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Introducing First-Time Home Buyer Sarah DeGiorgis!

In honor of Rookie Roosts Week 2012, we've got our first installment of a series from Philly's Sarah DeGiorgis, who's buying a home for the first time and is going to chronicle the process for us for as long as it takes. If you'd like more info about her, she writes a gardening blog and has a cat named Captain Walker. Take it away, Sarah!

Hello, potential homeowners! My name is Sarah and, simply put, I want to buy a house. I'm pretty much completely green when it comes to all things real estate: Every place I’ve ever lived since moving out at 18 has been either a dorm or an apartment found through friends or Craigslist. The house I grew up in was built by my father and uncle which, while awesome, means that my parents can’t offer advice on buying a house, only building one (sorry, Dad, probably not going to happen).

Here’s some background on me, so you can see where I’m coming from: late twenties, unmarried, employed full-time but not making a fortune—let's just say that I'm making less than $40,000. I have no (more) loans from college and I've been working full-time since a few months after graduation so I have a little bit of savings.

I work for the University of Pennsylvania, which has incentives for home buyers. There's a forgivable loan program for employees buying houses within certain boundaries (mostly in West Philly) that I hope to take advantage of. I like West Philly for the community, the beautiful architecture, Clark Park, the large yards, all the trees ... I’ve lived all over this city—from Port Richmond to Rittenhouse to South Philly—and West Philly is the place that feels most like home.

Basically I'm looking for an old Victorian with at least three bedrooms, a front porch and a yard. I love West Philly Victorians because they have so many weird little details: stained-glass windows, built-in bookcases (awesome because I'm swimming in books), fireplaces, carved light fixtures, pocket doors and floor inlays. If I'm buying a house, I want it to be unique and beautiful. The front porch and yard aren't too hard to come by in West Philly but the Victorian is a little trickier. Not that there aren’t great Victorians in West Philly; it’s filled with them. But a lot of those Victorians are HUGE—like, eight-bedrooms-three-bathrooms-two-kitchens-two-drawing-rooms-eight-dressing-rooms huge. I don't need that much space—it'll probably be just me and maybe a couple roommates, but it's not like I have six kids. So I'm looking for a smaller one (they're rare but they're around) that's been renovated maybe 20 years ago so that everything still works but is outdated. I can deal with an old refrigerator as long as it keeps my food from spoiling.

Hopefully, when I get enough money (or more likely take out another loan), I can redo the outdated parts of the house and that way I'll be able to pick everything out myself. I don't want a shell—I don't have the time, the expertise, or really the desire to rebuild the interior of a house. But I can do things like paint, sand floors and clean out backyards. As long as the house is structurally sound and I can move in soon after the deal goes through, I'm happy.

The backyard, by the way, is non-negotiable. I have plans for a large garden and hope to grow the majority of my food. And a front porch? Well, it's a great place to hang out and you get to watch people go by.

This likely won't be the only house I buy in my lifetime but I’m also not going to just flip it—I plan to live in whatever house I buy at least seven years and I certainly don't want to be stuck living in something that I don't like. And that's my last point for today: I really don't want to be forced in to buying something I don't love. One of my biggest fears about this whole undertaking is that I’ll be forced into making an offer on something I’m not totally in love with. I’m going to be putting all of my money into this, so the last thing I want to do is regret it.

Thus begins my journey in to the unknown world of home buying. I'll keep you posted!