Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The ups and downs of househunting

This past weekend we went out twice with our agents - who we really adore. I was thrilled when they reported to us that their afternoons didn't feel like working - felt like hanging out with friends instead. We picked the right agents.

Before we were truly househunting - just browsing - we met them at an open house and immediately fell into a good rapport with them. It is a husband-wife team and they have four kids ranging in age from a month older than Skadi to 16 years old. Lucky for them they also have a good support network locally since they both grew up in the area.

So far (crossing my fingers) our real estate agents are just superb. When we moved here 6.5 years ago we hooked up with a woman who we considered firing a number of times.


My MIL found her through her referral network in a boom time. That should have given us a hint there. Houses were moving like hotcakes - we lost out on a few - and here was an agent who was willing to give up a portion of her fee to my MIL for the referral. And then we discovered she was NOT a go-getter. She didn't listen and was determined to find us some awful little house in a neighboring town. She would get us in her car and "yes we will go look at this house over here, but first..." and then she would drive us across the river and exclaim about the virtues of the town. Great place, I am sure. I know now that it is a nice place, but I still won't live there if only for the long drive to work. And she would just drive around, and drive around. She wouldn't call first before showing houses - we walked in on people more than once - and her reply was "well they want to sell their house don't they?" (It is agents like her I fear when we eventually list our house.)

And in the end, we found our house and asked her to show it to us. She said as she showed us that she had skipped over the MLS listing because it didn't have pictures. (Rolling my eyes.)

This time around we opted to skip the referral. We had met a number of agents throughout the last 6 years through a variety of interactions from friends and from open houses and the Parade of Homes. We met Kevin and Therese and instantly knew we could easily work with them. And like they said the other day, it is nice when you look forward to "hanging out looking at houses" with a couple instead of dreading getting in some old ladies Caddy that stunk of perfume to drive around imprisoned.

We hit five houses this last weekend. The first we walked in and loved. Loved the house completely. AB pointed out minor things - the enclosure that holds the fridge limits you to that size of fridge and we would like a slightly larger one. AB wants a double fridge... *sigh*. And there was no cable outlet in the library for those of us using cable internet. Things that a home sold by a builder could be remedied. The house was on a nice view lot in a neighborhood I am quite fond of and was about 4200 square feet, rambler with a walk out basement on a large lot with about 1200 sq ft of the basement unfinished. It was exactly what we are looking for.
At about $25K higher than our highest end price we think we can stomach. Therese suggested an offer at that highest end price. But even then we are talking $75K more than the house we are looking to build, for essentially a very similar home. That house still looms out there... but the price just was a show stopper.

Another home that we wanted to love was also a rambler with walk out basement and similar in size with 5 bedrooms on an extraordinary view lot. The one problem with that house could not be remedied. The kitchen was smaller than the one we have now. The kitchen made the house a no go for us. Everything else about the house we loved and would have probably been willing to make an offer on our high end for this home. But that kitchen... nope, couldn't do it.

We hit three others - a funky geriatric smelling three level (most likely custom designed) house built to take advantage of views in a great neighborhood at a great price. But the stairs. The stairs that never ended. And the stairs that my daughter tumbled down while there. The stairs killed the house. As well as the geriatric smell.

Another house on a fabulous lot across the street from one of our favorite parks and at the foot of a great hiking trail. But the house was too small at 3 bedrooms with a bonus room. The last house was a really fantastically finished rambler on a large view lot - though little of the house took in the views. It had a fabulous kitchen and family room and the finish work was truly amazing. But it had two rooms that are a waste of space for our family - a formal formal living room and formal formal dining room. Sure I have these now but we have worked with it and changed their purpose - the formal living room is our office and formal dining room a playroom. But the layout of these rooms in this other house was just not great for dual purpose. Loved the finish work, but not the right house.

Where are we now?

It is interesting where your mind goes when you are talking about such a large chunk-o-change.

We have both had our waffling periods. AB admitted he was in one last night.

"What are we doing? We just got to a point financially where we can do and buy extra things, where we can take off for a long weekend for skiing or swimming and buy nice things that we want. Why are we going down this road now?"

I understand. I have been there too. I still love our house much of the time. I really love our patio and pergola and the thought of leaving that makes my heart ache. The thought of leaving the house I brought my babies home to tears me up. Of leaving that wall that has the kids height marks written. I told AB that all I have to do to remedy that is open the pantry. Or look at Skadi's "bedroom". Or think about where we would put our guests who visit.

I waffle in what a good house for us is. Do we take the path suggested by many who have made money in real estate to buy the biggest and best house you can afford? Or do we go the economical route and go with good enough to get us by. Do we build and get *exactly* what we want - gourmet kitchen and all. Or do we listen to what everyone has told us about the headache that is and wait and wait until we find our dream home? What if we never find our dream home? Is a dream home realistic? What are we doing?

Leif also decided the other day that he isn't sure he wants a new house. One of the houses we saw this past weekend had lots of very neat toys for a boy just older than Leif. He was sure we would buy the house based off of this. When we told him no, this house wouldn't be ours a switch went off and he has since decided it wouldn't be a good idea to get a new house. Even he has started waffling.

I am hoping that by the end of the day Friday we will have gathered enough information to start narrowing down our path forward. We are looking at about six houses - two of which AB and I are both very interested in based off of size, styles and locations. Others we feel probably aren't for us, but that we need to see to check off the list. And really... who knows - maybe they are for us - a few photographs only say so much. After we look at houses we have a meeting with the builder of the Parade Home.

I am really hoping that by the end of the day Friday that AB and I have decided on a direction to go with regards to a new home.

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