March 15, 2015: A Leap of Faith

It’s been an eventful week for us, and we have taken a giant leap of faith! You may recall that last week I mentioned our rent was being raised, so we were looking around at houses to see whether we could afford to buy. Our original plan was to wait another couple of years and then buy, but with the rent increase, it just seemed like we might as well poke around now and see whether we should alter our plan. (The increase was more than fair—our awesome landlords have kept our rent stable for 3 ½ years. But still, we just weren’t sure we wanted to pay the new amount in rent. We were kind of near our rent threshold already, and we began to think the money would be better spent on a mortgage…even though a mortgage will cost us more than the rent.)

So, we poked around. And found that we can afford almost nothing in a decent area here. And really, we wanted to stay in our current town if at all possible, because we really love it. We are surrounded by larger suburbs and cities, but somehow our little town has a bit of a rural, small-town feel, and we love that about it. It’s very walkable, with tons of trails, and people are generally very friendly. You see people you know at the store and at the post office, and it’s just a neat, neat feeling. Plus, there’s the mountains, which I just absolutely love. They make me happy to look at them every morning, as silly as that sounds. So we weren’t totally opposed to moving to a new, nearby city…but we really wanted to stay in our town if we could. Plus, then Theo could stay in his current school, where he has made some friends.

But our town, despite being affordable for the general region (mostly because it is waaaaay off the highway and away from transit options), is still very expensive by our standards. And because it’s small, there aren’t many properties available. Currently, there are 11 on the market, and 5 of those are over a million dollars. Eight of them are over $600,000. And you probably won’t be surprised to hear that our budget is nowhere near $600,000, and certainly nowhere near a million! 🙂

But there was one townhouse that was closer to what we could afford. Very, very, very top of our budget, but still within reach. So we went to look at it. I’ve actually been eyeing it for six months, wondering why it was sitting on the market, when everything here gets snatched up in a matter of days with multiple offers. And we discovered why—it belongs to an elderly man who is now in assisted living, and he was unable to keep it up. It has so much potential, but it is definitely a diamond in the rough—it needs a very good cleaning and it needs new flooring. The man selling it was the original owner, and it hasn’t been updated since it was built 22 years ago, but updating it very slowly, as we can afford it, doesn’t bother us. Mostly, we were looking for a roof, at least three bedrooms, and functioning appliances. Beyond that, we’re pretty low-maintenance.

In the image gallery, you’ll see some pictures I took when I walked through it. They don’t really show it very well because they’re just snapshots with my iPhone, and it was a somewhat dark, cloudy day, so not much light inside. But you can get the idea—and take my word for it that the flooring needs to be replaced before we move in. 😉

So I saw the townhome and liked it, and our realtor told me she’d be happy to show Chris that evening, after he got off work. So we met there again that evening for Chris to walk through, and he had the same take as me—yeah, it needs work, but it has so much potential for our family!! It’s 1,700 square feet, so even though it has one less bedroom than we had hoped for, it’s enough space to be very workable, and big enough for us to live in for the long term. Right now we’re leaning toward having the boys share the second bedroom upstairs, which is reasonably large, and reserving the downstairs bedroom to be our office. When the boys get older and want their own rooms, we can always split them up and find something different for the office (corner of the dining room or something). Theo has been wanting to room with Sam forever, so he’ll be thrilled. And Sam loves “buh-lalala” more than anything, so I think he’ll be thrilled, too. Whether they’ll actually get any sleep…well, that’s another matter. 😉

Our favorite part about the house is the backyard. It looks small in my pictures, but it’s actually a pretty decent size for a townhome backyard. Not huge, but there’s a reasonably sized deck, a patio (which you can’t currently see, as it’s covered in old leaves), and enough space for a small lawn over to one side. Looks like there used to be a lawn there, but it was let go. There is also already a sprinkler system installed, though it likely needs fixing. But Chris used to work with sprinkler systems and is pretty handy with them, so I think he will be able to fix it.

The deck, as you’ll see, is in sore need of a paint job. But it appears to be solid—no loose, mushy boards or anything—so I think a good sanding/paint job and a sealant should do wonders for it.

The backyard actually has a number of mature trees in it, which is very cool! They are very overgrown and need to be trimmed back, but I’m so excited to have them! And it’s a golf-course lot, so we have a big, open view of the golf course. I’m not a golfer, but I am a fan of greenery, so you can imagine how nice it will be for me to have that lovely view out the back!

Another thing I love about the house is upstairs laundry!! Yes, I know that’s a bad thing if it lets go and water gets all over the place, but the convenience…oh, the convenience! Right now our washer/dryer are downstairs, and so there’s perpetually a giant pile of clean laundry downstairs, just waiting to be sorted and carried back upstairs. Oh, how I have missed having the washer/dryer on the same floor as the bedrooms! The men in my household make a lot of laundry, so I’m all about the convenience.

Another very cool thing is that the house has three full bathrooms! That means Chris can sneak downstairs on his early mornings, when he has to get up at 5:20 for work, and take a shower downstairs, not waking the rest of us up. Awesome!!

The house is in the subdivision next to our current rental, so we’re very familiar with the neighborhood. (Technically, we could probably walk our stuff over to the house! Though that would get tedious.) We actually already know two families who live there, so we’ll have built-in friends! And I can still walk Theo to school—in fact, it’s actually even closer than our current house. We won’t be walking along the same wooded path, and I will miss the tranquility of that, but at least we can still walk to school. And downtown. And the library. And…and…and…lots of options!

The development also has a pool, so we won’t even lose that option—hooray!! Really, the only downside to the house for us is that it’s a townhome, so it does share one wall with the neighbors. But it’s only one wall, as it’s an end unit, so that is certainly livable. And there are plenty of windows, so the place will be light and airy once we scrape the three layers of dirt off the windows. 🙂

We made our offer late in the week, and it had to be FedExed to the seller, since he’s in a care facility. That meant we didn’t have the usual 24-hour turnaround. But we expected everything would be fine—we offered what they were asking, and the only contingency we put in is that the house pass inspection. (We don’t mind doing small fixes that come up in the inspection, but we can’t take on something like a major foundation problem or something along those lines.) To be honest, we were more worried about it passing inspection than we were about our offer being accepted, since it had been sitting on the market for six months already.

But of course, it wasn’t as easy as we had hoped. Someone made a higher offer right after we did. We are sure it was probably an investor, because it’s awfully suspicious that the property sat for six months without an offer…and then the minute we make one, someone comes in with an offer just slightly above ours. Our guess is that the investor was waiting to see whether the house would go into foreclosure, so they could get it for a lower price, and then when we made an offer, they had to make one if they didn’t want to lose it. Because honestly, if it sat for six months with no offers, it would be a logical assumption that it would eventually end up in foreclosure….

So, in a last-ditch effort, I wrote the seller a letter introducing our family and telling him how we had really liked the house and could envision it becoming our family’s home. I was hoping that since he was the original owner (since 1993) and it was apparent that at some time in the past, someone had cared about the house and had it be a nice home, I could appeal to his sentimental side and hope that he would want his home to go to someone else who would appreciate it and build a family home out of it (rather than an investor). The strategy paid off—apparently the man’s daughter came over to help him review the offers, and she loved the letter. Evidently, she works with people with special needs, so she liked the sounds of our family. And today, they faxed over a very fair counteroffer, which we signed—and so the house is ours! Pending inspections, of course. I won’t stop holding my breath until the inspections are done. But at least we’ve crossed one hurdle!

And so, our already tight budget is getting even tighter, but we will have a home! Chris was really bothered by the fact that we were going to be paying almost $3,000/month in rent, and we wouldn’t be putting it toward anything for our boys. At least with a house, we’ll eventually have some asset to leave them. If we continued to rent, we’re not building anything.

And I think this home is going to mean a lot to us, because we are going to be putting a lot of effort into making it our own. We have a long list of projects we’d like to do, but only the first few on the list will be happening soon:

  • Cleaning!!
  • Floors
  • Painting
  • Toilets
  • Backyard
  • Ceiling fans/lights
  • Kitchen cabinets
  • Kitchen counter
  • Appliances
  • Bathroom fixtures

Our escrow is supposed to close on about April 15th, and our current lease goes until April 30th. So that gives us 15 days to get into the new place and clean, paint, get the floors done, and replace the toilets. The backyard is also a priority for us in the long term, but we’ll start that once we’re settled. The rest of the items on the list…they will wait until we have the budget for them, as none needs to be done anytime soon. The ceiling fans would be great before summer, but we’ll see how that goes. There are no junction boxes in the rooms, so we’d have to have those installed, which would be a bit pricey.

In the long term, I’d love to paint the kitchen cabinets white and put on a solid-surface countertop. I hate scrubbing grout! But that can wait. And the appliances and bathroom fixtures are dated but certainly usable, so no rush on those.

The floors, though…oh, the floors. Yes. Those need to be done before we move in. My pictures don’t do them justice—they are a mess, and I honestly don’t want the kids playing on them. The wood in the kitchen is okay (just needs refinishing), but we’ll probably redo it with laminate just so the bottom floor is all done in the same flooring type. There’s currently carpet in the bathrooms, which is just gross. I don’t know why people carpet bathrooms. Anyway, we plan to do laminate on the bottom floor, as it’s pretty durable and much easier to clean than carpet; linoleum in the bathrooms (I hate tile, and linoleum is cheaper anyway); and carpet on the stairs and upstairs.

Since we’re having the floors done, we plan to paint the walls with the old carpet still in, so we don’t have to worry about spills and mess with dropcloths. Anyone want to place a wager on whether we accomplish all of this in two weeks? Clean…paint…have floors done…have toilets installed…clean the rental house…move?? Daunting, for sure. Especially because I think I’m supposed to be grading finals right around that time, too. Oh dear. Luckily, since we have to scrap our summer vacation, Chris can probably take a few days off in that two-week period at the end of April so we can work on the house.

So that’s the scoop! Hoping we can get the inspections done this week so we’ll know for sure whether we can take the house.

Oh, and by the way…we really like to make things as hectic as possible, so while our escrow closes on April 15th, we will spend all day April 14th in mediation with the school district. Hope we won’t have to sign any last-minute papers for the house, because I don’t know how we’ll do it!

And no, we didn’t plan that. The California Office of Administrative Hearings sets the mediation and court dates, and they set April 14th for us. So we’ll make it work.

I’m hoping we can get Sam’s school stuff ironed out in mediation, so we don’t have to go to court (which would be in early May). Honestly, we’re not asking for that much—we could be asking for a lot more. So I’m hopeful that the school district will work with us and we can come to an agreeable resolution during mediation. Fingers crossed!

Speaking of Sam and school, if you didn’t read my midweek post about the future, click here.

Anyway, that was the exciting news of the week. We spent the weekend doing spring cleaning and poking around Home Depot for flooring/paint/toilet ideas. Woohoo!

Hope you all have a happy St. Patrick’s Day—and that we have the luck of the Irish with our inspections! I’ll close with an amusing video of Sam, who was being a pill and withholding hugs until I produced bacon. 🙂 Also, a gallery of images with house pictures!!

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