Someone Has to Pre-Worry…

June 6th

Today the settlement company emailed me and told me since we’re buying 2.5 acres, we need to pay more for the survey, and could I please sign the attached form and send it back ASAP?

Our lot isn’t even a fifth of an acre.

We will be living on Typical Americana Name Street. A few miles away, there is the same lot number on Typical Americana Name Avenue. And that lot is 2.5 acres.

***

June 21st

The first email we got from our loan processor asked us for proof of rental payments for when we lived in New Mexico. Good Man’s never been to New Mexico, and I haven’t been there since I was 12 or 14.

The insurance agent claimed the loan processor never called him. She claims she called, left a voicemail, and never got a response.

The pest inspection was done on the 14th (all clear!), but the settlement agent says she hasn’t gotten the report, which Realtor says was sent.

The loan amount on our loan application/good faith estimate didn’t match the loan amount on our contract.

None of these problems have been hard to solve, and Realtor has been a great help.

Still, although Good Man might tease me for “pre-worrying,” someone has to during this home-buying process, because there are so many cooks in the kitchen. And none of those cooks care about getting the house as much as we do.

“Are You Going to Be Like My Kindergarten Teacher?

Amanda: What color do you want to paint the bedroom?

Good Man: Every time I make a spreadsheet, I use 20% grey and 20% red. [Points to paint strip.] I want this color.

Amanda: I don’t know. Can a man live with a pink bedroom?

Good Man: It’s not pink! It is red! Redbud. See?

Amanda: Pretty sure that’s pink.

Good Man: I want a red bedroom! My kindergarten teacher scolded me because I colored all the people red. She said I couldn’t do that. [Cocks and eyebrow and pouts.] Are you going to be like my kindergarten teacher?

Amanda: What color were you supposed to color them?

Good Man: The color of elephant teeth.

The Dreaded Appraisal

May 31st

At our inspection, Realtor mentioned that the appraiser had already been out. He said that was unusual, and that they usually waited until the buyer removed the inspection contingency.

Because I like to pre-worry, and I like to over-research matters, I had read horror stories about appraisals coming in low, and the mortgage companies refusing to fund the loan.

But Realtor and I had both done our own comps and thought we were getting a great deal. (A home built at the same time, with almost the same floor plan, same square footage and a lot of the exact same size down the street sold for several thousand more than our house. That house had a slanted floor and mold in the finished attic!)

The appraisal came back in our favor.

Another contingency removed…

***

I called our insurance company to price home insurance. While talking, I realized the doors don’t have dead bolts, and there are no smoke detectors. I will put smoke detectors in immediately, but in the contract for our state, the seller is supposed to provide working smoke detectors. I let Realtor know, and we’ll see if that gets taken care of.

If not, it’s no big deal. Just one more thing to add to the ever-growing List of Things to Do in Charming House.

Home Inspection

May 30th

Yesterday we had our home inspection. There is no way I would buy a home without a home inspection contingency, because I like to pre-worry. And because I know too many people who have had to back out of “the perfect home” due to things found in the inspection.

Since two other contracts on Charming House have fallen out, I was concerned about what we would find.

Our inspector was really nice, and very informative. We stuck by him through the whole inspection, and he taught us a lot about the house.

With the help of our Realtor, he got all of the water in the house going at the same time. Everything held strong, and nothing backed up. There was one small drip along a pipe, but it just needed tightening. Still, we’ll keep an eye on it.

The utility sink in the basement wasn’t attached to the wall. The oven in the kitchen wasn’t bracketed into place. All of the stairs are missing banisters. The hardware under the porches needs to be replaced. He strongly suggested adding more return vents to the finished attic. OK. A lot of that we already knew about, and we weren’t going to ask for any of that to be fixed. After all, we’re buying a post-war home. It’s not new.

The bathroom door locks itself. And if you’re inside, you need a pair of pliers to pull the button open. That was good to find out, because I can only imagine getting trapped in the bathroom, alone, with no way out.

The missing drywall above the window in the dining room doesn’t seem to have been caused by water damage, and there are no signs of previous flooding in the basement. (There was, however, sexual graffiti all over the ductwork, and a big chain and hook on the wall. Many of my coworkers are reading Fifty Shades of Grey and I just started chuckling to myself.)

We found an old wooden golf club in the rafters of the basement, and bowling pins in the attic. “Awww, look, bowling pins! It’s meant for us!” I said.

The more worrisome thing is that none of the three-prong outlets are grounded. Not a single one.

The seller said they would install support for the wall in the basement, and a radon-mitigation system. So we wrote back that in order to remove the inspection contingency, we wanted all of the outlets grounded or GFCIs to be installed by an electrician. We also wanted the radon-mitigation system and the wall reinforced.

Realtor wrote back today that all of our requests were accepted!

And so we march toward home ownership…

Invisible Poison in the Air

Me: I’m nervous about buying a house, because you never know what will happen with the neighborhood. What if it becomes totally crime-ridden or something?

Good Man: Oh. My. God. I am nervous to live, because you never know when you are going to die. I am nervous to breathe because you never know if there is invisible poison in the air. Oh. My. God. You are ridiculous!

***

Tuesday, May 22nd

Realtor emailed the listing agent of Charming House to ask about the reasons the home fell through. In one case, a new home came on the market that the buyers wanted, so they used the inspection clause to get out of the home. In another case, the buyer had concerns about the bowing wall. The seller had a structural engineer come in and the agent sent us the report. Realtor had actually used this structural engineer for his own home.

The structure could use carbon fiber strips for support, but it isn’t going to collapse.

So we wrote up an offer yesterday. Our Realtor uses a cool online signature system.

This morning, our Realtor emailed theirs and asked them to get a move on it.

A few hours later, the listing agent said that the seller didn’t want to haggle, and she presented the counteroffer, which included installing the carbon strips and a radon mitigation system (guess we don’t need to pay for a radon test).

We accepted, and then waited for her to fax over the paper. (Apparently she does not use the cool online system.)

And we waited.

And we waited.

We were supposed to get the paperwork this afternoon. At 4 pm, when we still hadn’t received it, I started to worry.

At 5:15 pm, when Realtor emailed me and said he was calling the agent every ten minutes because he was afraid she was shopping our contract.

At 5:32, I called my mom and cried.

At 5:46, Realtor said he was scanning the document for us. Good Man still wasn’t home.

At 5:50, Good Man walked in the door.

At 5:58, we received the email that the documents had been completed.

At 6:02, Realtor said that the fax had gone through.

A few minutes later, I stood up. Without thinking, I jumped and whooped. “We just bought a house!”

Good Man nodded matter-of-factly. “I know. I told you we would buy that house.”

Where We Look at Houses with Realtor

Saturday, May 19th

I have a coworker I really like. Her husband owns a liquor store and thus knows Everyone in the World (or At Least the DC Area). The people who engraved our wedding rings? They know them.

When I told her we wanted to buy a house, she immediately emailed a Realtor friend they’ve known for over 20 years. I told her we didn’t even have enough of a down payment for a conventional loan (we weren’t interested in FHA).

“No problem,” she said, “He’ll wait.”

Realtor and I have been emailing a bit since February, and today we went out to see homes. I had a list of the homes we wanted to see, along with our notes from the drive bys we did, and each home’s WalkScore.

Since he knew we were most interested in Charming House, we went there first.

Charming House
Asking price: More than 12% under budget
Sq ft: 1300+
WalkScore: 65
WalkScore at nearest major intersection: 78

We walked into the home, met our Realtor, and immediately started picking things apart. The wood trim on the window is rotten, this window is missing a lock, why is the wallboard chipped above the window, let’s rip up a corner of the carpet, why is that bit of the chipboard missing in the basement? Are they hiding water damage? Look, there’s a hole in the floor in the closet, is that basement wall bowing? Why isn’t the gas stove vented? So on and so forth, we went through the whole house, picking things apart.

Good Man said the kitchen was too small. I disagreed. The kitchen (“updated” about 15 years ago) forms a perfect working triangle. The sink, oven/stove, and fridge are all on different walls, and there’s nothing in the middle to distract the flow. “This kitchen is great,” I said.

Green Carpet Home
Asking price: 100% of budget
Sq ft: 1400+
WalkScore: 52
WalkScore at nearest major intersection: 65

This was one of the homes in the third neighborhood from Monday’s drive bys. It was a rambler with dark, dark green carpeting throughout the entire house. Yes, carpet can be replaced.

I walked into the kitchen. The kitchen cabinets were also super thin and cheap, like apartment-grade cabinets. “I think I would die,” I said, when I looked at the oven.

“What do you mean?” Good Man asked.

“I mean I think this might explode.”

“It’s original!” our Realtor said. Original being from the early 60s. Then he pointed to a corner of the living room. “That’s mold.”

We left.

Boat Walls Home
Asking price: 9% under budget
Sq ft: 1400+
WalkScore: 34
WalkScore at nearest major intersection: 65

This was the house with the beautiful landscaping in the backyard. It had a very nice, big kitchen but it was laid out in a scalene triangle. The stove and fridge were on the same wall with a doorway between them, and a fireplace behind them in the center of the room, so it was just…odd. Tile floors all over. Lots of windows, but very little light. Weird.

Also, the walls were covered in wooden slats that you could see between. “I feel like I’m in a boat,” I said.

They had a screened in porch, and the backyard was really landscaped beautifully, but there wouldn’t be much room to garden.

“Every floor is tile,” I said, “that’s going to be cold in the winter.”

“We can change the flooring,” Good Man said.

“Yeah, but there is nowhere else for that fridge to go without a total gutting.”

Trippy Tile Home
Asking price: 4% under budget
Sq ft: 1400+
WalkScore: 66
WalkScore at nearest major intersection: 65

The third house in this neighborhood had a similar layout as the first two, with one wall not knocked out.

The kitchen was again, oddly laid out. It formed a triangle, but an uncomfortable one. If you stood in front of the sink, the fridge was behind you. The stove was to the left, with the oven to the left of that built into the wall. The dishwasher was under the oven. However, the kitchen did have a ton of storage space. And in all three of these homes, you immediately walked into the kitchen, was was nice.

It had parquet flooring in the living room and bedrooms, and tile in the kitchen. I was suspicious about the 400 Oriental rugs on the floor. Realtor lifted them up and there was a big, big vertical gap from the tile to the floor. “Careful,” he said, “I don’t want you to trip.”

All three of these homes had three bedrooms, with really cool closets. Above the closet area in each bedroom there were sliding doors that opened to a solid wood shelf. It gave a ton of storage space. In our current walk-in closet, two shelves line the walls, but you still have a lot of dead space above your head. In these homes, there was no dead head space.

This home was much brighter than the other ones, but then we went to the backyard. The only sunny spot was the concrete patio.

“I want a real garden,” I said.

Hanok-Style Beams House
Asking price: 7% under budget
WalkScore: 31
WalkScore at nearest major intersection: 55

The fifth house we saw was the one Good Man wanted to see in the McMansionizing neighborhood I didn’t want to live in. I was surprised to discover it was the same layout as the other three homes we’d seen.

They had popped the roof to the attic over the kitchen and had install sky lights. So it was very open, very airy, very bright. The kitchen layout actually made sense!

And then…we walked into the bedroom. First, it was really, really dark. Second, it smelled…wet, musty, damp. They had a cat, and cats can smell, but it was not a cat smell.

“What is that smell?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” our Realtor said, “but it’s not a good one.”

No go.

Charming House, Take II
We went back to Charming House, where our cars were and examined it again.

This time, we pulled up the carpet in the master bedroom and finished attic. Original hardwood floors underneath.

The kitchen was the smallest we saw and, but by far the most sensible. Bright, bright, airy feeling! No visible signs of water damage in the basement, decent appliances, and that backyard! A dream!

“So two contracts have fallen though on this house,” I said to our Realtor. “That concerns me.”

“Hmm, if that’s the case, it’s usually an inspection issue.”

You’re not supposed to fall in love with a house!

We wandered through the home, a one and a half-story Levitt style knock-off. Kitchen and living room in the front. Two bedrooms in the back (one converted into a dining room), bathroom behind the kitchen. The “expansion” attic was finished, the original plaster walls smooth.

Built in 1950, the home has almost no closets. There is painted wallpaper in too many rooms. Hell, they wallpapered the ceiling. The ceiling is wallpapered. And painted. The doorways are narrow. The bedrooms in the finished attic are hot and would need window units.

I fingered the original, nonworking Honeywell thermostat. Minneapolis was written on the front.

“It’s just so charming!” I said to Good Man.

Our Realtor told us to sleep on it, that he’d do the comps.

***

We went home, exhausted.

“You know why I like that home the best?” Good Man asked.

“No, why?”

“It’s two stories and has a basement. I think a house needs to be two stories.”

I thought that was a bit odd, since most homes in Korea aren’t. “Why didn’t you tell me that?”

“I didn’t really think about it.”

Most homes in this area were post-WWII homes. Cape Cods, ramblers. A lot of ramblers. Rambler after rambler. I didn’t even know I wanted a basement until we toured four homes without basements.

Prone to preworrying, I went on the internet, and researched multiple reasons a home inspection could fail. I convinced myself the walls I thought were bowing meant the house was going to collapse tomorrow.

“We can’t buy this house,” I said, “I think it’s structurally unsound.”

“You are not an engineer, Amanda.”

You’re Not Supposed to Fall in Love with a House

Friday, May 18th

Yesterday I emailed our Realtor that we are very interested in the Charming House. He emailed the listing agent, who said it was completely available.

After bowling tonight, Good Man and I went to the Charming House to check out the neighborhood at night.

It was 10:30. We sat in front of the house with the windows down.

A buzz and hum of insects. A few cars driving by.

Wonderful.

“We’re going to buy this house,” Good Man said.

“We haven’t even seen the inside.”

“Who cares? We will buy this house.”

***

Don’t fall in love with a house!” a coworker admonished.

“I know. We haven’t even seen the inside. But we’ve been to that house three times this week. I want that house.”

“You haven’t even seen the inside.”

“I know. I want that house.”

I have been looking at homes online for over six months. We’ve been doing quick drive-bys. I know that good-looking houses come, and then they sell, and then another one comes to market. I know there will always be another house.

But tonight I want to believe Good Man.

Another Drive By

Written Tuesday, May 15th

Tonight, around 7:30 pm, we went back to Sunday’s neighborhood with the Charming House. Although a thunderstorm was about to come up, we saw a lot of people out and about, hanging out on their stoops, working in their gardens, taking a huge stack of laundry out of the car. In this neighborhood, it was a reasonable number of cars per house, too.

We parked the car in front of the charming house and peeked in the windows. We walked around the backyard, where I found something that looked like an outdoor fireplace. I stood in the middle of the backyard and looked up. While there were old trees in the corners of the lot, the center of the lot had no leaf cover.

“I could garden here,” I said.

We stopped one couple and asked them about the neighborhood. They said it was quiet, with a lot of long-time residents, but a good mixture of younger couples with kids, couples without, and older couples who had raised their kids in the neighborhood. They talked about the local pool and parks.

We walked and drove around the neighborhood for a while. Although the neighborhood is a post-war Cape Cod development, the houses have been built up, landscaped, and painted so it’s not nearly as cookie-cutter as the neighborhoods we were in yesterday. (Where every rambler looked…the same.)

It’s well-kept, but also feels lived in and…not vibrant. Vibrant isn’t the right word. But it was comfortable? Friendly?

We finally left and Good Man said, “I really like this neighborhood.”

“I know, I do, too.”

Drive Bys

Written Monday, May 14th:

Today Good Man and I did six drive-bys in three neighborhoods. I already checked out the bus situation, and it would be fairly easy for Good Man to get to work. I’d also checked out the school situation and knew neighborhoods one and three had stronger schools than the second neighborhood.

Neighborhood One
House One
First house was in a very quiet neighborhood near the interstate. We parked at the local school and walked to the house to get a feel for the neighborhood. Saw a few people out, but it was definitely suburban.

Although it was close to the interstate, the location of the house was quiet.

The house was recently renovated and had a lot of light. In fact, with the blinds open, you could see straight through the back of the house due to two large picture windows. The backyard was a decent size, but…it all sloped down toward the house.

The floor plan was a little strange. A half and full bath were right next to each other, but neither was off of the master bedroom.

I really liked how much light the house got.

“Look at that huge tree,” Good Man said, pointing to a huge tree in the front yard. “How will you garden with all that shade?”

“In the backyard.”

“Did you see the back? Even more shade.”

Neighborhood Two
Houses Two and Three
“I don’t even want to get out of the car,” Good Man said.

“Good, because I don’t either.”

We were in the parking lot of the school near the second and third houses we want to see. The whole neighborhood was run down. We passed one place with six cars in the driveway and five parked out front. On a Monday? That did not bode well for the weekend. The only people outside were loitering teenagers. No.

“Well, let’s drive past that five-bedroom illegally flipped house,” I said.

We did, and it was surrounded by completely overgrown yards.

“No,” Good Man said.

House Four, Near Two and Three

Houses two, three and four actually made a triangle. We drove past house four even though we’d basically written off the area.

In two blocks, the neighborhood had gone from being completely run down to being McMansionized. One was going up right down the street. The next block over, half the homes on one side of the street were oversized for their lot.

The pictures on the internet showed a big, bright kitchen with exposed wooden beams. It reminded us both of hanok.

“I still want to see the inside,” Good Man said.

Neighborhood Three
Houses Five and Six

Houses Five and Six were in the third neighborhood. It’s near a lake, and the neighborhood was very well-kept, although there weren’t too many people out.

Both homes we were interested in were occupied, so we were really only checking out the neighborhood. We liked it.

But…

“Are we really going to like living in a neighborhood where every time we want to go eat, we need to get in a car?” I asked over dinner.

Good Man thought for a moment, “Hmm. Good point.”

Charming House

Written on Mother’s Day:

On the way home from breakfast with Dad, I poked around on Good Man’s phone, looking at his Trulia app.

“We should find some homes in our price range and drive past them,” I said, “so we have an idea of what we can actually get for what we can afford.”

“I’m tired.”

“Let’s just drive past a few,” I said, “There’s one really close to here.”

Good Man obliged and we drove slowly past a house.

“That’s odd,” I said, “Usually homes look smaller in real life, but this one is bigger than the picture. And look at that yard!”

***

We went to an open house later. Beautifully landscaped yard, and a spot behind the shed for kimchi pots, but the layout of the home was very odd, with three bedrooms (one of which was tiny and would make a good sewing room) all crammed on one side of the house. There was a half bath right next to the full bath (neither off the bedroom), which seemed a bit pointless.

One thing I really liked was the kitchen. You could tell a cook has redesigned the kitchen, because all of the cabinets went all the way up to the ceiling. They had built-in spice racks, and they didn’t waste space around the vent like so many do. They also all closed silently. The lower cabinets all had well-designed drawers in them. A very nice kitchen!

“I like the kitchen,” I said.

“The flow of this house is weird,” Good Man said.

The half bath also had some amazingly hideous wallpaper. Yes, you can remove wallpaper, but wow.

Also, it would have been a pain for Good Man to get to work via the Metro.

We also drove by some homes in Annandale that are in our price range, but none of them really spoke to us.