(Disclosure: I am blogging on behalf of Trulia, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Trulia’s.)
When JB and I were house hunting for the first time — back in, what, 2002? — I thought there was a non-trivial chance we’d actually kill each other before we signed the closing papers. We started out with a complete unrealistic set of expectations, and after our poor agent drove around showing us exactly what was available at the price point we wanted (basically ghetto properties surrounded by ravenous wolves or houses that had been soaked in Mystery Urine for a minimum of three decades) we finally made an offer on a house only to rescind the offer when JB got cold feet over the fact that the house didn’t have a garage. Then we made the offer again when we decided that we could build a garage someday. I can’t even remember what happened after that, except eventually we bought the place and moved in, but it sure wasn’t stress-free. I bet the sellers have incredibly fond memories of us.
Fast-forward to 2012, and the second time around wasn’t much easier. We had a hard deadline of when we had to move out of our rental house here in Eugene, and I really really really REALLY didn’t want to move into a second rental. So the clock was ticking as we saw house after house, and struggled with these huge questions of whether or not we wanted to live in the country (JB really did, and I kind of did, but I was also concerned about feeling isolated since I’m home all day, and I wasn’t sure about having to drive 20 minutes to get milk, and JB wasn’t sure about commute times, and on and on it went) and how much, exactly, we could afford.
That last issue was a major challenge. We moved here with the intent of downsizing, but comparing Eugene’s housing market to Seattle made everything pretty confusing. I think we were both somewhat swept away by how much more house you can buy here for even $100K less than what our Bellevue home sold for. We started out with one budget, but after a lot of discussion, we lowered that number by quite a bit. Unfortunately, in the meantime I’d seen one house that I’d fallen painfully in love with, and I had to abandon it altogether — including the idea of finding anything remotely similar — in our new financial reality.
In the midst of all our real estate searching, JB happened to notice that people appeared to be clearing out the house next door to our rental. He approached someone who turned out to be the adult son of the elderly woman who had just moved from the house to an assisted living facility, and through sheer persistency on his part, convinced the guy to let us inside to take a look. I could not have been less interested in seeing what I was certain would be a complete dump, but it turned out that underneath the dated décor and towering piles of crap everywhere, there was a perfectly livable home.
A perfectly livable home at a great price in what we’d come to believe was the ideal neighborhood in Eugene, that is. Large lots, proximity to good schools, convenient location, zero crime rate. People so rarely move out of this loop, someone came knocking the exact afternoon we were viewing the home, ready to make their own offer sight unseen.
It was the right neighborhood, but I was a little hung up on that house I’d seen earlier in the process. I kept thinking about its gorgeous interior: the slate entry, the beautiful gleaming wood-accented office, the immaculately-designed kitchen with high-end appliances. Everything in that house was modern and luxurious and aesthetically pleasing. In comparison, the perfectly livable home was … well, it was livable. It was older and riddled with eyesores and inconveniences: tiny master bath, no laundry room, a carpeted kitchen (!?), weird mismatched cabinetry everywhere.
Also, it was never in show condition. I mean, every room pretty much looked like this:
Which is to say, I can fully identify with this:
(Check out the rest of Trulia’s postcards. I’m also quite familiar with Moment #912.)
It was hard to let go of the Beautiful House, you know? But the Livable House came to feel like the right decision. In the end, we bought our house without it ever going on the market, and from the rental we’d landed on through a Craigslist ad, we ended up moving all of fifty feet away (via wheelbarrow, for the most part). It was as though it had been meant to be, all along.
A few months ago I wrote, “When it comes to the lesser-loved parts of my house, I try to think of that Melody Beattie quote: Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” This house will never be the Beautiful House, but it’s our house, beautiful in its own way. And ultimately, it was the smartest choice we could have made. Spending less on a mortgage has given us so much more flexibility to focus on other things that matter to us, like our retirement, the kids’ college savings, vacations, and investments in small home improvement projects here and there (the most recent one being the de-awfulfication of our awful master bathroom).
I could never in a million years have predicted how we’d end up where we did, and isn’t that what makes home buying so crazy? It’s the great swirl of unknowns, among the jumble of priorities — pricelocationschoolssizeyard — that must ultimately be arranged in some sort of balance, preferably without losing your goddamned mind along the way. Two years later, I’m so glad I can say that I truly believe it all worked out for the best.
(And maybe most of all, I’m glad it’s over.)
Tell me, did you end up buying your ideal home? Or did you have to make compromises along the way?
Trulia provides homebuyers with information on neighborhoods, schools, crime, local amenities, agents, and financing, all in the name of making the home-buying process a little less crazy-making. Check out Trulia’s entertaining collection of postcards, and share your own memorable home buying moments.