Monday, April 06, 2009

A Very Very Very Fine (Hypothetical) House

I've written before (here AND here, lucky you) about my reservations regarding home ownership. So I don't spend too much time rehashing territory I've covered before, I'll just refer you to those links and say that my reservations haven't really changed all that much - mainly maintenance, and all the time, effort, and money I don't want to put into it. That's the main item on the CON side of the ledger, but it carries significant weight. On the other hand, as time goes on, there are more and more things being added to the PRO list of purchasing a house.

For instance, as I'm sure I mentioned in at least one of the posts linked above, there are a number of issues with the place we live now (defective refrigerator, drafty windows, squeaky plumbing...I could go on). As leery as I am of being responsible for maintenance, I've come to the conclusion that it may be preferable to hassling the landlord over every single thing I'd like to see fixed or improved. Sure, I'd have to pay for it myself, but at least I'd be able to get it done. Our landlord is easy enough to deal with when something needs to be done, but I have a hard time imagining he'd agree to replace these windows, for instance, without them actually being broken.

And then there's the X factor. Right now Brandi and I live in a duplex - the two sides are mirror images of each other, and our bedroom shares a wall with the neighbors' bedroom. Also, there's a third dwelling, a house, immediately behind our duplex, in what would be a backyard under other circumstances. Now, normally none of these things would be that big of a deal. But for the neighbors with whom we share a roof, the bedroom seems to be their primary gathering place, and they often converse in upraised voices (usually with poor grammar, too, although I suppose that's beside the point). Also, they have a small child, I think he's 3, who should be beyond the "screaming all the time" stage of life, but isn't. And when I say "isn't," I mean not at all. So there's constant noise coming from the other side of the wall, which is irritating enough at the best of times and even more so in the small hours of the morning. I mean, I'm a night person, and generally pretty tolerant of that sort of thing, but this is in the realm of the ridiculous. And if that weren't bad enough, the neighbors behind us have a thousand wind chimes strung along the front of their place, tinkling and clanging and bonging and tolling ALL THE TIME. And even before we moved here, Brandi and I have always had loud neighbors. As it relates to buying a house, the thing we're most looking forward to is no longer sharing walls or a yard with anyone else, and all the noise we have to contend with will be our own.

Our current experiment in house-hunting started the same way all the others did, but it's gone a lot further because this time we actually did some follow-up. What happened was that I saw a house that was up for sale on my way home from somewhere one day, thought it was pretty cool, shared it with Brandi, checked it out online, and found ourselves at least mildly interested. Normally that would be the end of it, but seeing as how this was the third or fourth time we had gone through this, I mentioned that we should talk to a mortgage professional to find out where we stood so we'd know if we were wasting our time or not. Well, Brandi took that ball and ran with it - she called a mortgage guy, and it turned out that we were in better position than we thought we would be. The upshot of all this is that we were approved for a loan, and we've been looking for a house, actively and for real, for close to a month now.

We've been inside twenty houses at this point, or thereabouts (I've lost exact count). Of those, we've liked about five enough to merit further discussion amongst ourselves once we left them and were back in the comfort of our own noisy, defective home. One of those was the very first one we went into, the one that started this whole mess, which turned out to be pretty awesome. We've mostly ruled that one out at this point, as the asking price is at the upper end of our price range and we're hoping to stay as far below that as possible. Another we liked is in the finishing stages of some massive renovations and absolutely beautiful and almost entirely new inside, but we're not thrilled with the neighborhood it's in.

Our agent is on vacation this week, which is actually kind of nice because it has given us a chance to step back from everything and just think things over. We've narrowed it down to two different houses that we're kind of going back and forth on, and it's tough because they're almost polar opposites of each other.

The one I'm leaning toward doesn't really have anything that stands about it, but it really has no drawbacks either. It's a single-story brick ranch with a two-car attached garage on a cul-de-sac at the back end of a quiet residential neighborhood. It's well-maintained, with a nice yard and a privacy fence in the back, and all the appliances are included. It's a nice place - we wouldn't have to do anything to it except move our stuff in and start living there.

The other one...well, I'd describe it as our high-risk, high-reward option. It's a sweet place, but it definitely needs at least some work, and potentially a lot of work. I guess it's technically a ranch too, mostly brick with some sided areas, with an unfinished basement and a crawlspace, and it sits on the edge of a residential area, on a busy state route. It's almost majestic when you first walk in, with a wrought iron railing separating the entryway from the living room, which has one sculptured brick wall with a fireplace, plus a vaulted ceiling with exposed beams, and one wall is a glass window/sliding door that looks out onto a sun room. So yeah, it's cool...but. First and foremost, at the very least the electrical outlets need to be redone, as they're currently only the two-pronged variety, and there's some question as to whether the house even has a ground wire. I run a lot of electronics, so that's kind of a big deal. I have some questions about the foundation, as there are spots in the basement where you can see small amounts of daylight shining through. There are hardwood floors throughout, which is awesome, but they would need to be refinished, as they look a little worn and scruffy. There are a ton of windows, but they're pretty old and will need to be replaced sooner than later. We would have to buy a washer and dryer, and while all the kitchen appliances would stay, they're fairly old. The furnace and air conditioner are old. There are 2 1/2 bathrooms, but the institutional tile and fluorescent lighting give them the feel of high school locker rooms. The yard is 1/3 of an acre and pretty nice, but it needs to be cleaned up and landscaped. Everything on the inside needs to be painted. And I could go on, but I think at this point you probably get the picture - lots of upside, with plenty of strings attached. All that work might not be a problem if we could get the house for the right price, but I don't know what that might be. Just eyeballing it, I think they'd have to come down around 20% from their asking price to make it worth our while. It's been on the market for a long time, but that's a pretty steep drop. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to make a crazy-ass lowball offer and see what happens. Even if it somehow got accepted, I'd be concerned that we'd get in there and find that we'd bitten off more than we'd care to chew. But I suppose that's what pre-sale inspections are all about.

At any rate, that's what we're looking at right now. By the time our agent comes back next week, I'm hoping that Brandi and I will have reached a consensus, either to put in an offer on one of the houses we've seen so far or to keep looking. We'd like to move this summer if at all possible, with an eye toward possibly hosting my family's annual Independence Day shindig at our new pad. Of course, it's not the end of the world if things don't break right for that to happen - getting the right place for the right price is far more important than the timing. All I know right now is that I'm looking forward to toasting our first night in our own place with a glass of wine, and savoring the silence that comes with having some actual distance between ourselves and our neighbors.

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