What We Learned From Buying a New Home

Jennifer Lake Buying A Home

Chairs: Serena and Lily Riviera Counter Stools {available in four colors – ours is “fog”}

Dress: Sheridan French Hot Pink Floor Length Dress // Shoes: Steve Madden Carrson Sandals

Cuff: kate spade new york Enamel Bangle {also in this post} // Jewelry: Kendra Scott Elle Earrings


It’s crazy (and even surreal) to write that phrase, friends! For the past year, I’ve been lightly perusing real estate online during our road trips to and from Wisconsin. For months, I was simply getting a grasp of the market and what was out there. But I never thought the quick searches would ever turn into anything.

Fast forward to February of this year – we’re heading north to visit Bob’s mom, sipping coffee, music playing… and I saw it.

The listing.

Keep in mind, we’ve been living in the same condo for 11 years. We clearly love our existing place, but this listing turned things upside down. After seeing it, I turned to Bob with huge eyes and said, “Ummmm…. you need to see this home.”

Thankfully, he loved it, and we scheduled a walk-thru with our real estate agent (who also happens to be my Uncle) the very next day. More on that later!

Purchasing a house is one of the biggest investments you’ll make. Thankfully, we were ready to take the plunge. Regardless, the process was equal parts exciting and frustrating. Therefore, I wanted to share some of the key lessons we learned from buying a new home.

Our Journey to Buying a New Home

When I first moved to Chicago after college, my friends and I rented a 900-square foot apartment in the heart of the Wrigleyville neighborhood. There were three tiny bedrooms and one small bathroom – not nearly enough space for all four of us. However, for $1,200 rent per month (aka $300 per person), and an out-of-town landlord who never checked on us, we were determined to make the space work. My friend Rachel even converted the living room into a fourth bedroom. We still laugh about it to this day!

That first apartment will always hold a special place in my heart. From listening to the cheering crowds at Wrigley outside our living room window to late nights with my roommates at all the local pubs and restaurants, priceless memories were made there.

Fast forward a few years (with another larger apartment in the interim), I decided to take the leap and buy my first condo. As with most people in their mid-20s, my budget was modest, but my expectations were huge.

Jennifer Lake House

After working with the real estate agent for months, I found a place I loved. It was a one-bedroom gut rehab in the heart of the vibrant Bucktown neighborhood. At the time, I was working just up the street at another PR agency; my commute would have been less than 10 minutes. I put in an offer, negotiated for a week, and waited.

I still remember getting the call while I was on a work trip to NYC. The developer wasn’t interested in accepting my (very reasonable) offer. It was devastating. At the time, I never thought I’d find a place I loved more than the “Bucktown beauty.”

Thankfully, in the end, we found (and bought) another place. 11 years later, Bob and I are still here. In retrospect, our current condo was exactly what I needed. It was much larger, had ample parking, and was so close to all of our favorite restaurants and hangouts. Best of all, it was quiet. Prior to this home, my previous apartment was in a much busier neighborhood and had a landlord who loved to throw rooftop parties for his friends (woof).

Sheridan French Pink Dress

Saying Goodbye to Your Old Place is Hard

Truth be told, Bob and I were not expecting this new purchase, and the process was way more (emotionally) difficult than we had anticipated. After all, we’ve had so many amazing memories:

  • Bob proposed in the living room.
  • We found out that my brother and his wife were expecting, and we became an aunt and uncle while living there.
  • I started my first blog there in 2008 and, later, Style Charade was ideated and launched from our home.
  • We had many family members and friends stay in our guest bedroom over the years.
  • My bridesmaids, mother-in-law, and I spent the morning getting ready for my wedding day in the condo.

For all of its faults and imperfections, I’ve always only seen our current condo for what it is… perfect. Last night, I turned to Bob and talked about how excited I was about our next phase. All of a sudden, I turned into a puddle of tears at the thought of leaving our place.

Giving up our existing home is much harder than I expected. A new single family home is the ultimate form “adulting.”

Jennifer Lake New House

Save, Save, Save

There’s one thing we did to allow ourselves to purchase our single family home in the city. We saved. Every month, every week, every day. Sure, I love clothes, travel, and everything in between. However, Bob and I have been saving as much money as possible for the past decade.

Even if you’re not saving for new home per se, you should be building a “what if” fund for various scenarios. In our early 20’s, Bob and I both agreed to abide by Suzie Orman’s advice to have at least an eight month “emergency fund” should anything happen (i.e. extraordinary life circumstances, loss of job, family health issues, etc.).

Her words of wisdom were put to good use, and we decided to live well within our means which allowed us to save money accordingly. Everyone’s finances are vastly different, so there aren’t any perfect rules to saving (aside from sheer diligence). However, if you’re wanting to merge onto the savings highway, I found a few articles that could be worth your while. This one from my friend Kelly, and these two (here and here) from The Everygirl are all very comprehensive!

Jennifer Lake Husband

Buying a Home is Worse than a Dental Appointment

Seriously. Forget cavities and braces. I’m convinced buying a new home is more painful than a root canal. So many feelings at the same time: exposed, numb, joyful, scared, and everything in between. Mortgage brokers tells you how much you’re “worth,” credit agencies run background checks, and your savings account gives you the side eye like, “are we really going to do this?” Moreover, you’re turning over a ton of very personal financial information at a moment’s notice.

This is the ideal time to lean on your loved ones, especially those who’ve been in your shoes. Granted, I’m already a home owner, but purchasing a modest condo more than ten years ago was nothing like buying a house today. Mind you, I bought prior to the recession, so even the mortgage lending process is completely different! Thankfully, our family and friends were invaluable resources.

Be Open to New Neighborhoods

So yes, Bob and I are moving out of our modest sized Chicago condo into a single family home in the heart of the Windy City.

While saving has been the number one key to our new house, the second most important aspect has been flexibility. Truth be told, if the sky was the limit, we’d have purchased a home like this one, or perhaps this little gem! 🙂

All jokes aside, it’s essential to craft a list of your absolute must-haves and be flexible with the rest. For us, location was nimble. Since I work downtown and Bob works in the burbs, we cast a pretty wide net as far as neighborhoods were concerned. This really allowed us to find more options than if we were tunnel-visioned on one small part of Chicago.

Granted, living anywhere in the city requires a bit more diligence in terms of safety and security. As such, we made sure to check crime stats around every single property that came on our radar. Additionally, we made a lot of spontaneous late night drives and walks up and down streets we had never before seen.

We also had the benefit of living in Chicago for more than a decade, so we’ve seen so many neighborhoods of the city already. If you’re ever thinking of moving to a new part of your city, do some of the legwork in advance of looking at real estate.

Try a new restaurant or two, work remotely in a different neighborhood’s coffee shop, or map out a unique route for a future bike ride. I even recommend attending a neighborhood police beat meeting (very informative of what’s going on).

Trust us, it’s easy to get stuck in your daily routine. Open yourself up to some new experiences; who knows, you might just discover a new place to call home!

Jennifer Lake New Home

Get Ready to Be Let Down

After speaking with friends and family about the process, I found one thing to be true: expect the unexpected. Whether it’s a seller who backs out, and inspection that goes awry, or an offer that’s not accepted, there’s bound to be something (or a few things) that won’t go your way. Be sure to anticipate a bit of chaos so that the experience doesn’t throw you completely off kilter (just partially, ha)!

The word “no” is omnipresent in the real estate process. Be prepared for your feelings, head, and bank account to be hurt.

Family Not Might Always Agree with Your Choice

When I told my Dad we put an offer on a home, he said, “oh my goodness! Jenn, I’ve never been more happy. I’m so excited that you’re moving a few blocks from your brother!”

He had misheard me.

Upon telling him so, his heart sank (and mine). For the longest time, I thought Bob and I would eventually move to the suburbs to be closer to family. However, after living in the city (and loving Chicago more and more), we’re not even close to being ready to move to burbs. Yes, the allure of ample parking every where you go and a full yard for entertaining sounds great, but the vibrancy of our city is truly unmatched. It’s imperative to make choices for the life you currently live and not ones for what is expected by others.

The strange part of this process is that you’re ready to be let down… and maybe even to let down yourself. But you never expect to let others down.

Thankfully, my Dad was so sweet about our new place and happy we’ve come to such a fun decision.

Serena Lily Riviera Counter Stool

Work with the Best Real Estate Professionals

The nice part about being in your thirties (aside from a 10:00 PM bedtime) is that you’re surrounded by professionals. Remember that family friend who went to law school? Well, now she’s been practicing law for a decade. What about that cousin who loved to construct things in the garage when you were kids? Hey, now they own a building company! Being a bit older means you have so many more trusted resources and referrals. You can now rely less on fake Yelp reviews and more on people you actually know!

Now that we’ve been through this process twice, I cannot stress enough about having a trusted realtor, real estate lawyer, and inspector. These three professionals really made the difference for us this time around. I’m lucky to have an uncle who is a realtor, and he’s PHENOMENAL (literally every person who worked with us in this process told us as such). Normally, I’d advise to avoid going through family unless you they are at the top of their game. Just because your sister-in-law passed her real estate test a month ago, it doesn’t mean she’s ready to take on such a big process on your behalf. My Uncle though? The best of the best. He was the star of our deal, and we’re working with him again already on a separate project!

Same goes for everyone else. We found our real estate lawyer through a referral from our family friend who is also a lawyer. Again, we probably wouldn’t have taken the suggestion as seriously if we hadn’t already worked with our family friend on other legal matters. We’ve already seen his thoroughness and professionalism, so we trusted his advice!

Lastly, a home inspector makes all of the difference. Our inspector was another referral, and he was incredibly detail-oriented. Not only was he comprehensive, but he took both photos and videos of every nook and cranny of the home for later reference. Best of all, he explained things clearly in ways we could understand. If you’re in the Chicagoland area, I give him my highest recommendation possible.

Also, this was the first time I learned about getting a “sewer scope.” No, this isn’t a goofy way to refer to mouthwash 🙂 When buying a single family home, this is a must-do step, because you get a sense of the condition of the pipes and plumbing of your home in order to avoid potential future issues. Perhaps the previous owners had small children who loved to flush their toys – you don’t want to have to pay for those mistakes later!

Jennifer Lake Husband Dancing

In the end, my biggest lesson is when you buy a new home, you shouldn’t feel like you’re running from something, but running to something.

I’m so excited to share this new chapter with you! Bob and I are planning to give you a more inside look into our home, lives, and beyond. We’ll be adding interior design and home content to this blog, and also creating a dedicated hashtag #ChateauCharade to follow on social media!


All images by Aesthetiica Photography


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