When Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order was announced on March 23, Ben and Natalie were an engaged couple living in the apartment they rented for two years in the Columbia City neighborhood.
Natalie is an environmental scientist and systems specialist working for a startup in the solar industry, and Ben works for a biotech company as a mechanical engineer.
Although they loved their apartment because they could walk to the light rail, restaurants, and everything else the area offers, they were considering what to do ahead of their lease expiring in June. They could sign a lease for another year, go month-to-month, or take a look at another idea in the back of their minds: buying a home.
They were gearing up for something else in June, too: their wedding, which was planned to be a big gathering in upstate New York, where Ben grew up. Natalie’s from the Seattle area.
Buying a home was a goal for the pair, but not something they’d seriously looked into. They thought it would be out of reach financially and weren’t sure where to start learning.
“At that point, we didn’t even know who paid for what, didn’t even really know what a Realtor does,” Ben says.
“Because of COVID, we were doing lots of walks in the neighborhood instead of hiking,” he continues. They started noticing yards and thinking about what they’d want in a home.
“We started looking at some listings in ‘early quarantine’ in April,” Natalie adds.
She goes on to say that they were curious. “Are there even any houses that we could purchase that aren’t super tiny? Is there something out there that could even work for us?”
“As quarantine set in, we were working from home and there was time to investigate,” she continues. “I saw an ad for a Flyhomes webinar about homebuying and what makes buying during COVID-19 different.”
She signed up and the couple attended the virtual session with Jack, a Flyhomes Client Advisor.
“Jack went through what Flyhomes is, how it’s competitive, as well as the steps you need to get a house,” Ben says. “He talked us through how to calculate the costs. We got some of the lingo and the basics.”
The couple were preparing their taxes around the time of the webinar, so they had a snapshot of their finances handy. Once they looked at the numbers through the lens of what Jack said, taking into account that interest rates are at an all-time low, they realized buying a home wasn’t out of reach.
“Whoa! We could actually buy a house!” Ben says. “We do have enough money to do a down payment. We also learned you don’t have to have a 20% down payment. We had some assumptions that got broken down, so that was cool.”
Buying during spring 2020
Given the unprecedented state of the world, Ben and Natalie faced a new hurdle that other buyers are dealing with, too: with so much suffering, is it even OK to go after life goals right now?
“We’re keeping on top of what’s going on out in the world and in Seattle,” Natalie says. “We participate and want to do as much good as we can for people’s health and longevity, whether it be Black Lives Matter or the pandemic.”
“It all comes together,” she says. “We have to take care of each other and we want to last as long as we can. We’re so happy that we could get set up for what will be a good long-term investment and a good home.”
The day after the webinar, Ben talked with Jennie from the Flyhomes Customer Success Team to learn a little more, then got introduced to Shelly, who became the couple’s Client Advisor.
Ben says, “After each step, we were like ‘this is good to know.’ Now we know what to do if we want to buy a home in the next year.”
Together, he and Natalie developed a scoring system on a big piece of paper. They listed everything they wanted and assigned points. Commute under 40 minutes, 5 points. If you can park a car within a short walk, points. If you can charge an electric car. If there are windows on four sides of the house. A bathtub. Enough room in the kitchen for two people to be cooking at once.
Natalie says, “This was our way of taking a look at listings. We said these things would be our priority. At this point, we knew we could do it. We just had to keep an eye out and find the right one.”
She continues, “During that week, we also elected to postpone our wedding. And Shelly sent over her first batch of listings. Ben opened the email and saw three homes.”
“There was a little tiny house in Madison Valley and a condo in Queen Anne,” Ben says.
There was also something maybe magical: a home that checked all of their boxes, a 1906 farmhouse in Beacon Hill, just five minutes from their apartment in Columbia City.
“I showed it to Natalie, and she was like, ‘This ranks high on our scoring … too bad we’re not really set up to buy it. Too bad we haven’t gotten pre-underwritten,’” Ben says. “We thought we’d do a tour as a data point.”
Natalie says, “On that Friday when we booked a tour, we also submitted our marriage license and asked a friend if he’d officiate. We didn’t know where we could have a wedding, though.”
While the couple postponed their big New York celebration because of everyone’s need to stay safe at home, they also decided not to let their initial wedding date of June 6 slip by without being married. It would look different, but they didn’t feel right passing by the huge day they’d been looking forward to.
“Online forums were useful to see there’s a community of people who are going through the same thing,” Natalie says. “You can pause a big party but you can’t stop love.”
One and only home tour
The webinar was on April 11 and the home tour was a week later on April 18. Before the in-person tour, they watched a 3-D virtual tour of the home on its listing. “Studied” may be a better word than “watched.” They took notes about details to look closely at or ask about, and had a relative with home improvement experience weigh in as well.
During this period, Washington was allowing only two people to tour a home at one time, and one of those people needed to be a licensed real estate agent. So the couple wouldn’t be able to look around in person simultaneously.
“We had never toured a house before,” Ben says. “We met the tour agent at the house and the first thing we noticed was this amazing garden.”
“It was way more cool than you could ever imagine in pictures … cherry blossoms, apple blossoms,” Natalie says. “It was almost unfair how well-bloomed the garden was.”
They took turns touring the inside of the home and waiting in the magnificent garden. They both loved that they could tell the house had been cared for for more than a century.
“Some folks probably even depended on these trees for their food in the past,” Ben says.
Other highlights include big south-facing windows that remind Ben of the house where he grew up, wooden floors, a big shop downstairs (the couple makes furniture and does other projects), and a renovated bathroom upstairs.
“The previous owners had renovated the bathroom,” Natalie says. “And the husband is an architect and he really put his mark on it. It’s really chic looking with hexagonal tiles that almost look like lily pads.”
Aside from concerns about potential water issues or mold based on the looks of the basement, they were all for it. However, they didn’t think they had time to get in an offer before it sold.
“On average, it’s usually a week or two to get pre-underwritten,” Ben says. “That’s what the internet told us.”
That’s the report they gave to Shelly on the phone after the tour: we love it, too bad it’s probably going to sell before we’re ready.
“Shelly told us we should talk to Flyhomes Mortgage,” Natalie says. “She told us they can usually pre-underwrite in 24 hours, but with COVID it might be more like three days.”
So on Monday, they talked with Ami at Flyhomes Mortgage. They learned about the loan process and what documents they needed to pull.
“We got our application in the same day and we also liquidated a bunch of our investments so we’d have enough for earnest money,” Ben says. “We wanted to have it ready, but we also really wanted an inspection to look at the water issues.”
On Tuesday, Ben and Natalie met the inspector at the house for a pre-offer inspection. To their delight, there were no actual water issues. They learned that, although the house was built in 1906, all of the “guts” were from 2003 or 2004 when it was last renovated. They had a clean bill of health with a note that the roof was at the end of its life and would need to be replaced. They found out the rough cost of a new roof and weren’t too scared by it.
Winning the offer
After discussing the details with Shelly, Ben and Natalie decided to put in a Flyhomes Cash Offer. They also wrote a letter to the sellers.
“By that time, we had talked about the idea of getting married in the garden,” Natalie says. They included their hopes of doing so in the letter.
On Thursday at 4:00 pm, Shelly put the offer. This was April 23, one week since the initial tour and two weeks since the webinar.
“We knew there were two other people interested because they’d both done pre-inspections,” Ben says. “We really wanted to be the first and we think we were, but only by an hour.”
Knowing there was competition, the couple worked with Shelly to include a price escalation clause in their offer, the max they’d be willing to pay.
“We picked a number that we were comfortable with paying and were comfortable with walking away from the home if it was exceeded,” Ben says.
Throughout the evening, Ben and Shelly texted as the couple waited for news.
Ben says, “Shelly was checking in with the listing agent, but he wouldn’t budge on giving us news. She had asked him before what would make our offer stand out and he said having a fast closing time with no contingencies, as well as price … and Flyhomes was spot on with that.”
Natalie adds, “The webinar prepared us for how to be the most competitive offer and how to do the pre-work to get around contingencies. That was extremely valuable.”
Ben went to bed, but Natalie is a night owl. After midnight, she realized that it was technically after the expiration time on their offer … and she got what she calls “the real estate agent equivalent of the u up? text” from Shelly and texted back.
“What came back was all exclamation points!” Natalie says. “We got the house! Ben was out cold but I was like, I have to wake him up, this is a once in a lifetime thing.”
“I was super excited!” Ben says.
Less than two weeks from simply attending a webinar, they had their new home secured.
The moving day and another big day
With a Flyhomes Cash Offer, Flyhomes temporarily buys the home on behalf of our client and the client can move in quickly. They then finalize their mortgage loan and officially buy the home from Flyhomes.
Ben and Natalie got their keys about three weeks after putting in their offer. They used two weekends to do projects at the house before moving in. They even bought appliances that weren’t working for other folks, but that they were able to fix thanks to both of their handiness and Ben’s engineering skills.
On the third weekend, they moved in with help from Natalie’s family members who are in their “quarantine circle.”
The next weekend? They got married in their beautiful new garden! They included local family in an intimate, socially distant ceremony on June 6, their original wedding date. On June 8, they signed their closing papers and on June 9, they became the official owners.
“Having our own space, and a really lovely one at that, made the decision to do a small ceremony easier,” Natalie says. “We included readings throughout the ceremony from different cultures. One was an Apache blessing that says ‘go now to your dwelling place.’ It was fun that now the dwelling place is right there.”
She continues, “We’re still planning on pulling out all the stops next year pending safe conditions, but all the same, instead of saying ‘well it’s a backyard wedding’ … it’s our backyard so we feel very fortunate.”
Apache Wedding Blessing
Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be a shelter for the other.
Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.
Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be a companion to the other.
Now you are two people, but there is only one life before you.
Go now to your dwelling place to enter the days of your togetherness.
May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years.
May happiness be your companion, and may your days together be good and long upon the earth.
Let’s start your story!