Constant readers, thanks for hanging in there. What started as a promising year for adding content to the website has been a miserable fail. In our last post we focused on how 2020 had been a nightmare, and mentally, sometimes monetarily, but at least not physically that theme has continued.
The greenhouse is FINALLY up, the tree work did get done, the house is painted, runoff is diverted, the garage is leaning (still), quail got hatched, quail got eaten (delicious!), the svart hona rooster died :(, but the svart hona hens are finally laying eggs. The kids have started back to ‘virtual’ school and the weather finally cooled off. I (Brianna) have tried my hand at some new things like lemon curd (also delicious!) and ground cherry jelly (didn’t set but made a lovely honey consistency). I also brushed off some old skills and tried some stained glass and sculpted tiny polymer clay Pokémon. Adam revamped an entire shed, painted the porch, took spinning back up, and cleared out a ton of left over trash with a full yard, garage, basement, and attic clean out.
All that to say:
I haven’t the foggiest where the summer went…
I can say that one of the best parts of the summer was that the kids got to be home with us while we worked from home. I can also say one of the worst parts of the summer was that the kids got to be home with us while we worked from home. Just kidding, they are great kids and outside of a broken arm and a hornet attack the summer has been both hectic and slow all a once. It is though Covid makes every day last forever and pass in the blink of an eye at one time.
The news of the world is still dire, though we’ve moved on from the death of Covid and just pretend it isn’t a thing so we can focus on elections. Folks gunned down at protests, scandals abound, and finger pointing politician after finger pointing social media star just make everything seem so hopeless.
But here at the Reaganskopp Homestead we still deal in HOPE. We wear our masks, we talk about what we can do to help the world, and we try real hard to be good partners and parents (minus a bit of the screamies at each other from time to time). In fact, we have so much hope I was super excited to go about digging up the potatoes.
It was much easier to dig up the potatoes than one would expect because a groundhog came and helpfully ate every single leaf off my squash plants. While, the squash and the groundhog are no more, I’ve been waiting patiently for those potato leaves to start dying back, and this week they turned yellow. and started to curl and die.
I can tell you, folks, my heart beat a little faster as I pushed in my pitchfork and gently lifted the dark brown soil. Oh yes, I harvested those potatoes.
Though, harvest might be a strong word. I think a better description would be that I carefully scoured the earth for each fingernail sized bit of potato and threw them in a bucket. I can’t even say I was mad at this point. I think by potato plant four I was kind of giggling, madly, under my breath as I pulled the smallest amount of potatoes that I think could even support a leaf. As Adam put the finishing touches on the porch paint, I hauled my giant bucket over to him with glee!
“I harvested the potatoes!”, I said in an excited voice I hope he mistakenly took for glee.
“Oh, let me see!”, as he climbed down from his ladder to peer into my giant bucket.
Oh yes, I was not about to rob him of the mirth and joy of the situation. 2020 had struck again. We both started laughing as we held up our tiny potato harvest. Thank god, our food supply had not depended on these because we would definitely have not made it through the winter.
And so, the Great Potato Famine of 2020 continued.
And while I don’t have some rocking, awesome post about potatoes to write I do have lots of learned lessons that I should put down to help you readers. We had enough beans to both eat and dry. We had a family of hummingbirds followed by monarchs. Fall raspberries are ripening. We had enough Egyptian walking onion bulbs we were able to donate a whole paper sack to Burton Street Community Garden. I’ve enjoyed slices tomatoes and the kids are pros at spitting grape seeds. We learned that fresh celery is an entirely different beast than the watery kind you get at the grocery. We also were reminded that peppers hate rain. Quail are still the easiest bird on the planet and heritage chickens take forever to lay. Years of experience tells me that, while 2020 wasn’t the year of potatoes or websites, 2021 just might be.
Stay safe, stay sane, and go try to grow some fall spinach. We plan to seed ours this weekend!
It all started with Covid-19. Maybe you remember back those long years months ago… back to mid-March? I mean it had to be at least an eternity ago… Right? Back to that time when I naively thought I would exercise each day, cook meals, write content for the website, and film homesteading videos… Back before we knew we would be homeschooling four elementary school kids while working full time… Yeah, that time. Per the usual, I was behind on ordering garden things, and due to Covid panic there wasn’t a seed potato to be found.
DISCLAIMER: Oh, and if you haven’t guessed by now, this isn’t our usual tutorial! I used to write personal posts, then I stopped and went solely to tutorials. Adam has always been straight business when he writes :). While tutorials been great for readers it has made me lose some of my passion for writing content. This is my long winded way of saying, if you want to read my growing potato fiasco it has some salient points about growing potatoes, but most of this going to get drastically off topic. Basically, I’m putting the FUN in Fiasco. A FUNiasco! If you are looking for just tutorials (or don’t like foul language) skip this and hit up my next post.
Potatoes and Covid Continued
So seed potatoes… Yeah, it was impossible to find them in March. With St. Patrick’s being the traditional potato plant day in Western North Carolina I was shit out of luck. At least I had gotten my arse in gear and ordered my seeds early. Panic buying upset the gardening world in a big way! (I’m still wondering what folks did with all those dang seeds.) Anywho, I was still in the early Covid days of actually cooking nice meals and had a really fancy mix of fingerling potatoes on hand. I took a couple of each type and sliced them into seed potatoes planning on sharing my absolute ‘garden brilliance’ with everyone at a later date.
Garden brilliance in the form of potatoes never materialized. I went from congratulating myself on a smart experiment to being thankful I didn’t post my plans on social media. Not a. single. potato. poked its leafed head above ground. Weather was warm, plenty of rain, and excellent conditions for potato making. It may have been perfect weather for potatoes but was not the time for excellence in personal growth. We scrambled, as a family, to find a new normal with homeschooling, coparenting, and working full time from home. We got work handled, the gardens planted, school done, tree work scheduled, and a host of other things. But all the other stuff? Yeah… Lets say the quarantine 15 is a real thing and we are still not Youtube famous. Despite that, those damn potatoes should have sprouted.
Was it Easy?
If I make all the above sound easy… IT FUCKING WASN’T. The mind has a way of glossing over stress, and both Adam and I have a habit of just slogging on through things and dealing with the fallout when shit isn’t hitting the fan. Which is why I like to think hardly anyone checked on is during this chaos. People just have the expectation that we have our shit together. Much like, THE BEAR, we just keep going but it doesn’t mean that chaos wasn’t all around:
The Bear aka THE BEAR
Speaking of THE BEAR: I could have done without the goddamn bear that got trapped in the chicken coop. News flash: A bear proof chicken coop becomes a bear trap when you leave the door open. Also, they absolutely will kill and eat a chicken (or three) if it is early spring and nothing else is available. I do not give a single shit what Google says on the matter. And THE BEAR is quite vexing. I live in the city, so dealing with a full grown bear knocking over fences, eating crops, and generally being a giant, furry death machine just shouldn’t be on the docket.
Other problems came along; kids, work, worry. We both had excellent employers that got our butts home in a rapid manner and shifted to remote work in the span of days. At least we didn’t have the hell of trying to figure out how to pay bills during the rest of it.
To be clear our children are absolutely resilient! I am amazed at how they actually did school work while I attended meetings, how they figured out video calls with teachers (even the kindergartener), and are slowly learning how to be bored and deal with that. But if you think for one second they were perfect with it… Throw in night terrors, missing friends, having to explain to teachers the differences in school work and split households, and just a general sense of anxiety. Shared custody is difficult in the best of times and really hard on everyone in the worst of times. All I can say is I hope my children one day read this and realize how PROUD I am of them for getting their ‘kid shit’ done! Cause you are fooling yourself if you don’t think your children have full lives. But as good as they were I always felt like someone… work, husband, kids, or farm was getting short changed.
And let us not even begin to mention I got a promotion during this insanity. If you are already feeling a tiny bit stressed about making sure to be a good employee when working from home, trying to do that while living up to a new title with 10,000 distractions. It will make sure to put work anxiety into HIGH gear.
Oh yeah, and I accidently let half our quail run away. Good times. Good times.
But We Keep Plodding Away
So without potatoes growing and half a million other problems, I moved on to planting the bazillion squash (And other) starts I had under my grow lights. I repurposed the space where the potatoes had been planted and never sprouted. I mean it was mid-May FFS. Time to let it go and move on. Of course right after planting all those squash we had to spend a week dealing with freezing temps that required buckets and plastic on, buckets and plastic off, rinse and repeat while in huge windstorms and pelting rains. I may have gotten in a fight with Adam and cried in the shower after the stress of likely losing all the vegetable starts I had been coddling for three months. We shall suffice to say: Why we lash out at the ones we love the most when stressed, I’ll never know, but at this point in my life I just know it is fact.
Fast forward to the first week in June.
Nope, fuck that, lets rewind. Because when they put the entire city under curfew and I watched (via live stream) while hearing (in real time) my neighbors being tear gassed. Yeah, I just couldn’t handle it.
The divisiveness when we should come together. The mask versus no mask. The black versus white. The casual cruelty. The fact that I wrote a friend in Canada about the rioting a mile from our home with casual ease. As if these things were okay. Trust me, she called my ass to attention on that matter and asked me what the hell was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I more upset and scared and enraged.
A simple answer: you reach a saturation point.
Also, I think a lot of homesteaders are practical. Our gardens die, our livestock get sick, hours of canning can be ruined by a busted glass jar… Like everything else in life I just tackled it head on. We talked with the kids about covid, racism, economic status, and a host of the world’s ills. Then we set the expectation that we will do better and not worry what others are doing. We will wear our masks and be polite to those that don’t. We will support melanated voices and business with our money and celebrate everyone’s effort toward a just cause instead of judging the efforts of others.
We will plant our goddamn squash over the graveyard of our failed potatoes.
And With That We Find June.
First, most of the plants made it. I still have two really stunted tomatoes and one squash that is tiny from the frost. I lost a few things here and there, but overall the garden seems to be hitting its stride. Despite my warm shower tears in early spring our losses weren’t great. Everything gardenwise is going well except for the flea beetles on the eggplant, and the curl leaf aphids on the apple, and all the usual host of bullshit we deal with on a yearly basis. At least the bear isn’t eating my swiss chard at the moment… And yes, this is a thing.
And our own potato famine? Well it appears to be over because the fun in fiasco is that I now have potatoes in my squash.
That folks is how you make seed potatoes from grocery store potatoes. So now you can finally bask in my garden brilliance all these months later.
After a much needed break from DIY, blogging, and basically lots of work we are finally back and ready to hit the ground running. I won’t go into all the details of why we were so spotty at posting new content in the last year but suffice to say that some major renovations (52 windows ya’ll!), getting the yard basically tamed (bush hogged), and working/raising kids it was just time for a break. I can’t (always) speak for Adam, but I know that I was just kinda burnt out and trying to get quality posts together in the evenings just wasn’t happening, especially when there are chicken coops to build and plants to get in the ground.
However, now that we took some time off and had a lovely European vacation (Which you can see on our Instagram @craftthyme) and got a few posts up I finally felt ready to jump back into it. We have made a holistic urban permaculture plan for the whole yard and started clearing land like we were god-damn pioneers and not urbanites. Let this be a lesson on when not to neglect a yard for years…
I’ve always had a pretty good running obsession for organic gardening. Not that I will snub all chemicals because I.Cant.Even. when it comes to poison ivy. But I have always figured if I could use less chemicals then that would be good. No chemicals would be even better! Adam has been feeding that obsession of mine with a series of permaculture books, a surprise registration to this years Organic Grower’s Conference (squeeeee!), and unending patience as I listen and talk about podcast after podcast from Sow Edible Permaculture. I/we want to take my gardening to the next level and design a whole yard system that works to create easy food, with no chemicals, for the whole family.
So how does this turn into an urban permaculture plan? (How to create one is a topic for another post) Well, the long winded intro above was really to illustrate that while we have not been blogging, we have been reading, learning Sketchup, and drawing. And drawing. And drawing. I also took an online intro to permaculture (Adam listened to a lot of the videos).
And even as we started clearing brush, we began more drawing… We actually ended up moving the coop location from an earlier plan. It was going to be tucked away behind the garage so we could get a clear view out of the back windows and utilize a difficult space. But once we started removing brush we realized it was waaaay too damp for chicken respiratory systems, but potentially perfect for elderberries, blueberries, hazel nuts, or mushroom logs. So my guess is that as we start working from the plan things will have to change further.
Urban Permaculture Plan Overview
Currently, we are working on the back corner area behind the garage. It was the original planned location of the chicken coop but now is going to have elderberries, hazelnuts, and other semi-shade plants. The chicken coop ended up just a little further down the property line in a drier area. It is also on the northern side of our property but far enough away from the house that the sun hits the front area. We accidentally planned a large sun-scoop (because sometimes I plan before I get through all my books, classes, and terminology) that has a chicken coop in the center. It is kinda nice to finally be in a gardening place where you just know how sun and plants interact enough that you can design something and then have your plan validated by experts. I’ve always wanted to have this little clearing edged into a mini-urban forest. The only change is that a central forest lounge area is going to be a chicken coop instead. This will allow the ladies wind protection, shade from the worst of the heat, but also, some good sunlight in the winter months to keep them warm.
The plan as it stands is to clear out all the undergrowth, attack the english ivy/poison ivy/honeysuckle, and then replant the under story with a variety of perennial edibles. Currently, we are eyeballing the removal of some spindly wild cherries and replacement with a couple of pawpaws in the back and nice dwarf plum or persimmon in the front. Smaller berry bushes and canes, edible ferns, and wintergreen are also part of the foresty feel. When it is all said and done I think we will add loads of mulch and top with pretty pine straw mulch to speed up the forest vibe. It will take awhile for the canopy to evolve to fully shade the area. We had a lot of trees removed in the last year. My hope is between that and me removing all the invasive vines the grand oak at the end and the locusts, hickories, wild cherries and pears will fill in. These are great for feeding the wildlife and pollinating the small espalier orchard planned along the side.
Light is probably the hardest part of the entire urban permaculture plan. We are urban and urban = neighbors trees and buildings blocking the light. To get enough light to fuel fruit production I really only have a singular location. I can slot in trees on the other side of the house in a few places but mostly this section is it. We are slightly down slope from the ridge and the neighbors across the street have some large trees that cut down on available sunlight. Additionally, I am kinda just attached to the weeping cherry in the front and the 100+ year old cherry on the other side. So I just have to carefully plan the sun loving crops up front and the shade tolerant items elsewhere. On that note the espalier fruit trees are in front of a wicked new composting fence we just wrapped. It will also make a nice break between us and the renters next door.
We already added tons of raised beds along the driveways and in front of the cherry tree. You might note there is this large square thing in the yard. It is this ridiculously large concrete pad that housed a gazebo and large hot tub. The gazebo was gone when we moved in and the hot tub had a large crack in it. We ended up finding someone to take it for parts but we were left with a giant pad… On that note we saved all the serviceable old windows when we got them replaced last fall in the hopes of building a greenhouse. We opted to save those and look at making a semi-passive solar greenhouse in that place instead. With the removal of some trees this now looks like a decent place to build a greenhouse. Maybe not perfection but with the existing structures it is one of the better places. More over it will act as a wind break for the chicken coop when we do finally get it installed.
The front section will eventually house a number of smaller herbs, flowers, and perennial veggies. It already has a beautiful Japanese Maple we managed to salvage after being covered with other trees for years. We also planted two more ornamental trees, a weeping gingko, and a japonicum maple because as much as we love edible plants we also love beautiful plants. Around these we are going to cut in some new sidewalks to repair the broken ones with pavers. Adam has already prepped the site for the bricks and I started adding perennials from a local grower, Kenny’s Perrenials.
On the other side we started on the tiered garden beds last year and still plan to finish those. They won’t get a ton of light due the the trees across the street, but I think the top two tiers could be a great place for blue berries and maybe an asparagus bed. We moved a play area/patio section over here so that if we ever fully fix the pond and create a waterfall we will be able to enjoy them. It also keeps us from having negotiate with the neighbors on removing a bunch of white pines. At the top point of my lot I’ll probably leave that scrub for the next few years, but I can probably manage to fit in a couple more fruit trees or some chestnut hybrids along the road. It will save the kiddos stepping on the chestnut burrs and allows me to expand what our yard has to offer. Plus I just happen to love chestnuts.
The slope by the garage is kinda useless as-is, but I think that we can quickly get some use out of it by letting squash and pumpkins trail down the hill and planting Jerusalem artichokes at the bottom. I dug a tiny swale midway down and planted corn below the squash layer. Long term we could put in more raised tiered beds, but it really only gets great sun at the top. So maybe frame out a top bed and then plant trailing items that take up a ton of garden space.
The Urban Permaculture Plan as a Whole
We have some issues with the water drainage; in that everything slopes to the back which still leaves the front beds without adequate rainfall at times. While permaculture, in a perfect world, works without a lot of human intervention and irrigation this urban lot may just have to have some rain barrels up front to supplement from time to time. We are not willing to sacrifice aesthetics and create a berm in the lawn to keep all the water on the lot. We’re hoping to make the urban permaculture plan as good looking as possible while still being as permaculture as possible. It might be snubbed by permaculture enthusiasts, but I hope to make something beautiful that might serve as a potential show piece to other people who are interested in dabbling in the urban homesteading/permaculture concepts. For example, I hope to make a solar powered waterfall for the kids. It will serve little purpose other than being my garden folly and to attract wildlife!
Another issue with the plan is that most of the nitrogen creation by the chickens is going to be at the back of the lot. Since we have a small lot (1/3 of an acre) I’m okay with the extra work it will take to move the site made fertilizer (aka composted poop) upwards in the garden. I’m already moving the rabbit poop downwards ;). Since we are going to have to move the poop we plan on two different composting areas one behind the chicken coop for cold compost where we add to it slowly. By the eventual greenhouse we plan on a three bin system that will run hot compost in the fall/winter to try and use the compost as a method to warm the thermal mass of the concrete.
Finally this entire plan is NOT a year in the making. Here is what we hope to accomplish on major projects. It leaves out small things like rain barrels, drip irrigation etc.
Terracing behind the garage (Mushroom Log area/ In-Progress)
Finishing the tiered beds
Small solar pump for the pond
Front Sidewalks (In progress)
Elderberries, hazelnuts, etc
Solar Powered Waterfall/ Stream
Smaller herbs, veggies, etc
Cob Pizza oven
New back deck/Kitchen remodel
Hopefully start reaping the rewards and finish projects from year 1 & 2 that didn’t actually get complete
Year 4 & 5 TBD but probably some major indoor kitchen renovations if we haven’t gotten to all of that in year 3!
So we start with a plan and we modify it as we go. Can’t wait to see how it turns out and we are really hoping you follow along. We use our Instagram and Facebook Stories to show the day to day urban-farm work. We hope you will follow our progress on the urban permaculture plan and learn to create your own permaculture oasis.
Here at Craft Thyme we focus most of our efforts on creating quality tutorials. There is a lot of planning (Adam), work, photo editing, grammatically poor writing (Brianna), and general craziness that goes into making a useful tutorial. We love doing it and our readers seem to enjoy the efforts but there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes!
Did you know that we both work full time outside of the home?
Did you know that we have a combined household of 4 amazeball kiddos and two ferocious kitties? (Don’t ask about the chickens…insert sad face here… Spring will see a new coop!)
Did you know I came home to a pelting of water balloons this week?
Did you know we have supplies to completely redo our entire front sidewalk and landscape, plans and supplies to build a sweet composting fence, and are working on a permaculture-principle inspired plan for the property?
Which got us thinking (Ut oh). Despite being pretty private people perhaps we could let everyone in a little bit on what goes on behind the scenes. The idea is that at the beginning of each month we let everyone know what they may have missed (Hint: Instagram/ Facebook) AND what our plans are for the coming month. It is a little for you (Because who doesn’t want to know I was in a beer stein holding contest last weekend. Spoiler: I lost). And a lot for us so that we can keep track of what we are building, crafting, and gardening.
We will break it down to the pertinent sections so you can skip to what you want to follow along in.
It is Summer, which in Craft Thyme world, means 90% of our DIY is outdoors. Yes, my kitchen is still atrocious, yes, the kids bathroom still is pink, blue, and some shall not be named cream color, and yes, the treadmill is gathering dust. (Not exactly DIY related but just one of those failings) BUT there is outdoors!
Mosquitos (oh wait that’s a negative)
So, we build outside. We built the first level of some hella cool tiered garden boxes that we still need to write up a post about. And because we got such positive feedback we went ahead and wrote up the timber and pea gravel stairs into a nice tutorial.
Let’s see… Adam changed out a toilet seat so we finally got rid of that awesome wood-70’s vibe toilet we had going on. I cleaned like a mad woman after having the house cleaned because OMG! the kindergarten teachers come out and visit your house to meet your kids in this day and age.
We are kind of reaching the end of Summer in the mountains so we are flummoxed as to whether to continue on the beds, start on the composting privacy fence, start on the sidewalk, or head indoors and work on the sun porch… One of these things will be happening this month!
It feels like I should probably not call this Craft Thyme this month. I think I might have sewn some super hero pillows but that may have been in July… September is not looking so good on the crafts either because any of the above projects are going to take …drumroll please… more digging. Digging is tiring, goes faster with two people, and does make up for the lack of treadmill.
I do want to get some minimal fall decorations up in September. I used to love decorating for each season but renovating this beast of a lovely home, keeping 4 kids alive, and working the day job is the most I seem to be able to manage lately. So I am shooting for at least a crafty fall wreath this month.
Oh gardening… Well I have a lot of cucumbers at least… The aftermath of the great groundhog wars left the garden in shambles. I’m JUST now getting ripe tomatoes, pulling carrots, and picking cucumbers. They had to have ample time to regrow their leaves after the groundhogs decided to pillage and destroy. The kohlrabi, beans, all the brassicas…ALL THE BRASSICAS, squash, melons, pumpkins, peppers, and and some flowers just did not make it through the ravaging. Le Sigh… Perhaps next year. I toyed with the idea of doing a fall/winter garden but just didn’t get it done. I may throw in some garlic but will just plan it all out and start again next year. I need some time to build up the soil anyway.
We did write a guide on prepping your raised beds! It has served us well and worked really nicely through some very dry weather we had at the end of the summer. Once I get some compost all worked in these should be really set for next year. Our experimental method seems to hold water very well but still allow for good drainage. Getting that optimal miz has been a real trial and error through the years.
I plan to get the raised garden beds all prepped for the fall/winter so they are set for a nice and fruitful growing season come spring. Our big plans for this month are to clean out that end of summer ick from the garden. All the wasted spindly plants… Weeds that have crept in… I mean just look at this sad garden. At least it looks like the zinnias I threw in at the last minute will manage to bloom before frost.
Lots of building, cleaning, and prepping in the month of September. We will work on getting the raised bed tutorial up at least. Additionally, I have been doing a ton of research on permaculture and edible perennial plants. I hope to share some in-depth guides by the end of the month so you can get fall bare-root trees in place and plan for the spring!
Most of Craft Thyme’s exploits revolve around the little Reganskopp homestead, but occasionally we do projects in other’s homes. When our friends, Trevor & Justine, decided this would be the year to get married and buy a house we wanted to cheer them on. We also gave them LOTS of advice (solicited & unsolicited) as first time home buyers. They, at least, seemed appreciative (thanks for pretending guys) of our first time home buyer boot camp. While most real estate agents should help a first time home buyer, we thought we would distill our experience into a quick first time home buyer guide in case you don’t have the helpful sort.
First, let’s set the stage: Western North Carolina real estate is an odd market. Houses around Asheville, range from pricey to ridiculous. They are a mix of old (40’s-60’s), really old (1900’s-30’s), and brand spanking new (which are the ridiculous prices). It makes it very hard to find a first time home that can be afforded and also isn’t a dump. Which is where we come in! We offered to help look at houses and then do some basic cosmetic transformations when they finally found ‘the house’… Guess what? They found ‘the house’! Of course, the house came with some awesome items like cracked ceilings, faded eggplant paint, stale cigarette smell, but also large open living/dining area, and spacious yard. We looked it over with them and saw lots of the potential they also saw. Offer was made but that is just the beginning!
First Time Home Buyer Boot-camp
Please note we are NOT licensed real estate professionals, but we have bought, sold, refinanced, and fixed up a number of houses in Western North Carolina. Between Adam and I, we have purchased 5 houses. Three of them built before 1935! Talk about a lot of repairs, mortgages, and learning experience shooo, but always double check our advice with the paid professionals.
Before you begin any search make a list of the things you must have and want to have. If you are shopping with a spouse you might find that your ‘need to have’ list isn’t exactly the same.
When comparing lists our friends found that they had to pay attention to find both a large yard and a location that was not so far away from the city/civilization. The need list and your price range will inform your buyers agent and your search. Your ‘want list’ will help you make the final decision and allow you flexibility in your budget. Once you have a budget and your lists remember the following.
Be prepared to look at a lot of properties. Most first time home buyers will not have a good idea of what items are in their price range. Hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised! However, in a lot of cases you may find you need to reign in your expectations to meet your budget. Or you can be like us and buy the first house you saw (Brianna) or decide you will buy a house when you walk in the door (Adam). Don’t be like us!
Once you have seen a few properties start doing your own web searches. Many property websites will set up alerts to your email when something new comes in the market in your search criteria. Being the first to put an offer in on a property can make a huge difference in a hot market. You will also get lots of spam. Trust me I am still getting email about houses in and area I lived in 5 years ago… Which leads to #3
Be prepared to make decisions quickly. One of the reasons I tell you #1 (Look at a lot of properties) is so that when you find a good home you can jump on an offer and not be stuck in indecisive mode. We have lucked out on a number of properties because we came in quickly with a fair offer. Our friends did too! Pro Tip: Have that pre-approved mortgage letter. It makes your offer much more attractive, plus it is a lot less worrisome if you know you can afford the offer you are placing.
If you have a buyers, agent look at properties they suggest too. We found our previous house at the suggestion of our buyers agent. We actually would not have looked at the house. We had seen it online and made the assumption that the seller was going to place another house next to it and subdivide the lot. Our buyers agent knew they had plans to sell the house with the larger lot instead of developing it further. We would have passed on our perfect house!
Bidding wars are just not worth it. It is tempting to pony up some more cash when you have been on a lengthy search, already fallen in love with your house, and then someone is out-bidding you by a few 1000 dollars. Don’t, just don’t. There is always another house. Being house poor and paying at the very top of your market value is never a good way to start off your first home. Leave the bidding war to more experienced home buyers. Even then… I still give it a “don’t” no matter how experienced a buyer you may be.
If you aren’t using a buyers agent make sure to have a reputable real estate lawyer. Actually make sure to have one of those no matter what. We had the worst time closing on our current house because the previous owner’s lawyer had been barred from practicing real estate law and there were title questions. Anyway, a good lawyer can help you put in a formal offer (Buyer’s agents can do this part in many states) and close on your home (Buyers agents can not do this part in many states). This process is not one you want to scrimp on as a first time home buyer. A house is probably the largest investment you are going to make, you are going to want to protect yourself throughout the process.
When Buying an Older Home or Any Home!
Great, now you have put in an offer and it has been accepted! Let the panic begin! Just kidding, don’t panic but do move fast. Hopefully, you have set a certain due diligence period to check out the house and back out of the offer if you found something cray, cray. If you haven’t, well then, you probably didn’t pay attention to #6 from above. Tsk, Tsk.
If you are a first time home buyer we must stress the importance of spending a little extra cash and getting an excellent home inspector. We have a great home inspector that we recommend. When he is done you basically end up with a 100 page manual and a 2 hour walk through that explains everything about your house. Not all home inspectors are the same! Ask around for recommendations and do not just use the first person on your real estate agent’s list. But Do book this person ASAP. Your due diligence period is likely small and home inspectors, contractors, surveyors, etc can often be booked up.
Once you have your home inspection use that to negotiate repairs. Sometimes this works and sometimes it does not.
Our friends were able to get plumbing fixed and some money at closing. I have been able to negotiate money back for new electric. Sometimes, in the case of our current house, you are getting a cheap price so as NOT to negotiate repairs. It never hurts to ask, but you may not get anything. At that point you can make the informed decision if the work/DIY is something you are interested and capable of completing or if you need to accept the loss of a little money and move onto another property.
ALWAYS remember that cutting a loss of a few hundred dollars is better than being saddled with a house you are unhappy with and/or is so costly to repair you end up being house poor just to keep the lights and water on. That being said make sure to do the following as soon as you have an accepted offer.
Notify your mortgage company: The time it takes to close a mortgage is really quite insane. Do yourself a favor and get the process moving as quickly as possible.
Once you notify your mortgage company they will set up an appraisal. If for any reason, you think you might be backing out of the property have them hold the appraisal to you have the home inspection. BUT NOTE: holding the appraisal can hold up closing. Again, this seems like it shouldn’t be a big thing, but the bank ordering the appraisal to the actual time of completion can be pretty lengthy. You are not going to be able to close that mortgage till the bank makes sure you have enough equity to cover the purchase price.
Home Inspection: Book one ASAP. If you really aren’t going to hire a professional at least get your home-knowledgeable friends to do a walk through and make a list of everything you want to repair upfront plus everything that may need fixing in the first few years (so you can start saving).
Survey: Any time there might be property line questions it is worth it to get a fresh survey. You may need to ask for them to mark the line if you are trying to notify the neighbors that the line is not exactly where they thought it might be.
After your due diligence: Go ahead and call cable/internet, power, water, and electric companies. I made this rookie mistake and forgot to book the internet provider till almost at closing. They were not able to come for 2 weeks! Talk about eating through data on our phones.
Keep in contact with all parties. While in a perfect world the various home inspectors, real estate agents, lawyers, mortgage companies etc would be doing their job it never hurts to check in. You don’t have to be obnoxious, but a simple email or call to ask if they need anything else is a good reminder for them to pick up your file.
Great You Made It!
Great you made it…Almost! You haven’t closed yet. If you have gotten through all the hurdles it is time to start pestering your laywer for the HUD-1 Settlement Statement. Depending on your state, they have to produce this a certain number of days prior to closing. I know, I know, there are lots of numbers and columns.
Look Over your HUD-1 ASAP!
I am pretty sure I have never had a pre-closing HUD where it was correct. You need to diligently contact the laywer, mortgage company, real estate agent, or any one else to correct any mistakes. The HUD is the be all and end all of closing and if it isn’t right you may delay closing and/or spend an entire flipping day in a lawyer’s office (true story I even left for a lunch break).
Once your HUD is settled the only thing left to do is go get a cashiers check for closing from the bank, and bring your ID to closing. You will be asked to sign or initial about 1000 documents. It is impossible to read every piece of it (which is why we suggest the reputable lawyer), but make certain to pay attention to the high points. You want to verify the title information, mortgage, etc matches what you have been discussing the whole time. Once you close you should get some keys and be good to go! We had a few closings that ran late and were registered at the court house till the next day. You will want to consult that lawyer on whether you should move in or remain out of the house at that time.
But anyway once you have closed you are now a HOME OWNER! Enjoy!
And if you want to grow some insta-equity we will be going over tips shortly on quick fixes that add a lot of equity to your home for little upfront cost!