All posts by sumeerayounis

Buying Your First House

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Before we got a real estate agent, my method for finding a house was walking around and taking pictures of houses I liked with For Sale signs outside and then going home and finding out they were $1.3 million.

 

This summer, when we started to think more seriously about buying a house, we decided to meet up with our real estate agent one weekend to see what was out there. With a baby who was fighting her nap time and a list of ten houses, we knew the day could go in any which direction.

We ended up seeing four houses and genuinely only liked the last one. We just weren’t ready to pull the trigger on an offer after one day of house hunting so we told our agent we would need to think about it and probably needed to see some more houses. During the week, a couple who had been out to see the house three times put an offer on it. Although we felt pressure to put an offer in, we knew we couldn’t feel good about doing that without waiting a bit longer.

By the next weekend, the house was not only still on the market, but the sellers had dropped the price by 10k. The other buyer was still in the picture as we set out on our second outing to look at houses. We saw two other houses and they both had major flaws. We found ourselves back at the house we were considering and after a second slow walk through, we felt good about moving on the offer. I learned the importance of five things during our short house hunting process.

Agent

You have to trust you real estate agent, especially if you are looking for your first house. Even though we have rented loads of properties, we don’t have the eye that comes with decades of experience looking at houses. Our agent could quickly look at a house and tell if it was priced above or below market, whether the renovation was well done or a quick sloppy job. He could assess things like resale potential and school districts without too much effort. As first time homebuyers, we may not have even have thought of some of the things he brought up, so having him there with us was an invaluable resource.

Our agent was very responsive to our questions about the houses he sent us and came to tour days with an itinerary outlining the houses we would see.  He pushed us hard on the house that we bought because he knew that it was a good house, in a good neighborhood, in good condition at a good price. We were able to see these virtues but as first time buyers, our thoughts were that if we found something good right away, maybe we would find something even better if we just looked a while longer. At a fork like that, you have to be able to trust your agent and feel confident that he is looking out for your interest and not just trying to make a buck. Because our agent was referred to us by my boss and was a longtime friend of hers, I felt a bit more easy about relying so heavily on his advice. We decided to be aggressive and offer the list price instead of trying to negotiate. A part of me cringes at the thought that we left money on the table but I didn’t want to risk still being on the market six months later while dreaming about the one that got away

Location

We picked our location based on closeness to a town center, public transportation, parks and affordability. By moving out of the very expensive neighborhood we currently live in, we are going to be saving a great deal on our rent while still having access to all the things that made us love where we live now.

When we first started to consider looking for a house, the advice that I heard most often was that you can change everything about your house except its location so make sure that is something you are happy with. Once you roughly know where you want to live, learn everything you can about that area. Stalk Zillow for a few months so you become familiar with the pricing and expectations for that location. Keep an eye on how fast houses that you like go. In more competitive markets, you need to be ready to pull the trigger the day you see the house and you will feel much better doing that if you have a strong sense of what a good price and good house in that area look like.

Community

For people like us, who want to be a part of the community and friends with our neighbors, the neighborhood we live in is probably one of the most important parts of our home search. While we were looking at the house we ultimately put an offer on, one of the neighbors came out and introduced herself to us. She welcomed us into her house to show the differences in the house we were looking at and her house which hadn’t been expanded like our potential home. Her sweet daughter cooed over Nouri and told us how she loved growing up on the cul de sac. We learned many of the neighbors are friends and there is even a little neighborhood band. It honestly felt like we were in a staged scene written just for us. The number one reason we decided to go with the house we did was that interaction with the neighbor.

We also wanted Nouri to have a diverse neighborhood to grow up in. Although we love Bethesda, we have found our particular neighborhood lacking in diversity. Our new neighborhood has a great diversity rating with many of the residents having been born overseas or being multilingual. Neighborhoodscout.com has some good facts and figures on neighborhoods if you don’t want to go knocking on each door to see who lives there.

Beyond things like school district, walkability and safety, you also want to consider where your neighborhood is headed. Is there new development that could considerably increase the value of homes in the next five to ten years? If so, you could be sitting on a gold mine. Have the prices topped out and you might not see a profit for decades? That might be a factor if this isn’t going to be your forever home.

Bones

Whether you want a house that is move in ready or something that you can renovate for years to come, you want your house to have good bones. For me, this means having a solid foundation, a new roof and lots of light. A structurally sound house will save you tons of headache and money in the long run. Your inspector should know what big ticket repairs are and give you a good sense of what you are walking into.

Get every penny you can for big and small repairs. This may be the last time you will be able to get something for free for the property you are purchasing. You want as many tools in your belt as possible before embarking on the grand journey of home ownership.

Don’t Sweat It

It seems a lot of people get very stressed and overwhelmed at the prospect of buying a house. If the idea of owning a house seems oppressive and brings on bouts of panic attacks, it might not be right for you. If you are genuinely excited about buying a house, enjoy the process! When it gets overwhelming, take a break and return when you are ready to tackle it again. Just like finding the right partner, finding the right house requires a certain leap of faith. Once you have done all your due diligence, you will be in good shape when you find the one.

 

Imagine All the People…

If I started to write about how this past week has made me feel as a Muslim American, I am afraid I would not be able to stop and eventually I would drown in my  own tears- tears shed for those of my fellow Americans who denigrate this wonderful country with their hate, their prejudice and their fundamental disrespect of both Constitutional and humanitarian values. Instead, I will just leave a few images that have been floating around my Facebook feed here.

 

 

 

 

Wallpaper in Bathrooms

The bathroom has to be one of my favorite places in the house. I feel like you can really go crazy with your design choices since you are not committing any idea to too much square footage. And my favorite design element in a bathroom is wallpaper.

Once upon a time, I used to volunteer at Yoga District in DC. There I met the incredibly talented Kate Zaremba who has since gone on to launch Kate Zaremba Company. Her work is drool-worthy! I always want to go on spending binges when I’m on her site. One of my favorite products that she offers is her wallpapers! I am saving my pennies so I can start splurging on her work. Here are a couple of my favorite wallpaper prints which would take any bathroom to the next level.

Nouri’s First Birthday

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For Nouri’s first birthday, I wanted to plan a day that was low key and focused on celebrating our first year of parenthood.  We spent the night before Nouri’s birthday remembering how an year earlier we had no idea our little baby was coming that day. My lightening fast labor didn’t give us any time to reflect on the fact that we were about to become parents! Even as we drove to the hospital I was afraid to think it- that the next time I would be coming home, it would be as a mother. A mother!

Immediately after Nouri was born, I asked, “Is she ok? Is she healthy?” And asked again and again. I was so scared that something had gone wrong in that intense finale of my pregnancy. But there she was, our sweet little baby. Going through those memories with Feraz was so special. Talking about how much love we have for Nouri, remembering her different milestones and reflecting on how lucky we feel to be her parents may have been the best part of the celebration.

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For Nouri’s actual birthday I wanted to keep decorations to a minimum so I simply ordered a bunch of prints of Nouri’s first year from Costco to put up around the house, ordered this honeycomb garland, picked up a bunch of balloons from the dollar store and called it a day. We ate yummy chicken biryani, saag, bindhi, raitha and samosas.

The night before Nouri’s birthday, we blew up balloons and put them all over the house as a nod to one our favorite nicknames for Nouri- Noonie Baloonie. I found this birthday girl balloon dress on Amazon and felt it was too pricey for something she would just be wearing for a few hours but managed to find it for $5 on Ebay! Yes! Especially good because I don’t think she found it particularly comfortable.

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I had seen these awesome fruit cakes around and loved them as a slightly healthier option than a traditional smash cake. The cake was really, really easy to assemble and none of the mess that comes with a smash cake!

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For the birthday cake for everyone else to eat, I used my cake making cheat. After years of making cakes, I’ve found that the cake portion doesn’t really taste much different whether I’m using a box mix or whether I’m making it from scratch so I just go for the super quick box mix. Frosting is a different story. I can definitely tell the difference between homemade and frosting from a can so I usually just whip that up with whatever 4 or 5 ingredients the recipe calls for. In this case, I made a vanilla cream cheese frosting, filled the cake with raspberry preserves and topped with sprinkles. Super easy and forgiving.

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Probably the first and last time I will be able to blow out Nouri’s candle. Even here, she looks appalled that she isn’t doing it. I made Nouri the “one” crown using this picture as inspiration and using this and this tutorial for guidance. I think a crown is a better idea for an older kid because Nouri basically pulled it off after thirty seconds of wearing it. But we still got a few good shots with it during our family pictures so not a total wash!

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I used the pictures I printed of Nouri to decorate around the house. I used them to spell out her name and to make a big number one. I selected the white border option when I printed the pictures to help them pop and used washi tape to stick them up so I wouldn’t damage the walls.

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I loved the honeycomb garland. It’s so whimsical and adds some great pops of color. We are thinking of just leaving it up because it’s fun and reminds us that all of life is a party! (I’m aware that the cheese level getting dangerously high on this post.)

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Not the greatest quality but I had to include one of the only family pictures from the day. Love my little family so much!

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Family Pictures by Blue Lily

 

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A long time ago I saw photos by Blue Lily on a blog I read and was obsessed. I loved the work this husband and wife duo puts out. When I saw that they were coming to Maryland close to Nouri’s birthday, I knew I had to book them.

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We’ve been trying to get family photos done for ages but haven’t been able to get our act together. In this case, I didn’t find out Blue Lily would be in town until a few days before the shoot I was able to book. In an ideal world, I would have liked to have had a ton of time to plan things better, to have taken the day off work and to have maybe lost 40 pounds. But I had to work with what I had!

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The day we took these pictures and even looking at them the first time, I felt disappointed- I wished that Feraz had shaved, that I had picked a different outfit to wear, that I had coordinated our colors better. I wish I hadn’t gone to a new place to get my hair blow dried so I would have liked how it turned out.

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And that’s ok. Because I know that when I look at these pictures one, five, ten years from now- all I will see is my beautiful little family and how we took these photos to commemorate the first year of our sweet little Nouri’s life.

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Her first year did have a moment when I found myself parked in a random neighborhood stress eating a bag full of McDonalds alone as I cried but I’m thankful that there were only a handful of moments like that. Mostly there were evenings of rushing home from work to cuddle my sweet baby, laying awake at night marveling at the little angel we had made, evenings eating together as a family, watching Nouri go from a little blob to a little firecracker who has more of my personality than I am probably ever going to be able to handle.

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And so, so many laughs.

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