Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Holy grail house

When I started writing this post, I thought it was just going to be me talking about what I'm looking for in a forever house. However, as I wrote and as I thought about things, I think it might have changed.

Last week we looked at a house. Unfortunately, while it had great potential it also had flaking paint, a very questionable foundation and what I'm fairly sure were asbestos-wrapped pipes. And those are just the big red flags; there were little ones too. On the way home I joked to B that the search would continue for my mythical house: lot at least as big as the one we have now (0.17 acres; I'd actually prefer at least a third of an acre), in a good neighborhood, not so close to the neighbors that we could have a chat without opening a window or raising our voices, entire lot not filled with house/garage/concrete, at least four bedrooms, older or at least age-neutral home, and not a health hazard to anyone. That doesn't seem like it would be that hard, does it? It doesn't to me. But there are zero homes in the area that fit those criteria right now. Thinking about this town, any one of those things severely limits our choices. I've actually looked at houses (online, not in person) that were up to four times our budget without hitting all of those buttons.

I've told B for a while that our best option for finding our (OK, my) dream house would be to build. But the available lots are either tiny or overpriced. I do keep an eye out for good lots with crappy houses, although it doesn't matter because we're not in a position where we could build anything anyway.

Another problem with moving is selling this house. We live in a subdivision of mostly two- and three-bedroom houses. Ours is currently a 3+ and will be a four before we move. However, houses here get foreclosed on a lot, or they're sold as estates, or they just don't appreciate much. If I go by the other listings and Zillow's sold section, our house is worth almost exactly the same as we paid for it in 2010. Of course, since there aren't many four-bedroom houses for sale, comps are few and far between, so it's hard to tell if I'm estimating accurately or not.

The real problem, though, comes when I start specifying what I want inside the house. This is where I specify myself right out of the market.

I want a foyer. A real foyer, not an entryway (like ours) so small that you can't actually open the door, walk in and close the door without squeezing against the wall or going up a stair.



Houses around here, as a general rule, do not have foyers this big. Our foyer that's roughly 4x6 is more or less standard for houses that have foyers, which are only split levels. If you walk into the house on the same level as your living room, you almost certainly do not have a foyer. At one point last year the only house on the market to fit all the above criteria and have a foyer big enough to stand in with the door open was $900,000. I'm not kidding. We're doing slightly better now; I can get one for just under $180,000, with a pretty decent amount of remodeling needed. For reference, I'm in a town in Iowa where the median home price in 2012 was roughly $95,000. So for $180,000 I expect a nice house that I don't have to gut.

Yaya wants a fireplace. All he's ever asked for in a house are stairs and a fireplace. We have stairs, now we just need the fireplace.


I asked him if it had to be a working fireplace or if a fake fireplace would be acceptable; he says it has to be one where you can light a fire. I think that includes an electric fireplace; I know he'd love being able to flip a switch and start a fire.

I want a screened porch or a place to build one. The house I grew up in had a screened porch and I have lots of fond memories of sitting out there on the wooden porch swing, reading or talking to my mom. This has always been a "must have" for a forever house, but only one house I've ever lived in as an adult had one.


I'll take the dog, too.

B wants a game room/den/man cave.

Jessica on

It was super hard to find a picture for this one.

And, of course, my craft studio.


I wouldn't mind having a dining room, but I know that's just because I want to decorate a formal dining room, so it's not going on the list. I'd also like a mudroom and an attached garage, but these are things I either never had as an adult or after I had kids, so I don't know what I'm missing and therefore am not super attached to those.

So, in handy list form, here are my dream house must haves:

  • A lot at least as big as our current lot
  • In a good neighborhood
  • A reasonable amount of space between houses
  • A decent-sized yard
  • Four or more bedrooms
  • Age-neutral house. (A house with generic enough architecture that the perceived age of the house can be swayed with finishes, trim, etc
  • No health hazards like lead paint or asbestos
  • A foyer
  • A fireplace
  • A screened porch
  • A game room/den
  • A craft room

Do you see the problem? Of the twelve items on the list, our house has eight and has the potential to have two more (fireplace and screened porch). The only two it can't have are the age-neutral requirement or the foyer, and there are things I can do to make it look older, or at least more architecturally interesting.

This is where I started thinking: is it really enough to uproot our lives for a foyer and a different layout? Our current layout isn't bad. It's not at all my thing, but it's not bad. The foyer is tiny and that can't be changed without a huge remodel that would probably end up costing almost as much as the house. Is a bigger foyer worth $100,000 to me? Or even $50,000? No. Not even close, and that goes for remodeling and moving.

I really want to just have an epiphany and be like "Of course! We should stay here forever!" and boom, it's done and I never have to make a house selling decision again. That's not how it works, though. On the one hand, obviously we should consider staying here for a while, at least until we're in a better position to build a house and really do what we want. But on the other hand, whenever I think about staying here for several more years I have this knee-jerk NOOOO reaction. This isn't my forever house. It's not my perfect house. But I need to remember that it doesn't have to be perfect and it's not forever, even if it is longer than I'd like. Really, I should be thinking about how lucky we were to find a house that I don't even really like but works so well for us--when we were house hunting there were two acceptable houses on the market. (I shouldn't say I don't like our house. Some days I hate its guts and fantasize about putting a different plan on this lot where this house burned down, knock on wood; other days I think about someone else living here and I get annoyed and possessive about MY house.)

For the time being, I'm going to use a lyric from "Pinch Me" by Barenaked Ladies to say how I feel about this house: "I could leave but I'll just stay. All my stuff's here anyway."

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