Lessons from Mista Lista: What gets A-listed vs. wait-listed

Meet Mista Lista.  Mista Lista is our rapper friend who happens to be good at making rhymes and making lists.  (Feel free to imagine the characteristic gold chain except with a gold Sharpie in lieu of the traditional $ sign.)  He’s our ghost guest blogger for our series on lessons in list-making henceforth.  In our first installment in the Mista Lista series, we presented 5 reasons why taking the time to make a detailed, ranked list of your house needs and wants is a sensible way to start the home search and narrow the real contenders for your home sweet home.  We also gave you an overview of the categories we used to prioritize items.

HouseHunt2013

Today, we are sharing “The A-Listers” a.k.a. what made it on our list and why, including brief and humorous snippets of personal lessons learned and not to be repeated.  After we created this list, we used it to rank the houses we investigated and found it to be very helpful in reminding us about things to look for when doing a house tour and also things to ask the real estate agent.  If you’re less interested in the dirty details and want the bottom line, you can scroll to the summary at the bottom.  If you’re curious to see what things are must-haves or must-have-nots for us, grab a cup/glass of something good, and enjoy some laughs at our expense.

Here’s the legend:

  • Items that are crossed out = criteria not met by the house we purchased (womp womp)
  • Items italicized = items that did not apply to the house (usually a good thing, as in the case of not having termites)
  • Items that are not emphasized in any way = criteria met by the house we purchased (hooray!)

Basic Needs: This section consisted of items needed for us to consider a house at all.

Health/Safety

  • Home inspection and termite inspection by person of our choosing (so you can hopefully ensure they aren’t in cahoots with the homeowners trying to hide problems from you, like recent termite damage to hardwood floors)
  • Smoke-free home with no apparent evidence of mold (because Amy has severe allergies…. If you’ve ever seen Something’s Gotta Give with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, cue up the scene where Erica (Diane) smells the smoke coming from Harry’s (Jack’s) cigar, and you have a perfect picture of Amy’s bloodhound nose for smoke and other allergens.)
  • Newer than 1983 (because grounded outlets are essential for our needs.  We found this out the hard way when we rented a 1950s ranch without grounded outlets in areas where we needed to put our most expensive electronics, but the property management company vetoed the hiring of an electrician to fix the problem. As an added bonus, it also had the original fuses, which were actual screw-in fuses. Since neither of us were familiar with these because we always had a “breaker box” we got to pay for a Sears repairman to “fix” our dryer by telling us to buy a new fuse for the heating element circuit. Le sigh.)
Original 50s fuses - Check!

Original 50s fuses – Check!

  • Proof of no termites or carpenter ants (known as WDOs or wood destroying organisms) and no pest infestations of any kind  (because who wants nasty roommates? We actually saw a real estate listing in our area that began with “Rat infestation caused prior contract to fall through.”  For reals.)
  • Proof of no major wind/flood/water/hurricane damage (because it’s coastal Florida)
  • Newish HVAC (large, efficient AC or 2 units) (because it’s Florida and we don’t want to have to replace this soon)
  • Newish roof (expensive to replace)
  • Outdoor lighting (so getting in/out of the house/car doesn’t require you to be a ninja to avoid being attacked by other ninjas, clearly)

Comfort

  • Large capacity water heater/tank (because no one likes cold showers when trying to wash long hair, and who wants a cold bath, seriously?)

Space

  • 3 BR (1 for us, 1 for guests, 1 for kids)
  • 2BA (1 toilet per person when dire circumstances arise)
  • 1 car garage + driveway space for 2 cars (we have 3 cars)
  • 1600 square feet (not too big, not too small, juuuuuuust right)
  • space for piano (because my piano and I should not be parted for long)
  • kitchen storage (because we like cooking/baking and need space for all the things that we really do use)
  • decently sized yard (because we’d like to have some space for the future kids and to put some distance between the neighbors and us)

Function

  • Stove/Oven (or space/hook up for) (because we like to cook some of our food)
  • Outdoor outlets (for Christmas lights! and also for easier lawn care)
  • Wired for overhead lighting in every room (because lamps are cozy but we really like being able to see to chop food in the kitchen)
  • Electric Washer/Dryer hookup (Gas dryer + lint = CATCHING FIRE…yes, just as dangerous and scary as having to participate in the Hunger Games in consecutive years)
  • Dishwasher or space/hook up for (because we like to eat from clean dishes)
  • Fridge optional (space/hook up for) (because we don’t like to eat spoiled food and we still have a nice fridge we’ve been toting with us since 2009)

Neighborhood

  • Neat, well-lit (no creepers, please)
  • Nonsmoking neighbors if at all possible (Amy’s allergies again)

Deal Makers: These were things we thought it would be nice to have and would definitely persuade us to look more favorably on a home but were not essentials:

Health/Safety

  • Enough outlets per room
  • Higher ground with drainage going away from house (important for hurricanes/storms)
  • Nest thermostat compatibility (we anticipated getting one of these for Christmas from Chris’s parents and want to be able to monitor AC use more efficiently and remotely)
  • Hurricane discount roof (hip, tile, or metal) (nice to get an insurance discount if possible)
  • Fenced-in backyard (to keep the [future] kids in and the creepers out as much as possible)

Comfort

  • Gas water heater (gas better in our opinion for many reasons but especially for when electricity goes out during storms)
  • Ceiling fans in living room and bedrooms (we like the air circulation)

Space

  • Bonus room, den, office space, or 4 BR (because we really need a dedicated home office)
  • Master Bath vanity/storage (living in a 1 BA rental with a pedestal sink really brought this one home)
  • Master Bath tub (a girl needs her baths)
  • 2 car garage (better to have space + vehicle storage)
  • Closets/Storage Space (we need storage space if we limit our square footage)
  • Music nook/room (ideal to have piano not taking up valuable space in the main living or dining area)
  • Counter height eating at island or peninsula (we like having a breakfast area in the kitchen and prefer counter height)
  • Space for sunroom or existing sunroom in back yard (because we all need Vitamin D and places for good cat naps)

Function

  • Gas stove/oven (or hook up for gas) (good for storm power outages, and because we miss gas tremendously, especially for baking cakes)
  • Outdoor outlets on side yards in addition to front and back (extra convenience)
  • Natural light (I do better working in natural light)
  • Washer and dryer on correct side (yes many W/D units have reversible doors, but we like to wash on the left)
  • Missing appliances = negotiable (if things were missing, we wanted to be able to negotiate on the price of the house)
  • Space for our refrigerator (we really like our fridge a lot and wanted it to be able to fit)

Neighborhood

  • low HOA fees (because who wants to pay exorbitant dues and not be able to tell where your $ is going)

Deal Breakers: This section included items that would make us less likely to consider a house, and in some cases, reasons to not even consider a house at all.

Health/Safety

  • Nonworking outlets + old-type fuse box (totally freaked us out when we saw the fuse box in our old rental…especially because the only place that carried replacements was the sketch-o Wal-Mart that we collectively decided I didn’t need to ever visit, even with Chris) (MAJOR DEAL BREAKER)
  • WDOs, considerable wood damage, pest infestations (MAJOR DEAL BREAKER)
  • Smart thermostat incompatible
  • Old or small AC unit needed to be negotiable
  • Old roof needed to be negotiable, evidence of significant water leaks

Comfort

  • No gas line to house (MAJOR DEAL BREAKER)
  • Worn carpet negotiable (we really don’t want carpet for Amy’s allergies)
  • Near back water/retention pond= mosquito retreat…this is a big deal in the South (MAJOR DEAL BREAKER)

Space

  • Pedestal sink in master or hall bath (pedestal sink only acceptable in a house with an extra 1/2 BA)
  • Converted garage (insulation concerns)
  • narrow, steep staircase with shallow steps and 1+ turns (too hard to navigate)
  • stairs into house (increases expense of piano move)
  • galley kitchen (because we are constantly running into each other and the cabinets) (MAJOR DEAL BREAKER)

Function

  • Electric stove with scary eyes (you know what I mean, right?); no gas to kitchen
  • Big trees (maintenance/storm problem)
  • Not wired for cable/internet
  • Washer and dryer on incorrect side (yes many W/D units have reversible doors, but we are OCD and like to wash on the left) or stackable only (Amy is short)
  • Washer and dryer upstairs or in garage (inconvenient and hard to move D/W upstairs…also bad for flooding)
  • no space for our refrigerator (we really like our fridge a lot and wanted it to be able to fit)

Neighborhood

  • high HOA fees (because who wants to pay exorbitant dues and not be able to tell where your $ is going)
  • overly restrictive HOA
  • street lighting shines in BRs at night
  • certain types of neighbors who obviously disrespect others and blatantly disregard HOA rules (people who don’t maintain their yard, leave trash and junky stuff all over the place, ride ATVs behind their property, have kids who throw balls and eggs at your house and cars, have noisy late night parties, have dogs that bark incessantly and try to attack you, etc.) (MAJOR DEAL BREAKER) Clearly we’ve never had neighbors like this before.  Cough, cough.  

Desires/Bonuses: This section was for things that would be nice to have above and beyond the typical deal makers (hooray!) but would also likely be $$$ and thus increase the price we’d be paying for the house (womp womp).

Health/Safety

  • Hurricane shutters for windows and garage door (for obvious reasons)  or some measure of protection like plywood
  • Brick (insurance purposes)
  • GFI outlets in BA

Comfort

  • Ceiling fans in BRs and living room
  • Flat driveway (for child safety and for easy car maintenance)

Space

  • MBA double vanity
  • 2+ car garage
  • Room for pool OR liner pool
  • Room for 5 or 6 burner range
  • Fenced-in backyard

Function

  • Hardwood floors and/or tile (Amy’s allergies)
  • Built-in shelving (we have a fairly substantial library needing a home)
  • Wood cabinets and upgraded countertops (durability)
  • Lots of lighting in kitchen (need to be able to see to cook and eat)

Neighborhood

  • deeded beach access (so that you don’t have to fight for a spot on the public beach)
  • walk to beach (so that you don’t have to fight for a parking spot at the public beach…and can go for sunset walks easily!)

Whew!  That’s a lot of listing, and if you’ve stuck with us to the end, we salute you.

Summary: So how did the home we bought stack up to our list?

Driveway_View_of_House

It met ALL of our basic needs except for having a new roof.  However, the roof appeared to be in relatively decent condition.  In addition, the house had all but three of our Deal Makers and only three Deal Breakers (electric scary eyes stove, big trees, evidence of two small roof leaks). None of the Deal Breakers was a MAJOR Deal Breaker, and we weren’t too worried about these because we knew the stove could easily be replaced, the offending tree (see below) could be cut down, and the leaking roof had been repaired successfully.

 Westyard

 The home also had quite a few of our Desires/Bonuses, and the only ones missing were things we could eventually add or update/upgrade ourselves.  Given all the pros and the unbeatable price for the house, replacing the not-so-new roof at some point was something we knew we could handle financially.

As far as the other houses we visited, House #1 had many desirable bonuses but a couple of deal breakers (micro-yard especially) and was much more expensive.  House #2 had far too many major deal breakers despite having amazing features.  House #3 was the clear winner for us.

Overall, making a detailed, prioritized list ahead of time over the years helped us think carefully about our decision and avoid an impulse buy when the time came to house hunt.  Even though we moved quickly when buying our house, we were ready to move quickly when the time came because we were prepared.

In the posts ahead, we’ll share our plans for what’s in store for the house (more lists!), including ways to save on moving, anticipated upgrades (inspiration pics!), and some updates we’ve already made to the house in the couple of months since we became homeowners again.

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Making a List, Checking it Twice

Okay, so Valentine’s Day is over, St. Patrick’s Day is on the way, and the title of today’s post is a line from a Christmas song.  Yep, that’s how we roll here at the KaZoo casa.  Two months late? Nope, just ten months early.  Or so we tell ourselves.

In addition to loving all things Christmas (even in February), I love to make lists.  I make lists of the lists I need to make.  (Anyone else?)  I adore the Petersiks’ Listy McListerson posts on their YHL blog (http://www.younghouselove.com/2013/05/new-house-new-listy-mclisterson/) …and there’s a similar post forthcoming here on the ‘Zoo.

Chris?  Not so much a list lover (spreadsheets yes, lists no), though lately he has started making lists, too. I think he might be disturbed by how appealing I find him when he makes lists and eats his green veggies (yes, I am pleading guilty to two accounts of oversharing right there).

POPEYE2

Anyway…several years ago, back before Chris was a sailor list-making man, one list we both agreed to make together was a list of criteria for house hunting.  Now, most people have ideas in mind as to what kind of house they want, but we wanted to have a list documenting more specific things we loved/despised about our past residences so that we could remember the wonder/horror of these things whenever we were in the market for a house again.  Memory is a fleeting, fickle thing, especially as you get older.  Someone’s got to be able to say, “Remember how the water would run cold before you could finish washing your hair and you caught pneumonia because of the stupidly small (electric) water heater?” and “Remember how amazing it was to have his and hers closets in the master? Those were good times.” In this case, we leave it to our trusty list to do the remembering and reminding for us.

In the beginning, we just made a checklist. Early versions of this checklist included general things like “3BR/2BA” and more personal needs like “Room for Amy’s piano,” while later iterations included things like “later than 1983 construction to avoid electrical scariness” and “large capacity water tank/heater so hot showers and warm baths are possible” (Can you tell I was really scarred by the cold showers?)

As our list grew lengthy, we decided to convert the overgrown list of likes/dislikes into a spreadsheet with three categories, circa 2011:

HouseHunt2011

Brilliant, right?  Not really.  In fact, some needs and wants were needed or wanted more than others, so we realized we needed categories for the things under each column to help us be able to weigh pros/cons across houses when we started looking.  The final version of our list, revised in October 2013, looked like this:

HouseHunt2013

Basic Needs aka “The Bare Necessities”(Jungle Book, anyone?) were things a house needed, at minimum, to even merit consideration, you know, like indoor plumbing and electricity.  Kidding.  We took those as givens, but realistically, we worked hard to whittle down our needs to things that really matter, like the minimum square feet we could foresee ourselves needing for the next ten years.  We settled on 1600 sq ft, which is actually quite smaller than the average US home of today but still much larger than the average of many other nations.  See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8201900.stm and http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/how-big-is-a-house for more info.

Deal Makers We subdivided our former “Wants” column into Deal Makers and Desires/Bonuses.  Deal Makers were things that weren’t essentials but would make us even more interested in a house, like a tub in the master bath, especially a separate tub/shower combo. A house without any deal makers probably wouldn’t get a second look, whereas a house meeting quite a few of these criteria would be worth considerable thought.

Deal Breakers We renamed “Don’t Wants” to be Deal Breakers.  Things like standing water near the property (aka mosquito resort) or evidence of WDOs (wood destroying organisms like termites or carpenter ants) would be considered Deal Breakers that would cause us to walk run away from a house and never look back.  Other “less-satisfactory-but-not-alarming” Deal Breakers, like having an electric scary eye stove (you know what I’m talking about, right?) would be used as tie-breakers to narrow our list of contenders down to a winning home.

Desires/Bonuses These were things that we would consider to be extra niceties to have, but we would be okay buying a house that didn’t have any of these.  We didn’t want these to be considered Deal Makers because we also knew that these types of items (granite countertops, hardwoods) tend to increase the value of a home and, accordingly, the asking price.  Since a higher asking price wouldn’t necessarily be desirable for us, we put these “luxury” upgrades in this Desires/Bonuses separate category and left typical builder-basic upgrades like a double vanity in the master bath as Deal Makers.

The rows of categories aren’t listed in any particular order but were simply used to help organize our thinking.  Naturally, major health/safety line items and expensive things to change/replace like an AC unit or leaking roof were given more weight in our decision making.

NOTE: We didn’t include asking price on this list because the list is about the features of a home that we knew would influence our purchasing decision.   Price was definitely a major factor in our home buying, and we considered price to be equal to the sum of the items on the list so that a pricey home with all nice upgrades would be weighted similarly to a much cheaper home with builder basic things.  Thus, a cheaper home with a few nice things (and no major scary things) could potentially win out over a much nicer home that was priced beyond our comfort zone.

Why this need for a crazy detailed spreadsheet of awesomeness, you ask?  We give you five reasons:

  1. Not Seeing the Trees for the Forest  When home buying, people who take the time to create a detailed list of their needs and desires are more likely to see the potential of a home to work for their particular needs. For example, a family who passes up a 3 BR home because it doesn’t have an extra room for a play area because they are used to having a fourth bedroom may overlook the abundant built-in storage of a living space that would allow for children to play in the living room and interact with other family members, while also allowing for toys to be corralled when playtime is over.  Yes, I realize that toys will be strewn about haphazardly at times, but we’ve all survived stepping on a Lego or two.  I even survived a face plant into the Lego Black Monarch’s castle as a small child (http://www.amazon.com/LEGO-6085-Lego-Monarchs-Castle/dp/B002KPKOZY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1392747581&sr=8-1&keywords=black+monarchs+castle).  The blood washed right off the Legos.  Too bad they were left behind by someone in one of my family’s previous moves or we could totally be making $1k off those playing with them right now.  Not that I’m bitter after eight years and counting.
  2. Not Seeing the Forest for the Trees     Having a detailed list of things you like without a ranking system for prioritizing particular items may result in overlooking a home because it doesn’t have a couple of items like granite countertops and hardwood floors, when the asking price is low enough to be able to put in your own choice of granite and hardwoods, which you’d probably prefer over someone else’s choice anyway!
  3. Not Seeing the Deadwood for the Redwoods Finally, a detailed, prioritized list helps home shoppers avoid pitfalls from the rose-colored glasses effect brought on by faulty optimism, eagerness, or desperation. When searching for a home, remember The Wizard of Oz, and DO pay attention to “the man behind the curtain.” We are often so drawn to the greatness of certain features that the weaker, potentially troublesome realities remain invisible to us. For example, it is easy to be distracted by the charm of a recently updated 1960s ranch with original tilework and hardwoods and not even notice the lack of grounded outlets in critical areas.  Or maybe that’s just us.  Clearly, we are distractible people, which is why we needed a list to keep the outlets us grounded.
  4. Buying the Joneses’ Home     Making a list of ‘desirable features’ based on the latest design trends and what your friends are Pinning results in buying the Joneses’ home, not yours.  Again, this list is about you and your particular needs/wants, not even your best friends’ needs and wants.  Your best friends may hate yard work, so they would rather live in a townhome and have a smaller yard (and perhaps pay higher HOA dues to get that work done for them). No probs.  They can come over to your place to grill and chill in your lush backyard oasis.  Dare to be different.  When Chris and I moved to the city, the other grad students were appalled that I chose to live in (gasp!) the suburbs and (horrors!) commute to school/work.  I’m perfectly fine rockin’ the suburbs, and while our choice may not have been a common one, it was the one for us.  And that’s ultimately what matters.
  5. Becoming the Joneses     The list-making exercise is a great way to identify how your house and your identities are related.  Ideally, your house reflects your identities. Chris and I considered looking at homes that were further from the beach because you could get a larger home, but we decided that we would rather have a smaller home and be within walking distance of the beach so that we would actually go to the beach instead of staying home to maintain a larger house.  We edited our list to reflect this decision, which meant letting go of some things in order to be beach peeps.  Without a good idea of who you are/intend to be, it’s hard to identify what you seek in a home.  Without a good idea of what you seek in a home and what you are willing to let go, you may find yourself trying to change who you are to make a home work for you when it really doesn’t, whether aesthetically, financially, spatially, geographically, etc.  Stick to your guns, and don’t let other people persuade you that you can make a place work for you if you have any doubt whatsoever.   There’s a lot you can do to transform a home to maximize space and aesthetic appeal, but if you feel like you are stretching financially to get a home, walk away.  The Joneses are drowning in debt, trust me.  Why become them?

Once you’ve created your ‘home shopping’ list, revise until it reflects who you are–your needs, desires, and concerns.  After we felt like we had a solid list, we used it to rank the houses we investigated and found it to be very helpful in reminding us about things to look for when doing a house tour and also things to ask the real estate agent.

So what all did we include in our list, and how did our new house (and its competition) measure up? We’ll save that for another post.  In the meanwhile, anyone else obsessed with list making? What lists do you find helpful? What items would you consider Deal Makers or Deal Breakers in a home?