We Bought a House! – How We Did It and What We Wish We Knew

Our big announcement from this summer is that we are officially homeowners! We went under contract in early June, but didn’t close until mid-August, so it was a pretty quiet summer for us in terms of travel and eating out. We had a goal after signing our apartment lease back in October 2017 to find a house to make a home before that lease ended in November 2018 (check out our 2018 goals here). Between planning a wedding, adjusting to married life, and knowing that we needed to save aggressively if we were buying a house in 2018, it has been a whirlwind of the past 9 months. We had an awesome real estate team, mortgage lender, and support from our families during the process, so we’d like to pass along some tips on how we planned/paid for a wedding and saved for a house in less than a year along with some things we wish we had known before starting the home search process.

What were we looking for in a house?

  1. Move-in-ready Home: For the most part, Grant and I were on the same page with what we wanted in a house. We knew we preferred a single family home that our family could grow into over the next several years, but we were open to townhomes as well. Even though Grant is very handy and has a background in construction, we wanted to find a place that we could move into right away rather than having to do substantial and probably costly renovations to right off the bat. During the home search process, we saw quite a few fixer-uppers that we weren’t quite ready to tackle in a first home!
  2. Open Kitchen: We usually cook at home every Sunday through Thursday, so having a big, updated kitchen was very important to us. There were a lot of quirks in our old apartment, like no pantry, having the laundry “room” (more like a closet) in the kitchen, and cabinets that were too small to fit even regular sized dishware. We joked that we should have brought a plate and a wine glass with us when looking at houses to double check that the cabinets were big enough! We never really got the chance to entertain at our apartment either, so having an open space where our friends and family could gather was really important to us – especially as football season kicks off!
  3. Outdoor Space: For Grant, having a backyard and a place to grill was at the top of his list. With the fire hazard of having grills at apartment complexes, Grant’s grill has been at my parents’ house for the time being. Eventually, we also want to have a dog, so having a nice outdoor space was important long-term.
  4. Room to Grow: We were really grateful to have decided on a 2 bedroom apartment as opposed to a one bedroom, but after the better part of a year, we were ready to have room to unpack completely and grow. A lot of our wedding presents were still packed up since we had limited space, so we wanted to have the room to not feel cramped. We didn’t have a particular square footage in mind when looking at homes, but we knew we wanted to find a place that we could grow into as our family (hopefully!) grows in the future.

How did we do it?

  1. Planning in Advance: We knew that our first apartment was just temporary and already planned that we wouldn’t renew our lease before we even signed the initial one! With that in mind, we knew that the biggest hurdle we had to face was being disciplined and diligent in our saving for a down payment. We knew a lot of homes go on the market in the summer time and the area we wanted to live and at our price point was a hot market. We did some preliminary research with our mortgage lender, explaining how much we felt comfortable spending monthly and were able to determine our price range along with anticipated costs of putting 20% and closing costs. After that, we reached out to our awesome team of realtors (thanks, Mary Beth and Liz!) in late April and started looking at several homes on and off over a 6 week period.
  2. Automated Savings: To be perfectly honest, we were pretty easygoing with our budget post wedding. We do eat at home a lot, which saves considerably over the course of a month. Neither of us are big “stuff” people and prefer more to spend money on experiences. During our “extreme home closing budget” period, we did have to cut back some on the experiences, but were grateful to have some gift cards leftover from our wedding presents and some credit card cash back money to splurge along the way. The easiest way for us to save was to set up automated payments to our savings account on payday, so we never really had to think about saving. Each paycheck, Grant and I had roughly 15% of our paycheck automatically transferred to savings, so it started to add up quickly.
  3. Lots of chicken and eating at home: Once we were under contract, we did cut back considerably on our discretionary spend, with the big one being only eating out dinner once per week (thanks, La Parilla!). We had to get creative with our recipes and continued to bring lunch from home instead of eating out during the work week. Sunday was our day to plan out our meals for the week, and making a grocery list helped us stick to just what we needed rather than filling up the cart with impulse purchases. We typically shopped at Costco to get our meats in bulk and Kroger to take advantage of some of their Kroger Plus discounts and coupons. We are also extremely grateful for our friends and family that had us over for meals during our “cut back” time.

What do we wish we knew at the beginning of the process?

  1. Save more than you think. Having enough saved for the down payment is not enough – you need to think about closing costs as well as what your emergency fund looks like. You’ll have a few smaller payments along the way for the earnest money deposit, inspection, and appraisal. This goes back to one of the first steps in the home-buying process – while you may be approved for a much higher value house, really think about how much you can budget each month. Because of this, we actually found that we were able to make our budget work with a slightly higher monthly payment for a 15 year mortgage versus the traditional 30 year, which will save us tens of thousands of dollars in interest over the course of the loan. Big thanks to Eric at Supreme Lending for answering all of our questions throughout the process!
  2. In some cases, you’ll have to make a decision very quickly. I think Grant would agree with me that we both like to take our time when making decisions to weigh all of the options and do our research. Unfortunately, in a hot housing market, you often don’t have the luxury of time on your side. We looked at our now home on a Wednesday evening, made an offer the next morning, and found out it had been accepted by lunchtime. It blows my mind that we made such a huge life decision in less than 24 – and then, we had 67 days until closing! So while some parts of the process are very quick, you may also hit some slow parts leading up to closing.
  3. Once you move out of an apartment, you should never move yourself again. I was very fortunate that Grant, his brother, my uncle, mom, and countless other family members helped out so much on the big day of the move. Grant and I worked for several days after closing to move some of our more breakable things and anything that wasn’t furniture, so that only furniture was moved on the day we rented the Uhaul. We have already agreed that this will be the last time we move ourselves. The whole home-buying process can be stressful, but the move is definitely the most strenuous, especially when it comes to furniture. With more space than we had in the apartment, we’ll likely add more furniture over the years, and when it comes time to move again, we will be bringing in the professionals! TLB Fun Fact: We did not purchase a single moving box for this move! 
  4. Closing was actually very easy! The wire transfer was the worst part – you see so many warnings about wire transfer fraud and just hope that it all goes okay until you get the confirmation from the closing attorney. The actual transfer at the bank is pretty anti-climactic (until you see your bank account after it), and once that is done, you are basically in the home stretch to getting your keys. The whole closing process took just under an hour, and I’m not certain we could have done it any quicker! The closing attorney briefly explained all of the documents we signed, we practiced our autographs on about 25,762 different papers, and then we got the keys and a stack of paperwork! The best feeling was driving up to our house after the closing, knowing all of the hard work and stress was finally worth it.

We are so thrilled about this next chapter in our lives! For anyone considering buying a home, we hope our experience helps you plan and encourages you to keep working hard towards your goals.

With fall and football season just ahead, be sure to check out our Instagram to keep up with what’s next for the Local Bells! www.instagram.com/TheLocalBells

Local Eats: Food Truck Edition

A few weekends ago, we had the opportunity to attend the Children’s Charities Denim & Diamonds Benefit at Shannondale Farms – an awesome evening to raise money for an even better local cause! One of the most unique parts of this event was the food options for the evening. Instead of your usual buffet or plated dinner, they had “Food Truck Wars” featuring six different local food trucks. Each served up a small sample of their specialty and guests had the opportunity to try as many as they wanted! Participating trucks included Cousins Maine Lobster, Big C’s Chicago Kitchen, Sunshine Alchemy, Smokin’ Mo’s BBQ, Just Loaf N’ Po Boys, and Chef Q’s Soul Shack. Take a look to see some of the best small bites from the evening:

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Some of the best Connecticut lobster rolls we’ve ever had from Cousins Maine Lobster food truck!

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Chicago Style Italian Beef from Big C’s Chicago Kitchen

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Jambalaya and Crawfish Dip with Chips from Just Loaf N’ Po Boys

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How many beignets are too many?

And as if one night of food trucks wasn’t enough, we spent Sunday afternoon exploring downtown Alpharetta at Truck and Tap and Smokejack BBQ!

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Rooftop patio at Truck and Tap Alpharetta is makes for the perfect afternoon!

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Couldn’t resist trying the loaded tots from Cousins Maine Lobster truck

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Beer and food truck options change every day at Truck & Tap Alpharetta

We continued our food tour of Alpharetta by heading to Smokejack BBQ in downtown Alpharetta.

Queso at Smokejack BBQ

Fried pickles and spicy mayo sauce from Smokejack BBQ

We definitely recommend checking out some of the local food trucks! With so many unique offers you can’t find anywhere else, it’s a great place to go to try something new.

Follow along with all of our adventures on Instagram at www.instagram.com/thelocalbells

Top Springtime Dates

It is finally starting to feel like spring in Georgia! Fingers crossed that the beautiful weather stays and we get to enjoy more of these warm and sunny days. With the days getting longer, we’re excited to enjoy some of our favorite outdoor places and events in the coming weeks. Here are some of the springtime date activities that we are looking forward to most.

Zoo Atlanta – Who doesn’t love the zoo? We love getting to learn more about all of the amazing animals at Zoo Atlanta and typically try to go at least once a year. Spring is great before it gets too hot and humid during the summer months. If the heat and crowds aren’t for you, they have a lot of awesome evening events throughout the year, like Sippin’ Safari and Brew at the Zoo (coming up Memorial Day weekend!).IMG_1409

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Taste of Alpharetta – It’s been awhile since we’ve gone to this, but we are making plans to attend this year with it being walking distance away for us! On Thursday May 3rd, downtown Alpharetta shuts down for over 60 local restaurants to set up booths offering small plates and drinks of some of their most popular menu items. You can purchase tickets for the food and drink items, and it’s a great way to try a taste of so many great restaurants. Plus, there will be live music throughout the evening!IMG_2100

Barnsley Gardens – If you want an escape from the hustle and bustle, a trip to Barnsley Gardens in Adairsville may be just what you need. From their beautiful pre Civil War manor house ruins to their championship golf course to their gorgeous new Inn, it’s the perfect weekend or day trip from Atlanta! The Woodland’s Grill and Beer Garden are perfect to enjoy the nice weather and they have several walking trails if a picnic is more your style.

What are your favorite springtime dates that we should add to our list this year? Follow along with us on Instagram at www.instagram.com/thelocalbells

Homemade Pizza (with cauliflower crust!)

February 9th was “National Pizza Day,” so it only seemed fitting that we had pizza night this weekend! Homemade pizza night has always been one of our favorite (and cheap) date nights, but we actually haven’t had once since before we were married. Since it was a rainy Saturday, we decided it would be a perfect evening to break out the pizza stone in the new apartment!

We usually buy the pre-made pizza dough from Kroger or Publix, but I had heard a lot about cauliflower crust as a dough substitute. I wasn’t able to convince Grant, but I did decide to give it a go on my own pizza. We had bought cauliflower rice from Costco, which is essentially just finely chopped cauliflower florets. I steamed 2 1/2 cups of the riced cauliflower in the microwave for 7 minutes as the package directed. Next, I wrapped the steamed cauliflower in several paper towels to squeeze out the excess water.

After getting out as much of the extra water as possible, I mixed in one egg, oregano, salt, garlic powder, and mozzarella cheese. Once the mixture comes together, I shaped it into a circle resembling a pizza on a cookie sheet lined with foil. The recipe called for parchment paper, but since we didn’t have any, I had to improvise!

I baked the crust at 400 for 20 minutes before taking it out to officially assemble my pizza. I let it cool for a few minutes and then coated the crust with a mixture of olive oil, fresh garlic, and oregano. From there, I added my favorite toppings – Greek olives, portobello mushrooms and goat cheese and finished it off by topping it with a lot of mozzarella cheese!

Back into the oven for another 20 minutes, and after a brief cooling period, it was finally ready to try! Appearance wise, it looked (and smelled) delicious!

The foil instead of parchment paper proved to an issue when it came time to remove the pizza. It stuck a good bit, but with Grant’s help, we were able to cut a few pieces and transfer them to a plate for dinner. Next time, I plan to make the crust a little thinner. It didn’t get super crispy this time, and I had to eat most of it with a fork and a knife. Overall, the flavor was really good and I felt just as full as I would with real pizza crust (though with a fraction of the carbs and calories!).

Final consensus, definitely give the cauliflower crust a try if you love pizza but are looking for an alternative to the traditional gluten crust. I recommend making the crust fairly thin and using parchment paper. If you love picking up your pizza and a thick crust, then this crust probably isn’t for you (AKA Grant). Check out the full recipe I used here: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/katie-lee/cauliflower-pizza-crust-2651381.amp

Homemade Limoncello – Part 1

For those of you who don’t know, Grant and I met on a European studies trip to Italy and Greece nearly ten years ago! My great grandfather on my dad’s side came over from Sicily, Italy, so you could say Italy has played an important role in both of our lives! When we were deciding on a rehearsal dinner location, we had one of the best Italian meals (that wasn’t in Italy) at Tuscany Italian Restaurant in Woodstock. After gorging ourselves on a sampling of basically the entire menu, the owner sat down with us for a celebratory toast of limoncello. Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur, mainly produced in Southern Italy. Traditionally, it is served chilled as an after-dinner drink. I love all things lemon – lemon bars, lemon Italian ice, and limoncello! For whatever reason, I decided to see how it was made and found out that it is surprisingly simple! Being the patient man he is, Grant indulged me and agreed for us to give it a try at making some homemade limoncello this weekend.

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We started off by gathering all of the necessary ingredients: lemons, alcohol (we went with vodka), and a large glass jar. After a visit to Costco to purchase the biggest bag of lemons I’ve ever seen ($6.99) and a 1.75 liter bottle of their private label vodka ($13.99), we grabbed the final item – the glass jar – from Target ($5.79), all in all spending less than $30 dollars! There are a lot of recipes out there for homemade limoncello, but this is the one we decided to follow with a few tweaks: http://theitaliandishblog.com/imported-20090913150324/2012/7/3/how-to-make-homemade-limoncello.html

You start off by zesting or grating the lemons. I used ten lemons and alternating between using the large grater for thicker peels with the small zester to get the hard to grate edges. A word of caution that every recipe says: make sure to no zest the white pith of the lemon or else it will be very bitter.

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It took a good 30 minutes to grate and zest all of the lemons. Once they are settled into the glass jar, you add one liter of alcohol. Some recipes call for Everclear, others call for vodka. Vodka was more easily accessible and cheaper, so that’s what we went with! Costco has some awesome deals on both their private label as well as other national brands. TLB tip: you don’t even have to be a Costco member to go to their liquor store!

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Once we sealed the jar up tight, it goes in a cool, dark place for the next 7-30 days (we read differing reviews on this one, but plan to err more on the longer side of it). At that point, you make a simple syrup to add to the lemon/vodka mixture. TLB tip: use the leftover grated/zested lemons to make lemonade, lemon bars, or infuse into water.

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Stay tuned for part two of our limoncello making adventure! Keep your fingers crossed for us that it turns out!

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Follow along with us on Instagram – www.instagram.com/thelocalbells

Big Apple Circus – Special Opening Night Discount!

After a week of freezing temperatures and some unexpected snow, we were so excited for a sunny (and warm!) Sunday at Avalon to get a sneak peek of the upcoming Big Apple Circus show next week at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Alpharetta. Opening night isn’t until January 26th, but we got a chance to have a special meet and greet with some of their amazing performers, including juggling clowns, an extremely talented face-painter Twinklz, skating pros Dandino and Luciana, and Frankie the miniature pony!

Big Apple Circus is celebrating their 40th anniversary this year! Founded in New York City in 1977, Paul Binder and Michael Christensen brought a new style of circus to the table, by focusing on the intimacy and personalized experienced of a European one-ring circus. The group adds new acts each year, and this one looks to be the most exciting yet with both Nik Wallenda, the “Greatest Daredevil of Our Generation” and the Fabulous Wallendas joining the circus to perform their daring acts.

One thing that we love about Big Apple Circus is that the only animals in the show are rescued dogs and horses. It is so heartwarming to hear about these rescued animals and the joy that they bring to the audience in their new job! We loved getting to meet Frankie the miniature pony and can’t wait to see the rest of his friends on Friday!

Big Apple Circus has teamed up with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, our local children’s hospital, to fund-raise for the incredible patients and families there. This is a charity that is truly near and dear to our hearts, so we are so excited for this partnership! 100% of the proceeds from opening night will go directly to the hospital! Help us to sell out their first night in Atlanta! And to help you out, we have a special discount code for anyone attending!

To buy your tickets for opening night, use code “CHOA” here to get an extra $5 off at checkout. To learn more about how the event benefits Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and to see what other events they have coming here, check out their website here.

Follow along with our adventures on Instagram at instagram.com/thelocalbells

Milton’s Cuisine & Cocktails

Celebrating the end of the first week of the new year at Milton’s Cuisine & Cocktails! Located in North Fulton County in downtown Crabapple, this 150+ year old farmhouse has some of the most incredible Southern cuisine and innovative drinks! We managed to snag a prime-time reservation on OpenTable. TLB Tip: Every time you book and dine through OpenTable, you earn points that can be redeemed for gift cards at for future meals at OpenTable restaurants. 

We couldn’t help snap a few photos of our delicious meal:

The Spiced Swine Old Fashioned and Broadwell Manhattan were the perfect start to a delicious meal! We highly recommend the sweet potato shrimp fritters for an appetizer (only two are pictured since we couldn’t resist digging in before snapping a picture!), and the applewood pork chop and blackened salmon for the main course were prepared perfectly! The cozy farmhouse atmosphere, live music, and roaring fireplaces in each of the dining rooms truly made it the perfect Friday date night.

Take a look at the seasonal menus on their website: http://www.miltonscuisine.com/

We also found out that Milton’s is under the management of Southern Proper Hospitality – the same group that manages The Big Ketch, Smoke Belly BBQ, Beni’s Cubano, Gypsy Kitchen, Southern Gentleman, and The Blind Pig. Looks like we have quite a few more restaurants to visit!