How to Buy Your First House

Step 1: Convince yourself that you do not need a house. Your 2-bed, 2-bath condo has plenty of space. You and your husband never even go into the spare room. You only have guests a few times a year, you hardly cook, and you have no kids. (Unless you count your dog…) The condo is fine. You do not need a house.

Step 2: Start browsing real estate websites anyway.

Step 3: Develop a crush on a gorgeous old Victorian in a quirky, up-and-coming neighborhood. Convince your husband to go take a look. No formal appointment, just a quick poke around the front yard. When his eyes light up with excitement, you know: The house-hunt is on.

Step 4: With a twinge of regret, rule out the Victorian because of its location. Realize that each neighborhood in your city has a very distinct personality, and finding the right fit is crucial. Visit a few homes in the areas you might like to live. You’re auditioning both the neighborhoods and the realtors you meet.

Step 5: After much consideration, decide on a neighborhood and an agent. Get pre-approved for a loan. (Warning: Houses are expensive, so it’s going to be a big number. Try not to panic. You can just eat ramen for the rest of your life.) Now settle in for a long ride. This is a competitive market, and the perfect house is not going to fall into your lap right away.

Step 6: Spot the perfect house for sale two weeks later.

OK, it’s not perfect. But it has so much potential. Deep burgundy brick. Original hardwood floors. A stained glass window in the stairwell. Updated kitchen and bathrooms. A fenced yard for the dog. Even a two-car garage!

When you look through the listing, a funny feeling fills your chest. There’s a hiccup in your heartbeat. A sense of possibility. And maybe even of belonging.

Step 7: Arrange a walk-through of the house with your realtor. Take note of all its flaws, and remind yourself not to fall in love. A million things could come between you and this house. Getting too attached would just be a liability.

Step 8: Fall in love anyway. Think about the house non-stop. Flip through the online photos a dozen times a day. Send a link to your family and friends and pester everyone for their opinions. (Tip: Cut ties with anyone who doesn’t think it’s the best house ever.) Imagine living there, working there, hosting parties there, raising kids there.

Step 9: Make an offer. Negotiate with the sellers a little. Agree to terms. Compile all sorts of financial paperwork for the mortgage company. More documents than you ever imagined. And then a few more on top of that. Schedule an inspection and spend over three hours with the inspector, going over every inch of the house and taking notes. Negotiate with the sellers again. Sign a thousand papers. And then a few more on top of that. When it’s all done, several weeks will have gone by, and the fact that you’re buying a house still won’t feel real. But it is. When the realtor gives you the keys, hold them in your hand and smile. Appreciate this moment. This milestone.

Step 10: Celebrate by buying a ladder, several buckets of paint, brushes and rollers, and a nice bottle of wine. Drive to the new house and unlock the front door. Step inside and take a deep breath. Soak it all in.

Then roll up your sleeves and get to work. It’s time to make this house your home.