Guys, this month has been tough. Have you noticed I’ve been pretty silent since I posted that we’re moving? (Side note: I just read through all your amazingly supportive comments on my last post and I want you to know how much they meant to me. I’m so sorry it took me so long to respond but you guys rock!)
Anyway, house hunting in a seller’s market feels like a full time job. Especially when Mike and I both had to travel for work this month. I spent a week in New Orleans for a trade show (being there for work isn’t NEARLY as fun as vacation) and Mike has been to Chicago and other satellite offices numerous times. I promise, this isn’t a “poor me” post. We’re extremely blessed to be in the position where our house sold quickly (again: seller’s market) and we’re able to shop for a home with more space in our ideal location, but this whole house hunting process has been way harder than I ever expected. By the time this is all over I’ll be so ready to kiss 2017 goodbye and look forward to starting the new year getting settled into our new home. I know there are great things to come, but getting there has been a HUGE learning experience.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty, shall we?
I’m the kind of person who stalks real estate listings ALL DAY EVERY DAY. Okay, maybe not ALL DAY. But definitely for a few minutes before bed each night. Mike jokes about how I’ve been looking for our next house since a few days after we moved into this one. I don’t know why, but I love looking at listings and imagining the potential of each place. So when the master bathroom in our townhouse was finished (our last big project) and a gorgeous listing in a great neighborhood hit the market we decided it was time to finally put our house up for sale so we could bid on it.
LESSON 1 // HOUSE 1
We went to see the house. Totally loved it. And like the conservative beginners we were, we asked for a second showing. Ha! You don’t have time to do a second showing in a seller’s market! If the property has been newly listed you better make an offer quickly or else, I’m sorry my friend, but you’re going to lose out. When our realtor asked for a second showing he was told the house that we put our house on the market for was already under contract. Cue the heart break. Cue the second guessing. Cue the panic of WHAT DO WE DO NOW?! But oh, that was just the beginning.
LESSON 2 // HOUSE 2
We had already fallen for the house we lost. We imagined the ways we would fix it up to make it ours and all the fun entertaining we could do there. But it was gone so we had to move on. We got back to scouring listings, scheduled some showings and stumbled upon a gorgeous colonial with an awesome layout and an incredible flow. The part of me that loves the character that older homes instantly fell for the dental crown molding in the foyer, the gorgeous hardwood stairs with a pretty paisley carpet runner and the big family room that opened onto a magical backyard full of flower beds and mature trees. This house wasn’t in our target location (mainly because of the school district) but the town had an exciting up-and-coming vibe with new micro breweries, coffee shops, boutiques and restaurants on the main street less than 5 minutes from the house, so we were hooked. Everyone we talked to instantly said, “Ohh, I love that town!” We felt better about the location with each person we talked to and started falling head over heels for this house. We made an offer, negotiated and came to an agreement. Everything was on track. Contracts were signed. We thought this was it.
Cut to: Mike chatting with a friend who used to live in the same town and had since moved away. Mike asked for his opinion about the town and he said, “Oh, it’s a great little town. They’re really revitalizing it. But there is that landfill that always concerned me.”
We instantly turned to the internet to find out more and the search results were so, so scary. This house was located less than a third of a mile away from not just a landfill, but a toxic waste dump that was once the EPA’s #1 Superfund Site in the entire country back in the 80s. Apparently the owner of the landfill allowed several companies to dump their chemicals, heavy metals and other contaminants over a period of 20 years from the 1950s through 1972 when it was finally closed. The EPA lead a massive clean up effort through the 1980s and early 90s in the site and surrounding area, but we just couldn’t get over the fact that there could still be heavy metals in the soil and toxic gases in the air. My stepdad happens to work for an environmental remediation company and he warned us of the potential danger. The final nail in this house’s coffin was that even if everything had been remediated and we were never exposed to the pollution the dump was a huge negative factor in resale value. I didn’t want to be stuck with one of the more expensive houses in the neighborhood and have potential buyers scared away by the same research we did.
Even though it broke our hearts and the thought of having to start back at square one was overwhelming, we ultimately made the decision to walk away from the deal. Luckily we were able to get out of the contract without losing our deposit, so it was on to the next. The big lesson we learned was to really do your homework about all aspects of the neighborhood you’re buying in. The EPA’s superfund site list is public information so make sure you check it. If our friend hadn’t mentioned something we may have been stuck in a crappy situation so we’re super thankful to him for his honesty.
LESSON 3 // HOUSE 3
At this point we were feeling demotivated, but we chalked everything up to the fact that the first two houses just weren’t meant to be and kept on looking. Shortly after we walked away from the second house we were leaving for New Orleans so we lost an entire week (which is a lifetime during the house hunting process). We stalked listings and made plans while we were away, and Mike came across a newly listed house in one of our target neighborhoods that looked like it was completely renovated. It was on the smaller side but we decided to take a look at it since we both liked it and we were running out of time. You guys know I love a project so I was kind of bummed at the “move in ready” status of this house. Plus it had been over improved and was a much more traditional style than my taste, so I knew any changes we made would be a waste of money. The owner of this home went above and beyond with upgrades — granite EVERYWHERE, gorgeous hardwood floors that looked brand new, a massive EP Henry paver patio, HUGE fully grown arborvitaes, the works. The house was so nice and I was getting used to the idea of having a place we could move right into, especially since we were supposed to be closing the week before Thanksgiving. I figured I could focus on furnishing and decorating and knew there were some small, inexpensive tweaks I could make to give the house a more modern aesthetic.
The funny thing is I had to go see the house on my own because Mike flew right from New Orleans to Chicago for work, so I scheduled a showing for the night after I got home. He told me if I liked it we’d just make an offer because he knew he’d love it based on the photos and location. Having already lost a newly listed home because we were slow to react we made a strong offer the night of the showing and hoped for the best. We were thrilled when the seller responded right away and we had a contract signed with 24 hours, but our excitement faded when we learned she was still moving forward with an open house that coming Sunday. We signed the contract on a Friday which meant our 3-day attorney review period didn’t start until Monday so she knew if she got a better offer at the open house she’d have a few days to back out of our contract and go with the highest bidder. It’s definitely an unethical thing to do but totally legal. Our hearts were guarded and we were hopeful everything would work out.
We still went to the open house and lingered there for a while to try and figure out if we had any competition, which we totally did. Remember, this is the first time Mike had even seen the property. And our friends Joe and Laura were nice enough to come to the open house with us to give their opinion. As an engineer Joe is well versed in all the inter workings of homes that Mike and I aren’t as familiar with, so we always try to get his feedback. He actually caught a water problem in the basement which was pretty serious and would have to be dealt with, and he told us he thought the house wasn’t graded properly so water would continue pouring into the cinder block walls of the basement and causing mold unless a professional reconfigured the water drainage system. It was good to know but not a reason to walk away, so we waited to see what happened.
The next day our realtor broke the bad news that an all-cash buyer made a full price offer and the seller was cancelling our contract. We lost yet another house. This one was probably the easiest for me to get over since I wasn’t as gaga for it as Mike was, but I felt for him because this was his dream house and he was really crushed. But we quickly rallied and found a few more properties of interest so we had showings scheduled by Monday night. We were getting used to having to trudge on and do the next thing. Lesson learned: don’t count your eggs before they hatch.
HOUSE 4 // LESSON 4
One of the first houses we looked at after the third house fell through was in our absolute dream location and school district. We had driven through the neighborhood a few times during our house hunt and even looked at another house in the same development but it was too small and had way too many major projects. We knew the house was a foreclosure and it had, until then, been slated for auction in November. But all the sudden it was an active listing and IT WAS IN OUR PRICE RANGE! Most of the houses in this neighborhood go for much higher than we were looking to spend. We looked at the house and it was in great shape for a foreclosure. There were some projects to be done but we could move in and live in it comfortably right away.
We were cautiously optimistic that maybe this was finally the one. Maybe this was the reason all the other houses fell through. It probably sounds silly but throughout our house hunt I’ve been looking for the number 7. Mike and I were both born on the 7th and it’s always been our mutual lucky number. He was actually born on the same date as my great grandmother — March 7. Our current town home is on Lot 7 in our development and when a house had a 7 it sort of checked a tiny box I had in my head. Well, this house’s address was just plain old, straight up 7 — and I totally took it as a sign. We made an offer the same day as our showing and waited to hear something back.
…and waited some more. Two days passed and we heard nothing. At this point we’re completely running out of time since we’re closing on our current home on November 29, so the pressure is starting to mount to figure out a solution and get it locked down. Short sales are notorious for being a long, drawn out process but foreclosures are already approved by the bank that owns the property, so everything should be straight forward. Key word: should. We got antsy so we decided to keep looking. I REALLY didn’t want to keep looking, but we couldn’t just leave it up to fate with the chance of ending up homeless, so the search went on.
HOUSE 5 // LESSON 5
Cut to a rare Sunday where we had nothing planned and decided to check out a local open house. The place was a flip so it was completely done and move in ready — but here’s the miraculous twist. It was actually finished to my taste. There was nothing I would change. I loved the tile, paint color, hardwood floor stain, carpet. Everything. The place had two negatives — it was in a good town but it wasn’t necessarily our dream location, and it had a pool. It was also a bit on the small side but big closets and a finished basement and two car garage made it seem like plenty of space for living and storage. It was also one of the lowest priced homes we’ve looked at which was a plus. The open house garnered a ton of attention so we knew we had to move fast to make something happen and we decided to make an offer. Our realtor actually negotiated back and forth with the seller that same night. We made a really strong offer and were hopeful, but knew anything could happen at this point.
The lesson here is to keep thinking with your head, not your heart, at all times. Remember, this is the FIFTH house we’ve bid on at this point. We’re exhausted with looking at listings and getting our hopes up just to be disappointed. Our moving date is looming and this would be a quick and easy sale since the seller is an investor. Key word there is investor. The seller was trying to get every last penny out of his investment and we just weren’t willing to overpay for the house. We actually offered $5,000 over asking right off the bat to try and lock down a deal but he wanted even more and the neighborhood comps just didn’t justify the price, so we had to pass. Yet another house came and went — all within a matter of 12 hours. What a whirlwind.
HOUSE 6 // LESSON 6
We’re still in negotiations on house 4, but the bank isn’t budging much and we’re not convinced they’ll meet us in the middle, so we knew we had to keep looking. On yet another Monday night we went out for more showings in this new town we hadn’t considered before. I would still say it’s our ideal location and in a great school district. It’s closer to our best friends and to my family (who live across the bridge in PA). And it’s really convenient for us to both get to work, so it checked all the major boxes. At this point we weren’t messing around so we lined up five showings and got to work.
We quickly nixed four of the houses off the list, but one of them stuck out from every other house we’ve looked at so far. Mike and I both equally loved the style and layout. It was another foreclosure so it was similar to house 4 where that made it affordable in a really great neighborhood that we may be priced out of otherwise. The house had all the major features we were looking for — plenty of space to grow, a two car garage and a basement, a fenced in backyard, and open kitchen/family/dining area, and more. We were shocked by the quality of the home since it was a foreclosure. The bank had spent the money to replace all the carpeting and put a fresh coat of neutral gray paint throughout most of the house so it felt like new. And truthfully this was the newest house we had looked at — it was built in 2008.
Here’s the really funny part, guys. We looked at the house at night in the dark. There’s no electricity on the property since the utilities are turned off so we used the flashlight feature on our iPhones as we toured through each room. But we could tell this house was something special so we made an offer for $10,000 less than the asking price and hoped to hear back more quickly than we did with house 4. They countered back the next day at $2,000 above our offer and we accepted. Now we’re waiting on the contracts to come through and trying to get all our ducks in a row to close on both properties by the end of November!
At this point everything could all fall apart with House 6 and we could be back at square one yet again, but we find ourselves being cautiously optimistic that things will work out while still having a plan in place just in case it doesn’t. If you guys could send any prayers or good vibes our way it’d be greatly appreciated. Hopefully we’ll have some good news to share next week, and you better believe I’ll keep you posted.
What have you done to keep the faith through trying times? How have you helped support your spouse or partner while keeping yourself sane? It’s times like this I feel so blessed to have a strong marriage and a partner in life who helps pick me up when the going gets rough. I’m grateful for how this process has brought us even closer together and for all the friends and family who have supported us through these trying times. We are very, very blessed and I know whatever happens is meant to be.