Tuesday, May 12, 2015

House hunting

It's been so long since I've posted that I can't remember, but I think I mentioned that I've been trying to get the house ready to go on the market. Of course, before we can put the house on the market we need to find one to buy, and the search has not been going well. Turns out that what we want is very specific, possibly so specific that it doesn't exist in any price range, let alone ours (although there are some $350,000 houses that I certainly wouldn't turn down). So what is it that I want? Well, maybe writing it down will help keep me focused instead of panicking and wondering if I can make a 2+ bedroom work for my family of five. This is kind of a "forever house" list; neither of us want to move again so we're picking a house that will hopefully work at least until the kids are gone and we think about downsizing to a two bedroom ranch.

1. A foyer

This is first because it, I think more than any other item on this list, immediately eliminates so many houses. And I mean a real foyer, not the 4x6 entry in our current house and in pretty much every other split level. I also can't stand walking directly into a living room. It's just so abrupt. Also, living in the midwest, it's nice to have a little bit of a space where the cold or hot air from outside can stay and dissipate a bit instead of being dumped directly into our living space. That said, I do go back and forth on this one. Not enough to where I think I might seriously consider a house that goes right into a 12x12 living room, but maybe a living room that runs the length of the house could work. I also waver because I know, intellectually, that it's not ideal to pay for space that will be empty most of the time. It's higher taxes and higher utilities. Emotionally I don't find that argument very convincing, but that doesn't stop me from looking longingly at houses that would work if they just had a foyer.

2. Four bedrooms

This is probably tied with number three for the next item that knocks so many houses out of the running. Three bedrooms are probably the most common, with two bedrooms next, then four, then one, then five and up. This is based on my unofficial observation of the listings, so take it for what it's worth. Anyway, I plan to try and get around this by looking for a three-plus--basically, a house that has three bedrooms and a den or something. I'd love to have four true bedrooms (closets!), but I feel like if I held out for a four bedroom with all the other things on this list I'd be waiting a while. Our current bedroom is in the semi-finished part of the basement and that's taught me that I really don't want to do that again, so that's pretty much my only requirement for the fourth bedroom space right now: not in an unfinished basement.

3. Hobby rooms for me and B

B and I both have hobbies that take up a lot of space, therefore we both want rooms to house all our hobby-related crap. In B's case, that could be a formal dining room, since he does have a lot of D&D crap but they're mostly miniatures, so he only really needs a space with a table once or twice a month. He has a hideous table right now, but we'd like to get him a custom table at some point in the future so that whatever room he has doesn't look so bad. Alternatively, he could use space in the basement, which is probably where I'll be relegated. I could also use the formal dining room as a sewing room, but I'd rather not. We'd also like to have space for a toy room, but if my space is big enough it can just be put in there. If not, maybe some awesome storage in the living room (which will be bigger than our current living room because 12x12 is not big enough, especially when there's only really three walls).

4. A large yard

This is almost directly at odds with number seven (an older house with character), at least where I live. I assume that a lot of the older houses here were originally on larger plots of land, which were sold off or seized via eminent domain or whatever, but seriously, it's like there was absolutely no consideration for leaving the lot at a livable, useful size. There are a lot of older houses on 3500 square foot lots, which is just about the absolute minimum lot size you can have and still put a house on it. In fact, if the house ever burned down, I'm not sure that we could even rebuild, because the lot has to be at least 40 feet wide for that. Many aren't. Our current lot is roughly 7500 square feet (.17 acres) and that's pretty much the minimum that I will accept in a new house. This isn't always foolproof, though, as this town has several hilly areas where the houses have half-acre plots with 80% of the space unusable because it's at a 35 degree angle.

5. A rural or at least quiet location

Ideally, I want a house in the country. I live in the midwest so this is like any space within five minutes of my current house. But there are two parts of town--coincidentally the two where the most available houses are--where the houses are so close together that you can practically reach out your window and touch your neighbor's house. I saw one listing where the houses were so close together that there was space for a paver path down the gap between them and that was it. I think you would have to turn sideways to use it. I can't stand that; just the thought makes me claustrophobic. To find a truly rural house, or a house in one of the rural subdivisions, will be a feat. Those houses were mostly built later on, and they're larger and more expensive. Every once in a while a foreclosure or an estate will come up in that area that we could afford at the top of our budget, but almost certainly not in the much lower price range that I want now. Also a lot of them are three bedroom split entries.

6. In our current school district but not our current neighborhood, or maybe in the city where B works

These two are kind of the exact opposite of each other, which is how I roll on a lot of things. Basically, for some reason our neighborhood was not built with a storm drain system. I don't know why, since it was built in the '60s and, I'm told, to be compliant with HUD guidelines so that soldiers from the nearby air base would be able to buy here. I don't know if there are HUD guidelines related to storm drains, but it seems like something they'd cover. But anyway, with the wet weather the past few summers, we almost can't go outside from about April to October without getting swarmed by mosquitoes. They don't bother B or the kids as much as they do me. I guess my blood is really tasty. We once got fleas (yay pets) and it was the same with them. B got no bites; I was covered as high as they could jump. Anyhoo, besides not having storm drains, at the end of our street there is a large depression that fills with water every time it rains and sits there until it evaporates. So it's a huge mosquito breeding ground one house down. We can keep them down a bit at our house by spraying, and taking out the dead juniper bushes in the front probably helped a lot (peonies, I love you, but you're next) but we can't take walks or have the windows on the car down or anything like that. This bothers me more than it bothers anyone else, because I do like to work in the yard and I can't. At all. For half the year.

Our current school district covers this subdivision, two trailer parks, and a lot of the more rural areas. The same rural areas I mentioned in number five, where we basically can't afford to live. Open enrollment is an option, but one I'd rather not take. If we do, we'd be looking at leaving Mr. Man in the current district and enrolling Yaya in whatever district we actually live in. That will probably be a huge pain, though--different days off, different start and stop times, etc etc. But if we open enroll either of them, then he doesn't qualify for transportation and I know from experience that picking him up every day will take a ton of gas, time, and mileage, and minimizing the use of all that was one reason we're considering moving in the first place. (Note: I'm not actually sure that open enrolling Mr. Man will negate his ability to qualify for transportation, since it says he needs transportation in his IEP, but I think logically we shouldn't count on it.)

As far as living in the other city, the main problem I have with that is that the houses that I like are all in the older part of the city. That's not a problem in and of itself, but it's the older part of the city that the city government has basically given up on. There's lots of crime, streets don't get plowed as well or at all, potholes don't get fixed, etc etc. As far as the crime, I generally believe that if you mind your own business you'll be safe from most violent crime, but these places have a lot of property crime, and I have a husband and children that are constantly leaving cars unlocked, doors open, bikes out of the garage, etc etc. I don't think it'll be a good fit for us. It is easier to find houses that fit most of my requirements over there, but they're either really far from B's job (so we might as well stay over here), they're split levels, or they're more than I want to spend.

7. An older house with character

This could be either an old old house--Victorian, Craftsman, what have you--or a midcentury house. Midcentury modest is all well and good, but I'd love a midcentury modern. There are a very few around--more in B's work city than here--and we can't afford most of them if they even come on the market. They're new enough that the original or second owners still live in them, and apparently most continue to do so until they die and the house is sold as an estate. So I'm not holding my breath for one of those to pop up.

8. Hasn't been remuddled, or at least not too badly

If you're unfamiliar with the term, remuddling is a combination of the words remodeling and muddling. It means when someone has remodeled a house with no consideration of its original character and style, and it can also refer to someone doing a bad job of that. It makes me want to cry when I see a house built in 1910 that has been stripped of all its original character. I expect the kitchens and bathrooms to be from any decade between the '60s and '90s (a '40s version is a welcome surprise even if it's not original), but when I see one that's had all the original trim, doors, and staircase taken out for some (presumably terrible) reason and replaced with 3" trim from Home Depot and slab doors, it just hurts my heart. I can work with kitchens and bathrooms, or even when one part of the house has had the trim replaced, but when it's the entire thing? I mean, it's doable, but it's overwhelming and it would be expensive, too. And yes, there is at least one house on the market here that has had this done.

9. No structural issues

This one is kind of self-explanatory: as B says, we already own a house with foundation issues; why would we buy another one? I say that if the price is right it wouldn't be unreasonable to spend $10k on helical plates or whatever. Although that is a slippery slope; we'd get an estimate before making an offer, of course, but I know not every structural issue is only going to cost $10k, and there's also the possibility that it could be worse than it looks. Siding a large-ish two story house might be closer to $15k, and there's one house on the market here with a collapsed basement wall that I am guessing will cost closer to $40k. It's been on the market for a while. (Of course, I'm fully aware that there will be a lot of people avoiding our house for this exact reason, but our neighborhood is supposedly pretty sought-after, the price will reflect the problem, and we do have an estimate available for people to see.)

10. Cheaper than our current house. This one is totally optional, of course, but the two big reasons I even started thinking about moving this year were: a, to move to the city where B works to shorten commute time, mileage, wear and tear, and possibly even to allow us to get down to one car; and b, to find a cheaper house. I think that we could find a house for about 25% less than we paid for this one if we were willing to deal with really ugly finishes, and I don't mind that at all. It kind of goes along with the no remuddling above: to me, there is no such thing as a move-in ready house. I will always want to paint, and I will probably always want to change flooring and light fixtures (unless they're original; they usually aren't). To me, almost all kitchens need to be gutted, as do almost all bathrooms. It's no difference to me if I'm tearing out new mosaic backsplash (can't stand the stuff) or if I'm tearing out 1980s tile with ducks in bonnets on it.

11. Not a split entry.

(All the split entries on Pinterest are nicer than my house, not surprisingly.) Split entries are super common around here, both in our city and in the city where B works. If we were OK with split entries we could go out and buy ten right now. (Well, we couldn't afford ten, but you know what I mean--there are a ton of them available.) I have grown to absolutely hate our split entry, to a degree that I can't quite explain. I shudder whenever I see real estate listing pictures of that railing wall overlooking the front door. It's just...ugh. I can't stand it. Do I still look at the listings, hoping that maybe this four bedroom split entry listed for $80,000 could be The One I Can Tolerate? Of course. But it never is. At that price I should just build a wall. A split level might be OK, to a certain extent, but most of the split levels that aren't split entries dump you right into a tiny living room, so that brings us back to number one on the list.

Other things that are so rare that I don't even bother including them, just count them as bonuses when they come up: fully fenced with a 6' privacy fence (for our dog who climbs fences; she has a trolley tie out but this would be nice), south-facing windows (light is a must but south-facing is optional), an awesome midcentury time capsule house or a Victorian time capsule or a Craftsman time capsule or...basically any time capsule house (defined by me as a house with original or very old finishes in good shape that I actually want to keep), play structure already in the yard, two full bathrooms (it's easier to redo a shower or tub when you have another shower or tub to use), and a screened porch (I grew up with one and have always wanted one).

If there's anyone still reading, let me ask you a question: having a list like that, that you know is going to be difficult to fulfill, would you sell your house before you had a house to buy so that it would be easier to buy your "dream house," should it ever appear on the market? This is what B wants to do. I'm leery. For reasons I can't go into here, if we sell this house we cannot save the money we make from it, we'd have to use it to pay bills or whatever. So how would we even be able to buy when the time came with no down payment? The down payment money we get from selling this place won't be much, but it'll be something more than zero. We would be living with my mom in the meantime. She has a big house, but there's already three people living there and I think another family of five would be pushing it. Big time. I think we'd be better off fixing the foundation and trying again another year, although I'd hate it. What would you do?

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