list.
I admit I take partial responsibility because I was the one who closed the door on him. I closed the door because we had already lost one cat inside the laundry room wall and I really preferred not to lose the other one.
Then, I had a terrible allergic reaction to the ancient carpeting. I had never had a problem with allergies in my life, but my nasal passages swelled completely shut our first few weeks in the house. I had a bona fide panic attack because I was having such a hard time breathing. Even so, the landlord wanted to just steam the already threadbare carpet again, but we couldn’t live there if it wasn’t replaced.
He dragged his feet, but did eventually get around to replacing it with LVT. The carpet pad disintegrated into dust as it was pulled up and the size of the stains on the backside of the carpet were objectively terrifying.
Finally, the last straw was … Hundreds. Of. Little. Wiggly. Worms. In. The. Dishwasher. I know, right?! Total horror movie. I hurdled over the kitchen counter like a darned Olympian. The landlord knew it didn’t drain properly but didn’t feel it was necessary to tell us.
We were S-O O-V-E-R being renters.
It was time to live in a place where we could change the carpet, fix the drain, plant a tree, and do whatever else we dang well felt like doing when we felt like doing it without needing to beg for permission or ask for forgiveness.
So, we set off on a quest. A quest for the perfect starter home in the sparkling city of opportunity we had both spent our entire lives in – Chicago.
To make a long story short, that went poorly.
it’s called ‘the dream of homeownership’ for a darned good reason
We were really looking forward to getting an adorably small house in the northwest suburbs that we could fix up and sell a few years down the road. Proximity to restaurants, entertainment, shopping, and parks had us dreaming of an active lifestyle filled with friends and culture.
We needed to compromise on location pretty quickly. Homes near Greg’s office in Highland Park – even small ones! Even fixer-uppers! Even fixer-uppers that were more like falling-downers! – were several hundred thousands of dollars above the top of what we thought was our pretty healthy budget.
So we started looking further out in sleepy bedroom communities like Lindenhurst, Greys Lake, and Lake Zurich. We were accepting a longer commute and giving up proximity to entertainment districts.
But with those new parameters, we dog-eared several adorable homes (yay!) and scheduled two full days of showings with a terrific REALTOR (double yay!). A home of our own seemed to be within our grasp.
The Tax Man – destroyer of dreams
Until … we remembered to ask about taxes. Mm-hmm. You could hear our bubble bursting and the wind getting sucked out of our sails.
We tried with Herculean strength to twist logic around enough to where it could somehow make sense that a $250,000 property had a $12,000 property tax bill (yes, ma’am. That figure is correct.), but a dozen Hercules couldn’t budge(t) a tax rate like that.
The property tax revelation forced us to cancel every showing we had scheduled. It was so embarrassing telling our REALTOR we hadn’t anticipated $1,000 a month in property taxes on a starter home. It also meant any improvements would lead to a drooling tax man who would greedily eat up any increase in value with a corresponding increase in taxes.
The math just didn’t work out, but getting closer to Greg’s work was a non-negotiable. And we really, really, really wanted to be done with renting.
But wait! there’s more … than one city with houses for sale!
So we were getting ready for bed, wondering what our next best move would be.
Greg was brushing his teeth over the tiny sink in our tiny rental house bathroom. Suddenly, he stands straight up, whirls around wide-eyed with his toothbrush still in his mouth, and sputters, “Do you want to move to Louisville?!”
I giggled. Realized he was completely serious. And said, with genuine enthusiasm, “Ok!”
I knew exactly nothing about Louisville, but Chicago certainly didn’t seem to be working out for us anymore. So why the heck not, right? Turns out, a recruiter sent him an email a few days earlier with the perfect job opportunity. He understandably ignored it because until that afternoon, we thought we were buying a house in Chicago.
It was a pure stroke of luck that he hadn’t deleted it forever! Two months later, we were following the moving truck down to Louisville.
home buying is just full of (un)pleasant surprises
In Chicago, there was plenty of inventory, but we couldn’t afford the taxes.
Louisville had the affordability, but of course that affordability means there was another problem.
Each home we wanted to see, our REALTOR would call me back with the 4 words I learned to loathe.
“They accepted an offer.”
Our budget and preferences were right in that sweet spot where we were competing with institutional investors and wealthy out-of-area individuals looking for income properties.
They could make cash offers with quick closings without even bothering to see the house.
Grrr!! How were we supposed to compete with that? So we decided not to.
The new, new, NEW strategy was to start looking at houses that had been on the market for awhile. The ones that investors clearly didn’t want. Homes that needed a little (or a lot of) love. The ones that required vision to see the diamond under the dirt.
We needed to buy a fixer-upper!
Our fixer-upper found us!
It was a lazy, cold, rainy Sunday afternoon.
Greg was heading to Atlanta the next morning for a business trip, so we were planning to get serious about this new strategy when he got back. Honestly, we were pretty proud of ourselves. We were patient and flexible, and surprised at our willingness to move to a whole new state. All in pursuit of our dream.
Somehow, someday, we were going to make this homeownership thing happen.
But until then, I figured it was a lazy, cold, rainy afternoon and we weren’t doing anything else that day. Why not browse an open house or two? You know … just for fun?
I jumped onto the interwebs to see what I could find that was nearby. We wanted it to be close, convenient, and completely casual. Just stroll in and stroll out.
There was nothing. Not a single open house on our side of town. Which I thought was really weird, since it was a Sunday in March. But, oh well. Doesn’t matter anyway, right? I shut the laptop lid and asked Greg what he wanted for breakfast.
Greg got this look on his face that I can’t really describe. Almost like he knew something magical was about to happen.
He pulled the laptop over to him, opened it back up to the tab with Realtor.com, and hit Refresh.
Just listed. 1 minute old.
“Hey, that’s cute! Click on it.”
We scrolled through the first few photos and scrunched up our faces.
Meh. Nah. Looks small. What even is that? Why is there a photograph of the shower curtain? That’s a laahhht of orange.
Wait, wait, wait!! Go back. What’s that?
A pond? Is that a pond in the backyard? Is that … a golf cart path?
A few hours later, we made a full price offer on the 3,000 square foot red brick home on a quiet country road.
An offer on the house that hadn’t caught our fancy, that we almost clicked the x on. The house that turned out to be everything we wanted and everything we didn’t think we could get. We stretched to the top of our budget for the house we dismissed because it didn’t look good in the photographs!
There were zero photos that showed it was on a golf course. Zero photos that showed how beautiful the community is. Zero photos that show how beautiful the property is during the spring, summer, and fall seasons. And it is stunning most of the year!
We took a chance and scheduled a viewing only – ONLY – because of the pond in the backyard. The pond that was exactly 49 photos deep in the listing. And ended up falling in love.
I’m going to say that again and highlight it …
My goal here is not shame whoever took the listing photos. My goal is demonstrating what’s most important to keep in mind, whether you are the buyer or the seller.
This house checked most of our boxes. But we scrunched up our noses because the photos made it appear dark, small, and awkward. There was a close up of a red shower curtain and one that looked like a weird room at the top of the stairs without a door on it.
It was the loft!
You guys, this house had a loft and we couldn’t from the listing photos.
The large furnishings and wide-angle lens gave an impression of low ceilings and small rooms. That wasn’t actually true!
The only reason we went to see it right away is because a pond was on our we’d-love-to-have-one-but-it-definitely-doesn’t-exist-in-our-price-range list. The most special Dream List item … and we had to get to photo number 50 to know it was there.
Of course, it also works the opposite way where the photos make the house look bigger, brighter, and better than it really is! We ran into that issue a few times, too!
The only way to know for sure is to go see it for yourself.
We are so glad we did!