in Milestones

Homeownership

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And so it begins!

Today I closed on a condo in the Lowry neighborhood of Denver. I’m officially a homeowner!

The 1374 square-foot single-floor condo faces north and west on the top level of a two-story building containing 7 other units. It was built in 2003 and has 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2 porches, a gas fireplace and a detached garage. Fortunately the previous owner had recently replaced the carpet and painted the walls.

Take a look (note: furniture belongs to the tenant at the time the photos were taken):

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind around here the last few months; I can’t believe I started looking in late March. Jeff recommended his Keller Williams real estate agent, Kati Harken, to me and I couldn’t have asked for a better realtor. She’s a blast – very professional, receptive, easy to talk to and I highly recommend her to anyone. Kati and I spent quite a few weekends trekking between neighborhoods, narrowing down my search criteria with each viewing. I learned a lot about the city and the surrounding suburbs during that time, which definitely helped me get my bearings.

I decided to focus on the areas around Highlands, West Highlands, Edgewater, Capitol Hill, Wash Park, Baker, LoHi, RiNo, Stapleton, and Littleton. I told Kati I was willing to compromise on one the following:

  • Garage
  • 2 bedrooms/bath
  • In-unit Laundry
  • Light rail/easy commute
  • Being Boxed in (surrounded on all sides, like in a highrise)

We saw a few places, including a 2-bedroom condo on the eastern edge of Lowry – what Kati billed as ‘Stapleton Lite’ – facing a busy street. I quickly dismissed the neighborhood, opting to stick to the list. While Kati and I were on the hunt, Justin gave me the number for Kelli Strott, a fantastic, hard-working, and thorough mortgage broker at Universal Lending Corp., who quickly went to work getting me pre-approved.

I placed an offer on a great little 2-bedroom house in the Wheat Ridge/Edgewater area. The day after the listing appeared, we went to go view it after I got out of work. When we arrived there was already an agent showing the place and another pulled up with more prospective buyers shortly after us. I placed an offer of $237k, $12k under asking. Within 90 minutes I had heard my offer was rejected – not even a counter-offer! My introduction to Denver’s insanely under-stocked real estate market taught me to move quickly.

I had visited Lowry on my own and decided to give it another try, even though I would have to compromise on the easy commute. We kept at it and came across listings for 3 units in one complex and a 4th nearby. The complex’s first two were similar – on the first floor and dark – but the third out-shined the others despite it being less expensive by $9k . Similar to how I felt when I first sat in the Volvo, the condo just felt right. We quickly viewed the 4th condo and I hurried home to do some initial research. Shortly thereafter, I called Kati to draw up the contract. I knew I wanted it and I moved fast, offering $10k less than the asking price but requesting that the seller cover closing costs. I accepted the counter-offer of $5k less than asking with closing costs covered.

The process went relatively smoothly. I quickly set up an inspection, done by Dean Bowring of Benchmark Property Inspection for $250, who was very thorough, informative, and helpful. Fortunately most everything checked out just fine and Dean gave his blessing, which included some recommendations for fixes that the seller gladly agreed to address after another round of offers/counteroffers. The appraisal came next with a price tag of $400. All the paperwork was done electronically with digital signatures – it couldn’t have been easier.

Kelli recommended I take get the Mortgage Credit Certificate offered by CHFA, which, upon completion of an 8-hour free course, qualified me for a certain percentage of a tax refund per year. The First Time Homebuyer program is offered by many throughout the county and state, but I took it through Brothers Redevelopment, Inc. in Edgewater one Saturday. I can’t speak highly enough of this program! Not only are the tax benefits great (I essentially lowered my mortgage percentage rate even further, saving $117/month), but the content was excellent. The instructors basically walk you through the entire real estate process, from determining your optimal mortgage payment to how to maintain a house after you buy one. They tell you which questions to ask, when to ask them, and why they are important. Please get ahold of me if you have questions about this program, I’d be glad to go into more detail.

I made the mistake of paying for baseball tickets (go Yanks!) on my credit card for co-workers and having them pay me back. The mortgage underwriter required signed letters from each person who paid me via check, explaining the amount and what the payment was for. There were many letters I had to write and sign, explaining away some aspect of my finances. I stayed on top of it, though (I love the Signature feature of Preview). Also, it helps to have a parent actively involved in real estate review documents with you. Thanks, Buck!

Fortunately the rest of the process was fairly uneventful – until yesterday. I had gotten the finalized closing costs the Friday before and hadn’t thought twice about how to get a cashier’s check until it came time to find a local Bank of America branch. Not-so-conveniently enough, there aren’t any branches in Colorado! Panic-stricken, I set about finding a way to get the money to the title company before the closing. They wouldn’t accept a personal check and I seemingly couldn’t wire more than $10k/day from my bank. I considered a money order through the post office, but the most they could do was $1k. I started to get creative, thinking I could open a new account at a local bank using my ATM card to furnish it and transfer the funds from there. Time was running out, and I called Kelli for advice, who quickly got on the phone with Bank of America and learned, after speaking with a manager, that the daily limit was $99k if I signed up for a SafePass.

ERRORWhile setting up the transfer recipient, I wasn’t sure whether to select Business Checking or Business Savings for the title company’s account type. Technically it was neither (escrow account), but the correct answer is Business Checking. Don’t make the mistake I made and choose to make the transfer for the Next Business Day because the fee was $15 cheaper than Same Day. 3-Day and Next Day transfers are considered ACH transfers (think direct deposit). Unfortunately for me, the title company cannot accept ACH transfers into their account, as described in the fine print of the wiring instructions paperwork. This resulted in a fun, 2-day round of “Where’s My Money?” but the transfer was rejected and sent back to my account 2 days later, thankfully. I re-read all the instructions and made a manager at Bank of America walk me through the process again, this time choosing theĀ Same Day transfer. Success!

Long story short, the wire transfer took its time getting across but finally made it. Lesson: don’t wait for the day before to schedule a wire transfer if going through Bank of America, but more importantly read the fine print.

The closing itself couldn’t have been easier. I met with Kati, Kelli, the seller, the seller’s agent, and the escrow officer. I signed maybe two dozen documents and was out of there with my keys in just over an hour! Kelli hooked me up with a killer gift basket, complete with wine and toilet paper. The Dream Team and I parted ways and I went over to the condo to relax after a long 48 hours.

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I’m moving a few things over this week, but the big move out of the storage unit happens this weekend. I’m sure I’ll be posting my progress along the way. Some people have suggested I have a housewarming party and, while I think those are kinda tacky, I would enjoy sharing the new place with friends eventually. For now, I just want to relax and sit still for a few minutes…

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