Tuesday, January 18, 2011

this old house

Hi, are you alive? I, too, am alive. Good, so we got that straightened out.

This weekend Joe and I got a babysitter and looked at seven houses. SEVEN. Actually, it ended up being six--one of them had some problems with flooding that they needed to deal with before they were ready to show it to prospective buyers, which actually worked out well because who wants to buy a house that has problems with flooding? Of the six houses we had two good leads--two leads that actually highlighted the key schism in the real estate market generally. One was a older, smaller house closer to the middle of of town, and the other was a newer, bigger house farther out towards the suburbs. I grew up in a 900 square foot apartment in Manhattan (actually, 900 square foot might be optimistic--I was smaller at the time, after all) so you can imagine which way my loyalties skew; I often argue how our consumeristic American lifestyles make us think that we need more space when they've been living in prewar nestlike warrens in Europe for centuries and having a pretty good time of it. But actually--and very surprisingly, at least to me--I found myself gravitating towards the house farther out towards the suburbs.

It's not that I need a lot of space, mind you. For a family of four, we really don't have a lot of stuff, and even if we did, our habit of serial relocation has forced us to purge most of the non-essentials. The fact that what little furniture we have is basically disposable (various castoff mismatched Ikea-esque plywood monstrosities, what have you--except for Cal's little bed, none of the rest of us even have bedframes, JUDGE IF YOU MUST) winnows our possessions even further, as it's unclear what would survive one more move or what at this point is even worth moving. (I'm looking at you, interspecies pee-stained sofabed.) And the house wasn't even that nice. At least, not to the general public. It's been on the market for more than a year. It has weird 80's decorator touches inside, the equivalent of giant triangular shoulder pads on a teal and black power suit, but, you know, inside a house. The exterior is a little unusual-looking. Not decrepit or depressing, mind you (there are houses that we saw that I basically discounted immediately because you walked inside and my initial gut reaction was GAH, THAT'S WHERE THE OLD LADY HANGED HERSELF) but just a little unusual for the area--it almost reminded of of New England in a way. Our realtor (a very straight up guy, he's not one for the hard sell) tactfully referred to it as "an ugly duckling."


I know you're not supposed to fall in love with a house, and look, I'm not in love, it's business, strictly business...BUT THIS HOUSE IS GREAT. I could see us living there. I figured out where the kids should put their toys. I figured out where my bookshelves could live. The light is great. The backyard is where Cal could plant his vegetables. There's a whole separate room with two walls of windows where I could paint one wall with chalkboard paint and put a big wood table turn it into a homework room. GUYS GUYS YOU GUYS A HOMEWORK ROOM. If that didn't just give you a big old Chinese Mom boner, well, then I don't even know you anymore.

I'm not saying it's perfect and I'm not saying it doesn't need a little touch up work, but...guys. I love this house. I can't explain why, I can't explain why I love it so much more than the other houses in the same school district with the same number of bedrooms and the same square footage and offered at the same price. BUT I DO. Maybe we won't end up living there. Maybe we'll make an offer and they won't accept it. Maybe we will go back this weekend and realize that it was built on an ancient burial ground. They moved the headstones but they left the bodies! And maybe it's an ugly duckling, that much is evident by public consensus. But it's the only place that I've seen during our three-plus years of home-searching that I've so vividly been able to imagine us in.

We're going back to see it this weekend. This time, we're bringing the kids. And then after that...we'll see.


  1. Ooh, good luck! I love that feeling of, "This feels like HOME." Hopefully, the kids will be feelin' it too this weekend.

  2. Lowball that offer, though!!! Don't be crazy.

  3. If it feels good...Do it!

  4. Heavens, yes, LOWBALL THE OFFER. We've owned more houses than I care to list, so I say this with many houses behind me:

    1.) DO NOT let your Realtor know how much you love that house, and

    2.) LOWBALL the offer!

    Because if you lowball the offer and they tell you to pound sand (not likely), then you just turn around and offer a tiny bit more. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Do NOT tell your Realtor how much you love that house, for he or she will turn around and tell the other Realtor, and then you will end up paying more for the house than you would have otherwise.

  5. I just wanted to say that this post reminded me exactly why I'm so excited for your book! I love your writing. :) Good luck with the house buying!

  6. It's great that you love the house. But don't get too attached before the inspection! Things like toxic insulation, wiring problems, dry rot, layers of painted-over wallpaper, foundation issues, touch up work that you imagine will be "no big deal" to fix yourself...all that tends to kill the buzz. (Ask me how I know all this.)

    I'm sorry to be a downer and I don't mean to rain on your parade. But be cautious! Being a first-time homebuyer can be Very Tricky.

  7. Anonymous12:51 AM

    Uh, yeah ... on the market for a year and ugly (to most people) ... PERFECT! If the inspections are at all reasonably clean, go for it and lowball the crap out of that offer.

    I'm with A Daring Adventure- don't let your realtor know how much you love it, but *do* let your realtor know that you like it a lot and are willing to buy it AT THE RIGHT PRICE and that you have your financing totally lined up and ready to go, I've got my checkbook and I'm ready to write the check. The seller wants to sell, and wants to sell to someone like you and Joe, where it's clear the deal will go through.

    Offer less than you think is "fair" or "right." You can always come up if need be.

    Get *everything* you can think of inspected- for every "bad" thing the inspectors find, you can justify an even lower offer, and then fix whatever it is yourselves at your leisure.

    YAY! First-time home ownership!

  8. Anonymous1:28 AM

    So glad you found something you like.

    Two doctors, surrounded by particle board, with only one real bed--and it belongs to the kid. You are not alone.

  9. you had me at 'homework room'.

  10. I'm with you on the doctor surrounded by ikea crappy front.... The nurses at work were looking at my pictures from Christmas and couldn't get over the lack of a lamp shade on a lamp on our "formal" living room. Not only that, after we'd lived in our home for five years, the cable guy came to do a repair and told my husband he could tell he was a bachelor from the decorating. He said nope, just married to a doctor. I'm sure I'll get better at the decorating stuff by the time I retire. Or maybe I won't.

  11. Anonymous7:27 AM

    Post the multi-list URL...let us take a look too!

  12. I'd make my realtor take me out again to look at other houses. The first day out, she likely just showed you all the crap on the market that hasn't moved in forever. Case in point: A YEAR? Wth is wrong with the house/the sellers/both? Did the houses you saw get better and better each one you looked at? That's another trick: show the prospective buyer the worst houses first so that the ones that are passably ok look amazing.

    Not to be a big old wet blanket or anything, but everyone knows that drs are bad with money and make stupid financial decisions. I count myself in this pool.

    However, if you do make an offer, you ABSOLUTELY MUST do your research on what you should pay for it on your own. Do not trust your realtor. Look at zillow to see what comparable properties have sold for. Have there been a lot of foreclosures on the block? Absolutely do NOT let on to your realtor how much you like the house.

    Also -- Hire your own inspector. Do not use the one the realtor suggests. This goes for everything else as well: the title company, the insurance, mortgage provider, everything. DO NOT let them talk you into using a mortgage broker. You can get a mortgage directly through the bank, and it may take a little longer, but it will be well worth it. Make sure you get a fixed rate mortgage. Assuming you have good credit, I am guessing you should be able to get well under 5%. They may try to screw you by adding "points" to your mortgage, or change the rate on you at the last minute. If you have good credit, you should not have to pay for points. If they do these things, you must hold your ground. If people tell you that you have to act fast, they are lying to you. There will always be another house, and this is a buyer's market. You can move as slowly as your heart desires.

    Everyone gets kickbacks from everyone else in this business of these and you may end up very sorry in the end if you don't do your homework.

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  14. Elaine8:36 AM

    Falling in love with a place to live is nice, and it could work out. But be suspicious. Ask to see a few other places. Get your own inspector. Ask a million questions about the house -- has it been on the market for a year just because of the bad economy? Get ALL the tests run; I know people who have lost their hearts to a house, only to have some sort of problem with toxic gas (I forget which one) in the basement. It may work out, but remember that this is something you also may want to sell later, as an investment, and you don't want to put many into a black hole.

  15. Elaine8:37 AM

    That's put "MONEY" into a black hole. Jeez.

  16. I was so excited to see this post! I'm also a doctor in the process of buying our first home, and we could not have been more like baby fawns in the woods. Also, between moving constantly for residency and fellowship, we own exactly one stick of furniture, our baby's crib, so we don't even have Ikea! ;)

    The inspection is key, as others have said - we started thinking about getting a fixer upper, and then realized we knew ZERO about fixing things like plumbing, electrical, roof, etc. The appraisal will also be important too - I've heard of people falling in love, getting through inspection, only to have the house not appraise, and have to worry about negotiating the price again or potentially walking away if you can't come up with the difference. So enjoy the process - it's fun and exciting! But be informed and cautious :)

  17. Anonymous12:11 PM

    Get any house built before 1979 tested for lead DUST. Even if any lead paint has been covered up with new paint and the house has been renovated, it may still have sources of lead dust. Lead dust, of course, is a hazard to children and pets.

    I almost bought a beautifully renovated old home. But I found it was full of lead dust from sources inside and outside of the house.

    The cost of testing was some of the smartest money I ever spent. The seller's agent went nuts. I walked away from the deal and bought a house built in 1980. No regrets.

  18. Definitely get a good inspector - and look for someone with decades of experience. It doesn't take a whole lot to get certified.

    The homework room sounds AWESOME. I took over the dining room and during the day we kick around a basket of napkins, while at dinner we shove papers & books aside. If people give you grief about assigning extra work, you can just say that you "afterschool." It's supplementary homeschooling and there are plenty of people who do it.

  19. "Interspecies peed-on sofabed." Yes. I am happy to see that such a functional, accomplished person also has one of these.

  20. Nathan5:06 PM

    If I ever forget why I love your work, I'll just have to look at the phrase "big old Chinese Mom boner" to be reminded.
    Poetry indeed.

  21. med student6:00 PM

    I had a "homework" room with my sisters growing up (Chinese family), and I LOVED it.
    Homework room rocked. It was nice to have a quiet place devoted to reading and learning and solving math problems -- like my school away from school.

    I'm a med student now, and I really really wish I had a huge homework room, but alas, I just have the corner of my bedroom to study.

  22. Anonymous9:27 PM

    here is my first time home buying advice: watch "my first place" repeatedly on home and garden TV. With house hunters thrown in occasionally for variety. Watch different episodes, of course.

  23. Anonymous11:03 PM

    Old MD girl has some good points. Do all she suggested. Its a house, not a toy. Don't rush into it. Look at some more houses. Do your homework. Ask your parents for advice.

  24. Check out this website of this couple who loves old houses and loves to renovate them! They just sold their first house to move into their dream house which they are renovating for themselves!


    Glad you found something you adore... the kids will love it!

  25. You are taking your kids??? If they love it half as much as you do - your sunk!

    Have fun!

  26. Constance10:38 AM

    As someone else who grew up in an Asian household, my 2 siblings and I shared two rooms together. One was the sleep/play room where we had our beds, dressers, and all of our toys. The other was the "work room," which had our desks and bookcases. We had this configuration until I was in middle school. Our Asian parents never took us to see houses in which my parents had interest. They would get a place first and then we'd see the place when we moved into it and were told "This is our new place and you'll like it, dammit!"

  27. I'm not sure if you know about this, but not only do they make chalkboard paint, but they make WHITEBOARD paint too!

  28. Old Md Girl is right. By all means, hire your own inspector. Even to to lengths to get referals from the people you work with. If the inspection doesn't find major flaws, like black mold in the basement, a cracked foundation or an old gas tank buried in the back yard, you are stuck with it. You can't sue the inspector in Georgia for more than you paid them, which is $300-$500. Get a good inspector.

  29. http://www.overstock.com/Home-Garden/Sunrise-White-Twin-Twin-Bunk-Bed/3992656/product.html

    When you get ready to move...this is an awesome bed. I bought the bunk beds from my boy but left them as single beds. you can even add the railings to one for Mack.