Adventures in Home Buying: Here Is the House That We Own

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We’d spent months traipsing through strangers’ houses. We’d navigated enough of East Falls to count off the cozy street names by memory (some day, someone will explain to me how a true Fallser is meant to pronounce “Vaux”). In aggregate we’d probably spent entire days with our mortgage advisor. But even with a settlement date in sight — even after the appraisal was worked out — it hardly felt real.

Our closing was scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m. The night before — mindful of having only two weeks between settlement and move to do things like clean, paint and furniture shop — we found ourselves at a suburban Home Depot, standing in front of a wall of interior paint samples. In a sea of technicolor options, we were united on French Silver and Caribe. Still, as the sales associate was having the colors mixed and we were choosing paint rollers, it did not feel real.

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Adventures in Home Buying: The Agony

Photo of the Falls Bridge via  Fourth Floor  at Flickr.

Photo of the Falls Bridge via Fourth Floor at Flickr.

I was refreshing and reloading my Gmail with each new wave of anxiety. I had not regarded my inbox with this much agitation since I was single. Of course the appraisal we had been waiting on appeared around 4 p.m. on a Friday. That’s when all good news arrives, right?

The figure came in $7,000 less than the sales price we had agreed on weeks ago. You could be forgiven for assuming this might be good news to us as buyers. The onus, after all, is on the sellers when the appraised value is less than the sales price. Since the banks won’t approve a mortgage for more than the value of the home, the sellers are left to reconsider. But what usually happens is the difference is somehow split between seller and buyer – usually at the cost of the seller’s assist. We were already putting as much cash as we possibly could into closing, so for us, another round of fractious negotiations didn’t hold much promise. Read more »

Adventures in Home Buying: The Appraisal Waiting Game

emailAs I have alluded, we are squarely in the middle of the hurry-up-and-wait phase of home buying. Back in the salad days of February, I foolishly believed that the toughest part was behind us. That was before I was reminded that our mortgage involves an appraisal. Which we are currently on pins and needles awaiting.

For those of you not in the know, should the appraisal come in under what we and the sellers have agreed to pay for the home, renegotiations begin. So I’m a little stressed. Some people do productive things like clean or bake or read when they’re stressed. I tend to turn things over in my head until they are rubbed smooth and I am a ball of nerves. Also, I make lists.

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Adventures in Home Buying: The Gender Stereotype Edition

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Image courtesy  ellesmerefnc via Flickr.

Looking back, it is actually hilarious that we thought simply identifying the best house in our price range would be the most difficult part of the home-buying process. After we got through that, we were certain that the real hardest part would be going through the negotiation phase. Poor, sad fools, Shannon and C. of October 2013 to March 2014.

Obviously, the absolutely worst part is the inspections and the appraisal, which we’re in the midst of now and which I’ll come back to if I can bear it. But allow me now to digress to one of the other worst parts of buying a house: gender stereotyping.

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Adventures in Home Buying: The Big Reveal

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So yes, as it turns out, we were going to make our decision about buying a house based on 10 minutes talking to a stranger. Considering how much we loved House 1, we just couldn’t wrap our heads around making an offer on House 2, which we also liked but had a potential downside we weren’t sure we’d ever escape.

We decided on House 1 and simultaneously vowed not to look back. We were choosing our choice! It was hard to tell what excited me more: imagining my sudden culinary genius in a dreamboat kitchen or simply not having to look at any more houses. The truth was, it didn’t matter. We traded ambiguity for calm certitude and I slept through the night for the first time in almost a week.

Making the offer and negotiating was another matter. Read more »

Adventures in Homebuying: Down to the Wire

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The very night I stood on the regional rail platform at Temple and found out we’d lost the house on which we intended to make an offer, we were actually scheduled to see another one directly across the street. In fact, we’d scheduled the showing just to be sure we weren’t missing anything else in the neighborhood before buying.

That night we tore through the house in a semi-blur. The bamboo floors seemed nice. The exposed brick was fine. In the 7 p.m. darkness, the backyard seemed good enough. We were morose. We were running late after ogling another house around the corner and could see the owners outside waiting in their car. We mostly wanted to go home and sulk. And eat dinner.

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Adventures in Home Buying: The Poetry Edition

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We had seen three houses that left us cold on a marathon Sunday in January. We had also seen one that we loved and another that piqued our interest but was at the high end of our budget.

Much in the same way that the people we fall in love with rarely meet all of our initial “requirements” (says the lady who married a Red Sox fan), the home my husband and I fell in love with lacked a few of the details we originally thought were non-negotiable. The front door was practically on the street, which meant our dreamed-of front porch was out of the question. The upstairs was carpeted and instead of brick or stone, the home was finished in stucco. But we loved it because in toto, it made us happy and we felt at home. There were French doors leading to a lovely dining room and the kitchen was a wide, modern oasis compared with the tiny galley we have now. Plus, the listing price was a steal.

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Adventures in Home Buying: the (Somewhat) Bad and the (Sort of) Ugly

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Letting go was never a skill I acquired. I tend to imagine projects from planning stages through completion and if the results don’t align perfectly, I’ve been known to stew. When social plans give way to alternatives I can’t help but look back on our original itinerary with regret. I keep a mental list of mortal enemies that dates back to the fourth grade. If we’re being honest, I keep a mental list of my friends’ enemies going back nearly as far. There is no letting go lightly for me.

So comparing expectations with reality during the house-hunting process has been something of a vexation. I pore over listing photos online, examining quarter round and looking for traces of popcorn ceilings. By the time we decide it’s time to see a property in person, we have a modest expectation that we will not come upon, say, second-story flooring that appears to be made entirely of plywood. But listings and their photos can be deceiving. We’ve learned the hard way that a “finished basement” may not necessarily include ceilings and that sometimes you have to get really, really close to a wall to notice that what looks like painted drywall is actually painted-over wallpaper. Read more »

Adventures in Home Buying: ISO Laughter and Joy

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This is what it will be like when Shannon finds the right house.

Right now the sea of not-quite-rights and smidge-too-expensives is wide and deep for us in East Falls. I keep waiting for a rush of certainty but the properties we’ve been touring all seem to have some Goldilocks-style defect. One has a living room that is too small for our couch. Another is lovely and huge but the flooring throughout will need to be completely redone and the window frames outside are missing. One we thought was just right but it’s under agreement.

And so we’ve started discussing some of the other houses we’ve visited and liked – but not loved. Or not loved for the list price. It makes for good dinner fodder but not great decision-making. Last night we found the eureka moment we’re after … in a commercial mid-Olympic slopestyle competition. Now at least I have a goal. This is how I’d like to feel when we walk into our next home tour:

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Adventures in Home Buying: The Not Quite Rights

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It took us a few weeks to get over losing the storybook-like house on West Penn Street. Once we did, we behaved like anyone on the rebound: we scheduled five home tours one afternoon at other properties in East Falls in the hopes that sheer quantity would erase our memory.

It cannot be overstated how much we learned between our first open house and our most recent private tour. Open houses used to take us about 30 minutes. We would open cabinets and run the water and spend lots of time talking about flooring and layout. Touring with our realtor Jack felt like research. We spent a half hour in the basement alone, meticulously inspecting pipes and joists. Had the original cast iron been replaced by PVC? Was there evidence of leakage? We stood out front in the polar vortex for another 20 minutes discussing window framing and the pros and cons of stucco. We felt like experts even while we admitted that an eventual professional inspection would probably leave us feeling bewildered.

We had been amassing a list of properties we were interested in touring, a few of which we had seen casually at open houses. One of the first properties we toured that Sunday was a home that held a lot of appeal on our first visit. By the time we left, I was glumly agreeing that it was probably not right for us.

 

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