I just love that six, eight weeks after we bought our house, the Fed lowered interest rates by half a percent…
As of Thursday afternoon, K and I are homeowners.
And it was surprisingly easy. We’d heard so many horror stories about people buying houses — troubles with financing, troubles with closing, troubles with the realtor, troubles with everything. We literally had no issues at all. We found the house, made an offer, waited for the counter offer, accepted the counter offer, set a date for closing, then closed the house.
I suppose it helped that the owner now lives in Nashville and was simply interested in getting rid of the house and not terribly worried about how much money he was making. He was just losing money, I guess, paying double mortgages.
So now we’re slowly moving in, and the real work begins.
Over the weekend, we made a survey of the property we’re in the process of buying.
And of course, I made a video.
is a very, very fine house, though without the two cats in the yard…
Perhaps it’s a bit premature, for we haven’t closed yet, but people have asked about what “our house” (though, again, it’s still technically still not ours) looks like…
From the street, it looks a little like a mini-Brady Bunch house. But that’s only an illusion, for this is a coveted “tri-level” home, whereas the Brady’s house was conceptually a bit more confusing…
The back of the house includes a fairly spiffy bi-level deck. There are doors to the deck from both the dining room and master bedroom, making the Friday night cigar tradition a little more convenient.
The back also also includes a fairly un-spiffy outdoor parrot cage (?!?) that will quickly be converted into something. Ideas? Nah, I didn’t think so. It will be one of the first improvements completed on the house…
Yesterday, we spent the day surveying. We learned a few things.
First, it’s hot in Greenville.
Second, the rear property stakes are all but impossible to find. One is at a fence, making a metal detector fairly useless. The other is God-knows-where in the back left corner. Half an hour with a metal detector only turned up the metal eyelets of my boots…
Third, doing surveying with an inexperienced “surveyor” (i.e., me) makes the process a fair bit more labor- and time-intensive.
Fourth, it’s really incredibly hot in Greenville.
And the final thing we learned: working on your own (though, technically, not really) home makes otherwise-unpleasant tasks almost enjoyable.
Now that we have a house under contract, K has joyfully jumped into the wide world of paints. We have swatches and brochures and booklets lying all over the place.
Since I’m colorblind, I can’t really offer that much constructive input. After all, I did once buy a dark blue fleece jacket that turned out to be mockingly purple. And I did think for years that my friends’ parents had a gray car, only to learn, after I’d confused everyone by suggesting we take said gray car, that they didn’t own a gray car — it was light green.
Still, I’m glad someone in the family is interested in it.
Even L was taking part in the discussion.
Last week, we decided to make an offer on a house. We’d seen it three times. The first time, we were idiots — we judged from the easily fixable stuff and ignored the rest.
The kitchen, as it presently exists, is awful. Counter tops made from bathroom tile?! No thank you. The cabinets are old, and the walls are covered, it appears, with the original material from 1968. Dated and worn, in other words. It made such a little impression on us that I didn’t even post a picture of it.
Later, we reconsidered, but it had disappeared from the real estate web site. Then it reappeared, and while the kitchen was just as horrifying the second time, the rest of the house had a certain charm that we liked. More importantly — rather, most importantly — the foundation is solid and sound, and it has so much potential.
So we went back a third time, and decided to make an offer.
And that’s when the adventure started, because it turned out that there was already an offer on the house. “But they haven’t secured financing yet,” our real estate agent told us. We, on the other hand, had had the foresight to get pre-approved before we even began looking. So after a day of faxing, emailing, calling, signing, and FedEx-ing, we swooped in and scooped it up.
Which is to say, we are now on the receiving end of a house that is under contract.
I’ve been thinking about what the ultimate real estate agent might look like — what might (Picking a gender and going with it) she do, especially for out-of-town buyers?
One of the most helpful things would be to have an agent who also knows the ins and outs of inspections. She would go to the homes you’ve expressed interest in (from clicking through hundreds of online listings) and check a few things.
- foundation (Any cracks or other indications of problems, potential or actual?)
- windows (Are they double-pane?)
- door frames (Are they level and straight? Can you close all the doors with ease?)
- roof (Can it last a few years without significant work?)
- individual requirements (For us, that would be distance to neighbors, significant distance from major thoroughfares, not a corner lot, etc.)
Bear in mind that I’m not complaining about our agent. She’s fine, and works very hard for us. So far we’ve had no issues — hopefully that will remain the case.
This dream agent would look at these homes beforehand and note any potential issues, then get back to you: “Cross this one off your list because it has basement issues. And that one has issues with xyz.”
This will never happen, though. Agents make money only if a house sales. While many might genuinely want buyers to be happy, they don’t make money making buyers happy — they make money turning potential buyers into actual buyers.
Dated bathrooms, horrid floor coverings, awful counter tops — these issues are non-issues. You can easily and relatively inexpensively change them.
You cannot change:
- Distance to neighbors;
- Foundations that clearly will be causing major problems within five years;
- Flood plain status;
- Distance from busy streets;
- Airport holding patterns;
- Neighbors’ constantly barking dogs; or
- Exteriors covered with siding, which provide no structural reinforcement whatsoever.
These are the things you look at in a house.
Who cares what’s on the floors? Carpet can be changed to hardwood.Who cares what the bathrooms look like? Tiles from the 70′s can be replaced. Who cares whether the kitchen counter top looks more like a shower wall than a food preparation surface? It can be renovated.
We’ve come to realize — and thankfully, rather quickly — that we need to look first for problems, primarily with the basement and with privacy. It doesn’t even make any sense to go through a house if there are signs that the foundation is weak or if the neighbors are too close.
It’s better to take a pessimistic view of houses, because the pessimism will undoubtedly be tempered by the general optimism of looking for a house, and you’ll end up with realistic expectations.
Doing so would have immediately knocked our “prime candidate” out of contention, and left our second brick preference out of any further consideration.
One sure sign that it’s not a house we want: a recently-deceased welcoming committee on the kitchen floor.
Another sign: cobwebs on the front door knob. If someone else doesn’t want to see it, we probably don’t want to see it either.
Still, Friday afternoon/evening we added two more to our “let’s think about it” list.
A brick ranch (we seem to hit those almost exclusively), the first home we really liked had a few advantages:
- Nice kitchen (though pictures don’t do it justice)
- Big dining room
- Screened porch connected to an open deck
- Fairly decent lot
The big problem with candidate two: siding. We want brick. The more we think about it, the higher it moves on our criteria list.
Top left: Good parking
Top right: Skylight, openness, arch
Left: Spacious kitchen
Candidate Two also had a wonderful little nook that could serve as a computer area, and it had a spacious, semi-wooded backyard with a lot of potential.
The prime candidate is still the one with a wonderful backyard and a full basement. Indeed, it’s the lack of basement in the above two houses that really make them less than perfect candidates. A basement means one thing: storage. An unfinished (or partially unfinished) basement also provides the opportunity for weekend projects that will, if properly done, increase the overall value of the home.
Today, we’re going back to all three, though, to make some sense of them — which could be a euphemism for making an offer…
Our realtor told us at the outset that she didn’t want us expecting to find the home of our dreams this first time out. Rather, she said that we need to be looking at the areas and determine which area of town we’d rather live in. Many people buy houses they love without checking out the area, and then they find that the services they want and need aren’t available or aren’t nearby. So they wind up with a house they love in an area they hate. The first step, then, is not to find a house, but to find an area.
Yesterday, we found the area.
And we thought we’d found a house. But it’s amazing what a night’s rest will do for your perception of a house.
In a historic district, walking distance from two parks (!!!), Contestant Two had a lot going for it from the beginning. It was was a fairly attractive house, with plantation shutters and picket fence in the front.
The interior was pleasant enough, with a somewhat odd upstairs bedroom — the chimney goes through the middle of the room, dividing it almost in two. Pleasant enough, though requiring some work. “I love it,” K said. “It’s okay,” I thought. Until we went into the “basement.”
And then the back of the house: siding clearly put on by a less-than-professional. It’s fairly clear that there’s water running off the roof and into that siding. Which means one thing: water damage. No — it means two things: water damage and mold.
The final negative factor: it was literally covered with trees. Not good for a roof; not good for affordable insurance. At that point, it was decided. Add to it all the age and the possible problems with wiring and plumbing, and, despite the good location, the final verdict was a definitive “no.”
We left the city-proper and went to Maldin.
First impression — standard brick ranch. The house looked good, but nothing spectacular. And then we saw the backyard: huge, wooded, landscaped — in a word, amazing. A couple of kitschy “water falls,” but nothing that couldn’t be removed.
Once we walked in, I thought, “Okay — this is a house worth spending some time in, checking out, really looking it over.”
Downstairs, a real basement — no quotation marks required. Half of it was finished as a family room. The other half: man cave. Clean, cool cinder-block with a new furnace — everything screams, “Workshop!”
The price is great; the location is perfect; the home is an amazing first-home. And, after the first two disasters, I think, “Hey, there is good stuff in our price range!”
Contestants Four through Seven
Contestant Four: lots of potential (with an amazingly large backyard, too), but requiring a lot of work. Porcelain tiles as a kitchen counter-top treatment just makes you feel like you’re cooking in a bus station bathroom.
Contestant Five: with roads on three of the four sides of the lot, it was a definite “no” before we even got inside.
Contestant Six: no! No! A thousand times no! The Portokalos-style fireplace just was so hideous that I ran screaming from the house.
Contestant Seven: What a kitchen! What an interior! What train tracks five-hundred feet away! What a flood plain! What a disappointment! (View larger picture)
Then we stepped inside, where it became obvious that this was a case of “Flip this House.” However, as my father said, it was more like “Flop this House.”
At first, everything seems decent. New appliances; new tile floor — which goes all the way from the kitchen, though the dining/living area, down the hall.
And then a close look at the kitchen counter revealed a few things:
- The house-flipper had never done any work like this before.
- The flipper had never even practiced before doing it for real.
- The flipper thought all who looked at the house would be legally blind and not wearing their glasses.
Words do not do it justice, so I present “Counter-Top Edge”
Add to it the fact that the hardwood floor in the living room was finished in the ever-popular Spill-and-Smear style, we decided to give it a pass.
First house hunt behind us, we learned a lot about what we really want and what’s optional.
We’re about to begin the process of looking for a home in Greenville. When we did it in Asheville about a year and a half ago, we were heading out with entirely different thoughts. We knew that the prices were completely disproportional to our income (particularly since I was working as a teacher’s aid in an EC classroom), and we were just hoping to find something in our price range.
In said price range, we found
- a place with major cracks in two of the four foundational walls, allowing a whole corner of the house gradually to sink into the earth (Price to fix: too much to contemplate);
- a place that was in such bad condition that it honestly had no lock on the front door;
- lots of condos, with association fees upwards of $100;
- some pre-fab homes;
- a few double-wide trailers (which we didn’t even bother looking at); and,
- assorted cottages slightly smaller than our apartment.
When we began looking at real estate in the Greenville area in the same price range, we were shocked — and that’s one of the reasons we decided to move there. You can still get a house for well under $200k there! In fact, there are two-bedrooms listed for under $100k!
That’s like driving by a service station and seeing the price of gas at $1.89. (Which in the south does happen — it just means the station closed several years ago and was simply abandoned.)
We’ve sat down and made a list of wants and needs.
- Price: [redacted -- same as in Asheville]
- Location: east side of town, but more importantly, in a location where houses sell fairly easily
- Minimum ft2 1,300; ideal, 1,500-1,700
- Big kitchen, open to living area (not cut off from where the action is when entertaining)
- Minimum 2 bedrooms (if 2 bedrooms, must be partly finished basement; otherwise, 3 bedrooms)
- One and a half bath
- Not on a busy street
- Not in a new house crowded into a new development with no trees
- Minimum 0.3 acres
- Close to a park
- Garage and basement
- Trees in the yard
Would be nice…
- Hardwood floors
- Front porch
The most pleasant thought in all of it — that L will have a backyard to play in.
So tomorrow we begin our hunt. It’s kind of exciting, looking for a house with the intention of buying, as opposed to looking at houses with the hope of finding something affordable that’s not a complete dump…
Kinga and I are looking to buy a house — sort of. Kinga and I begun something we expected to start only after a year and a half in the States: we’re looking for a house. Our thinking was based on our likelihood of getting a loan, our lack of any kind of down payment, and initially, our lack of a job or any sense of security. But we’ve been pre-approved at a couple of different places; we have decent jobs, with the promise of it only getting better; and we’re sick and tired of paying several hundred dollars a month for nothing.
Granted, the rent is shockingly low compared to what I was paying in Boston. In 1999, I was paying $850 for a one bedroom with barely enough room to turn around in. That place is certainly over a grand a month now. We don’t even pay seven hundred for a two bedroom place. In the summer, when we were looking at the place, I laughed when told that the apartment is spacious but the rent “is a little high.”
Two decades ago, million-dollar homes were a rarity in these hills but not anymore. In 2002, Buncombe County had 38 homes with an assessed tax value of $1 million or more. In this year’s revaluation, the number will jump to 484. […]
“It’s just boomed,” Roberts said. “What we’ve noticed is there’s a lot of new construction of those type of homes, with those type of high-end materials: slate roofs, unique woods, specialty tile. The other side of that is that people will take some of the older homes and greatly remodel the entire home or add a whole new wing, and that pushes it over $1 million.”
The luxury housing boom is not news to Ron Olin and his wife, who moved here 12 years ago from Texas. According to the new revaluations, the Olins own the highest-assessed home in Buncombe County, a new, 15,449-square-foot French chateau style house in Biltmore Forest valued at just over $6 million.
Olin, a money manager who loves the Asheville area for its scenic beauty, climate and amenities, has no problem paying his fair share of property taxes to support local government. But one point sticks in his craw.
“Once we’re in the house, maybe it’s worth that much, but we haven’t even moved in yet,” Olin said. “They did an interim assessment in 2005, and we know they raised it a lot.”
The assessed value last year was about $4.6 million, but as the home nears completion it becomes more valuable. With amenities including an indoor swimming pool, an elevator, a hot tub, sauna and seven fireplaces, the price tag keeps rising. (Citizen-Times)
It’s because of people like the Olins that this area is soon going to become so expensive that no one can afford to live here unless they’ve got a six-figure income. Maybe not that bad, but it is fairly ridiculous.
Interest rates are yet another thorn in our side. We think enviously of those who bought homes a couple of years ago when the interest rate was not bearing down on seven percent. My brother-in-law took his home loan in Swiss francs, and pays some ridiculously low percentage — under four, I think. At today’s rate of 6.38%, a loan of $130,000 would generate monthly payments of $808.06. At 4.00%, it would be $620.65, with about 40% of that going to the principal.
And so instead of looking at actual single-family homes, we considered a townhouse or condo. What do you actually own in that? If it’s a townhouse, you might own the land directly under your portion of the building, but nothing else. With condos, you jointly own the land, along with everyone else in the same building. At least it was something like that. I can’t quite recall how our realtor explained it. I’m not really interested in the land, I guess, so I didn’t pay much attention. In the end, we decided that all we’d be doing is changing landlords. And so we’re looking for a moderate “fixer-upper.”
One thing we’ve learned quickly is the sometimes-tragic effect of neighbors on property value. We found a very warm, two-bedroom place with hardwood floors and a nice floor plan that was completely ruined by the neighbor’s lack of any sense of responsibility for the appearance of his house. The yard filled with junk; Christmas lights still hanging; a balding lawn — it was awful.
We went to the south of the city where we found a rather nice home just about a mile from Biltmore Forest — Ron Olin’s neighborhood. If there’s somewhere in you don’t have to worry about the neighborhood, you’d think it’s the area less than a mile from the most expensive neighborhood in the whole city.
We pulled into the driveway and new immediately that there was no way we’d even consider the house. The view from the back-bedroom window explains it.