Tag Archives: house hunting

House Hunting Update, part 1

13 Jun

IMG_7586

*Edit — This post was originally written on April 16th, 2016, but I couldn’t publish it until now for fear of jinxing it. But now that the home is ours I wanted to share a recap of our house hunting fun.

living room_1
Guys. I think this is the one!!! I say that with a heaping dose of sarcasm and hopeful humor because we have had the most heart-wrenching home search you can imagine. The past two months have been the most challenging of my entire life, probably because it was largely ME doing the majority of our house hunting. While caring for our daughter. And working nearly full-time.

I wouldn’t have made it here if it weren’t for my mom’s help on both the child care and real estate fronts. THANK YOU, mom! This life-changing dream of ours to own our own home couldn’t have happened without your support and guidance.

bedroom 1So how did this happen? We’d had an offer accepted on a cute home in another town in early February. After what happened with the awful home inspection on the Stoughton house back in the fall of 2014—house #1—we decided to keep things much quieter this time around and not announce that we’d “bought” anything until the paperwork was official.

The location of house #2 was in a great part of another town and the potential for the 0.5+ acre yard had me drooling with garden ideas, but the place needed a complete cosmetic overhaul since it was absolutely covered floor to ceiling in wood paneling. We weren’t excited about the house really, more the idea of finally owning anything just so we could be done with house hunting. The price was right, it seemed like it had been well-maintained, and it was local to family for easy help with childcare.

Since we’ve found “the one,” my mom has repeatedly commented about a really sad moment after she saw me after our offer on that house (#2) was accepted. I think I’d asked her, Are you supposed to feel excited about buying a house? Because we weren’t really. We were just beaten down and tired of looking.

How sad, right?  Then we had the home inspection and everything came to a crushing halt. Termites. Structural issues. Cracked waste pipe. Plumbing issues. It was an absolute disaster. We almost walked away during the inspection it was so bad. Afterwards, we put together a list negotiables,  consulted some specialists like pest inspection agencies and three different structural engineers, then circled back to negotiate.

That’s when things got a little weird. We started to hear from the listing agents (there were two we worked with, which was strange) that there was fighting among the siblings in the trust and there was threatened legal action. I guess someone wasn’t happy the trustee had accepted out slightly low offer? So long story short, we thought we were in the middle of post-inspection negotiation when really, we were just spinning our wheels trying to make something work when we’re pretty sure, these sellers had NO intention of helping that happen.

Up until last week in fact, I was still holding out hope that whatever was going on would fall through and they’d come back to us, accept out reduced offer, and we’d get the damn place and we’d be able to continue as planned with the late March closing. But thankfully, I’d continued to house hunt on my own and saw house #3 come up in Norwood for under $400K and the rest, well… couldn’t have worked out better.

I should back up and say that house hunting probably wouldn’t have been such a headache for us if we’d had an agent. And that’s not to say we didn’t — my mom provided daily guidance and I couldn’t have done this without her incredible wealth of real estate knowledge.

We didn’t feel like we could work with an agent without knowing the town we wanted to be in, and that was something we just weren’t sure about since we wanted to keep the variable we were most tied to — cost — in our favor as much as possible. We’d even talked about leaving Massachusetts in the hope of finding a little more bang for our buck somewhere else, assuming our jobs could be worked out. So we were house hunting all over the state — looking in Dedham, Walpole, Medfield, Plympton, Halifax, Kingston, Duxbury, Norwell. All over.

Our new town wasn’t even on the list after a while because we’d found we were basically priced out of the town ages ago, kind of how we’ve been priced out of Watertown. (Side note: I WISH we could buy something where we live now. I’m seeing SO many single families get “flipped” into two families/condos and selling for $500-600K+. If I could swing financing a second mortgage, I’d snap up one of these flips in a heartbeat to keep as an income property. After almost 7 years in the area, I know what a steal it is to live so close to the amenities of Boston, while enjoying the proximity to the gorgeous towns we are bordered by: Newton, Belmont, and Cambridge — basically three of my favorite towns in Massachusetts. Even Brookline is accessible to Watertown! But, that’s a post for another time.)

kitchen_3Which brings us to now. We BOUGHT A HOUSE! It had only been on the market two or three days when the open house happened, so I ran down to see it last Sunday despite being the sickest I think I’ve ever been in my entire life. Imagine a combination of the worst allergies/sinus issues paired with whooping cough.  I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. To add to the fun, Brian was away on a work trip.

Still, I dragged myself out and the moment I walked in the door, I just knew. The hardwoods. The fireplace. The six-over-six windows. The LIGHT. It had all the charm I’d been hoping for but not yet found in ANY house we’d looked at. As I stood in the yard, I nearly burst into tears. It was perfectly flat, fenced all the way around and had the established trees I’d been longing for. It was the perfect blank canvas for all the gardening ideas I’ve been collecting over the years. Then I went to the basement and that’s when my heart started to race. It’s begging to be be finished. I’ve NEVER seen such high ceilings in a basement! And immaculate. And as a total bonus, there is an unfinished space on the second floor for whatever the heck we want down the road, with space above that for a pull-down attic. The house is very modestly-sized in terms of actual currently-available living space, but as far as the potential for refinishing down the line, it’s deceptive how much potential is packed into such an unassuming little cape.

The open house was absolutely packed with young couples, older couples, and even one young guy clearly looking for a “flip” property. I watched as one agent excitedly brought his young clients all over the home, pointing out where he’d bump out the kitchen and how they could add dormers on the second floor to bring in more light, similar to how the neighbors had renovated across the street. I was silently screaming, “Noooo, shhhh!!!” in my head at him and hoping no one else there would have that same vision for how to eeek out a little more potential out of this charming little house. I chatted with the listing agent to get a feel for what he was expecting and wasn’t surprised when he shared that he expected at least four offers that day.

In situations like this, there are a few ways to position yourself as a buyer. First, you can go in with the listing agent. We did this with our first home offer, on the house in Stoughton. You can lose your shirt if you don’t know what you’re doing, but after three offers on three different homes, and my mom’s guidance after years and years in real estate, I felt pretty confident with this approach. But ordinarily, I’d 100% have preferred to be working with our own buyer’s agent.

The advantage to placing your offer via the listing agent is that he or she has more of an incentive to push your offer through since it means he won’t have to share his commission with another agent.

Also, offer over asking. Based on my monitoring of the market over the last year, I had a really good sense of what costs what and where and what was selling. Leading up to finding this house, I’d found probably 4 or 5 homes I really liked that had gone under agreement within 2 or three days on the market. So it’s clearly a seller’s market right now and, as my mom had advised, you have to move FAST when you see something you like. So I didn’t mess around. As soon as I saw this house come on the market, I jumped. I knew that similar homes in this neighborhood were selling for $400K so I had a pretty good idea that it was slightly underpriced so it would sell quickly, so I knew to offer closer to what it was worth instead of trying to sneak away with a deal. Considering there were SEVEN offers on the house by noon on Tuesday, I’m happy I chose this strategy because we managed to stay in the running for a second round of bidding.

Finally, write a really good letter. Selling a home can be an emotional thing. Not always, but often, it is. I grew up in Norwood, so I know that the atmosphere of the town is very family-oriented. You don’t just leave Norwood. Especially if you live in the very desirable high school-area of town. So I had a feeling that a letter from a young family that spoke to what a charming house it the town I grew up in, near the high school I went to would help our offer stand out from the rest. And we got the house, so I think it’s safe to say — it worked! You have to be sincere though.

Anyways, that’s the story of how we finally bought our house. It feels totally different from the other two, but I think that’s probably because at this point, we’re old pros at this making-an-offer thing. I have our mortgage broker and favorite home inspector on speed dial at this point and know to ask about the systems of the house before anything else. This house has a brand new roof with a 30-year warranty! How amazing is that?! Considering the doozies we’d nearly purchased, it’s like night and day with this one so fingers crossed that the home inspection goes smoothly and we continue on to the purchase and sale.

We are SO EXCITED. Lucky number 3!

 

Adventures in House Hunting

7 Nov

IMG_1179

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.

IMG_1122
IMG_1118

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.

Our First Home Inspection Re-Cap

3 Nov

home inspection tips

We had our first-ever home inspection on Friday. Considering it was on Halloween, the inspection was appropriately scary. I spent the weekend pouring over it (and stewing), researching, and talking to electricians and other specialists for more information and quotes. We are incredibly disappointed and so upset we may have to walk away if we can’t negotiate further. The four biggest red flags: water drainage, roof, heat, and plumbing were all noted as issues warranting further inspection by specialists. We anticipated needing to make improvements to a home of this age, but the inspection report was a bit of a sucker punch to the gut. The most upsetting though, was how misled we were by the listing description.

I accompanied our inspector outside for the roof inspection and he said he had never seen a “new” roof with an issue like what he saw: 80% of the nails were poking up through the roof. And the “newer heating” as it was described in the listing is as old as I am! A meticulously well-maintained furnace could maaaaybe eek by to last 30 years, but the average lifespan is 15 years, with 20 years as a best-case-scenario. Clearly, these deficiencies weren’t reflected in the list price and because there was no seller disclosure, we wasted over $500 on a home inspection to have these things revealed to us. Now I know why there is a pellet stove in the finished basement.

I feel so frustrated and upset and exhausted. Negotiating this deal without the help of a true “buyer’s agent” has been extremely difficult. We’ve been so fortunate to have my mom’s expert guidance behind the scenes (doing the legwork of an agent) without any benefit of commission. (Thanks Mom!) But a silver lining is that this experience has been a crash course in real estate and home ownership. I know SO MUCH more about home repair, cost of systems and maintenance, how to prepare for an inspection and how to access future properties than I did going into this. I’m also really proud of how Brian I have approached home ownership. We’re being realistic about our wishes and goals and taking this incredibly huge investment very seriously. We’ve been so on-the-same-page about everything, from placing the offer(s) to what additional testing we wanted to add to our home-inspection (radon and mold). It’s just really reassuring when you’re in the middle of a total mess to feel so certain of the partner holding your hand.

Actually, this morning as I lay in bed angsting over the house again, eyes still shut, I felt for Brian’s hand under the covers. As we held hands, I felt him turn on his pillow to smile at me. It was sweet — and reassuring. Despite what happens with this place, we have each other and whatever will be will be. I know we’ll end up where we are meant to. But in the meantime, all this has made me even more anxious to get my real estate license. So that will be something I’m going to more seriously work toward in the next few months.