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Thread: House Hunting Cyburbian (or The Ultimate in Domestication)

  1. #1
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    House Hunting Cyburbian (or The Ultimate in Domestication)

    Well, this past weekend Mrs. WSU MUP Student and officially began our house hunting...

    Sorry for the long post, but I just thought I would chronicle our search for Casa de WSU MUP Student!

    Some boring background info...

    We were married in May of 2008 and after moving all of my worldly possessions from my 1 bedroom apartment into her 1 bedroom apartment, we had discovered that a terribly laid out 800 square feet is just not enough for us.

    Over the summer, we would often go out for ice cream and walk around various neighborhoods looking at homes... we were able to determine A) Is this a pleasant, quiet place worthy of our property tax dollars? And B) Can I walk from this house to a local ice cream (frozen custard is an acceptable substitute) stand every night?

    At the end of the summer, I became busy with my final graduate course and she occupied her time with the CPA exam and looking for a new employer. A few months later, I am done with school, she has finished the CPA exam and has gone to work for a locally based regional accounting firm and we have gotten into serious house hunting mode.

    We have talked with the folks at a couple of the credit unions that I belong to and considering how much cash we have available for a down payment and our income level, we were able to determine roughly what our maximum price might be (and it was right in line with what we were picturing before meeting with a lender). But for now we are holding off on a formal pre-approval since any offer is only locked in for 60 days and we want to look at a few more houses in person to give us a better understanding of what we get for the $$$ in each different neighborhood.

    We currently rent in the northern suburbs of Detroit (not far off of the fabled Woodward Avenue) and hope to find a house around the same area. While we appreciate the feel of the inner-ring suburbs and the walkability that they provide, once we find a house, we are planning on staying in it for the long term and would generally trade the density for a better school district.

    Anyway... on Saturday of this past weekend, we finally were able to meet with a Realtor and go check out some houses. Before meeting with her, we had emailed her three that we had found online that we liked and she was able to make appointments for those as well as a few others that she picked.

    House #1 was at the very top of our price range and absolutely gorgeous. Totally move in ready, updated everything (except strangely, one piece of old countertop in the kitchen), plenty of room, huge master suite (really a suite), great neighborhood and schools, beautiful stone exterior, blah blah blah... but of course it was the most expensive.



    House #2 was the one we were most excited about prior to the excursion; it was nearly half the price of House #1 and in a more dense neighborhood (which is more what I prefer as opposed to the wife's ideal neighborhood) and the pictures we had seen beforehand showed a recently updated kitchen and a lot of space overall.... Well, this house turned out to be the biggest disappointment. The kitchen may have been well appointed, but it was probably 1/3 the size of my office cubicle and the bathrooms looked to be last updated during the first Truman administration. I am also having a hard time describing the badness of the living room. Whoever the listing agent was for that house should get an award for their great camera work though because they knew exactly what angles to take the pictures from to put the house in its best light.



    House #3 was another one that we had picked out (along with the first 2), and was the smallest of those three. It was in the same school district as House 1 and had slightly higher taxes but everything had been updated in the last couple of years. The neighborhood was fantastic, but the small size was really a deterrent.



    House #4 was picked out by the realtor and was just a block away from the previous house. Again, I loved the neighborhood but my wife was not so enthusiastic. The good: The house was bigger than #3 and had been gutted and very nicely remodeled in the last few months and a large master suite had been added on to the rear of the house. There were nice wood floors throughout and a full dinning room. The bad: While the neighborhood was very nice, there were about 7 other homes on the same street (only two blocks long) currently empty and for sale, the taxes were relatively high (currently a non-homestead tax rate was being assessed and we would have to wait until 2010 for it to be reset because of the timing), and the garage was flooding and had no direct access to the house (these were more serious negatives for my wife than they were for me though and this house hasn't been ruled out).



    House #5 was the biggest adventure. This was a house that was picked out by our Realtor because she knew of the neighborhood (she lives there) and thought that it might be a great find (she had not previously shown the house as it had just recently been put on the market). As we were driving through the neighborhood to get to it, we were both thinking to ourselves, "How can we afford something in this neighborhood?" Well, when we pulled up outside and got a look, our question was immediately answered...

    (note that the above picture must have been taken before both snow and blight began to set in)


    On to House #6 was the last house of the day and was another that the Realtor had picked. It was the furthest north in our search (close enough for me to ride my bicycle to work if we moved to it) and would give my wife the longest commute. It was a very nice neighborhood with some hills and mature trees but when we got out of the car, we could hear the roar coming from U.S. 24 and BL-75 which were both more than a half mile away (for some perspective, my parents live on a farm and I-94 runs THROUGH their property and this house was exponentially louder). Inside, the house needed some minor updating to the paint and floors but the kitchen and bathrooms were really in need of some work. Maybe they were not from the Truman administration this time around, but Ronald Reagan was still in Sacramento when the linoleum was laid. The house was a good size, but I think the amount of updating that we would want to do would be a bit daunting.


    So now the saga continues as we hang out and wait until we can get a chance to go look at some more this coming weekend!

    Our goal is to find a house, put in an offer and close on it prior to April 15th so that we can claim the $15,000 forgivable tax credit on our 2008 income taxes or else we will have to wait until next year for that nicety (assuming that the credit is still in the bill by the time it makes it to the President's desk). But after the confusion that was our first day out looking, we have realized that finding the house in the next 2 months (let alone completing the transaction) may be much more difficult than we originally assumed.
    Last edited by WSU MUP Student; 10 Feb 2009 at 4:58 PM.
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  2. #2
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    In regards to #5, you didn't say much about the house, but if its not too bad, but needs work, that might be ok, considering it sounds like the worst house in a great neighborhood. Much better than buying a fantastic house in a horrible neighborhood.

    It sounds like there are good and bad for each of them. Because I'm an anal, control freak planner, I would probably have devised some sort of analytical matrix assigning point values for the different variables. But I'm a dork like that

    Quote Originally posted by WSU MUP Student View post
    (for some perspective, my parents live on a farm and I-94 runs THROUGH their property and this house was exponentially louder).
    A coworkers parents have the same thing... farm along 94 (in Belleville though). Small world!

  3. #3
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner View post
    In regards to #5, you didn't say much about the house, but if its not too bad, but needs work, that might be ok, considering it sounds like the worst house in a great neighborhood. Much better than buying a fantastic house in a horrible neighborhood.
    We could tell from the outside that the garage was about to collapse upon itself and we could see the rotted decor from through the cracked windows while standing on the porch. The door/frame had warped so badly that we could not get it to open even after ensuring that it was indeed unlocked. If we were in the market to tear down and rebuild completely, it would have been a great spot for that but unfortunately, that's not something that we want to undertake.

    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner View post
    It sounds like there are good and bad for each of them. Because I'm an anal, control freak planner, I would probably have devised some sort of analytical matrix assigning point values for the different variables. But I'm a dork like that
    Believe me, with me as a planner and my wife as the accountant, spreadsheets, pivot tables and geocoded maps have already found their niche in our search.

    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner View post
    A coworkers parents have the same thing... farm along 94 (in Belleville though). Small world!
    Small world indeed! My mom's great-grandfather was atually the first child of a settler born in Van Buren Township (Belleville was part of Van Buren Twp, right?).... I grew up at the other end of I-94 though closer to Port Huron.
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Ooh, this is even better than watching "House Hunters" on HGTV! The people on that show have to choose between only 3 options.

    You don't necessarily want the worst house in a great neighborhood... just one that has a lot of potential with some cosmetic improvements and upgrades (NOT major structural repairs). Keep in mind you may have to make some compromises. Could you live with a smaller house (building additions are costly, require an architect), or a home with an outdated bathroom (where there are multiple options for renovation)? What structural issues can be corrected relatively easily, or possibly by the seller? Some things to think about.

    A friend in the process of buying a home told me that he's used Google Earth to pinpoint neighborhoods and areas of interest and "look" at houses without having to drive all over the region. It's amazing how these technological tools have transformed the real estate market; during our last house-hunt, we thought our realtor was so cutting-edge because she e-mailed us listings, and posted pics of the home we were selling on her own website!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    I think house #3 is adorable, and if there is an option to someday finish the basement there or something, I'd be all over it.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mud Princess View post
    Ooh, this is even better than watching "House Hunters" on HGTV! The people on that show have to choose between only 3 options.
    We finished downright disheartened on Saturday evening because much more than 30 minutes had passed and we hadn't moved into our dream house without experiencing any problems!


    In a bit more HGTV news, there will be a house on, How Much is My House Worth? tonight located in Detroit's historic Indian Village. There are some absolutely gorgeous houses in that neighborhood and I am very interested to see what they price it at.
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  7. #7
    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Take your time in looking and buying a house. April 15 is a pretty short time line to house hunt, get the loan in place, and close on it. Although the extra tax credit would be nice remember that you will have a good write off anyways with the purchase of the house. Go out with your realtor a couple more times and if you feel like she isn't "getting" what you are looking for trade her in on a new one.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Fat Cat's avatar
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    Fat Cat

    Congratulations
    This is a big step. I have owned a fquite a few houses in different states over the years and it is never easy. So I understand that is both frustrating and rewarding. A couple of times the independent housing inspector that we hired would find things wrong with our "dream house" so it was always worth while to have that opinion also.
    We were the same as both of you, we wanted walkability, good schools, public transportation, near the church of our faith, close to shopping and public parks.
    Again congratulations on your decision to purchase a home and hope you let us know how everything works out.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Thanks for asking the throbbing brian for our opinions.

    I like 3 and 5 at first blush.

    NEVER look at house updating as a chore. It is love.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    For curb appeal, I vote three and four. Two and six are U-G-L-Y.

    My wife and I looked at over 100 houses before settling on our current one. Our realtor hated us by the time it was over

  11. #11
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Well, WMS, you certainly have your choice of quality houses. With the housing market in SE MI in the crapper (about 40% drop across the board), the position you're in (lots of cash for downpayment, no house to sell, etc.) the world is your oyster.

    My SIL and her husband are going to start looking in the near future too and have already done some initial looking. They can get pretty large 4bd, 2 bath houses in nice areas (Famington, Farmington Hills, etc.) for something like $160,000. Those houses 3-4 years ago would have been selling for $400,000+.

    But then again, you have to be willing to stay in the house for quite a long time (6-10 years min.).

    Good luck!

    My wife and I have done the house searching thing many times before (though never actually got to buy anything). If you think it was hard for you two when you did it recently, try having to bring along two small (ie baby & toddler) with you. We luckily have friends nearby that can babysit for us if we decide to start looking again, since the downturn here in Chicagoland has made more houses available to us (though not as available if we were in SE MI).
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Every day is today. Yesterday is a myth and tomorrow an illusion.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    I think you have a lot of great choices at least, and at reasonable prices. Which will probably make the decision harder........ it goes back to comparing those issues that are high on the priority list, as well as the secondary ones and trying to find one that best fits for you guys, as well as eventual resale value. It sounds like you liked #1 with no serious setbacks, except for maybe price.

    When I was looking this past summer, here in my small little town, there were a ton available, but only a handful of ones did I consider because I knew pretty much what I was looking for and was very picky. I got lucky that I loved the one I bought, because if I didn't, I don't know what I would have done.

  13. #13
    I kinda like #1, but that tree up close to the house would make me real nervous -- particularly after recent wind and ice storms here. The one story has the advantage of making it a lot easier to be Clark Griswold when the holiday season rolls around, too.
    Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.
    Abraham Lincoln

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by WSU MUP Student View post
    We could tell from the outside that the garage was about to collapse upon itself and we could see the rotted decor from through the cracked windows while standing on the porch. The door/frame had warped so badly that we could not get it to open even after ensuring that it was indeed unlocked. If we were in the market to tear down and rebuild completely, it would have been a great spot for that but unfortunately, that's not something that we want to undertake.....
    Shall I send you Kiss! Man? He says he can fix anything besides a rainy day.

    Cracked windows: inexpensive repair
    Rotted decor: ditto (AFAIK Katrina did not hit the 248)
    Door frame: ditto

    total probably less than $1k

    garage: can be repaired.

    Low-ball 'em, offer $10k less, let them negotiate back up a couple, and start calling Angie's and Craigslisters.

    HTH

    P.S. I also like the curb appeal of #3. No one in your nest right now, why not enjoy a small house?

  15. #15
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    I'm a fan of #3. Small houses often have good layouts so you forget about the SF number. Besides, even if you have one or two small ones come along in the next five years you'll still be OK for room. Also, smaller house = smaller taxes (usually) and smaller heating bill (usually).

    I imagine you've got a pretty sweet buyer's market going on up there, so your timing probably couldn't be better.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  16. #16
    Cyburbian dandy_warhol's avatar
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    in this day and age i would consider purchasing a house that you can afford on one of your salaries.

    purchase a house with good bones. the cosmetic stuff is easier to improve.

    what about yard space/lot size? is that important to you? more = more mowing upkeep but also allows a place for kids to play, a dog to run, you to garden.
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -Martin Luther King Jr.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dandy_warhol View post
    in this day and age i would consider purchasing a house that you can afford on one of your salaries. ....
    ^^What she typed.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Salmissra's avatar
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    You think it takes only one house-hunting trip? We went through 5 before we made an offer. And then the house inspector found something major, and we walked away. Several more visits, and two offers later, and we moved in to what is maybe not our dream house, but it's the right house for us right now.

    We each had a couple of requirements, and we also both wanted a large back yard (we have dogs). Our realtor met with us once just to talk about housing styles, structure, what we were each looking for (not just number of bedrooms, but what would be using them for - study? hobby room? computer room?), neighborhood amenities, and so on. I wanted a house that didn't have a flat front elevation (boring), Hubby wanted a porch in the back, etc. She found lots of options for us, and we spent several weekends out in her SUV looking.

    Dandy's right. Don't buy too much house. We can afford our house on one salary for a while, but not forever. We could have gone smaller, but this house just felt right. And almost three years later, it still does. Yeah, it needs a little TLC - the guest bath has hideous wallpaper (but it's in good condition), some spackle and paint in the living room, and new carpet in the back room, but it's ours and we love it.
    "We do not need any other Tutankhamun's tomb with all its treasures. We need context. We need understanding. We need knowledge of historical events to tie them together. We don't know much. Of course we know a lot, but it is context that's missing, not treasures." - Werner Herzog, in Archaeology, March/April 2011

  19. #19
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    While House #3 may be very cute but small, the layout on the inside is probably the least efficient unfortunately and the backyard is the smallest of all that we have looked at so far.

    We have definitely realized that it is indeed a buyer's market and we have a feeling that after a month or so, we may have to tell the Realtor, "No more houses!" or else they will all start to look alike to us and even with notes and photos, we will not remember a thing (every other day if I look online there seems to be about 200 new houses listed in our target areas and price range!).

    As for affording a house on just one of our salaries... My wife makes considerably more than I do so we are basing what we would like to pay monthly (including taxes, insurance, a repair fund, etc.) on my salary. Luckily, we have a pretty substantial amount to use for a down payment... otherwise, based on my salary, we would be moving into my sisters basement!




    After this weekend, I should have about 7 or 8 more houses to add to this thread... Hopefully, unlike jmello, we can keep it under 100 total before we find ours!
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  20. #20
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by WSU MUP Student View post
    Hopefully, unlike jmello, we can keep it under 100 total before we find ours!
    Perhaps a bit of hyperbole in his statement, but I'll bet we looked at upwards of 40 houses before buying ours. That's a lot of houses when you think about it. I guess buying a house is going to be a major life purchase. Better to look around more rather than less so one can be as sure as possible they are making the right decision.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian dandy_warhol's avatar
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    we looked at 4. made an offer on one, it was accepted. closed one month later.
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -Martin Luther King Jr.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jmello View post
    My wife and I looked at over 100 houses before settling on our current one. Our realtor hated us by the time it was over
    My sister was like that. I was actually relieved that she used a different realtor than the one we'd recommended.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Between the 2 of us, my wife and I probably looked at 30+ houses. We ended up making an offer an the 2nd house we saw. We're still living in it.
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  24. #24
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    Perhaps a bit of hyperbole in his statement, but I'll bet we looked at upwards of 40 houses before buying ours.
    No hyperbole here. We looked at 2-3 houses per week for about one year.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Where's the poll?

    I might win the prize here. On St Patrick's Day 2007 I viewed my first foreclosure. The one I bought on June 21 was first viewed the following week, and it set a standard.

    Asked Realtor Barbie how many I would have to see before I knew this was "the one." She said probably five. Everything else was too big, too crummy, too expensive, not where I wanted to be. This one was the best possible deal, seeing as how it has a garage with a door, a driveway, nice innards, and the walls weren't all Gothed up.

    WUP, it might help to narrow things down in therms of sq ft, lot size, and style. There's no sense in seeing bungalow after bungalow if you're considering a raised ranch.

    Oh, and picket fences rule. I finally landed a little piece of Norman Rockwell.

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