As I sit here typing I can hear Chip and Joanna discussing how a little shiplap will fix everything and all I can think is that I wish there was a Virginia Beach equivalent of the Gaines…

Heck, I’d take my very own Drew and Jonathan Scott. Viewing an over-budget, perfectly-updated home in the best neighborhood as inspiration would be ok with me if I knew that an awful, outdated house would be transformed into the home of our dreams with only minor repair surprises hurting our renovation funds.

However, I don’t live in my own HGTV show. Instead my husband and I have decided to dip our toes into the home buying process armed with a good realtor, a polite financial guy, and enough Zillow searching to give me nightmares of Grandma wallpaper and carpeted bathrooms.

In the past year my husband and I have tackled one change after another (more on that to come later this month.) From the great un-geobacheloring to our first cohabitation to brand new civilian jobs for the both of us, we have found very little stability in our lives.

So, why wouldn’t we want to change one more thing and get out of our first apartment and into our first home?

Every year on our anniversary we discuss what goals we have for our next year. My husband surprised me when he said it was time to look for a house. I’d been thinking about it for a while, but not knowing if he wanted to stay on the East Coast, I wasn’t looking too seriously into the whole process.

Of course, since we were finally on the same page with our plans, our apartment complex left us a note 3 days later telling us we had 10 days to make a decision about renewing our lease. Here I thought Mr. Murphy was leaving us alone once we left the military community! No such luck.

Now we are fully invested in the buying process and learning the hard way that home buying isn’t for the weak of heart. For those looking to step into the world of real estate let me share with you the top three things I have learned to make things a tiny bit easier and maybe less scary.

And please know, I am not a realtor. I am just another military veteran learning as I go and wishing people had told me some of these things before I started searching for our forever home.

1.  Get your ducks in a row.

People told me the worst part of home buying was the paperwork. I assumed they meant the paperwork on closing day. Oh no. That is not the case. When your very nice financial guy sends over the list of documents he needs in order to get your pre-approval processed, it’s enough to make your head spin: Tax documents, bank statements, pay stubs, ID’s, letters from the VA, DD214’s.

As soon as you decide you are ready to buy a house, I would say start collecting major financial documents so you are ready for the “I need to analyze every penny you spent in the past two years” email from the financial office.

Even before the paperwork, getting your financial ducks in a row is a good plan. I am not the poster child for perfect financial decisions. In fact, as a college kid I screwed up my finances so bad it almost kept me from being able to get a security clearance I needed for my job in the Navy.

However, I lived and learned and now am actually pretty smart with the household financials. It was important to us to eliminate as much debt as possible before we made the biggest purchase of our lives.

While we may not have had a timeline for when we would start looking at houses, we always knew it was a goal to own our own home one day so we knocked out credit card debt, car debt, and school debt as fast as we could so that our expenses every month were minimal.

It is much easier to breathe knowing that our financial obligations are not going to change much when we swap from apartment dweller to home owners because we planned and lived in a way that was realistic prior to shopping around.

2. List your deal breakers….then reevaluate.

To say that HGTV gave me unrealistic expectations of what I needed in a home might be an understatement. A perfect kitchen, shiny wood floors, and a perfectly tiled shower are great, but if the roof is 10 years old and about to start leaking, it isn’t going to matter how pretty the inside looks when water is rushing down the walls.

Don’t get me wrong, it is important to like the house you buy.

This isn’t some cheap purchase that you can trade in a year later if you don’t like it. It’s going to be where you live and spend a good portion of your life so you have to be happy there. But once you start looking at houses you might find that your deal breakers aren’t really the important things you need to find.

My husband and I said over and over that we did not want a house that required renovations. Neither of us are particularly handy, so the thought of knocking out walls and refinishing floors isn’t exactly in our wheel house.

However, the more we look the more we have realized that the things we thought would be deal breakers matter a lot less than the neighborhood the house is in, the likelihood that our front yard will become a swimming pool during the next hurricane, and the type of sale the house is listed as.

Some people are ok with being patient with a short sale (which is an awful name for that process if you ask me) but for us, that is a risk we aren’t willing to take. And a deep sink in the kitchen is wonderful, but when that kitchen is in a house in a high crime neighborhood it is just not going to work. Make sure your deal breaker list is not just cosmetic. Paint can be changed, neighborhoods can’t.