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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Best Christmas Present Ever: New Year, New Home

In case you haven’t noticed, the KaZoos have been relatively silent for a couple of months now.  Yes, the holiday season is always busy, and yes, life gets in the way of writing about life. #firstworldproblems  In this case, the reason we’ve been keeping quiet on the blog front is because we wanted to wait until we were “absolutely, positively, undeniably, and reliably” sure we could share our good news with you, and now we can say (drumroll, please): WE BOUGHT A HOUSE!  (Feel free to imagine lots of munchkins dancing and singing in the streets for those of you who recognized the quote from The Wizard of Oz).Driveway_View_of_House

When we first started this blog, we hoped it would be a space where we could dream and plan a bit about life, including the possibility of buying a home in the near future.  Over four years ago, we lost a considerable chunk of change on selling our first home right after the bubble burst in our area, and we have slowly been saving back up to buy again once I was near the end of grad school.  For the past couple of years, Chris had been keeping a close eye on the real estate market in our desired location, while I kept a close eye on my schoolwork.  Recently, Chris noticed that the supply of homes in our desired area (and desired price range!) had dwindled considerably (literally to just 2 homes in our  #1 preferred area), as investors and retiring baby boomers have been snatching up coastal properties left and right (and paying cash, compared to those of us having to rebuild savings just to make a cash down payment).  Given this turn of events in the real estate market, in August, we decided that we would plan to look at homes over the winter holidays with the plan to buy in spring.  In October, I was able to make a trip down to the coast, and we decided to look at a few places (just for fun, of course) that met our criteria (or thereabouts).  We ended up looking at three houses in varying stages of shock and awe, vaguely reminiscent of fill-in-your-favorite-home-buying-show on HGTV.

Chris named Place #1 “Rich Man No Yard.”  On the plus side, the house was in our preferred neighborhood, had plenty of interior space, and had all the upgrades we would have wanted to do ourselves.  On the minus side, the house was at the top of our budget (hence rich) and had the smallest strip of a back yard I’ve ever seen (hence no yard). When we found out that the owner was unlikely to negotiate any below asking price because he was trying to use the money to pay off his mortgage on a nicer home he had just built, we said farewell.  We knew the home would be great for someone, just not for us, as we wanted some outdoor play space for future littles and knew we would really be stretching to afford it. We would rather live comfortably financially, even if it means less comfortably in terms of features and upgrades (for now).  It has since sold–congrats to the seller and the new owners!

Place #2 Chris termed “Italian Disaster.” On the plus side, the Tuscan villa house (hence Italian) was spacious with luxury upgrades everywhere (pot filler, anyone?) and was still (amazingly) within our budget.  On the minus side, the house was a short sale that had been abandoned and was in a state of obvious neglect and deterioration (hence disaster).  When we learned the AC was on the fritz and saw floorboards with wood rot, heaps of (dead) winged insects in the puddling two-story drapes, and the mosquito pond out back (“waterfront property” in our area frequently translates to retention pond + mosquitoes), we realized it would take more cash than we had on hand to make the necessary repairs and replacements to return it to its former glory. Plus, Chris and I are apparently sweet meat for mosquitoes, so we didn’t want to tempt fate. Or the mosquitoes.  We aren’t sure of its current status, but we know that someone with enough $$$ to fix it up right will have an amazing home one day!

The third place on our list to see was taken off the market the day before I arrived, so that was that.  However, the next day, Chris received an automated email with the latest real estate offerings, including another home just listed in our preferred neighborhood.  At first, neither of us felt like seeing another home, especially one that was a former rental and considerably smaller than we hoped, but later that day, we both felt the tiniest inclination to see it anyway.  We set up an appointment for the next day, and saw Place #3.  Place #3 never received a nickname because we made an offer shortly after seeing it.  It was a short sale well within our budget, and apparently well within others’, too.  The entire street was lined with cars full of potential buyers queuing up behind us (we were the first appointment of at least five that day).  One guy literally barged in on us while we were looking around inside and mistook me for his realtor, whom he had obviously not met yet–haha!  During our appointment, the realtor indicated that short sales were taking 90-120 days to close, which for the average buyer might be a turn-off, but for us, this was perfect timing.  The house met all of our basic requirements, and despite being on the smaller side and lacking the upgrades of #1 and #2, it had a spacious yard, came with a new AC unit (major plus in our area!), and was a blank slate we could see ourselves transforming into our own home.  We drove down the coastline a few minutes, thinking and praying, and called the realtor back to make an offer, which was accepted by the owner and forwarded on to the bank.  

Having never gone through the short sale process before, we weren’t exactly sure what was going to happen, and having heard rumors where things fall through quite easily with short sales and foreclosures, we didn’t let ourselves get our hopes up.  For the rest of October and half of November we went around saying, “If we get the house we’ve made an offer on, it will be great, but if not, that’s okay, too.”  Then, on November 16, we got a call that the bank had accepted our offer and wanted to close within 30 days.  This meant closing mid-December instead of mid-February, which put us in an excited whirlwind of activity.  The broker at our realty firm, who is commonly referred to as the short sale expert in our area, said she had never seen a short sale go so quickly and that we must have had all our ducks in a row for it to go so smoothly.  We know SOMEBODY had our ducks in a row. 🙂  Even though closing two months earlier than expected meant that we would be a little tighter on our budget longer than expected, the affordability of the home made it feasible.  Living simply really is better! On December 16th, we officially became homeowners (again).  Best part? Our mortgage will be less than the rent we are paying in the city.

And now we get to start a new year with a new home!  We didn’t really do much over the holidays other than basic cleaning and airing out (more on that in a forthcoming post) since we were traveling around to see family, but we did get some good news: When the guy came to turn the gas on, Chris asked about the possibility of getting a gas line run to the kitchen, and the gas man observed that we have “a gas nub” behind the electric range (not sure if that’s the official term, but we’re sticking with it–he’s the expert, right?). SWEEEEEEEET!  We have dearly missed cooking on gas and are completely stoked that we won’t have to pay $$$$ to run a gas line to the kitchen.  Plus, they gave us a coupon for a free gas appliance installation.  If house = Christmas present, then existing gas in kitchen + free install = gigantic bow on top.  Back in the day, the natural gas website in our area had three main headings, two of which were “HAVE GAS?” and “WANT GAS?” (or maybe it was “NEED GAS?”).  Totally hilarious, right?  So now it’s a family joke. WE HAVE GAS!

Since I will still be living the city life this semester while trying to get my dissertation proposal submitted and my data collected so that I can write from home, we won’t be moving our things down right away.  I’ll keep most of the furniture with me up north and will send fragiles/nonessentials with Chris on monthly roadtrips between here and there (all those Christmas decorations now packed away, wedding china, etc.).  While I work on my dissertation up here, he can be working on the house down there.  Of course, I’m itching to get my hands on the new house (and yard!), so it will drive me nuts that he gets to be all DIY while I get to be all…DISsertation. Where’s that paintbrush? I mean, keyboard?

Anyway, after telling our family and close friends over the holidays, we wanted to share with you, too. Stay tuned for more pics and info forthcoming in another post.  We’ll be documenting the transformation from house to the KaZoo home, so we hope you’ll stick around (or join us) for the journey. Happy New Year!