Off Topic – The House Hunting Diaries

So I’ve been making offhanded statements about the fact that J and I are trying to buy a house. That is funny because this is seriously THE THING THAT IS SUCKING OUR LIVES. Seriously, not only are we looking at real estate listings every free moment we get, we are watching HGTV 24/7. As first time homebuyers, we’re in a great position. Yes, we are one of the few people that are benefiting from a crappy economy. But for us, as for any other gainfully employed first time homebuyer, there’s never been a better time to buy.

This all started about a month ago when we decided to hunker down and talk to a loan consultant. We found a great one at Bank of America. After getting some documentation from us, the loan consultant sent us a good faith estimate and we were on our way. As soon as we found a house we wanted to make an offer on, the loan consultant would send us a PDF of the pre-approval letter for the amount we would be offering. SCORE!

We then decided to us a realtor I will call Sassy Redhead, who worked with Muffin and June to get their adorable house. One Saturday she took us to something like ten houses in the South Berkeley/North Oakland area. This was an eye opening experience as many houses in Berkeley (with the better school district) were shitholes. There were plenty of shitholes in North Oakland as well but really the houses in Berkeley were SCARY.

During that round of house hunting we found the dream house. It was beautiful. A classic craftsman style house with a breakfast nook in the kitchen and a finished basement. It was light and airy and well maintained. It even had a Meyer lemon tree in the backyard. It was owned by a couple of lesbian social workers. We were ready to jump on the house then and there. And then we went home and looked at the crime statistics. And then we thought about the block and the fact that the next door neighbors were actually a metalworking shop with a car on the lawn. And talking with relatives (one of whom is a real estate agent), we would make the cardinal mistake of buying the nicest house on the block. So we declined to make an offer even though it broke our hearts.

We seriously considered two other houses, one close to Muffin and June on a very good block. We called this the yellow house. And another in a fancier part of town that was renovated within an inch of its life. The yellow house was on a really nice block, I’d give it a B+ but the owner decided to make every bad design decision that you could possible make – bad carpeting, peel and stick tile, peel and stick tile ON THE WALLS, small chopped up rooms, pink grout on the bathroom tiles. But the block was great and the house had quite a bit of spaces as well as two (ugly) bathrooms). The green house was the polar opposite. In a fantastic neighborhood, the house was tiny, tiny tiny, but renovated as if it would be in Architectural Digest. So we made a lowball offer on the yellow house and they came back to us with a counteroffer that was WAAAAY more than the house was worth given what would needed to be done with it.

We were all set to make an offer on the green house. Once we learned that we would get an even lower interest rate than on our good faith estimate AND we could buy a point off the interest rate, the green house looked better and better. And then we got the termite report. 30K worth of repairs. YOWZA. Considering it was at the top of our price range, we wouldn’t have any money for repairs.

So this weekend we went on another frenzy of house hunting. We saw four houses, three in Berkeley and one in Oakland all within a couple of miles of each other. Two of them were the standard Berkeley shitholes. Even our real estate agent, who knows her fixer uppers, was horrified at one of them. But the other two were really promising and that puts us in a pickle. One of them was an owner who was either going to sell it to us or find new renters. It was in the same neighborhood as the yellow house and it was adorable. Similar feel as the dream house in the crappy neighborhood right down to the Meyer lemon tree in the backyard. What was great about the house was that the current renters clearly were taking care of it. They made fixes to the roof and tended to the garden with a lot of love. In fact, their daughter was born in that house seven months ago. Yes, in the house. How’s that for good karma? The plus side is also that the seller will not be jerking us around. There’s no holding out for better offer. She will take our offer or give us a counteroffer. The down side is that it’s a one bedroom and the kitchen needs work.

The other house is four blocks away from the first house. It’s been rehabbed with a bonus room and an additional bathroom. It’s in a good neighborhood in Berkeley so we’d get into the Berkeley school district. Like the green house, it’s been updated so there’s not much work to be done on it. Like the green house, it’s totally at the top of our price range. The downside is that it looks pretty competitive and that there would be a bidding war.

The pickle we are in is that we have to choose which house. Both seem equally good given their pluses and minuses. I have always said that when you have a hard choice like this one, there isn’t a bad choice. We would be happy in either. But we won’t have the option of making offers on both and seeing who gives us the best counteroffer. So that’s where we’re at with the crazy house stuff. I hope you won’t get sick of the house updates but this is our life at the moment.

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4 Responses to Off Topic – The House Hunting Diaries

  1. dancerindc says:

    So exciting! And we sympathize completely – home-buying is an all-consuming process that takes up so much energy.

    But stick with it – your dream house is out there! (And I wouldn’t worry too much about bidding wars – there just aren’t many buyers right now.)

  2. Stef says:

    Wow — this is so exciting! Home buying still totally freaks me out, but I admire you guys for taking the plunge. Good luck, and know that whatever house you get will very quickly become a home.

  3. EB says:

    I’m so jealous. I live in the City and there’s this amazing house across the street from us that’s been on the market for months. Absolutely months. I just wish the down payment was within our reach. I love hearing stories of happy house hunting. Well done.

  4. Barbara says:

    Good luck with the house hunt. I remember all too well how stressful it can be. It sounds like you are doing all the right things so far (HGTV is great, isn’t it?) and whichever house you get, you will enjoy for many, many years.

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