Thursday, May 13, 2010

The House Hunting Trip

Most of you know that James and I went on our house hunting trip at the end of April. I was really excited about this because I've been looking at real estate listings online for at least a year. I'm not kidding. For a while I really wanted to build again. So I'd been online looking at floor plans and researching custom home builders. When I went out to see James last fall during training, I actually met with one custom builder and discussed what plan we'd like and what area we might want to build in. In fact, we'd gotten to the point where I was waiting for him to email me a rough estimate of how much our selected plan (and the custom modifications) would cost based on the cost of construction materials at the time. He never did. I suspect the problem was that the builder had so much going on at the time that we just got lost in the mix. After all, we weren't going to contract with him for at least six more months and he had his hands full with current clients. So I can't fault him too much, but it annoyed me none-the-less. 

Once we got our orders to PCS a month or so ago, we realized that we really wouldn't have enough time to have a home built. Most builds take at least four months from clearing the lot to the final walk-through. But we're moving during the peak build season, so I'd be willing to bet that a custom build would take at least five months or more... if you want it done right. And I decided that I didn't want to be stuck five states away during the construction process. I would want to be close enough that I can check on the progress and speak up about things I want changed as I see them so there's time to get everything right (ie, "No I don't like that light fixture anymore. I want to go back to the store and get a different one."). After all, if you're going to go through all the trouble to build a custom home, then it should be exactly and perfectly right. 

So we decided to put off our custom build for the next PCS and just buy an existing home instead. The good news for us is that the area we're moving to has tons of new developments going up. So even if we don't get to have our custom home, we can still have a brand new one. I'd made contact with a real estate agent recommended by USAA (so we can get the Mover's Advantage Bonus Check... cha-ching!) about a month ago. She and I had been in constant contact ever since. She wanted to know exactly what our needs are and what kind of home we're looking for so that the house hunting process could be as stream lined as possible. By the time we left to drive out there, I had about 30 homes on my list of houses to see. Unfortunately for us, many of them were sold out from under us before we even got a chance to see them. 

We were VERY lucky to have some wonderful friends who PCS'd ahead of us a few months ago and who invited us to stay with them while we looked for a new house. I cannot begin to express how wonderful this was. First of all, I hadn't seen my girlfriend since January and I'd missed her terribly. We're like two peas in a pod and it was so wonderful to get to see her again. Second, their dog and ours are best buddies (we have a picture of them together with "Santa Paws" from last Christmas, haha), so Piper was able to travel with us and had a great time playing with Dodge while we were out all day long. And third, we saved a TON of money by not having to pay for a hotel and restaurants for a week and a half. Talk about a life saver! Then there was the drama with the tornadoes... but that's another story for another blog post.

So long story short (ish), we left on Monday, arrived on Tuesday, met with the mortgage broker to get pre-approved on Wednesday morning, and headed out for showings on Wednesday around lunch time. We saw about 12 houses on the first day. Most of them were actually a little above our price limit because so many of the lower priced ones had sold over the weekend. 

The first one that I fell in love with was about $20,000 over our limit but it was GORGEOUS! Ironically, it was also right down the street from the house James rented with some friends during his initial training four years ago. It's 2434 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 3 bath with a beautiful kitchen and a MUD ROOM (so freakin' cool). It's a new construction home that's still not finished. We met with the builder while we were there and he told us about all the little detail features of the house (ie, extra insulation, energy shielding room, granite counters, upgraded stainless steel appliances, hand scraped hardwood floors, etc etc etc). If the price were not a problem, I would have gotten that house. But alas, we don't want to get in over our heads. So we moved on.

The second favorite we saw that day was actually James' first choice. It's located right behind the base. In fact, it's right along short final as the planes are turning to land on the flight line. One of them passed right overhead as we were getting into the house, but it actually wasn't that loud at all (we're used to low flying helos and artillery shelling noises here at home). The house is huge (2609 square feet, 4 bedrooms, and 2 baths) but it's also in a development with all estate-sized lots (1+ acres), so there's lots of room outside for Piper and for a garden. The house is almost 5 years old, but you really could not tell at all. I wouldn't have known if the agent hadn't told us. The current owners took amazing care of it. I really liked it, except that I had issues with the kitchen. Don't get me wrong, the design of the cabinets, the tile back splash, and ceramic tile floors are great. I wish the cabinets were white, but I can handle some painting and distressing. But the kitchen appliances were black (doesn't really go with my cottage kitchen design aesthetic) and the granite counters, though high quality, are just ugly.

I know that counters are totally cosmetic, but granite is very expensive to replace. And I know that it's ridiculously picky, but if I'm going to pay that much for a house (and this one was listed $8,000 over our price limit), then I need to LOVE it. And there's no loving this granite. Not for me. 

So the third house we saw that I really liked is the only one we could both agree to love. Funny thing is... it's the house with the most beautiful kitchen (carved wooden range hood, pot filler, tile back splash, BEAUTIFUL granite counters, stainless steel appliances, and a WALK-IN pantry) and it was also the least expensive house we saw on the whole trip ($40,000 UNDER our price limit... HELLO!). It's also a new construction home that's still unfinished. But as soon as I started walking around it, I was in LOVE. LOVE, I SAY! Only 2100 square feet (4 bedrooms, 2 bath), but the layout of the place flows so nicely. Like our place back home, it's located on a cul-de-sac with woods behind the property that cannot be developed so we'd have the same privacy we do now. The best part is that the adjacent lot is still undeveloped and also for sale. Even factoring in the cost of the adjacent lot, fencing the back yard, and upgrading the floors in the kitchen to the same hand scraped hardwood that's in the living room... this house is STILL $15,000 less than our budget. Perfect. PERFECT!!

I was so excited when we made up our minds and went back to the agent's office to write up our offer. We'd been told by the builder that another couple was looking at that house, so we wrote up a FULL PRICE offer and didn't ask for much in the way of closing costs. It was a damn good offer if you ask me, but the seller rejected it because the offer was contingent upon the sale and close of our current house. It broke my heart. Then I just got annoyed. I don't know why he would reject the offer. The house isn't even going to be finished until June, and the offer included an escape clause for the seller should they get another offer. They just have to give us 48 hours to remove our contingency, so there's really no risk for them. We suspected that there was some unethical dealings going on between the seller's agent and the other couple.. that the selling agent was counting on the other couple (who did not have an agent of their own) to make an offer after us. That would mean the selling agent could keep all of the commission for herself... and doing it that way is illegal. But we can't prove anything. 

So we went back to the drawing board. After much discussion, we decided to put in an offer on the house that James really loved. The house was listed too high for us, so we made a lower offer. The house has been on the market since November and the sellers have already PCS'd to Germany, so we thought they'd be willing to negotiate a little. They came back with a counter offer that was still too high for us, but refused to pay any closing costs. That was a stupid move on their part. If we took their offer and paid all of the closing costs, we'd end up paying even more than the house was listed for! Actually, since they've already reduced the price once, we'd be paying as much as (if not more than) the house was listed for originally... which is $13,000 more than our limit. So we decided to reject their counter offer and just wait it out. 

Our first choice house is still on the market, so the other couple either changed their minds, couldn't get financing, or made a bad offer. At this point, we're just hoping to sell our house as quickly as possible. If the first choice house is still on the market, then we're going to make a new, non-contingent offer and will most likely get it (please oh please oh please). If the first choice house is gone, then we're going to make another offer on the second choice house. By then the house will have been on the market nearly seven months, so maybe the sellers will be a little more motivated to deal. If not, then we're going to have to start completely over (please no!!) because James and I both agreed that we would NOT exceed our price limit. We don't want to be one of those people who buy more house than they can afford.

So ultimately, we came home completely unsuccessful. We have two houses that we love, but neither of which we can have. Basically everything is banking on how long it takes to sell our house here. And although we've had lots of showings, we've gotten zero offers. We revised our listing to advertise that we're willing to pay some of the closing costs. But with a month left to go before James out-processes from the base, we may soon need to consider reducing our asking price as well. 

Le sigh.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.