Join me as I revisit the top three homes we considered living in
before ultimately placing an offer on our current home
Welcome! We’re 3/4 of the way through this series today, chronicling our home buying journey from several years ago. We were lucky enough to be looking for a “forever” home.
If you’re just joining us, you can catch up here:
Part 1: What we Were Looking for in a House and the Bad Houses we Toured
Part 2: The One we Let Get Away
All of our contenders met our basic requirements – 1+ acre lot, 2000+ square feet, good commute. We were learning concessions were necessary. And: no (visible) mold – dream big, kids.
A new build in progress. A tiny strip of concrete formed what was billed as a “front porch” with turned table leg width columns, and it opened into a two story entry with a very stereotypical new build floor plan. But, the finishes were decent quality for the most part, if a bit trendy and early Fixer Upper inspired, though without any of the charm or restraint Joanna infuses. After all the terrible showings we had, we were suddenly very into this style. Think encaustic tiles, mixed metal finishes – but also fixtures in a variety of styles from transitional to wrought iron rustic to builder basic stainless plumbing kits. sO eClEcTiC.
Cardboard boxes lined the traffic path to protect the hardwood floors and wood-like tiles throughout – which were oddly a mix of cool and warm tones that clashed terribly. I didn’t realize it at the time out of desperation, but you can see it in the photos below. And, you could forget the colonial exterior once inside. It was like the first floor was trying to skew modern traditional French provincial (but of course not the kitchen. This house is eclectic, remember?) while the upstairs was rustic contemporary and…in gray scale?
There were rustic-contemporary iron lighting fixtures and rustic-traditional balusters that didn’t go with the “colonial” style. But also transitional, contemporary and schoolhouse style ones.
The kitchen, like the rest of the home, was pretty and marketed as high end but the feel of the cabinet doors was reminiscent of our Ikea play kitchen (and no, it wasn’t an Ikea kitchen). It did though, conveniently have enough backsplash outlets for more small appliances than could ever fit on the counters:
Sidebar: Of course, anyone would be lucky to live in a new build house, don’t get me wrong. But just because something is new doesn’t make it a good buy. Could fixtures have been replaced, and bathrooms updated over time? Of course. But I hate the idea of buying a brand new house and tearing it all apart when it is perfectly functional – the thought of so much waste of new materials is just maddening to me, and I just couldn’t do it. Updating an older house over time instead of tearing out brand new work that hasn’t even finished off-gassing is different. Plus, it had other issues. Go on, you’ll see. /end sidebar
Aside from the interior flaws, the yard was a landslide’s dream of maximum destruction come true, now that I reflect on it. The front yard was essentially a few steps down into a wooded creek with a little bridge crossing it. It would make for good prom pictures, we said optimistically, as we clung to any hope of redeeming this property.
The backyard was truly terrible and of course not photographed for the online listing so I can’t share it with you – a very steeply hilled scenario with a patio, no flat lawn to speak of, and neighbors above in two houses with a bird’s eye view that could sled from their yards down the hill, through the entire house, out the front door and into the creek below (if they desired) in a suburbanite twist on Clark Griswold’s disc ride horror. You can see one of those neighbor sleigh ride candidates from the kitchen window above.
With all its faults, it remained the front runner til the very end. We needed more basic information, though. When would it be completed? When a buyer was on the hook. Hmm. SOMEBODY ran out of money on this project.
What were the ballpark annual taxes?
This is not something that Bad Realtor should have had a problem with ascertaining. She could have, SHOCK, looked up the taxes for the other houses on the street. She didn’t, and our attachment to this hodge podge new construction lingered much longer than it should have, right up until…
well, until we learned the projected taxes were 14-20k a year. HAHAHAHA
So we didn’t want it, and we didn’t want to spend that much anyway.
Update: Just looked it up – it didn’t sell until last year in 2021! It took people being pushed to their limits by isolation in a historic pandemic to bite the bullet and live here!
Nearly 48 hours into a search that involved tours in 3 counties and open houses of over 20 properties, we resigned ourselves to extending the search over several weeks – a situation we were hoping to avoid because of our exhaustion and need to be settled. Our instincts were telling us that even with time, the selection was going to be grim and whatever home we decided worthy of an offer would be hard-won. We were cozying up to the idea that we’d be buying something for the short term and moving again when we found something better.
We set out for one last round of open houses on Sunday. Our final two contenders emerged.
A very-comfortably-within-our-price-range, cute, newish build colonial that every young family needing a house was previewing. Nice finishes, however, again, no historical charm. It had thick upstairs carpeting and no office space, plus we spotted at least 3 cats on the tour – I’m allergic. It had almost 2400 square feet, but it seemed it was all in the bedrooms. Every shared living space was about 30% too small for four people to do anything but sit down – especially the dining room. We were hoping for space to be able to entertain, and there wasn’t much. The back yard was terraced with a steep drop I couldn’t help but imagine small children meandering back and forth along (as they tend to do with all dangerous precipices at the earliest presented opportunity), inevitably losing their balance, and plopping down in the lower yard.
And the neighbors could see the whole show of your backyard child splat trap from their house higher up the hill. And the front yard was a steep hill that culminated in a sharp ten foot drop down to the road below, across the street from which meandered a large stream. Enticed?
Everyone else seemed to be. It sold that weekend at asking.
Ok this one I exercised some pickiness and really just didn’t like it enough to want to live in it. It was technically fine except for the cat dander that was embedded in everything. Also privacy is important and I know I would’ve wanted to move again sooner rather than later (and we were really trying not to move again any time soon) between the small living areas and fishbowl feel.
A picturesque 1.5 cape revival colonial in a tree-filled neighborhood established in the 60s. Not historic, but plenty of charm to be had. The price was at the top of what we wanted to spend monthly on a mortgage and about 100k more than most of what we toured. I knew from the pictures it had the potential to be a good one. But knowing we really were not comfortable with bidding the price up, I was wary even considering it. I got there first, Sean had an errand to run and met me there.
Upon entering, I was met with a tiny and dark but charming hall entry with a beautiful old door with old original single panes. Is my bias showing yet? Crown molding in formal living areas and hardwood floors throughout. No typical new build floor plan. 5 bedrooms, allowing space for an office and guest room. Huge old wooden windows in the original house as tall as me. A beautiful primary en suite (see it here in my one room challenge reveal). I even liked the finishes and light fixtures (ok the track light in the kitchen was an exception). Would they have all been my first choice? Probably not, but I liked them and liked that I was pleasantly surprised by them and not instantly making a mental checklist of things to replace. This house was not only turn key, it was – dare I say it? – perfect. It even had an island, which was important to me for entertaining, baking and making pasta.
It really was nearly perfect, according to our needs. The house and yard were both bigger than we discussed and knew to be practical for our circumstances at the time, but I fell in love with it immediately. The yard was the deciding factor for my husband. After the open house, we knew it would go immediately because it was way better than any other properties we toured (as long as the owners would be willing to do the yard work).
It had way too many garden beds to maintain with two small children in our care. It had a pool – something we’d never discussed the possibility of. Also
– you’re going to laugh at me, and I’ll deserve it –
the yard was terraced.
But, no neighbors perched above.
The Final Decision
We ended the weekend having fallen in love with just the one house. It was a swift house hunt – 72 hours of boots on the ground total search. One weekend of search is probably one the best case scenarios one can have. Looking back, it was like the wake of all the terrible options pointed us directly to the perfect house, eliminating any stress we might have had we were torn between multiple options.
But, we were surprised we had to hit the top of our budget to find it, and we wanted to make sure it was worth it – to us personally and as a smart purchase. So we sat down to talk it out.
Even though we had a clear front runner, we had already opened up to the idea of extending our house search over more time. But we knew the house would go quickly. It was time to see if this was the right house for us.
We let ourselves get picky at this point.
We decided to write down a list of our dream home features – something we hadn’t bothered to do in the interest of being flexible. In writing out our list, we discovered we had an oddly specific list of ideals that contender #3 happened to meet:
- ideally no renovations needed to make it homey
- short commute
- unique floor plan
- no open concept
- enough distance from neighbors for smoke (cigarette, fire pits, wood burning chimneys) to not be an issue
- house far back from road
- big, private yard
- fenced in yard
- mature trees and landscaping
- garage that doesn’t wake kids up
- walkable neighborhood for easy exercise
- good sized living areas for entertaining
- no major renovations needed
- 2.5+ baths
- 2+ garage bays
- large driveway pad for kids to play/chalk
- painted brick interior wall (I said we were picky)
- gas fireplace
- gas range
- kitchen island
- eat in kitchen
- kitchen not totally open to adjacent living areas to minimize noise carrying
- laundry room (not in basement or a closet)
- high ceilings
- hardwood stairs
- sun porch/room
- covered porch
- hardwood floors throughout, including bedrooms
- central a/c (pretty typical in SE PA, but there are exceptions)
- office space
- guest space
- storage (large basement)
- primary bedroom ensuite and walk-in closet
- French doors
- pocket doors
- crown molding
- low traffic street
- convenient distance to stores
The only thing it didn’t have was a sidewalk in the neighborhood. That’s it. We really couldn’t believe it.
So we decided to put it an offer at asking, and prepared for a bidding war, but wanted to check in with the realtor to make sure we were making a good call.
We sent her an email to her to ask a few questions:
Was the price fair? How likely would it be that we find anything else with all those features again in our price range? How often does a house like this come on the market?
We left a voicemail and waited to hear back.
But, we didn’t hear back for several hours. No answer to the email or texts – she was previously very prompt and available, as unfortunately realtors have to be, especially in a hot market. I don’t envy them; it’s a tough gig.
So, we called again.
And that’s when we encountered our first realtor conflict of interest.
C’est tout for today. Check back tomorrow for the details of a cautionary realtor tale and the conclusion to our home search – then a look around our backyard!