Adventures in House Hunting

7 Nov

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What a week! It started dramatically on Monday night when my mom sent me the listing for an absolutely stunning 4-bedroom colonial, WITH a small income property, on an ACRE of land! How was this place still available?! (I should have known that if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.) It was priced at $329K but had been sitting on the market for a year, so I sent an email to the agent quickly. The NEXT morning I got a call that the price was being reduced $30K! I quickly scrambled to get out the door to do a walk-through.

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The house was absolutely beautiful. Hardwood floors, grand entrance and staircase, good size master bedroom with TWO closets, enormous living room, updated kitchen and bathrooms, and a deck overlooking a largely wooded lot that could be gorgeous if we spent some time clearing it up. And the income property was adorable! As much as I was already envisioning the space as an office or guest suite, the idea of some rental income sounded too good to pass up.

It was an old house, built in the 1800s, but the electrical had been updated and the foundation was solid. It had the kind of cellar you’d take cover in during a horrible New England storm. It felt lock-tight as far as water was concerned too. Definitely better built than most of the homes we’ve looked at. It had a great feeling inside and tons of light.

The problem was that the moment I stepped outside, I had a bad feeling about the area. I just couldn’t explain it. Something just felt “off.” Not dangerous per se, but something made me uneasy. I did a few spins around the area with my mom before we discussed over bagels and (decaf) coffee. She agreed on the neighborhood and we chalked it up to a great deal, but not for Brian and I.

On my drive home I had a sudden change of heart. I thought about the priorities we’d discussed for our first home when we began our search this summer. Ideally, we’d like something move-in with two bedrooms and an office space. This home had ample entertaining space, an amazing deck and yard, and the kitchen was a little tight, but was updated and had a ton of cabinets. Not to mention how in love I was with the idea of finally having a mud room! (It’s the small things) So I quickly shared my feelings with Brian and coordinated for him to take a look that night. We were both excited and seriously considering putting in an offer.

One thing I’ve realized during our house hunt is just how dangerous making a hasty decision can be. I was aggressively pursued by the listing agent — what did your husband think? — do you want to talk to my mortgage broker? (We have our financing already) — let me send you the listing and comps. So pushy. And repeatedly telling me that the $30K price drop will generate interest ahead of an open house this weekend. So as a potential buyer, I’m starting to panic that I might lose the house to competition if I don’t get my offer in quick. It’s such a mind game.

Thankfully, my mom was a good agent when she used to sell real estate. And when I say good, I mean consciously. She priced houses right, did the leg work that an agent should to learn everything there is to know about a property and surrounding area, and disclosed major defects to potential buyers — none of which I have experienced in our house hunt. It’s absolutely appalling! I don’t think we’d ever have made it this far in our search without her guidance behind the scenes. I just wish she could actually be our agent.

Despite the pushiness, I forged ahead and requested recent sales price comps for the rest of the street. My concern was that we’d be buying far and away the nicest house on the block which isn’t always a great investment. Any substantial improvements we made could price the home out of the area making it difficult to re-coup out investment upon sale. You need to be careful of that because a home is only worth what the market will bear. That’s why it’s always a great idea to buy based on location. And to snap up land in great locations when you can. They aren’t making more land, you know?

The comps were EYE-OPENiNG. Home prices on the street were really great — high, even for the market. In 2009, in the recession, a 3-bedroom, 2 bath ranch commanded $300K! That’s pretty good. Then I saw that a “charity property” abutted the back yard of the house we were considering and it all came tumbling down in a millisecond.

The listing agent couldn’t tell me what that meant, just that she’d seen white vans passing to and from the house dropping kids off from a school. After some research, I learned that the property was was a group residence for angry, emotionally disturbed teens operated by a reform school in a nearby town, and had twice been visited by the police. At most, maybe 4 teens lived there with evening supervision, but the home was on an acre of land, so future expansion was possible.

Now I want to be very clear. I fully support low-income housing and rehabilitation programs and absolutely anything that helps kids.  But the uneasy feeling I had when I’d initially stepped out of the house made sense now. Two police visits could mean nothing. Or it could be significant. I couldn’t know with any certainty. It would be a risk just walking in my backyard. Sitting on my deck. Or being home alone with the baby.

I think this particular experience with this house just upsets me because it reminds me how little listing agents disclose to prospective buyers. On this property for example, when I asked about the age of the septic system, I was told that the town sewer tie-in was just up the street. OK. But that’s not what I asked. And when I asked about the age of ALL the systems in the home, I was told that all that would be taken care of by the home inspection. Huh?! An offer is contingent upon a satisfactory home inspection, but a home inspection can run the buyer $500. It’s absolutely absurd to expect a buyer to put an offer in without some idea of the appreciation of big-tickets items like a roof or a furnace. I think I’ve received only two listing sheets containing this information since starting to look at homes two years ago.

I feel like the home buying process should be much more transparent than it is, and it’s upsetting to know that buyers who don’t do due diligence looking into absolutely everything on their own, risk making this massive financial investment blindly. I’m realizing just how bad a lot of real estate agents are as well as how much I enjoy analyzing properties. As disappointing as it is to pass on a gorgeous home like this, I love that I figured out why it’s languishing on the market. It’s just another hint that I should get my real estate license.

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