Towards the end of our search, as we started broadening our parameters, narrowing in on locations and (of course) upping our price range, we found more houses that were "agreeable." Not perfect, not even fantastic, but would definitely work. And I think that's one of the big differences between our experience and that of some of our other recent homebuying friends. We weren't looking for our forever home, or even for a while home. We were looking for a place that could fit our family for the next three years and, more importantly, sell easily after that. So we were trying to look for the same kind of house that everyone else is looking for. Turns out, that would be a two-story colonial with 4 bedrooms and 2+ baths. They're the most popular house on the market. And they can go fairly quickly. The interesting part about this whole house search was that while we were going into it as homebuyers, first time ones at that, we were constantly trying to see each house as a future seller, always trying to juggle both views. For us, the scariest thing about becoming a homeowner is the fear of getting "stuck" with a house when we're restationed in a few years. Although it would be awesome if we could make a little money off our home when it's time to sell, we'll just be more than happy if we can sell quickly and break even. It's a risk, but we feel it's a good time for us to make it. And we're pretty excited.
So during our final days of searching, the days when everyone was dealing with a stomach bug and Jude threw up in my hands in the car on the way to the realtor's office. The days when I happened to have a change of clothes for the poor kid but not a way to get the aromatic barf scent off my own self. The days when we always ended up dragging Jack away from some cool toy, mud puddle, slide, etc. kicking and screaming because he didn't want to get in the car and go to the next house. Those days. We came across a few "good ones."
One of the houses was a blossoming little cape cod in a sweet neighborhood that was not only a superb location (and close to Jon's work) but also happened to have boat access and a community beach. Double score! The landscaping and gardening around the house were bright and cheery, but the house itself left a bit to be desired. The layout and design made it appear dreary and confusing. The carpet was brand new, which is nice if you like carpet, so we had to wear special little bootie things over our shoes so as not to track dirt. According to the listing description the kitchen was updated. But if that was updated I'm curious to see the original! We're willing to make necessary changes but the difficulty with this kitchen was the layout ... and the fact that the washer and dryer were located under the kitchen countertops. :(
The house had four good-sized bedrooms, but they weren't all on the same floor (which I would find annoying with little kids). And the central air unit, or whatever it was hiding in the hall closet, was so loud my brain was rattling by the time we left. Despite it's quirks, we couldn't deny the fact that the house had great bones, a charming yard and was in a perfect location!
The second list-topper was a delightful little split-level in a highly-desirable neighborhood. (Do I sound like I could write MLS listings yet?). While small on space, it was big on charm. And we do love some charm in this family. Original hardwood floors, crown molding, a fireplace, and loads of natural light. It wasn't a colonial, and it technically didn't have 4 bedrooms. Instead it had a "theater room" and a garage that had been converted to an office. But the backyard was a little boys' dream. Swings, slide, clubhouse, tree stumps to climb, dirt piles to dig in and lots of ground to explore. And trees. Big, tall shady trees that will just dump loads and loads of leaves on the ground this fall... that Jon will have to rake up.
Even though it was about 500 square feet smaller than our current place, we really liked the rooms and layout. The only major hang-up was the kitchen. It wasn't updated, which is okay with me. I'm no chef, I can totally work with older appliances. But it was also rather small. As in, very few cabinets and even less counter space. If we ended up there, I would definitely have to be creative with storage! We also knew we would need to do a kitchen reno if we wanted a quick sell in a few years, and that's no small task!
The house was on the higher end of our price range, even though it had just been reduced that week. But we thought it was a good value and our realtor agreed. Since we were interested, she did some investigating for us and found out the house had been on and off the market for several months and that at least one contract had fallen through in the past. We were surprised to hear it was because the house had appraised for less than their offer. Way less. Our mortgage lender has a strict policy against taking out a mortgage for more than the house is worth, and we wouldn't want to do that anyway. So as much as we liked the place, we just didn't know how we could make it work. We kept it on the list just in case.
Another favorite was brand new construction. It was a bit of a drive from Jon's work, but was in a water community. Which meant a dock for our someday-dream sailboat, and a little beach for the kids. And by little I mean maybe 50 yards wide. But hey, sand and water! The house was so new the builder was still finishing up a few things, and because of all the rain the yard, which was just dirt at the time, was a total mess. It was a large lot and backed up to acres of woodland. I could just picture my little guys exploring and building forts in the trees. But while there was plenty of space outside, it really lacked storage on the inside. And creativity. It was basically an L-shaped box. And a completely open concept. So the living room was wide open to the den which was wide open to the dining room which completely flowed into the kitchen which opened up to the garage... okay just kidding, the garage was the only space with a door. Now I know a lot of people like this kind of thing, but when you have loud kids sometimes you just want to go somewhere and shut the door. Especially if you're a work-at-home mom. Plus I had a hard time picturing how we would set up our furniture in there.
So the downstairs was big and open, but the upstairs was tiny and cramped. I don't mind tiny bedrooms, but in order to have an office/guest room combo, the boys would have had to share one of the smaller rooms. And since there was no place for a toy room on the first floor they would also be sharing their room with all their toys. And I didn't even know if that would be possible. But the kitchen, oh the kitchen! Gorgeous cupboards, stunning granite countertops, all new appliances. A woman's dream. Except ... there was no pantry. Clearly designed by a man.
This place reminded us the most of our old Virginia Beach neighborhood. A little spotty, but some real winners here and there. Like, there were two new houses next door, but across the street was a cement block number with a chain linked fence and huge, menacing barking dog. There was a community park, which I appreciated, but I didn't notice a lot of friendly people about either. Then again, it was new construction. Which meant, depending on our offer, the builder could work with us to make some changes (like a pantry perhaps) and we didn't have to worry about replacing big ticket items in the near future. Definitely one to think over.
So which did we choose? The needs-some-work but in a perfect location cape cod, the charming but tiny split-level or the new construction with beach and dock? We chose ...