Always Trust Your Gut: Why I Backed Out of Buying My First House

I backed out of an offer I made on a house last month. It was the first house and only house, and I walked away after getting the home inspection. To be fair, I already knew the house was old and needed major repairs but hearing it from the inspector and seeing it officially laid out in the report scared the bejesus out of me. 

Separating emotions

As a marketer, I should know better. I know emotions are strongly tied to the purchase process, but dangit, I’m only human. My entire motivation to buy was fraught with emotion, my search for fulfillment from a house, of all things.

I learned a huge lesson about the homebuying process, and in doing so, clearly saw the connection between what a house (or any purchase) really means to me and why I was so eager to sign on the dotted line. 

My reasons for wanting to buy

At the beginning of my search, I asked myself why I wanted a house and noted all of the reasons a house would make my life so much better. I’ve always been a renter and never really thought about buying, but then the pandemic happened and being at home all the time pushed my sensible thoughts elsewhere. Not knocking people who are in search of homes or own, but for me, financially, it just didn’t make sense and clearly I wasn’t ready. 

I wanted a house to make me feel grounded. To make me feel like, this place is mine. I wanted to feel welcomed and loved. I pictured myself walking into the house and breathing a sigh of relief… I’m home. Then I imagined myself gardening in the backyard I completely fell in love with, reading a book in my cozy living room, and slowly making the fixes and upgrades I needed over the years. 

It was symbolic, a metaphor for finally having a home. To be able to call a place mine. To finally be able to stop renting and say I’m a homeowner. It felt so simple, yet so unattainable. 

The house

When I first saw the house, I felt like it was home. It wasn’t a cookie cutter suburban house. It had character and moxie and oomph. The walls of the house said, Hey, I’m old, but I’ll last forever. Tons of potential and life left in me. 

Even though it was small, it checked off the boxes for me. Plus I was captivated by the huge backyard with a lemon tree and cute outdoor shed, and the weird, creepy semi-finished basement that you access from the ground in the hallway. 

The basement had so much potential.

But my excitement faded away after visiting the house frequently and seeing it in different times of the day and on different days (weekday vs weekend). I heard my inner voice saying, Well… you can put lipstick on a pig. Or… you can polish a turd… 

It was like suddenly turning on the fluroscent lights on a romantic dinner date. I started to see the house for what it really was. A pseudo-dilapidated single-family house in a dicey part of Oakland. 

Besides the home inspector, I also hired a professional electrician to come out and assess the ancient wiring in the house. Then my agent was asked a general contractor to come to the house and give me rough estimates on how much it would cost to renovate parts of the house. 

Hot tip for homebuyers: Never remove contingencies, and always hire your own home inspector, even if the seller has one. Also, if you see something glaring, hire a professional that specializes in fixing that issue. For me, it was electrical, so I hired an electrician, rather than relying on a general home inspector. Due diligence saved my butt. 

Dollar signs swirled all around me and my stress and anxiety levels rose every time I stepped foot into the house or thought about it. In particular, these issues kept popping into my head, which was my gut’s way of telling me no way…

  • The driveway or tiny one-car garage wasn’t even big enough for my car to get in
  • The electricity was ancient and would’ve cost at least $25,000 to fix
  • The pipes were galvanized and would eventually need to be changed to copper: $6,000
  • The house wasn’t earthquake ready and at some point would need to be bolted to the ground
  • The neighborhood was a few notches below up and coming 
  • The windows weren’t energy efficient and would need to eventually be changed: $20,000
  • The basement would cost at least $5,000 to get into decent shape

I made many panic-induced calls to friends who knew a lot about the home real estate market. They all said the same thing—don’t do it. Especially if I were to just about wipe my liquid cash to buy the house. So, I backed out. 

Now I know what I want, and knowing is half the battle

Turnkey—that’s what I need. Even if the kitchen isn’t updated or the floors are ugly, at least the structure and bones of the house need to be problem-free. I’m also never going to move this fast on an offer. If I have a few hesitations, which is completely normal, I’ll offer less than asking. Apparently, this is how it works, according to my friends in the biz. 

After alerting the escrow office I was backing out, they returned my deposit about a week later in the mail. I lost money on the home inspection and cost of the electrician, but I view it as the fee I paid to learn the process of buying a house. 

So for now, I’ll continue to happily rent—I love my apartment anyway. I hear mortgage rates will continue to stay low, well into 2021. Maybe the market will soften and it will become more of a buyer’s market next year.