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Invest the time finding out what you both really want—and don’t want—before you shop

Jonnemarie Kahwaty and partner John Michael stayed well within their budget.

Photos by kc kratt


Published in HOME, Buffalo Spree December 2019


My boyfriend, John Michael, and I had finally decided to buy a house. We Googled the basics of setting a budget and got prequalified for a mortgage, but we never sat down and clearly defined our must-haves. For example, I knew I needed office space, but figured out that a front-facing bedroom with big windows would suffice. I also didn’t realize I wanted 2.5 baths until John Michael liked a house with 1.5 and I couldn’t get on board. Our requirements became more defined the more we looked, but it would’ve saved a lot of mental energy to have known them from the start. 


At one point, the higher price tags got intimidating, and John Michael was generally prioritizing price over the must-haves list or the house’s potential. Breaking down our expenses line by line to prove that certain houses were within our budget helped with this. It made a huge difference to see the facts on paper, instead of estimating and inflating them in our heads.


We started out thinking we’d buy something smaller and move-in ready because neither of us is super handy, but soon discovered that updated houses get multiple offers, often leading to overpayment. 


It’s a better investment to pay less per square foot and do some work ourselves instead of paying interest on updates; we looked at a house that we did not expect to consider, a larger “forever home” with a great layout, in a great neighborhood, but needed some work.


In the end, the house we got isn’t totally updated, but it makes both of us happy. We were the only offer, so we negotiated to get it for $25,000 under our budget. It has 2.5 large bathrooms and a great office/bedroom with big windows. We never thought we would buy a house without central air but, because of the other positives, we decided we could add it later. When you find the right house, you realize what you care about and what you’re willing to compromise on.


Our advice for any first-time couple buyers:

• Make a pros/cons list for any home you’re considering. Actually write them down and rank the importance of each item.

• Get a great realtor whom you trust. Ours had no problem looking at a basement and saying, “I wouldn’t touch this house.” That made us feel confident.

• Get specific when budgeting. Don’t just generalize things as “too much money” or “too little money.” Think beyond down payment to closing costs, furniture, etc. 

• See homes of interest ASAP. If you want opinions of others, like parents, have them come the first time; there isn’t always time for a second showing.

• Be patient and don’t settle because you think you won’t find anything better.


For more on first-time home buying plus tips, tricks, remodeling and everything regarding HOME, pick up this issue of Buffalo Spree on sale at your local newsstand. Or subscribe and never miss another issue, which includes FREE access to our digital issue (preview here).



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