atcharlotteshouse love and homebuying
Buying, Moving

My First Homebuying Experience with At Charlottes House

Charlotte Smith from AtCharlottesHouse shares her first-time homebuying experience. Living in NYC for many years, she never expected to become a homeowner. But, soon after getting married and having a couple of kids, her outlook changed! Here’s her story.

The data of home buying is fascinating, but the personal stories behind a home purchase are just as compelling in my opinion. We recently surveyed our audience to learn a bit more about when they decided to buy their first house. In honor of Valentine’s day, the survey had a lot to do about how a person’s relationship status impacted their decision to buy, and it was interesting to get some insight into when, and why, people purchased their home.

I didn’t buy a house until well into my marriage but, for me, that had more to do with finances and where I lived than anything else. In my early 20s I lived in Washington D.C., one of the more expensive metropolitan areas in the country, and I was an elementary school teacher. In other words, the $200 a month I saved didn’t amount to a down payment. For a brief moment, my parents offered to help me with the down payment in order to start building equity in something, but the dog friendly condo options in my price bracket were minimal and New York City was beckoning. The survey found that only 21% of people would prefer to buy a home while single so I guess I was bucking the odds here!

Once I landed in New York City, life continued and I started grad school, the thought of taking on a mortgage was far from my mind. I definitely felt like this period of my life was more ‘in flux’ and, as a result, putting down roots and committing to a home purchase wasn’t on the table because the biggest thing about buying a house– once you take away the obvious financial obligation– is that it’s a commitment. To buy a home, to me, is to feel settled and confident with your location and that can be a far greater challenge than the finances of a down payment and mortgage!

After living in New York City for years, I eventually got married and had a couple of children. My husband and I didn’t have plans to leave the city, but, as you can imagine, the NYC real estate market is intense. Just like in the survey, location was a big factor and neither one of us were willing to compromise with certain neighborhoods. We found a handful of places that we could afford to buy over the river in Brooklyn, but almost without exception, they would require us to do major renovations, like converting a four-family home into a single-family home. We certainly couldn’t afford the cost of construction– not to mention also needing to rent a place to live while these renovations were underway.

Our solution was slightly unconventional, but it was motivated entirely by our desire to own a property. We wanted to put our money into something that was ours and would hopefully increase in value over time. The market in my husband’s hometown, 50 miles out of the city, reflected the late 2000s recession a bit more than the city itself and we were able to buy a small house needing a little work in a lovely historic part of town. The best part was our apartment in the city could remain our home until the renovations were complete– which helped the whole process feel a lot less laborious. In earlier studies, people admitted feeling stressed during their homebuying process. Thankfully, I can say my husband had crunched the numbers numerous times so we were comfortable with the budget of owning a home and both of us were excited by the idea of a ‘fixer upper.’

Let me start by saying that I don’t think we were wrong, but I also think we’ve learned a lot since that first purchase. This house required a lot of work– and not the fun kind– I’m talking updating the electrical system and putting new flashing around the chimney kind of work. I had a thick binder filled with contractors estimates and invoices. None of this work was part of our mortgage obviously so it was just money we had to save and then spend.

I loved the idea of bringing this old neglected home back to life and making it ours. We went into this with a pretty good idea of what needed to be done and how much that would ultimately cost. I am continually thankful for our forensic home inspector and our lengthy punch list of updates and work still to be done.

Eventually, we put an addition onto that house. Living through construction is no joke. For us, it was worth it, but making changes to a home is definitely more than just deciding on the plans and finding a contractor. Although I may not have been the one building the walls, I was the one living with the noise, the dust and the constant chatter of workmen from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day.

With child number five on the way, we took a risk and sold our first house to buy a slightly larger house just around the corner. We were stretched financially, but dreams of raising our kids in that home and knowing we could slowly make upgrades got the best of us. There was a ton of work needed but we told ourselves we could tackle things on our own timeline since much of the work was essentially cosmetic. But then my husband’s firm shut down and we were left without his income. What used to feel like potential and a blank canvas quickly started to feel like a liability. Because of its size and overall condition, we learned real fast that most people don’t care to bring older homes ‘back to life.’ Thankfully we were able to sell this home but at a financial cost and, looking back, there are certainly lessons to be learned from this home as well!

atcharlotteshouse love and homebuying

I’ve learned that MY vision for a home isn’t something I should assume other people will share. Buying a home is a huge expense and, as discussed, a huge commitment. Sure there are people more willing to swing for the fences than others, but understanding the ‘safe bet’ would have been helpful for us. We knew we were stretching ourselves financially, but we were a little naive about the big picture. Buying a home is an investment and we had decided to invest in something that was far from perfect.


Here’s what I’ve learned about home buying from our times as renters and our times as buyers. I love owning a home and I love knowing that every incremental change I make is to my house. I don’t love paying the septic guy $300 to come pump the tank or the plumber $400 to replace a hot water hose, but I love knowing that if I swap out that old dated light I don’t have to save the old light to hang back up when we leave. I love knowing that if I hate the backsplash tile, I can rip it out and change it. I love knowing that the five days I spent painting the living room white will benefit me if when I go to sell the house and the walls are no longer mustard yellow. But, I’ve also learned that buying a house take a lot of work. Saving money, finding the right place, doing the research. I’m not a bit surprised that the survey showed people were more likely to take on a home purchase with a partner– it’s a huge life choice and one that I will never take for granted.

We’re not in a position to get back into the market right now and I’m beyond grateful for our rental home. It’s a budget we can afford so, for now, it’s perfect. We will save to buy another house in the future but we know now, more than ever, that buying a house is a commitment on so many levels. Whether single, in a relationship, married or otherwise, don’t underestimate the joy that comes from owning a home. But make no mistake, it’s a big decision not to be taken lightly, and is right there to help. If you want to see more of my journey as a homeowner, feel free to visit my blog. See you soon!

charlotte smith at charlotte's house
Charlotte Smith
Creator of At Charlotte's House Blog | See more posts by this author

Charlotte Smith shares her chaotic and color-loving adventures in DIY and design on her blog, At Charlotte’s House. Charlotte writes about moving and adjusting into a new rental, her five small children, and bringing personality and style into a family home. Her aesthetic is fun, creative, and… sturdy!  Charlotte has appeared in Better Homes and Gardens, HGTV Magazine, Rachael Ray, Flea Market Flip, and the Hallmark Channel’s Home and Family show. She is a Baked Cheetos taste tester, a Dawson’s Creek lover and a top-knot expert.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *