This post is written by Kris Thordarson, a first-time homebuyer and Opendoor customer.
If you told me a couple of years ago that I would buy my first-ever home at the age of 26, I would have laughed out loud.
But despite my earlier doubts, here I am, a new homeowner, sitting in the backyard of my house in Austin. Before I moved to Austin a few months ago, I was living in Los Angeles, working remotely in the pharmaceutical industry. My partner was in San Francisco. We both dreamed of owning and investing in real estate to build wealth for our futures. He and I had saved some money and wanted to diversify our assets — so as our leases wound down, the dream of owning a home began to percolate.
There was just one problem: California home prices are some of the highest in the country. Even though I called the Golden State home my whole life, I also knew I could be happy in other parts of the country where I could have an active outdoor lifestyle. In fact, it could be a strategic opportunity to move to an area that was more affordable with a growing economy. My partner and I could buy a property and establish residency elsewhere, and eventually, we could convert our home into a short- or long-term rental for another source of income.
As a first-time homebuyer, I was excited by the notion that I might be able to actually buy a home. And as we broadened our search, browsing for homes online grew beyond window shopping to a more serious hunt. And it didn’t take long before we found our current home.
Here are some things I learned through our experience — tips you might find useful, because navigating the housing market isn’t always intuitive or easy.
Ask the right questions
When I began daydreaming about buying a home, the first question was: where? When it’s possible to work remotely, the options become endless and even overwhelming. I’ve always loved spending time outdoors, and as I mentioned, coastal California is expensive. I wanted a nice big backyard.
I had visited Austin a few times and fell in love with it. You get a wonderful combination of Texas hospitality and an inclusive community. And Austin is a unique, rapidly developing market. The only downside is that many single-family homes there are on a split lot with two properties – which limits backyard space.
In putting together our wish list, my partner and I laid out a few questions important to us and other first-time home buyers:
Why is the seller selling? If the seller has lived in the home for many years, that is an easy one to answer. But if the seller purchased the home within one to two years, what is prompting the move: new job, growing family — or were there issues with the house or neighborhood? It’s important to understand this.
What is the maintenance history of the house? Look at the year it was built and ask about all the work that has been done since. Since my partner and I were aiming to buy an older home, we set money aside for facelifts and repairs.
How does this property compare to others on the market? Do your research to understand the market you’re prospecting. Look at comps and tour nearby homes to understand which upgrades and amenities, like redone floors or a new kitchen, are things you value, or not.
There will always be surprises during the homebuying process, but the more you learn, the more you can follow your vision as you refine your wish list.
Navigate the homebuying process on your own terms
Here’s something that surprised me during my homebuying journey: I wasn’t stressed. I gave myself time for due diligence and refining our budget. While it was slightly nerve-racking to buy a home when the market was cooling off (this was in October 2022), we had our timetable.
Earlier, when we began looking for properties, we started on MLS and Realtor.com, and eventually tried the Opendoor app. That’s where I found a home that reeled me in right away. This property had a backyard, was not on a split lot, and sat on a charming cul-de-sac – huge selling points for us! It was located around up-and-coming neighborhoods with many young people and a 5-minute walk to bars and restaurants. Built in 1996, the house was not too old, but old enough for a roof inspection or replacement. We had money set aside for exactly that.
Even though we toured seven more properties in person, that 1996 house became our North Star. The connection I felt with this home inspired me to keep going, even though we were moving to a new state and buying a home for the first time. The process of vetting property long-distance, not to mention knowing all the lingo, is daunting.
Lauren Szekelyhidi, REALTOR®, GRI at Opendoor Brokerage LLC
Even though I had taken a few classes for first-time buyers, I wanted help navigating the process. Fortunately, a good friend had recently bought a home in Austin and raved about Lauren Szekelyhidi, the agent she worked with through Opendoor.
Lauren helped us in our search and taught us everything we needed to know as first-time homebuyers. It was comforting to have an agent we could rely on for answers to questions we couldn’t have known about. That kind of support made all the difference in our experience (thanks, Lauren!).
Remember that we’re living in the new age of real estate
The real estate market is evolving very rapidly now, which makes the traditional approach no longer the only option, especially for long-distance moves. Instead of leaving everything to an agent, I found digital tools gave me a sense of control and confidence in my homebuying journey. Specifically, online resources, from home-finders like Realtor.com to 3D and virtual technology, gave us new ways to navigate our homebuying process.
For example, we could tour a number of properties virtually on the Opendoor platform, which was convenient since we were out of state. When we knew the 1996 house was “the one”, Opendoor helped us make a competitive offer that was attractive to the seller, and in our comfort zone, directly on the app. We secured our loan through a credit union, which, from my research, had the best deals for our situation.
All in all, it was much easier than I had anticipated. Opendoor helped us close in two weeks (our goal was to close quickly before other offers came in) and we even negotiated to buy some of the staging furniture. Lauren was there every step of the way, taking us through escrow and helping us navigate the complexities of closing.
Kris Thordarson, a first-time homebuyer and Opendoor customer.
Today, I’m living a dream I didn’t know was possible: in a new city, in a beautiful home, with my partner. We just remodeled the kitchen with new countertops and a backsplash that makes the room pop. Landscaping is next. Meeting this life milestone at 26 makes me wonder what else I can achieve. I can’t wait to find out.