Posts tagged ‘real estate’

At the pivot point

There are now two key days in this whole adventure: May 5 and May 22. These are the two key dates regarding the move to a new house.

For those who know me, they already know this, but here’s the deal:

When Cathy and I moved to Central PA back in 2000, we had already found the house through a whirlwind week-long trip from Michigan, looking at the houses we’d asked a local Realtor to line up for us. At the other end of the week we settled on the house in Harrisburg: A 90 year old semi-detached with lots of charm. Since the house had been sitting vacant for over a year, we got a sweet deal, in spite of some numerous issues (such as a dangerously outmoded oil furnace, insufficient electrical wiring, old steam heat, plumbing issues, flood-damaged wood flooring, etc., etc., etc…). But the house was always going to be “The Starter House (TSH)”, that is, the house we’d occupy until we knew for sure what we’d have, in terms of jobs, family, and responsibilities. Like an old fashioned Soviet-style program, we gave ourselves five years.

With the nice income afforded by Dr. Cathy, and the decent salary from my first job in Lancaster, we were able to 86 the mortgage of TSH within 3 years. A remarkable feat; in nicer language, Cathy is very thrifty. And we did improve the house a bit in our time here: The oil furnace (that our house inspector cautioned us to “never run”) was replaced with a new and more efficient natural gas furnace. The warped and stained first-floor wood was refinished and repaired to a nice (albeit worn) wood floor. Rooms were patched and painted, roof serviced, porch fixed up, a new water line installed on threat of shutoff from the city, and lots of smaller things. But because of the imposed transient nature of our occupancy, there were also many things in TSH not done. The walled-up fireplace was not restored. The entire third floor was pretty much left alone (excepting the bathroom, and that was minimal at best). The banister in the main stairs left half-stripped and ultimately repainted instead of refinished. And, most significantly, the plain white, hand built cabinetry, laminated counters, and old appliances of the kitchen were left almost intact during our entire time in the house. We couldn’t justify an expense of that magnitude for “The Starter House”.

The five-year mark came, but inertia was setting in. We also had the idea that having kids would motivate us to continue with the plan of ditching TSH and moving on. The five year plan was extended as we began trying for a family. Ultimately we were graced with our boy Sean almost two years ago, and the idea of moving to a new house was back on the table. Another kid and disillusionment in Cathy’s job accelerated the new house movement. A possibility of moving to Delaware was in the mix, but in the end we are planning to stick with the central PA area for the long haul. Once committed, the search began for “The New House (TNH)”.

We started looking over two months ago, casually at first, but then through a Realtor. We searched the online listings, coming up with a first list of over 20 houses. Our selection process was based on two overarching philosophies on finding a house, which we wrestled over during our search:

  1. Get a house that has all the things we could want in a house. Houses in this category were more expensive, but on the whole newer, with fewer issues, and with unique features.
  2. Get a house that is lacking in things we want, but can be modified to add those things over time. These houses are much less expensive, but would require investments in both money and time.

Cathy, having the capacity to see houses during the day for many days during the week, saw most of them. Many were rejected out of hand for various reasons, and others were put on a list for a second viewing with me on a day I could look at them. Some of the more interesting ones we saw:

  • A house built in 1774. My first thought was that no matter what was done, it’s still over 300 years old underneath. To our surprise it had a few upgrades, and the older architecture lent itself to some interesting things. We had to pass simply because the house would pose too many problems for toddlers and grandparents alike.
  • A house whose backyard looked out onto Cedar Cliff High School’s football stadium. The listing touted this as a selling point – “Watch the Friday Night Games from your yard during the fall”. The obvious opportunity I saw was allowing parents from the school to sit off school property and drink beers while watching the game. While Cathy pressed that the house itself “had potential if I could see it”, I didn’t think the house was right.
  • A gorgeous contemporary house set on a hillside surrounded by 21 ACRES of forested land. The house itself sat in a patch about 1/2-acre or more of landscaped lawns and patios, but beyond that, verdant PA woodland. The house itself had a dramatic vaulted ceiling/sunken floor living room and loft area, a spacious kitchen that screamed party area, and a nice master suite on the main level. But when we went downstairs we were surprised by the additional kitchen, full bath, and bedroom in addition to the living space. “This house has another house in it!” I exclaimed at the time. We did pass on this house, mainly because it was really isolated (almost no neighbors in a reasonable distance) and I almost believed that we’d ultimately end up living our entire time in the cozier lower level.

By the time we’d reached the end of our list, and we came to decision time, we had settled on three houses:

  1. A nice house high on the hill on the west side of the Susquehanna, up the road from a park with spectacular views of the city. The house itself had lots of finished space, including an enormous second floor room that the two boys could’ve shared and never gotten in each other’s way. It had some room for improvement but suited our needs.
  2. A house in Camp Hill in a nice neighborhood of like houses. The house had nice touches (bay window, sunroom attached to the den, most of a master bath that could easily be expanded), and was at a good price point where the changes we wanted – like opening up the dining room – could be done right away.
  3. Another Camp Hill house, but unlike the other two, this house had been upgraded to the point that it contained just about everything we could possibly have wanted in a house: A fantastic kitchen, opened up into a sitting room and dining room, a large formal living room that would easliy convert to an oversized study, fantastic master bath with a tub and shower, finished den, guest suite, all in a diligently maintained house. It’s downfall was its cost and the taxes.

It was house 3 that sat in our minds the entire time we were looking. We somehow believed that we shouldn’t just take a house that was practically gift-wrapped for us, that we needed to get something cheaper, something that required us to work on in order to have it belong to us. I myself was sold on house 3 almost from the beginning. Cathy needed to do something in order to help with her decision: We sat in our living room on the Sunday before telling our Realtor which house we wanted, and Cathy put on one of her favorite movies. After about five minutes she turned to me and said, “I’m imagining where I’d want to watch this on a big screen TV, and the only place I can think of is that house.”

We told our Realtor we’d take House 3. It was ordained TNH. We put in an offer and it was accepted (and the previous owners have been very accommodating for some of our requests).

So that leads to our two dates, here at the pivot point:
May 5 – The Starter House is officially for sale, awaiting a new owner.
May 22 – We close on The New House, becoming new owners again.