Rob McNeill first time homebuyer
Courtesy of Rob McNeill

Rob McNeill started his home search in 2017, but he quickly felt the sting of rejection. Homes flew off the market in Philadelphia’s suburbs faster than he could set up showings. He tabled his house-hunting ambitions and regrouped.

McNeill, a 28-year-old medical sciences manager who holds a pharmacy doctoral degree, spent the past year saving up for a down payment and paying off student loan debt. In May, he struck gold with a spacious townhouse ideal for suburban bachelor living in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.

In this Q&A, McNeill, explains how he regained confidence in the market (and his instincts) to buy his first home.

What was your main motivation to buy a home?

I had lived in the city for 10 years and my commute to the suburbs for work was getting longer and longer. I wanted to move closer to work to shorten that drive. I also knew the value I’d get for buying in the suburbs was much better than renting inside the city. My dad, who raised me to be financially focused, pushed me toward the financial benefits of buying over renting so that always stuck with me.

How did you find your place? What amenities or features sold you on it?

It was the first of eight properties I saw one day with my Realtor. This one stuck with me because it’s three years old and didn’t need much work, and it’s more space than I need. It’s half bachelor pad, half something I can grow into. I really cared about the price per square foot and the location, and it was the best fit for me of everything I saw. I wanted to live somewhere that had a downtown lifestyle in a suburban setting where you can walk to shops and bars. There’s a biking and running trail connected to our development, too.

Let’s talk mortgage financing. How difficult was it to get preapproved?

I heard a lot of horror stories, but it was a lot smoother than others told me it’d be. I definitely recommend shopping around with a few lenders; I talked to two mortgage brokers and a bank. I got preapproved before I started looking, and I chose a 30-year, fixed-rate conventional loan.

Was it hard to save up for the down payment?

When I put my plans on hold last year, it gave me extra time to save up. I was surprised at what a big difference a year made in my ability to buy a home. I have high-interest student loans that take up a lot of my income so it was a balancing act. I knew I wanted to have 10 percent to put down, so I took a small loan against my 401(k) plan and saved for the rest. I also had about $10,000 in closing costs.

How did the real estate negotiations go?

The seller was asking $305,000, but the home had been on the market for a little while. I didn’t realize sellers are more willing to work with you in that scenario; I was able to negotiate the price down to $290,000. I had no clue you could negotiate keeping appliances in the contract, so I was able to keep the washer and dryer. The home inspection found some things I thought were a bigger deal than my Realtor did, but we did get a credit for radon mitigation.

What are some words of wisdom you’d share with other first-time buyers?

Don’t get emotionally attached to any houses in a competitive market. You’ll get a lot of opinions from family and friends, but you have to do your own research and make your own informed choices. I have a practical dad and a blue-sky mom, and my older brother and uncle, who’s a contractor, weighed in, too. Trust your gut — even if that means going against the advice from loved ones.

How do you feel now that you’re a homeowner?

Now, more than ever, I feel I can make it my own — a real home. There’s a double-edged sword to being a homeowner, though. When something breaks down, I’m on the hook for it now. I have a great sense of accomplishment and pride when I tell people I own my own home. It’s finally mine, and I’m extremely happy.

[This is part of an ongoing series about first-time homebuyers. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.]

Previously in House Hunters: Couple snags a starter home amid fierce competition