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.”