How First-Time Homebuyers Snagged Their Dream Home in a Hot Market

They had a lot to learn about buying a home, but Jake and Victoria found a diamond in the rough thanks to some help from a local pro.

For Jake Gabbard and Victoria Lacy, the plan had always been to buy a house. But the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated their timeline. Years of living in a 400-square-foot apartment compounded with working from home, and though it was a challenging time to buy, they knew they needed more space to work comfortably and do the things they loved. Their new-home wish list included a dishwasher, laundry, central air, guest room, and yard.

Unfamiliar with the homebuying process, they started where many people do—the internet. Videos on YouTube introduced them to some of the fundamentals of New Jersey real estate, including general information about loans as well as specifics on the area's significant property taxes.

owning it episode 3 portrait of jake and victoria
Better Homes & Gardens

Their first hurdle was actually getting to see the houses that interested them. They used Zillow to contact properties that caught their eye and called the numbers on real estate yard signs, but no one was getting back to them. "We decided to buy a house at probably the worst time to buy a house," says Jake. "It was like the Hunger Games." Houses in the area were getting 30 to 40 offers, many far above the asking price and with sizable cash components.

A recommendation from a friend brought the couple to a local real estate agent, and they saw just how impactful regional insight and connections could be. Hiring an agent was "the best thing we did," according to Jake. "They do this every day," he says, "They know all the rules and how the market is working."

owning it episode 3 home exterior
Better Homes & Gardens

They welcomed the guidance and direction from the agent, who took charge of the process and started to get the couple across thresholds. The agent also helped them assess their budget and bidding strategy, encouraging them to find ways to make their offer more appealing.

Initially, Jake and Victoria were hoping to spend $15,000 to $20,000 upfront. But with each showing, they learned more about how their money needed to stretch further. Looking at homes in their original $400,000 budget, their hopeful spend of $20,000 was just a 5% down payment that didn't account for closing fees and other expenses. However, they didn't have quick cash reserves to easily up the ante. Instead, they started looking into the future, considering things like expected salary increases and career trajectory. After making sure the money felt solid downstream, they eventually increased their budget up to $450,000 and raised their upfront spending to around $40,000.

owning it episode 3
Better Homes & Gardens

Even so, they had a hard time competing. They looked at almost a dozen homes and put offers on three without success. But their luck changed when they got a lead on a diamond-in-the-rough that hadn't hit the market yet. The real estate agent encouraged them to see past the overgrown landscaping and dated interiors of the three-bedroom, one-bath 1,400-square-foot home.

"You had to squint a little," says Victoria, but beyond the surface was a solid house and a property filled with potential. Listed at $375,000, they took the house as-is for $441,000 (after making sure there were no radon, termite, or asbestos issues) with a $22,050 down payment and $13,500 in closing costs.

owning it episode 3 view of garden
Better Homes & Gardens

"A big part of getting this house for me was having a garden," says Jake. Situated on an 8,372-square-foot lot, the house had plenty of yard, but it required a lot of work. Jake spent months removing the overgrowth, opting to spend $800 on tools and do the job himself. "I knew that was something I could do on my own without messing anything up," he says. Once cleared, he invested in garden beds and fencing, staging the backyard to grow everything from lettuce to asparagus, strawberries, and potatoes. Not only is it something he loves, but Jake also sees the garden as an investment with great potential returns: he hopes to eventually grow 75% of their produce at home.

That love of plants also translated indoors, where their style balances elements of organic modern and boho looks, blending pops of saturated color with the home's bright neutrals, natural light, and greenery. Refinishing the existing dark wood floors to a warmer hue was an initial priority that helped set the tone.

Interior view of living room from Owning It Episode 3 in New Jersey
Better Homes & Gardens

While not an open floor plan, the first level of the home has a connectedness that's inviting yet challenging to decorate. They added color through accents, using shades of red, blue, and yellow in the living room furniture and textiles, and carried the same hues into the dining room through wall paint, artwork, and an area rug. Similarly, rustic woods and metals repeat in elements like the table and chairs, bar cart, and coffee table to tie the rooms together.

Like the living room, the dining room is bright with lots of natural light. With room for plenty to gather for a meal, it also offers added storage. Used throughout the home, radiator covers are a stylish way to add a little usable storage while also eliminating the need to clean between those deep grooves. In addition, the corner built-ins were an architectural element that initially caught their attention when they first toured the house. The display of loved items and tchotchkes fits their self-described "not minimalist" style.

owning it episode 3 view of dining room
Better Homes & Gardens

The connected kitchen's layout is great for someone like Jake who loves to cook. White cabinets and light wood flooring and countertops help the kitchen feel part of the house, even though it's more closed off to the main floor plan. A sunroom extends off the other side of the living room. This versatile space adapts to their needs, whether that's a workout spot, a place to play music, or a headquarters for winter seed-starting.

Upstairs, the pair carried their style through creative touches in each of the rooms. The accent wall in Jake's office was their very first paint project in the home. He wanted to create a backdrop for Zoom calls, pairing a saturated color and non-reflective paint with open shelving. Window treatments soften glare while still allowing natural light into the room.

Victoria went for bright and uplifting in her work area, which also functions as a yoga space and guest room. With a stressful job, she was all about creating a calming environment. "I really wanted it to be colorful and bring me joy when I walked in," she says. She painted cheery stripes in the corner, a fun detail that can easily be updated later. Pink curtains take their cue from the stripes and give the room's abundant natural light a soft glow. While the room currently houses an air mattress when it doubles as a guest room, Jake and Victoria hope to upgrade to a wall bed that offers more comfort but tucks away when not in use.

Interior view of bedroom with floral wallpaper and dark green wall from Episode 3 Owning It filmed in New Jersey
Better Homes & Gardens

Incorporating each of their favorite colors—shades of green and clay—the accent-wall wallpaper inspired the cozy primary bedroom. The rest of the previously gray walls were coated in a deep green, a combination that made the space immediately more relaxing. Yellow and rust colors in the rug, throw, and accent pillows bring the wallpaper's colors and warmth into the room. "We received some really smart advice from my mom when we first moved in that we should make this room super comfortable because it is where you end all of your days," says Victoria. It's proven to be a welcome retreat after putting in many hours making their first house into a home.

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