08 June 2008

Time to Update the Real Estate Scorecard

Because I know you're all on the edges of your keyboards wondering what's happened, and because Politica and I truly appreciate all the comments on our housing posts so far--both the kind wishes for good decisions and the comments about your own housing choices and energy costs and whatnot--here's an update on where we are:
  • Before Politica left Germany on Friday, our realtor called around to our top choices to feel them out with verbal offers (since it was all verbal, we could essentially talk to everyone). So we leared a lot.
  • The realtor/owner of the 6 bedroom, asbestos-in-basement, high energy bill house was not willing to consider our offer. Tom is quite right that there might be other ways to reduce energy than by replacing all the windows (starting with turning down the thermostat!) but we were unwilling to pay top price for that house, given that the energy situation seemed like an unpredictable cost, at the very least.
  • The owners of the most expensive house were willing to deal with us. We had made them an offer of $30K below asking price, at a figure that was our very top mortgage figure (in a budget that still included quite a bit of monthly savings for travel, entertainment, and some other discretionary spending, as well as the indefinite carrying of our current mortgage). We found out yesterday morning that they countered with a price $5K higher than what we offered and a closing date of a week earlier (which would increase our closing costs with added interest).
  • So yesterday we spent a few hours trying to figure out what our reaction to this counter offer was. We had mixed feelings, and finally decided that our mixed feelings meant that this wasn't the right house for us. A couple of factors: this house is 3600 square feet, and that just felt too big for us. It's 3600 energy efficient square feet, but still, that's a big, big house. It's on a major-ish road, set back up off the road, and it consequently doesn't feel like it's really in a neighborhood. It's a gorgeous, showpiece house, but it just feels like not quite the right house for us right now. I'd love to have its kitchen, but taking on an enormous backyard (of the sort that might well lead me to higher a gardener for the first time in my life), and a maximum mortgage, for a house that is on a road big enough that CG wouldn't really be able to ride her bike around in the immediate neighborhood just didn't feel right. When we thought "What happens if someone else buys that house?" we both felt a sense of relief, even if it also felt kind of exciting to picture ourselves in the showpiece.
  • So we've reframed the not-expensive house in the neighborhood that I had originally wanted to live in. True, Politica had said that we'd never love the house. It's a 1968 construction with cheap pine doors and not a lot of built-in character. And we think that there are likely to be some inspection issues to deal with. But the house is on a quiet street, just a house away from a walkway into a city park with tennis courts and playground; it's quite near 3 families with kids who we already count as friends from the visits and playdates over the course of the past year; it's walking distance to the elementary school we feel really good about; it's only 2 miles to our campus, so I could ride my bike sometimes (once I get my quads in shape for that hill!) or take the city bus. It's a little far for walking (at least for a working parent who has to get a kid to/from school and wants a regular-sized workday in between) but it will require far less driving than the suburbs will.
  • This house is in the school area we most wanted to be in. We've toured 3 elementary schools, and while it's probably true that CG would do just fine in any of them, we had really positive reactions to one of them, and less positive to the others. They all use a responsive classroom model, but the one building just seemed so full of kid-centered, warm adults. The suburban school that everyone raves about (including people whose judgement we otherwise trust) struck us as too quiet. I liked its open physical spaces and the art/music programs, but the classrooms seemed too full of desks and not enough open space (especially for the K-3 rooms), and if CG turns out to need a lot of special ed services, we might well move there later. But it just didn't sing to me, and neither did the school in the walk-to-campus neighborhood, which cites student privacy as a reason why visitors can't see classrooms with kids in them. The work on the walls seemed cool, but I was left with a "well, this might work" feeling.
  • All that said, we're not considering this one over until it's over, and the written offer has yet to emerge. Our realtor should be writing it up today.
  • This house may not be the house of our dreams, but it's good enough. It's cheap enough, relatively speaking, that at some future point we could buy another house in our neighborhood and move--we won't be so extended with this mortage that we can't consider moving for a while. It's in a kid-filled neighborhood with built-in friends for us and CG. It's in the school area we feel drawn to. Looking narrowly at the house, this property is the least interesting of this current group. But looking at the house in its neighborhood context, it's a property that offers us the kind of life we hoped to get in Germany. It's a little dark, but paint and new flooring can make a big difference there, and we would have both a sunroom on the second floor and a Florida room on the first, and there's a playset in the yard for CG.
  • So I hope it works. Making this offer just feels like a me-and-Politica kind of decision in a way that the showpiece house didn't. It's financially conservative and attentive to the neighbhorhood's social ties and CG's school. And that just feels right today.

12 comments:

Arwen said...

I think that not-coming-with-asbestos is a good feature, don't you?

I'm sure that you and Politica and CG will fill this house -- it doesn't look perfect now but it sounds like you can make it yours. Good luck with the process...

S. said...

I like what you're saying about the decision feeling like one you recognize as yours. The house will get there, once you fill it with your life.

liz said...

What they said. And a real neighborhood is not to be sneezed at.

peripateticpolarbear said...

I know nothing of this house purchasing thing, but if it feels like the right thing to do, it probably is.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I love the fact that you didn't feel compelled / challenged or whatever, to buy the bigger houses that weren't right for your family.

With enough room in your budget, you can make the house in the right place work for you -- and the other house couldn't be moved ;).

niobe said...

Good luck. And keep us updated.

Rev Dr Mom said...

The good thing, imho, is that Germany is such a great place that it would be hard to go too wrong (except maybe by going to the suburbs:)(can you tell I'm a little envious?)

I hope all the real estate dealings work out in a way that you all feel good about.

Leighton said...

Crossing my fingers on the success of the offer....

Phantom Scribbler said...

I have to say that -- despite my occasional whining about storage and space issues -- we've never really regretted making the financially conservative choice with our house. (And especially now, when the cost of living is going up!) A perfect house isn't ideal if it means taking on a worrisome amount of risk and responsibility. And, as you say, you'll still have the option to trade up if that's what you feel like you need later on.

elswhere said...

That house sounds like a really good place for the three of you, especially with the neighborhood and the school. I hope it works out.

And if it does, you can replace the doors with ones you like better. Not that expensive and it can make a big difference all by itself.

What Now? said...

Sounds like you're making a decision that gives you more options (maybe spiffing up the place, maybe moving in a few years) and that feels right in your gut -- good luck, and let us know how it goes!

Tom Bozzo said...

Six figures cheaper than the others, you say? Works for me -- esp. with the additional info on the locational disadvantages of the big house (and why am I not surprised that the owner of the overpriced house is a realtor). Also, I agree with elsewhere that for that amount of savings, you can do a considerable amount of sprucing-up of the place, while being able to look into a move-up or a more substantial renovation once you figure out how much you like the location. (Probably the main thing to look out for would be evidence of substandard basic construction; other issues can probably be fixed one way or another.) Good luck!