So. I know it’s a little late, but we’ve been so busy with the house that I really just didn’t have a ton of time to talk about it. Now that I think about it, that’s kind of stupid, but whatever…
Essentially, Dave received a windfall and decided that he would spend the money on a house – a wise investment. Once we made the decision to buy, we both began saving as much as we could (I was also getting out of the Navy that year, so I was basically trying to pad my bank account should I end up in my current situation. It sucks. More on that later). We began working with a great realtor, Seth Chalnick (for those of you looking for a home in the San Diego area, please consider him: http://www.sethchalnick.com) who was in contact with me all through Dave’s last deployment, he would send me lists of potential houses based on our criteria of price, square footage, and safe neighborhood. I would go through online and rule out the ones that wouldn’t quite work, and the ones that seemed interesting to me, I would forward to Dave, who would tell me to keep or eliminate one or the other. We did this for over six months. Ironically, it was not a house that Seth E-mailed me, but one we found on our own using the search engine on his website (above). We had a list of about eight houses to see on a Saturday morning, and when the time came, we met Seth at the first house. He told us that unfortunately, two of the houses had gone into escrow over the weekend (meaning that the sellers were entertaining an offer and were not legally allowed to take other offers). We were disappointed, but optimistic: surely we would find a good fit today, right?
Ugh, some of those houses were so bad! My biggest pet-peeve was the fact that we couldn’t spend $100k or $200k more, because then we might be able to get some space! Beggars cannot be choosers, however, so I gave on my initial 2,000 sqft minimum in favor of a more realistic 1,500. So we looked. And we looked. And we got frustrated. One place would look absolutely gorgeous, but it was in a bad neighborhood. Another boasted five bedrooms, but one was really nothing more than an office, and the other one was in the converted garage and smelled musty. We even found the perfect house! The only problem? No garage. Not even a long enough driveway to park and not have your bumper stick out. We considered buying the empty lot next to it just so we could have a garage, but we couldn’t afford it, and they weren’t selling anyways. (Note: If you’re just buying the lot, a bank won’t finance it, it has to be cash down, just a tip.)
I started to get sad. I started to lose faith. I started to think we would be living in the crazy party apartment complex forever and be trying to raise a child there with really loud neighbors. I got depressed. Luckily, Seth was free the next Saturday as well, so we did another search, narrowing our criteria even more, which I was doubtful of at first, but Seth explained that there are literally hundreds of homes for sale in Southern California at any given time, and that the more specific we were with what we wanted, the less likely we would waste time looking at houses that weren’t right. So I got down and dirty with the specifications: Had to be the right price, low-crime neighborhood, (I recommend using the site http://www.liveclassy.com for checking out neighborhood specs in San Diego County – very helpful!) no less than 1,500 sqft, at least three bedrooms, (preferably four) at least two bathrooms, two-car garage, a yard, and turn-key (aka: move-in ready). Of course, even with all that, we still saw a few houses that just didn’t feel right. As a matter of fact, after this whole ordeal, I know that when making a big decision like a house, you go in as practical and unemotional as possible, but once you’ve met the criteria for what you need, you let it go and trust your gut. As long as you meet your criteria (especially your budget) you really just need to walk around and feel the place out. By the end of the day, Dave and I were torn between a one-story with no yard (but a gorgeous open kitchen) that was incredibly close to the Base, and a two-story bungalow that was a bit further away, had a small, closed kitchen, but a massive back yard (with a slope, but there’s a ton of potential). We went for a walk. Dave was quite seduced by the 5-10 minute drive to work, but I turned to him and said “I can picture us living there, I can see us with a family in the other one…” That did it. Dave and I walked back to Seth and told him we had decided on the brown two-story further east. The hard part was over, we had found a house.
A few months earlier, my brother and his wife had gone through what the real estate business calls a “short sale”. It’s a misnomer. A short sale takes forever. I won’t go into detail here, you can do some research for yourself, but essentially, a short sale is when the bank tells the owners that they can sell the house for less than it’s worth, pre-forclosure, but the bank decides on the sale amount. And they’re jerks about it. They sit on offers without contacting the buyer, they play money games (the realtor representing the bank was actually the mother of the current resident, and she lied and told my brother and sister-in-law that they had a better offer – to try to drive up theirs. Can you say unethical??) Dave and I knew we didn’t want to get into that, so when the seller said “30-day close, no problem!” We were like “yes!”
Oh. But we were so wrong…
We got the inspector in, and even though we told ourselves we wouldn’t accept any homes that needed large repairs, when he said we needed a new roof, Dave and I looked at each other and said “we really do like the place…” so we did it, we made a list of small things for the sellers to fix, and we took care of the roof. They accepted. Awesome, we thought it was going rather well. Until. We got a call from the bank and they said that they were not going to be able to give us the loan because the sellers had messed up their transfer of title, and due to some sloppy mistakes, and some guidelines in place by the banks corporate committee, they could not finance us. Crap. So we went with another bank, and had to extend the escrow period so that they wouldn’t drop us and sell the house to someone else. So we had to do all of our paperwork over again with the new bank, and it’s a lot of paperwork, I’m talking probably close to a hundred pages, when all is said and done. I think I got carpel tunnel from it, honestly.
Finally, we closed. We signed all the escrow documents, set up the wire for the down-payment, and prepared to move out of the apartment and into our own little piece of the American Dream. We both almost had heart attacks when it took forever for the wire to go through, but it eventually did, and we finally got the keys. We had a beer with Seth in the kitchen, and began calling licenced contractors to check out the roof, the furnace, and some electrical issues. New roof; well, we already knew that, so we priced a few and went with the cheapest one, who also happened to have the best product, (find a balance of the two, if you can) the electrician came in and fixed a rather rookie problem that the sellers’ contractors made by installing a light switch panel where there was supposed to be a GFCI receptacle to prevent us from electrocuting ourselves in the event of a short. Then the HVAC guy came and said “your furnace is actually older than your house, and it sucks, and you’re losing 55% of your heat out your roof because your attic ducting also sucks. Oh, and it’s unsafe.” Damn. So, we need to redo the entire heating system then? Yes. Fantastic.
The lesson we learned, however, is that we were putting money in all the right places (thank God!). We put a fantastic roof on, complete with new insulation that really helps to regulate the temperature in extreme cases, and our new furnace is more efficient, even with the gas bill, and it should pay for itself in just five years. Those are two really good selling points, too. We’re planning on moving in 10-12 years, in favor of more room and privacy (see my “neighborhood etiquette” post for more) and when the time comes, buyers will see that we’ve made all the necessary improvements for them to have a safe, secure, efficient home.
The lesson: Houses cost a lot of money (and I didn’t even get into the fun repairs/purchases we’ve had to make! Next time…) but, they’re so worth it, especially when you find the right one.