Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Tour

Get your houses ready people cause here we come...

Here's the deal: We're looking in two basic areas. The west side of Ann Arbor (in 4 different school districts that we've determined to be the best fit for top ranking public schools, walkability and our price point), and the neighboring town of Dexter. Dexter is a "quaint" historic village 5 miles west that boasts great schools (as a district even better than AA), high level of walkability, easy commute to work & downtown Ann Arbor. Dexter also buys you quite a bit more for your money. We have also checked out Chelsea, MI which is a town further west (15-20 minute door to door commute to AA) which also has fantastic schools, high walkability, and lots of historic charm... so far we haven't found a house we think is the perfect fit there (no pics... that was this past Spring) but we have one house left to review there and we're doing that tomorrow. Pictures of that to come it's a gorgeous big stone craftsman house right in the heart of the downtown historic district. It also happens to be one of the cheaper houses we're considering.

And in case you are wondering, these houses range in price from 189K to 350K. That's a considerable price drop in housing since we moved from Ann Arbor two years ago. We're trying to be smart and buy the best deal we can get. Which has meant stepping out of our comfort zone to look at neighborhoods and areas we didn't know much about before. We're trying to get a house for about 100K less than we sold our house for in Ann Arbor in 2008. Asheville taught us a big lesson, and we never want to get a house at the top end of what we can qualify for tempting as that can be. We're looking for a house we could cover on a social work salary should we have to (and social workers don't make much)... which is also the same as a house we can cover on Mr F's salary, while still taking Disney vacations and going out to eat. We're looking at houses pretty much the cost of a whole house LESS than the one we're selling in North Carolina. This was a very good move. Stressful, and a long time coming, but a very good financial move for us.

1100 sq ft 3 bedroom 50s ranch in Ann Arbor:

price: spot on
positives: good sized lot with sidewalks, updated kitchen, nicely finished, close walk to school & park, same street as good friends, best AA public schools
negatives: turns out basement was not finished as implied in ad and smelled of mildew, no central air, big lot but no usable play space, not walkable to town.
take away: Too much money for size, we've already outgrown it. Not right for us.

1900 sq ft 4 bedroom 70s colonial in village of Dexter:

price: spot on
bonuses: huge 1 acre yard w/ mature trees, pool & hot tub, good basic layout, across the street from playground and elementary school
negatives: no sidewalks, horrible kitchen & bathrooms, overall bad shape, deck falling apart, pool is nasty, no a/c!
take away: dump that would require 30-50K in upgrades. I want to like it because of it's potential, but just not in good enough condition to be worth the investment.

1500 sq ft 4 bedroom 50s ranch in Ann Arbor:

price: low
positives: recently flipped... all new bathrooms and hard wood floors, good sized bathrooms, new kitchen, huge basement partially finished just needs flooring, sidewalks, walk to school
negatives: no character, small boring yard w/ no trees, kitchen & eating space are awkward, feels like a rental, not walkable to town, not a neighborhood we'd stay in, not a school I know as much about... although rated well.
take away: awesome price for quality & size, but I'd like to own it as a rental not as a home for us.

1500 sq ft 3 bedroom newer (2000) ranch subdivision house in Dexter:

price: a bit over (but houses are actually selling for our target price)
positives: gorgeous secret valley in backyard with huge mature trees, nice decking, big basement, beautiful den, Kid thinks it feels "rich", neighborhood is family oriented with several playgrounds, walk to school, sidewalks, cul-de-sac location
negatives: mis-labeled... really only 2 true bedrooms... would have to use den as 3rd bedroom, finished space in basement is at back of house and not ideally located (have to walk through entire unfinished basement to reach it... not near walkout doors (?!?), ugly exterior, no a/c!
take away: the layout just isn't going to work, Kid is devastated

2500 sq ft 4 bedroom 60s ranch in village of Dexter:

price: a bit over
positives: HUGE 3/4 acre mature lot with large flat play space and tons of mature trees and perennial gardens, long flat paved driveway for bike riding, good layout with big bonus room over garage, massive dry basement, big kitchen, bus stop is at the end of driveway, neighbor runs a small home daycare with before & after school care (handy if needed), house has been meticulously maintained and updated and is high quality
negatives: no character on the inside... white box feeling, no sidewalks, half mile to town & schools... walkable but just barely, "older" neighborhood (as in old people... not kids), bathrooms and kitchen are functional but would update eventually. Carpet needs to be replaced in the bedrooms. House is one flight up from driveway/garage... pain with groceries, huge yard & driveway to maintain (mowing & plowing).
take away: great house for the price, unbeatable lot, good house for a family with kids, easy floor plan to live in, decorating could go a long way, when you get out of your car you immediately feel at peace... like a private park. Great house for now, but ultimately Mr F and I would probably move on to a historic home in the future.

1800 sq ft 3-4 bedroom 1890s victorian in heart of Dexter:

price: over
positives: fucking gorgeous... amazing original details... AMAZING... original lighting, stain glass windows, elaborate wood working, french doors, new electric, basement, garages, etc, 2 staircases (yo!), gorgeous landscaping, one block to the center of town (restaurants, bank, library, farmer's market, gym, shops, DAIRY QUEEN, center pavilion, etc)
negative: very busy street, big long lot but garages are placed midway with driveway going to back alley... eating up almost all the back yard... no play space, house was a duplex... need to rip out upstairs kitchen and eventually put in full bath (just a small bath upstairs (gorgeous full downstairs). Weird layout with hard to define bedrooms... tons of space & rooms but lots of sitting rooms (including upstairs) not bedrooms, downstairs kitchen can function but is too small and claustrophobic
take away: love the location in town for me... but not the street for the kids... worried about Baby in the little time we were there, gorgeous hard to find details, needs 30-50K to make the interior ideal... we would have to live in it awkwardly until we could afford to bring it to where we want it. Currently awkward floor plan but it has the potential to be our dream house (as in live in it forever).

1800 sq ft 4 bedroom craftsman in idyllic Ann Arbor neighborhood:

price: WAY over
positives: ideal location, close to good school, historic charm, great neighborhood, walkable to town (but close to a mile... so not everyday), good bones
negatives: needs lots of renovating... lots.... including demo... bathrooms, kitchen, floors refinished... not good condition, moisture damage in basement, small basement, tiny yard... no play space.
take away: this location is just not worth 100-150K more to us... it's just not, needs too much work and the yard is not big enough.

1800 sq ft 70s colonial in secluded western Ann Arbor neighborhood:

price: over
positives: surprisingly nice neighborhoody feel, close to nature preserve w/ lakes, sidewalks, quiet, close to good school, decent yard
negatives: neighbor's have above ground pool w/ noisy filter, THE HOUSE IS A FREAKING DUMP, can't walk anywhere but school and nature preserve.
take away: wow I'm surprised this neighborhood is so expensive... yet I'm also surprised at how nice it feels(neighborhood not house), this house is overpriced... I wonder what it will actually close at, an ideal house in this neighborhood might be worth it's distance from town... it feels really family friendly.

1500 sq ft 3 bedroom 1915 bungalow in idyllic Ann Arbor neighborhood:

price: over
positives: great neighborhood, close to good school, walkable to downtown (although at least 3/4 mile), family friendly
negatives: yowza a crazy dump inside, needs major renovations of baths & kitchen, no usable yard, weird impractical floor plan with basement bedrooms, no interior charm
takeaway: this guy is smoking crack... no one is going to pay that... certainly not us

So can you guess which two houses have made it to the 2nd round?


Nutmeg said...

I'm guessing 60's ranch in Dexter and 50's ranch in Ann Arbor. Those seemed like the only two your "take away" didn't completely rule out. They both look like nice houses!

G in Berlin said...

I'd keep looking in Dexter and if interested, offer at a price where you can do most of whatever renovation needs to be done (before moving in if kitchen).

wootini said...

Thank you for the long post with all the photos - real estate, I love it.

I'm going Dexter all the way. My guess is you are going to bargain on the '70s colonial with the pool since it needs work. Yes, I agree the kitchen and bathrooms are horribly decorated, but if the floor plan is good, the more cosmetic things can be fixed (just shield your eyes when you look at that kitchen - whew). Also love the wood floors.

#2 - 60's ranch in Dexter. Bet you will be buying a snow blower though.

And the dark horse candidate is the victorian in Dexter, because, OMG, GORGEOUS!

Good luck - can't wait to hear how far off I am. :)

Bob said...

During our first year of marriage, my wife and I rented a place in downtown Dexter. It was on Dover St. within walking distance of town. We really enjoyed it. The people seemed pretty nice and if you are into biking or kayaking, it is a great location. The town has doen a great job updating and investing in the downtown area, which changed Dexter from a dumpy small town, to a desriable downtown commmunity.

Now that I have kids, I would still probably choose AA over Dexter because it is more diverse. I have a hard time beleiving Dexter schools are better, having grown up in Pinckney, which is adjacent to Dexter. Maybe I am all wet.

"And in case you are wondering, these houses range in price from 189K to 350K. "

I bet you can find a great deal in Dexter. The builders in the area are in rough shape (my father-in-law is one.) If there are spec. homes in new subs, I bet they give them away. Stay away from the sub across Ann Arbor-Dexter Road from Busch's Grocery. Those homes are built like shit. My father in-law-used to do some sub. work for the builder. The builder is a cheap skate and builds them that way.

I THINK the brick ranch in AA is in a neighborhood where some good freinds of mine live. It looks like it based on the style. It's a nice neighborhood. Seems like one of the last "middle class" neighborhoods in AA.

Mrs Furious said...

re: schools... believe it. It's basically a brand new school system since there's been so much growth in the last 10 years. They're all great really (except Ypsi) in Washtenaw but Dexter & Saline are tops (on the reports I read). Diversity... yeah... that's the one thing that made me uncomfortable about Chelsea. I'm hoping to spend some more time in Dexter this week and see what it feels like. Dexter has done a great job of building up without destroying the village.
And that is the sub we were looking at! Good to know.

P/F said...

I like Dexter too, and the schools ARE supposed to be good -it is so close to Ann Arbor - really the best you can get that close in any direction. And the people are the most closely like-minded in my opinion.

But I don't LOVE Dexter. We thought about living there. I feel like the test scores are better because it has a more homogenous population. I've heard bad things about A2 schools from parents and former students. But I've also heard amazing things.

I let my husband convince me to leave a2 6 years ago, and I can't stand that we did. I still think that I'd rather the boys grow up a bit more independently in A2, than as prisoners to a sub-division like the poor teens in our neighborhood. There is nothing for the kids to do here other than party.

P.O.M. said...

So hard to decide!
How beat were you after all that? Did you do it in ONE day?

Bob said...

There is also this about Dexter:

While "Mark from Michigan" is in jail, his wife still resides just outside of town where she holds regular militia meetings.

Rah said...

can't wait to see where your family ends up!

HC said...

I love the Furious adventures in real estate! This is so much cooler than House Hunters (although that show is the best awful amateur acting on TV... "Oh, gee. The phone is ringing. I hope it's the real estate agent with the decision. Hello? We got it? Wow.")

Claire said...

Loved the "secret valley" house and those bookcases - but vote for the heart of Dexter victorian house because I'm a sucker for gingerbread!

Mrs Furious said...

Yeah... I forgot about that. On the plus side I can finally get that sniper training I've always wanted ;)

Agreed... I've also have thought the homogenous nature of Dexter/Chelsea/Saline vs Ann Arbor plays a roll in their high scores.
What I do like about Dexter is that it is small enough to navigate on foot/bike and we'd feel comfortable with our kids venturing out to do so (at the right age... obviously). We were starting to look at some fringe west side neighborhoods that would really confine the kids to that neighborhood much like you feel about your development now.
And really we can't look past the financial side of things. We're getting what would be a 400-500K home & lot in AA for half that in Dexter. And we're still only 5 minutes out of the city and with Mr F working right downtown we'll have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of what we're missing in Dexter.

P/F said...

I totally get what you're saying about the western subs of a2 - it's one of the reasons we moved away. We wanted a new house because of all of the quirks in our older a2 home(dumb) but the subs in a2 had NO life in them. No one was outside, kids weren't playing, no strollers, etc. Our pediatrician still tries to sell us on the idea of living in the area of his sub off of Scio Church, but that's exactly the area that I want to stay away from.

I can't see how Dexter would be a bad decision especially with smaller kids. I guess I'm just trying to make sure that you won't be disappointed about not being in a2 in the long run because I'm projecting my own feelings onto you :)

I keep thinking, Milford is so nice, it would make hubs commute 40 miles shorter per day, biking around Milford is really the best around - and there's Kensington, the kids could get into International Bacc., but it's not a2.

I have a habit of knowing exactly what I want and then giving it up because a compromise seems more convenient - I always regret not following my gut, always (because I'm always right :).

Plus, I can't wait to watch my husband chase down the guys who steal our van (parked 10 feet from our front door) again instead of just letting it go. Fun times!

Mrs Furious said...

Oh I hear you. This has been an agonizing decision. We really don't want to choose Dexter and then hate it. I think Chelsea would have been a bigger gamble/potential mistake just because it's so much further. I think Dexter is good for the next 5 years... then we'll be in a better financial situation and our kids will be older & both in full time schooling... and (horrors) I'll be working full time. If we didn't love Dexter it would be a great time (and place to be) to start watching the market for a great downtown AA historic home on the OWS. I would feel like we need such a good kid yard. And Kid will be transitioning to middle school so good change over time and the elementary in Dexter is actually k-2, 3&4, 5&6,... so it would be fine to move Baby out at the 3 grade transition. Plus we'd still be close enough to maintain their close friendships. If I can do Asheville for 2 years I can do Dexter for 5 ;) And, maybe we'll love it.
We will love walking to the cider mill & diary queen!

julie said...

I loved seeing all of the houses! So many of the kitchens look great and updated.

Just a caveat about owning an antique home: Be prepared to always be fixing something. I live in a house similar to the last one you showed. It has the beautiful detailing inside and out, 2 staircases, etc. Although, I love my home, it takes a lot to keep it in even fair shape. And make sure the plumbing and electrical is updated in any of the older homes you look at or be prepared to spend thousands updating. Plus, painting the outside of an antique victorian style home costs a ton. I mean like 20k because of all the details.

I don't mean to sound like a downer about old homes. I live in one:) I have similar taste in homes as you and Mr F. I love old homes. And here is a positive, I lived in a italianate victorian in a neighborhood of Boston that was 150 years old and it was in amazing condition (well, after the gut rehab). Many older homes have better bones than the new crap out there. They were built better. There's still more upkeep though.

Mrs Furious said...

oh yes, we know. Our AA house was a money pit. We literally spent thousands every year maintaining and updating it and it was 20 years younger than the victorian. That victorian has been completely updated. It needs a new kitchen eventually but already has all new electric, new basement... the works. But I ruled it out yesterday anyway.

julie said...

phew, my house is so pretty, but a freaking pain in the ass. These days I would take 'plain, but easy' for a house.

Mrs Furious said...

I said the same stuff to my former best friend when she was buying her home. I told her "listen a historic house is great for the house pride... but it is an expensive hobby. If you can afford to constantly maintain it great, but know that you will be maintaining it all the time."
That is what cinched the brick ranch. A) it's 60 years younger than our usual type. B) it was custom built for energy efficiency, has new pella windows, and been meticulously maintained. C) it's freaking brick!

Deb said...

I'm really digging the one you guys chose. My heart aches for that Victorian, but I've owned three old homes now, and I swear I'm building my next one from the ground up. I'm tired of replacing plumbing, creaking floors that wake the baby, and replacing plumbing. (Plumbing is a sore spot with us after the last two houses.)

I think you guys can do a lot with the interior on that place without breaking the bank, and the yard is to die for!

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