Home Voyeur

It’s been a long while since I’ve written a blog and not without good cause, I spent most of the summer and fall preparing to sell my house and buying another, both arduous tasks. One required a lot of painstaking labor, the other a lot of patience. This blog is about the one that required a lot of patience, buying a new home. This task is not too different than selecting a spouse in that it is one of the most important decisions a person makes, and if you choose poorly it will cost you in the long run. But at least with a poorly chosen house there is no alimony or child support, only leaky rooves and faulty appliances.

In selecting your next home there are 3 essentials things to consider; price, location, and features. Let’s start with price because it impacts all other considerations.  You of course want a nice home, so you don’t want to set too low of a target price, but you must stay within your means so that you can still do other important things, like eat and buy bourbon.  There are some general financial guidelines to frame your thinking, but I won’t bore you with those, liquidity ratios are for accountants and bankers. Needless to say, I did not want to give up the rights to my first born, I’ve already invested too much in their college education, nor do I want to continue working until I am 83, heck I can barely muster the motivation to go to work today. So, I set a reasonable price within my financial means (accountants be damned), but also high enough to secure a nice home to retire in.  That was the easy part.

The next step was deciding on a location, and as they say in the real estate business its all about location, location, location. We did not want to live on a busy street and we wanted some privacy. And I became very educated on property taxes and found that they varied widely by county. Upon researching the topic, I discovered that an area south of our current home had significantly lower taxes, which explains why a lot of high-end subdivisions are located there. I consider myself an honest tax paying citizen willing to pay my fair share, but like any good American I want my fair share to be lower. So, we decided to give priority to looking at homes in the county with lower taxes. It was the prudent thing to do and any money saved could be spent on more important things, like good bourbon or lots of cheap bourbon, but definitely bourbon.

2bac0c16dc2579d9b2a98f357a0fea5d--chevrolet-vega-chevy

My baby blue 1975 Chevy Vega

After settling on those two points came the hard part, deciding which features were essential, and which were merely desired. Much like selecting your first car, you must ground your desires in reality and to strike a delicate balance between what you desire and what you can afford. When I was 17 shopping for my first car, I wanted a Corvette but could only afford a Vega. A Corvette could go from 0-60 in 7 seconds, the Vega I bought went from 0-60 in 7 minutes, going downhill, with the wind at my back. I look back at that old Vega with fondness now, much like the first time I paid income tax or had strep throat.

 

We began building our list of essential features and desired features; number of bedrooms, location of bedrooms, layout of main floor, garage space, type of stove, type of flooring, how big of a yard, whether the basement was finished, whether it had a bar, whether the bar was stocked, whether it was stocked with bourbon. One house we looked at had the most incredibly well stocked bar I had ever seen, it put my modest collection and most bars to shame. It even had a bourbon kegger.  For several moments I thoughtfully pondered how I could convince my dear wife that it was indeed the perfect home, but alas it did not possess many of our essential features, so I had to sulk away from this smorgasbord of bourbons, ryes and scotches with deep regret.  Though the house was lacking, I vowed to seek out the owner of this glorious collection and become his best friend.

Now buying this home wasn’t my first rodeo, I had purchased 6 homes previously, but this time it was different.  All my previous purchases were when I was active duty military, and typically my wife and I would go on a 5-day house hunting trip and by the 5th day we had to make an offer on the house we liked the best, note I didn’t say the perfect house.  It was kinda like speed dating except at the end of the night you had to propose. So, before any house hunting trips we did research on the area and schools and after Al Gore invented the internet, we scoured it for homes that we liked.  Then upon meeting with our real estate agent we spent the next 3-4 days looking at every home we could. We got smart the last few times and took pictures and videos, so all the homes didn’t become blurred together. Then at the end of day 4 we had to decide which house to make an offer on. It wasn’t a life or death decision because we knew that we would be moving in 3-4 years and if we made a bad choice, we would just live with it for a while and then move on. But this time it was different, really different.  We did not have anything forcing us to make a decision, and this was going to be our retirement home that we might spend the rest of our lives in. So, it was kinda a big deal, like choosing your spouse, of whether to have a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.

And so we began our journey.  My wife began scouring numerous real estate sites looking for houses that fit our criteria, it was like being a kid in a candy store, only this candy was expensive. We also started popping in to open houses to get a feel for the market and see what floor layouts we liked. I made the mistake of allowing my wife to look at a new home priced at just under $1M. Don’t every make that mistake. It’s like taking a Porsche for a test drive when you know you can only afford a Chevy Vega.  Everything after that was a bit of a letdown. But oh my it was a glorious home with a theater, wine cellar, and a magnificent bar.

After getting a feel for the market we decided to test the waters and start seriously looking at homes within our price range. So, we started looking and looking, and looking some more. At some point, we began to experience the Goldilocks syndrome, “this one was too soft, this one was too hard,” we just couldn’t find the one that was just right. For some the location wasn’t ideal, or others missed a few essential features, like a bar. Our poor real estate agent thought we would never decide, and he was almost right.

And I have to admit I felt a bit like a voyeur at times walking around in people’s homes without them present. I saw pictures of them and their families and wondered what types of people there were, what experiences did they have in this house, did their child lose their first baby tooth here, did they celebrate their first Christmas together, were they a happy family, was their joy in this house, were they hapless Bengals fans, were they Republican or Democrat? It got me to thinking of our current political situation. Regardless of political views the people that owned this home were just like me in many ways, raising kids the best they could, trying to get by, and trying to lead meaningful lives.  Only some had horrendous taste in wallpaper and art.

After about 4 months of driving our real estate agent crazy and finding a lot of homes too hard or too soft, our real estate agent called to tell us that a really nice home was coming on the market and people were lining up to view it. Though I was a bit skeptical that this was real estate agent speak for “pick a damn home, I am tired of showing you every house in a 50-mile radius,” we scheduled a showing. Before the showing we viewed the house on-line and it was in the right county and was indeed very nice, but it was at the top end of our price range.  We then viewed the home and it was a beautiful, with an expansive and well-maintained lawn, in a very nice neighborhood, with a bar (though not well stocked). Moreover, it had all the essential features we wanted and a lot of the desired. It was THE home. Our real estate agent told us he expected the house to go fast, and there were more showings later that day, which may have once again been real estate agent speak for “buy the damn home, I need to pay my mortgage” but after some discussion we decided to make a solid offer.  We then crafted the offer and sent it to the listing agent, and then we waited patiently.  After what seemed like an eternity the listing agent contacted us and informed us that they had another offer and inquired if we wanted to counter.  We gave it much thought and I furiously crunched the numbers like a young teenager who just got his Little Orphan Annie Secret Society Decoder pin in the mail, but much to my dismay the answer was if we raised our offer it would have required us to get a jumbo loan. A jumbo loan is bank speak for “we will charge a higher interest rate for a larger loan regardless of the size of your down payment, or your credit score, or your income.” I’ll save my views on the mortgage industry for another blog, likely titled, “how to screw the working class.”  So, with great sorrow we declined to counter offer and the owners sold the house to the other offerors.  My wife cried, our real estate agent cried more.

So, we went back to the drawing board and continued to look at houses, and we even began to explore building a new home. There is some excitement to building a new home, and quite a bit of trepidation, not to mention for the size and features we wanted it would mean a significantly higher price tag than a “previously used” home, which would get us back to jumbo loan land. As we looked at floor plans and mulled our options, we got an excited call from our agent who told us that the house we liked was back on the market because the deal had fallen through. Some sad story about the couple buying the house had broken up. I wondered if maybe our real estate agent was a marriage wrecker, but what is one man’s loss is another man’s gain. So, we resubmitted our original offer and the owners accepted, after a bit of negotiations.  My wife cried with joy, and our agent cried more. I was just happy to quit looking at homes and floorplans and could focus my energies on more important endeavors, like stocking the bar.

IStw8l1j5fcy5b1000000000

Our new home

 

You may ask yourself…well how did I get here?

3 thoughts on “Home Voyeur

  1. Roger it looks like a great choice! Hope you asked Santa for a rider mower. ! And your essay is right on the money. Our last house we searched for months..because we could…and over the 18 years there, proceeded to change every square inch of the house, inside and out. Only the location remained the same. Our retirement home is not even in a region we considered..retire in Wisconsin? …. but family considerations resulted in a 10 minute consultation with my husband, a look at the 3 homes available (2 weren’t even listed yet) and an offer, knowing that there would be a lot of renovations no matter which house we bought. You’ll be glad to know I installed an amazing bar in it during the first round of renovations. The next round is under design now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We had originally intended to downsize, but Renee wanted a craftroom and bedrooms if the kids visited and/or one of in-laws has to live with us, and I wanted a bar, workout room, and 3 car garage so one space could be my woodshop. And we needed a decent size yard for our dog and our flower gardens. I had neither the skills or motivation to buy a fixer upper at my age. So we actually upsized a bit. But I will have the good fortune of receiving multiple retirement checks so I went for it.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s