Saturday, July 17, 2010

In Contract

They accepted our offer this morning.
1960s ranch here we come.

We're at our family reunion... just finished marching in a parade.

More later....

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Skating on some kind of post house offer delirium, Mr F & I walked out of IKEA's "As Is" room amidst the blaring loudspeaker announcing closing, and checked out with these....

The 60s element of our potential new home obviously got to our heads because:

they are non-returnable
they are, in non-Ikea surroundings, clearly ugly
they are also filthy and slightly damaged

Sure they were 50% off... but people... they were still $300! What the?!

Upon seeing them in the garage, an hours worth of regret had set in and I said...

"This was a big mistake!"

"We got caught up in the moment." Mr F responds softly.

"We?!! You are the one who wanted them! You better LOVE them!" I say somewhat hysterical.

A half hour later...

"You know, it really kills me, because it's the exact opposite of what I'm trying to achieve." I say to Mr F.

"I wanted playful and fun.... not.... hideous."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Could It Be?

When we set out to find our house, our kids and our particular lifestyle, were at the forefront of our search. This is our 3rd family home in 10 years and we've learned a lot along the way. We know that we care more about the easy flow of space (and love having a one floor home) more than we care about having a fancy granite kitchen & new baths. We know we need lots of basement storage more than we need closet space. We know that my immediate exterior surroundings greatly affect my mood... so it's not just about how our house looks it's about what I have to look at. I'm home all day and it does matter. We also know that if Mr F can have an office space out of sight in the basement, I want to divorce him less (for real, never again will he have an office space in a bedroom/by the kitchen/near our main bathroom... you know what I'm saying?). We also do walk, and I don't mean around the block, or to a playground. I actually do walk to the grocery store to get groceries. I will/do walk half a mile to drop off Kid at school and then hit the dollar store and grocery store & bank on the way home with Baby. It keeps me from going crazy. One thing I miss most about NYC is having a 100% walkable lifestyle, and while Michigan winters make that slightly more unpleasant, I do want to have the option as much as possible. The walkability (while also not being on a busy road) is more important than aesthetics or size.

So here is our search criteria for an ideal home...

3 bedrooms (minimum)
room for my exercise equipment
basement for storage
floor plan that flows well with obvious place to play
yard big enough for playing
not on a busy road
walkable to school
walkable to town w/real services (ie library, bank, po,etc)
move in condition no necessary updates
under 250K
ultimate bonus if it has a nice flat driveway for bike riding

Well, only one house met or exceeded ALL of our criteria:

The 2500 sq ft 4 bedroom 1964 brick ranch in Dexter.

I really felt relaxed and comfortable in this home and on the property. Different homes really do have different energy, and as much as I loved that Victorian both times I was in there I felt anxious and like I wanted to get the hell out of there. This house is really peaceful. Plus it has everything we wanted and more. Big, useable floor plan. No wasted space. Big bright workable kitchen, huge family room. Big yard with awesome play space and long flat driveway (we never thought we'd get that). 2000 sq ft dry basement with tons of room for storage, Mr F's workshop, my exercise equipment, and Mr F's desk... and roller skating parties. It is a half mile to the center of downtown and schools and community pool/playground. It's a nice easy bike ride or walk. We'll be right next to the historic cider mill and a big metro park and river. But best of all is it's a house that allows the kids to have a lot more freedom. We'd be on quiet street set well back. The kids could have freedom to run and play and ride bikes and sled without being constantly monitored. And, unlike a lot of the houses we saw, this house will not feel cramped once the girls are teens, the house will work equally well then.

Plus extra special bonus... the house has small dog/cat doors and a wireless fence already. And four bedrooms means we can expand our family if, after all the stress rolls away, we think we want to proceed with that.

Oh and this is the village of Dexter:

See what I'm saying? All that and a Dairy Queen, people!

We make our bid on it tomorrow.

From then on it will be know as "Project Drab to Fab".

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?
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