buyer beware, like, really.
when marty and i bought our first home, we nearly made a dire mistake. but, there was a good reason--the home's front foyer had a circular staircase. well, that and an office that had a secret wall panel entrance. our minds reeled with grand visions of how these two unique and curious features would make the home perfect, especially given the eleven problems we were willing to overlook to make those two features ours. we tried immediately and near-desperately to make a bid on the home but the seller's agent was MIA. it turns out that flaky agent saved us from this near mis-step and during the wait marty and i got our senses back.
what we came to realize is lots of homes have some sexy selling feature, even if it is just one thing like a windowed breakfast nook, fancy tiling work, spacious screened in porch, nearby coffee shop, domed plaster ceilings, sprawling lawn, or even a winding staircase in the front foyer, there are many things that can engage your "i must have this" neurons. we thankfully realized in a moment of calm, non-arousal that we should probably figure out what we really needed and were after in the largest financial purchase we would ever make, document those needs, and then hold each other accountable to those clear-headed thoughts. this is how our home-buying checklist was born.
how it worked is we each got to pick five things our house had to have. if a house lacked any of your five items (even if it had all of the other person's items) you, the one missing stuff, could veto the sale and the other person had to accept your position. our checklist allowed us to make quick work of the dozens of houses that popped up every sunday. got 1, 3 and 4 but is missing 2 and 5. next! heck, we could even rule homes out before even pulling to the curb. super-efficient. i would say super marriage-saving too but after we had our list, one house spawned the second biggest fight of our marriage.
there was a house we looked at that had a two story turret—this was its SUPER eye candy. the bed of the master bedroom sat in this fully windowed circle and looked like the best sleeping nook ever created. even with our list in hand, the home's narcotic took hold of me. i had to have it. the house missed on three counts. it wasn't brick (but that was my item to give on). it didn't have a garage (which was a problem as it was marty's item) and it exceeded our agreed upon budget by 20k (which in home buying, i viewed as little more than a smidgen over--suffice it to say that marty did not concur on this interpretation). after having walked all the rooms, marty gave me the calm where-to next face. i on the other hand was in full rut for the house. i started making the case. without an ounce of emotion or excitement marty matter of factly pointed out that it's missing this, it's missing that, and it's over budget. and while yes it did have a fireplace (in fact it had five of them), none of them were functional. door closed. i told her i would build her a garage and figure out how to make the fireplaces work. marty calmly and rightfully held her ground which means we did not buy the house. marty also held her composure while i huffed and tantrumed over not getting my two-story turret. twenty years later i still cringe at my petulant episode.
years later we came to know the people who bought the house. they said after the sale they discovered massive foundational issue that was costing them a small fortune to rectify. financial ruin averted.
below is what our small but mighty checklist that totally saved marty and i from botching our most important financial decision.
- wood burning fireplace
- two toilets
- breakfast room
- at least three bedrooms
the home we did end up buying lacked one thing from each of our lists. marty didn't get her second bath and i didn't get my third floor office. given the other benefits of the house and the beauty behind how the home came to us, we each forgave those items and wound up with a greatly functional and sound home. had we not made this list i can't imagine what we might have ended up with making this one of the smartest lists we've ever produced.
- third floor
- at least 8 distinct rooms/spaces
- circle in the floorplan
- it had to already be an old house A
i should add one detail to this whole process that made it all more difficult. i was the problem here, fully, and my wife and realtor (for a while) were most understanding. while marty drew a hard and deep line in the sand about the budget, i said i would not buy what was termed a "starter-home". this is where you buy a house that will fit your family needs for a few years, typically until a second child arrives and then move to a bigger house. we knew we were going to have kids. we weren't sure how many but knew at least two. i wasn't going to buy a home where we would, by design, have to move when our second kid arrived. our realtor explained to me this was common practice. i explained to her that it sounded like the most asinine decision making i'd ever heard and when my second kid arrived i'd be trying to figure out how to be the parent of two kids and stay married and not looking to unload one home and find another home. just as marty held to her money guns, i held to this conviction until we found a home that could (and has) shouldered the needs of our growing family.
this said, one difficulty of saying you are going to essentially buy a home once and not move is you are young and inexperienced (having never bought a home). while our home has served us well, we have definitely learned some things through the experience as you would of course expect. some things are good, some less good, but thankfully none were super-huge in our case. an example here is our home has a front porch that extends the length of the house. when we first viewed the house we crossed over the porch, barely giving it a glance. it was not on our list and thus not something we were looking for or valuing. the modest strip of iron-railed cement has become one of our most beloved home features. fact is, my nickname to many in the neighborhood is "the porch guy" given how often i'm found out there, feet kicked up reading or eating. a counter-example is i never really gave a ranch-style house any kind of chance. were i buying again that might make my top five.
A for all of my twisted notions, this may be up there at the top. when people asked why i would only buy an old home i explained that it was so i didn't have to go through any growing pains with a house, namely the puberty stage. to explain. if you buy a new home, it is only new for a short while per the below aging scale:
the home aging-scale
two notes. first the puberty years refer to the period of time where the home design falls out of fashion and the trends are heading in a new direction. during this period the formerly new home occupies an awkward stage of not being new but not yet having withstood the test of time to see if its design will be a coveted one or not. this is an important distinction because not all homes make it to those later stages, which is my second point. some never emerge from the puberty or tired states. those get demolished or forever neglected. if you start in an old home, that is all you will ever have. once a home has made it to its wizened years, it has withstood decades of home-buyers judgement and now can never be anything other than what it is, an old home. further, when a home reaches this rarefied stage it will often be described as stately (having been handsome enough to be cared for over the years) or solid (having stood the test of time) or "they don't build em like that anymore" (which becomes more and more true with every passing generation). for all their uneven walls and unpredictable measurements, old homes are rich with character in ways new homes never can be.
- new home
- recently new home
- puberty years
- tired looking
- old home