Eureka! And then what?

They found the perfect house, but that was only the beginning. (Can you say "paperwork"?)

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Finding a house that suited our needs (and our budget) proved to be the a lot easier said than done. We started with a price we were willing to pay, upped it when we started to get desperate and then, after nearly a year of looking, decided that we were sticking to our guns or not buying a home at all.

Our search began in January of '06. By that December, two offers and many, many houses and neighborhoods later, we still hadn't found what we were looking for despite the fact that the housing market was oversaturated and affordable houses were springing up on the MLS a few times a day. Problem was, we couldn't call about them fast enough. Someone was always a step ahead of us with a pending offer. This — paired with the fact that we were sick and tired of searching without finding — brought us very close to calling it quits.

But on a night when I was taking Phil to check out a reasonably priced fixer-upper I'd already seen, one that seemed like it had real potential, I received an e-mail about a brand new listing. The price was right, the square footage was high, and it was owned by an out-of-state bank — seemingly too good to be true, as we assumed this meant less chance of a bidding war. So we dropped by, climbed in through an unlocked window and took a look around.A brief once-over in the murky, dank interior got us unreasonably excited.

In the light of the following day, we walked around it again with our real estate agent.

Long stretches of gray, animal-stained carpeting with a corresponding pungent smell, walls dark with dirt and a child's scribbled handwriting, dog-chewed doorknobs and door frames, the cheapest fans in town — all cosmetic issues we were confident we could tackle. The two bathrooms were relatively clean and recently remodeled, the kitchen was less recently fixed up but still in fairly good condition, the ceilings were high and made the place feel big, bright and airy, the three bedrooms needed very little work, the front yard was thankfully small and boasted a tangerine tree, and the back yard was spacious and surrounded by a tall wood fence that blocked out prying eyes. We were in love.

We put in an offer that very same day.

There's a lot of paperwork and annoying tasks involved in the actual home-buying process. Every time you make an offer, or a counter-offer, you have to fill out and sign a new form. Soon after we put in our bid, we had to make an "earnest money" deposit —worth a small percent of the asking price — in an escrow (holding) account to prove to the bank we were serious.

Then the bank's real estate agent contacted us to let us know that although we were the first people to make a offer, ours was the lowest and did we want to increase it? We filled out more paperwork with our offer raised to the list price and faxed it to his office. A few weeks later we were informed that, for all intents and purposes, the house was ours.

Because the house was built in 1925 and located in Florida, we could only get approved for one kind of insurance, the government-created Citizens. This meant that it didn't really matter who we got it from as ii would pretty much be the same price all around. More paperwork followed.

But then came the inspections. (Cue ominous music.) As with any homebuyer, in order to get approved for house insurance and uncover any potential problems, we had to pay a licensed inspector to come out and examine everything and record his observations in a detailed, many-page report. We could only hope that the most expensive renovations — roof, plumbing, mold, electricity — were avoidable. The roof was relatively new, the plumbing was fine, the suspicious brown spot on the hallway was a stain from an A/C leak ceiling and not mold — but the electricity had only been partially updated and the house still had some knob and tube wiring. As we couldn't get insured with this "high risk of fire" issue, we shopped around for an electrician to fix it by our closing date.

The first estimate was $4,000, which almost ended it altogether and initiated a few days worth of back and forth with the bank (more paperwork). Essentially, we were told that two other families were waiting in the wings and it wasn't a problem for them if we didn't want to buy the house. So we found another electrician, who took two weeks to do nine hours of work but charged us $950 and signed the necessary paperwork we needed to fax to the insurance company — on the day it was due.

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