House Hunting Adventures v. 3

Lesson Learned v. 3: Don’t Force Feelings

G and I are loving being homeowners. We are continually working to make our new house a home and have completed a number of projects thus far. These include demolishing the wall between the dining room and living room, repainting six rooms, reflooring five rooms, trimming rooms, and hanging blinds. We both have the week of Christmas off in order to gut our bathroom and remodel. It has been quite the adventure already!

It seems crazy that we’ve only lived in our house for a little over two months. Not even four months ago we were casually house-hunting. I’ve shared with you our first six house visits here and here, but I have one final story in that journey to tell. It took visiting three more houses for us to find our little lovely corner of Southwest Michigan. Here are those final three tales…

Family friends lived around the corner of House #7 and brought it to G’s and my attention. This old farmhouse was exactly what we had been searching for: it lay on a beautiful country lot, it had a large garage and interior rooms, and it was within our price range. It had its quirks such as a door which opened to a brick chimney and awkward closet placements. However, we both shrugged our shoulders at those knowing we had witnessed worse issues. Following a tour of the first and second floors, we were pretty set to make an offer. Then our agent, Dawn, directed us to the basement.

Ah, yes, another basement story…

The basement was another dreary and wet Michigan basement. There was your typical cobwebs, dirt clumps, and steel support jacks.

That’s right.

Steel. Support. Jacks.

It seemed the house’s owners were attempting to prevent any sort of floor collapse from the early-season flooding by propping the entire house up with two jacks. These jacks were about a foot in diameter and rested at two opposing corners of the two-story home. In addition to the jacks, many of the floor rafters were strapped with steel bands where large cracks had appeared. Thankfully the day we visited was a calm, pleasant day outside because I worried what might happen if the wind blew.

Hundreds of questions flooded my mind. How long would this house remain standing? Were the jacks sufficient? What sort of additional support would be necessary in the future? Had an inspector seen this?

As we drove away, G and I discussed a lot of our questions and decided we would sleep on the house and rejoin the next day to talk more. We loved everything about the house. We wanted to say yes. We wanted to place an offer. But ultimately our gut told us that House #7 was not our forever-home.  So we passed and went on to House #8.

House #8 rested in a cute neighborhood close to the state highway. It was probably the most modern and cleanest house we visited, and G and I both liked it. A lot. There was a decent-sized kitchen, a large living room, a two-car garage, and each of the three bedrooms were decently sized.

Though we couldn’t disagree the house had a lot of potential to be our First Home, we had one concern. There was no property. Directly to each side of the house was a neighbor not even 10 feet away. The backyard was fenced, but was only about 30 square feet in size. This wouldn’t be a big issue if the house weren’t also one of the more expensive homes we viewed. Yes, that price included many modern features and the lack of much work needing to be done — House #8 was definitely turn-key ready. Yet we knew within a few years and a child or two we’d have to move.

Moving wasn’t a deal-breaker, but we had gone into our house-hunting adventure with an agreement we’d search for a home with “Forever Home” potential. House #8 held no future promise once our family grew.

Since we said no to House #8 strictly on the principle of size, I’m not sure why we ventured into House #9. This little place was a mere 780 square feet.

I guess we simply wanted to leave our apartment where our upstairs neighbor’s bathroom water was flowing down our kitchen wall. Ugh.

House #9 made for a quick visit because there was not much house to see. A kitchen, a bathroom, a living room — all small. Not to mention the two bedrooms which couldn’t accommodate our party of three (G, Dawn, and me.) let alone a bed sized larger than a double. It was a nice house, but did not fit our needs.

As we pulled the door shut of House #9, I turned to Dawn. The mid-July sun was setting when I said, “I think we’re going to wait and start hunting again in the Spring.”

G agreed, “We are getting disheartened, and with the extra time we can save more on a down payment and look into a higher house-purchase bracket.”

Dawn nodded knowingly, understanding our dilemma. We went into this adventure with no pressure and we easily could wait until Spring to find a house. There was the potential housing prices might increase, but G and I had already spoken on the topic and were willing to wait. We started walking to our cars. Then Dawn turned to us.

“No pressure, but there is one more house we could look at tonight. I showed a couple earlier who decided to pass on it. Its currently vacant so we could stop by since its on the way home for us both. It is a solid house.”

G and I looked at one another and shrugged. “Might as well.”

And with that, we drove into our future because that random little house ended up being our First Home.

Onto the next project, 

House Hunting Adventures v. 2

Lesson Learned v. 2: Angles Mean Everything

I know I’ve broken the news that G and I are now homeowners. However, it took us quite a bit of hunting to find the house we love. In my first addition of our House Hunting Adventures, you might remember that we visited three houses that had some serious foundation issues going on. Unfortunately, it seems with the high levels of rain this year, foundations were an issue for a number of houses in our area.

Oddly enough the next three houses we toured did not have foundation problems though. Instead, they had a lot more going on which turned us off pursuing them longer. We quickly found out pictures never tell the whole story. How in the world can some couples buy houses without ever going to look at them thoroughly?! There would be no way after these three (which looked great online) that didn’t quite meet up to our expectations. Let me tell you about our next little jolt in attempting to become homeowners…

House #4 was one I had been eyeing for a few days before I asked our agent to schedule a visit for us. The house’s online pictures held a lot of potential. The house was in a country setting, had a big barn, a large deck, and was a three bedroom, two bath. It fit our criteria to a T. Even when we began looking around the outskirts of the property and peeking into the barn, G and I thought this house might be a winner.

Then we took our first step inside.

Straight into the kitchen, I raised an eyebrow. Cosmetically, the house had a lot of issues that were not photographed. Where the angle in the picture captured a large, functional kitchen, in reality the entire left side of the room was unusable. The counter tops were severely cracked, cabinet doors were either falling off the hinges or gone, and the ceiling sported several spots indicating a leaky roof. Moving forward, the living room was so long and narrow that it would be difficult to place a couch inside the space. Then the bedrooms were so small that only a bed would fit into them with no additional space for dressers, nightstands, or anything. We realized the angles of pictures taken were misleading.

What looked so good online, was not good for us in many senses. G and I decided to not even look in the basement because we knew this was not the house for us. So we left.

And the kicker was, as we were leaving, I walked down the deck steps and fell over as my ankle rolled. A huge hole rested at the bottom of the staircase hidden by the uncut grass. I took that for another sign to be more hesitant in our search from online galleries.

It took an entire weekend for my ankle to heal enough for me to be able to walk. Once mobile again, G and I decided to venture to two other houses Monday evening. Learning from the previous week’s mistake, we chose to look at these houses strictly based on the information given rather than the pictures provided. (In all honesty, we looked at the pictures following the visits and they held no benefits to either house, so we wouldn’t have been swayed.)

House #5 sat on five acres and was over 2000 square feet, both interesting factors given the price point which was one of the cheapest we’d seen. Driving to the house, we actually missed the driveway because it was hidden by a lot of brush — something which G loved right away. The house itself was hidden from the road behind the brush as well. Sitting about 300 feet off the road and on a hill, the location was perfect. We wanted to live in the country for the peace and quiet, and House #5 definitely fit that bill.

Have you ever been somewhere that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? You know, that feeling you get when someone is watching you or something simply isn’t right? I can’t explain why, but House #5 gave me that feeling.

Perhaps it was the unusual layout of the house. Two small closet-sized bedrooms lay on one end of the house with a large bathroom separating them from the kitchen with a partial wall. Then, on the other end of the house, sat a huge master bedroom with two rooms behind it. One would think these two smaller rooms would be a master bath and a walk-in closet as the only entrance is through the master bedroom. Strangely, though, these rooms both were additional bedrooms where the current tenants’ children slept.

Or perhaps it was the dark and dingy basement. We scared two cats out of hiding when we crept into the make-shift pantry downstairs. And we were left scratching our heads when we came across a single-stall toilet closed off by a cinder block wall… with a window. That is difficult to describe, but picture this: in the corner of this dark basement is a cinder block stall with a large window directly across from your washer and dryer. You open the door to this stall thinking you’ll find the utilities — furnace, hot water heater, etc. — but instead find one lone toilet with a single light bulb above it. No real privacy doing your business in this house.

Besides the oddities, though, the house just gave me the creeps. There were random holes behind doors where I swore – twice – I saw eyes looking back at me. There were hobbled remodeling jobs begging the question as to why certain things were the way they were (such as the three different tiles in the dining room.) There were the tight passages through the sellers’ hoarded belongings that screamed way more work than this house was worth.

In a few simple words, I did not like this house.

When another real estate agent pulled up to show the house to another family, I about ran back to our car in order to leave. Getting far away from this house was more than I could ask.

I sighed with relief as we journeyed to the second house of the day. Away from the country, we entered a neighborhood filled with a diverse community. It was an older community, but the houses seemed to be in good shape and taken care of. House #6 was on a dead end street and beside a tree line hiding one neighbor from view. On the other side, was a neighbor who appeared to live in a tent. He sat watching us with a 24-pack sitting beside him as we walked around the exterior of the house.

Though I was not opposed to a small, quiet neighborhood, G was not a big fan of anything other than country-living. Seeing a neighbor so close and having his eyes on us the entire visit was not ideal. Given the fact House #6 also had no back yard, we had pretty much made up our minds on the house before ever setting foot inside.

It was unfortunate of the setting, because the interior of this house was actually the best out of all the houses we were shown. It obviously had been remodeled recently, and smelled of fresh paint and new carpets. The rooms were decent sized, the layout was functional, and there were no ghoulish chills.

But again: location, location, location. G and I loved the house for what it offered, but having no yard and no privacy was not an option for us. We departed the week’s findings with a little bit of a heavier heart, and wondered when we would find the correct mix of location, functionality, and warmth to call a house our home.

We continued to look, and our next set of houses were very tempting, but alas, it was still some time until we found our perfect little fit.

So, until our next hunting adventure, 

We’re Homeowners!

A quick aside to say WE ARE OFFICIALLY HOMEOWNERS! Over the past month G and I have [im]patiently been waiting to close on our first home. Today we signed the papers and were handed the keys.

We. Are. So. Excited.

There is a lot of work to be done — including but not limited to writing a few more House Hunting posts working up to falling in love with our new house — but we could not be more thrilled to take this new step in our lives. Now onto celebrating with tickets to a local comedy show tonight and starting work to make the house our home tomorrow.

Cheers!

House Hunting Adventures v. 1

Lesson Learned v. 1: Look In The Basement First

I know I’ve mentioned it a few times before, but here it is officially: G and I are house hunting. Our current apartment lease is up in August, but we have the option to renew for another year if we would like. Though it looks like this is the most likely route we will take, we are casually working with a realtor and viewing potential houses. It has been a fun experience so far because we are able to see what we like and dislike, what we’re willing to compromise and not, and not feeling rushed as we look.

The Michigan housing market where we live is absolutely crazy. There are double the buyers than there are sellers, and that leads to many houses only being on the market for hours before they’re under contract. Though we do not feel rushed to purchase a home, if we ever do come across one we love and can picture as our own home, then we have to be prepared to JUMP. Luckily we haven’t felt that urge yet, but we sure have come across some very unique adventures in the houses we have viewed…

House #1 was a beautiful farm house built in 1900. I came across this house on Zillow and decided to drive by it one evening with G. We walked around the exterior and peeked in the windows after it became quite apparent the house was vacant. From the outside, we loved the look of this place. From looking in, though, we were a bit worried. It seemed as if the entire place had been gutted! The kitchen was bare save for a few hanging cabinets and the living room boasted a raw floor. Still, we were curious to see more as the price was ideal and the property fit our wants.

When we met with the owner and took a tour inside, our fears were confirmed. The house was completely gutted. The main floor bathroom had plumbing exposed and a wall missing. The upstairs bathroom was bare bones. Plus, the floors were uncovered, the stairs were shaky, and the windows on the South side of the house were missing.

Now, G and I are looking for a home in need of a remodel. We both are quite handy and love the idea of using our own elbow grease to make a house into our dream home. But House #1 would require way more manpower than feasible for first-time home buyers. We had no doubt we could make this place an amazing home, but it would take months to finish to even be livable. Deciding against the pains of attempting to receive home improvement loans or opting to live with either of our parents again as newlyweds, we said goodbye to House #1 and began looking through housing websites again.

House #2 was another farm house that looked great from the pictures online. (For anyone else house hunting, how many times have the pictures fooled you? We’ve gotten tricked a couple of times!) When we arrived, we took a quick walk around the property and I was really feeling it. Large backyard, out in the country, mature trees, pretty landscaping, and enough room to build G’s must-have pole barn someday. The house’s shingles would need to be covered as soon as possible, but changing the outside appearance didn’t seem too worrisome either. Overall, I was impressed.

Then we went inside. The interior wasn’t too bad either. The social gathering rooms were large and the kitchen had a lot of room for being very functional given a change here or there. The bedrooms were rather small but the house was built in 1900 and that comes with the territory.

Next came the basement, though, and that’s where things turned odd. For anyone who does not have the pleasure of knowing what a “Michigan basement” is, let me tell you: a Michigan basement is the term used throughout the state for a crawlspace that was later excavated to the depth of a basement. They are cold, dingy places that usually have dirt floors and cement walls. Basically they’re a space for storage and utilities, and nothing more.

Most farm houses in Michigan sport these kinds of basements if they are not crawlspaces. We were expecting this sort of space when we walked down the stairs. But what we found was so much more…

The basement in House #2 had a wall at the far end. Looking from the entrance, you could see rocks had fallen from the man-made hole used to install a new HVAC system. Next to these rocks was a door. Carefully we opened it to find a muddy room stacked with piles upon piles of dirt-filled bags. At least 200 filled bags lay against the foundation walls of this house, and we began to fear their necessity. Were the walls about to cave in? Was the basement flooding and this was the owner’s makeshift solution? We didn’t know, and we didn’t care to stay around to find out.

Leaving the crumbling house, we departed with our realtor to House #3. House #3 was a nice little ranch overlooking the local river. After severe flooding in our area a few months ago, we weren’t sure what “river front property” might mean with this house but decided to try our luck. In this case, the river lay 30 feet below the house’s rear and provided a beautiful overlook. The property had a lot of foliage, which G and I loved right from the start, and the house itself looked to be in good shape from the front. I remember pulling into the driveway and G saying, “Now this one. This one I like already.”

I definitely agreed by the time we took the tour of the main floor. The rooms would need updating but I could picture hosting family holidays in the living room and watching Disney movies with my future children in the family room. The master bedroom boasted an entire wall of windows which reminded me of our honeymoon cabin, and the kitchen was big enough to make me giddy. Plus the house had a three car garage attached that tickled both G’s and my fancies! For him, the garage meant space for his welding tools and future car projects. For me, it meant enough room for me to squeeze my car in during the winter months even with all his toys. It would be a win-win situation.

However, when we ventured into the basement for House #3, we began to feel a bit nervous. (There is something about basements; I think for the future I’ll just not go downstairs anymore.)

House #3’s basement was really nice. It had a finished section for entertaining complete with a word-burning stove and a door that exited the rear of the house to bring you within five feet of the descent to the river. The basement could be a beautiful space for game nights, and G and I envisioned building a deck out the backdoor looking over the river.

As I was perusing the space I found something incredibly troubling and all my future vision bubbles started to pop. The closest corner to the river’s embankment seemed to have been repaired. The entire corner was sunk nearly an inch lower than the rest of the flooring which made us worried about the foundation. Fearing the worst, we stepped out the basement door and took a look at the exterior of House #3.

And our fears were confirmed.

A half inch wide crack sprawled the house’s read wall. From the basement to the main floor, the crack traveled nearly ten feet and looking like one little push would make it web even further. For a house we were falling for, we were quickly realizing it was also falling… quite literally.

With an unhappy sigh and shrug of our shoulders, G and I decided to move forward with our house hunting and will be continuing to look with our agent for our first home.

We’re curious where our adventures will take us in the future…

Until next time, friends,