Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Adventures in House Hunting: Part 1

A couple of years back, The Squeeze and I put our house on the market. Property values where we live have gone through the roof. It's that old "location, location, location" thing. The draw? Well, we're on one of the Great Lakes and frankly, there's just not much lakefront property out there that hasn't been obliterated in nearby cities.

In its heyday, our neighbourhood was the hotspot and vacation destination for the area's elite. They came by rail, or horse and buggy, or that new-fangled automobile. Many of the old "summer homes" still stand, some in better shape than others. Many homes have fallen to ruin, and clearly the area was on the decline throughout the last third of the 20th century.

The city began buying up properties and tearing the buildings down in an effort to remove all residents and open a large public waterfront park. Many of the old residents were up in arms and caused a revolt of sorts. Soon the city backed off on this plan.

Eventually, the area started a rebound. Some of the older homes have been fixed up, most of the really bad ones have been demolished and new homes are being built. Some modest, some monsters. There has been an influx of new blood to the area. People are taking pride in their properties again.

In the past few years we have seen our market assesments (thus, our taxes) climb dramatically. My own property assesment went up nearly $100,000 last year. YIKES! In theory, it's good if we want to sell, but if we plan to stay, we have to pay the piper. The residents are not amused.

So as I stated, we put the house on the market two years ago, asking $299,900. We figured if we bought a place in a less expensive area, we could pay off a huge chunk of our mortgage and try to get to that elusive "debt-free" position.

Our agent held an open house and brought through a number of people to view the house by appointment. Anyone who has ever sold a house knows what a pain this is. Constantly making sure that the house is in showroom condition to entice a buyer. No dust, no clutter, no dirty dishes on the counter, no dirty laundry on the bedroom floor, no crud in the sink or bathtub. Clean the windows, clean the litterbox, and dust, dust, dust. I can feel my blood pressure rising as I think about it. But it had to be done because you never knew when an agent would want to bring people through on very short notice. "Hi, we're just at a place down the street. Can we pop in?"

We looked at a number of places in neighbourhoods we would consider moving to, but found very few that had the suitable number of rooms. Our definite needs were to have a fair sized master bedroom (ensuite would be nice), two secondary bedrooms (one to act as an office, one as a guest room), a good sized livingroom and a formal dining room. A finished basement would be good, but we're handy and can do a lot of that stuff anyway.

We put an offer in on two places, but were outbid both times. I was really disappointed about losing one of them, because it had great potential.

After having our place on the market for a month or so, we dropped the price to $289,900 and received an offer. We agreed on the offered price, and set forth on searching for a house. We visited open houses every chance we could get, and set up appointments to view others as often as possible. Our buyer's agent kept asking for extensions because her client was out of the country (or any of a number of excuses he used). Our agent finally told us to deny any further extensions. We did what he suggested. As a result, we re-listed the house, and doesn't this same guy put in the offer again!? We accepted on the condition that we receive confirmation of financing from his bank. As it turned out, he didn't have the money. What a waste of time that whole ordeal way! So he was out of the picture.

Another woman made an offer which we accepted. Things seemed to be rolling along well. She came in, was measuring things up - very serious buyer. We were scrambling to find a place, and nothing we found met our needs. There were a lot of sleepless nights over this. The new buyer had her building inspectors in to check things out and gave it their OK.

On the final day when all conditions were to be signed off, she backed out. Her reasoning was that there is a motorcycle club down the road from us and she felt unsafe. Oooooookaaaaaay. The Squeeze's family has lived here for decades, as have many of the other residents. There has never been a problem here with them. A few times a year you will hear the bikes as they arrive at or depart from their clubhouse. The term "they don't shit in their own yard" is used by many of the folks living in the area, and it's true.

So needless to say, that deal was gone and we thought long and hard about it and decided that selling the house right now wasn't meant to be. We let our contract with the realtor expire and decided not to renew. Our agent has actually been a friend of The Squeeze for many years, and when the contract was over he even told us that he felt the same thing. He was stunned that the house never sold. He knew it wasn't overpriced because comparable properties in the area were selling for around the same price. In fact, one house sold for more and they gutted it and added a floor! Considering all the work we did on the place - new kitchen, new floors, new bathroom, rec. room, garden doors - you name it, everyone was stunned it didn't sell.

Well, that was then. This is now. The idea of selling is hitting us again. We looked at a bungalow on Sunday that looks interesting. Great location, mature neighbourhood with lot of trees, managable property, patio, big new driveway, tons of parking. It's listed at $209,000, but their agent even said it's probably $10,000 too high. The house was built in 1964 and has original everything. It needs to be gutted and redesigned. We've done it before, and we're considering doing it again. We decided that if we make an offer, we'd offer $185,000 and see what happens. We have an appointment to see a condo on Wednesday night and it's in move-in condition. The cons of it are limited parking, it has the bedrooms on the top floor (more stairs - ecch!), it's listed at $239,000, not to mention the $350/month for condo fees. The big plus is that there is no yard work! Tempting.

Based on recent sales in our area, we're thinking of listing our place at $329,000 and see what offers we get. I'm just not looking forward to doing all the prep work on the place to get it back in that showroom condition again, even though I love having it spotless!

All I can say is that if we decide to go ahead with this and it doesn't sell again, they're going to be taking me out of this place in a body bag because I'm not going to go through this a third time!

House selling & buying seems like such a complete nightmare. I'm such an apartment person.
Many people rely on their realtors to help them in house hunting. This may be a good place to start, but it is not the only way to buy a new home. You can actually find great houses on local newspapers, magazines and of course, the internet.
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