Friday, October 18, 2013

Finding the Gray Cape Cod

When Brad and I started our house hunting adventure, we had the benefit of having been married and living together for over three years and had lived in three different rentals together.  We had a good idea of what worked of us and what didn't, and we were able to make a list of our priorities.  We made two lists, "dream house" and "must haves", hoping to settle somewhere in between. 

Brad's must-haves:
  • flat, private back yard
  • East side of Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky
  • No more than a 30 minute commute to UC
My must-haves:
  • updated kitchen
  • budget friendly (must be able to make mortgage payment on only one salary if necessary)
  • at least three bedrooms OR a finished basement/media room
  • no more than a 45 minute commute to downtown (and I mean from the moment I walk out the door to the moment I walk in my office)
Additionally, we wanted, but didn't require:
  • 1 1/2 - 2 bathrooms
  • garage
  • master suite w/ walk-in closet
  • energy efficient
  • charming
Of course, I have had the ideal house in my head since I was a child.  Quaint, cottage-like (is that a word?).  Light tan or gray or white with black shutters and a red front door. 

The budget was non-negotiable for me.  I graduated law school in one of the worst years for new attorneys.  The legal market started shrinking in 2008 and by my graduation in 2010, most firms weren't hiring entry level associates, and those that were were paying MUCH less than starting salaries in the past (while, unfortunately, the cost of tuition and student loan rates were not decreasing).  Since we got married, I was laid off from two different firms due to economic downsizing, and Brad was laid off when the college he worked for merged with another college (and subsequently merged-out his position).  Luckily, these events didn't overlap, but we did have to struggle to make it on only one income.  I didn't want to ever be in a position where we couldn't make a mortgage payment because something had happened to one of our jobs, so I was a budget-Nazi.  (Did I mention the second firm that laid me off was a mortgage foreclosure firm?  So yeah...a history of lay offs with intimate knowledge of the foreclosure/mortgage industry makes for one crazy, paranoid home buyer).

I could write a novel on the amount of houses we looked at and the weird/interesting/unique challenges each presented, but I'll spare you.  The last house we looked at REALLY excited us.  It was in an ideal neighborhood.  The MLS photos looked like it had a wooded, flat back yard (which is unheard of that close to downtown Cincinnati) and the kitchen looked updated.  Add four bedrooms and 1 1/2 baths and we were ready to sign before even looking at it!

We went to the home, and it was nice.  The kitchen was updated, but not my style. It was also very small and closed in (you could stand in the middle of the kitchen and touch the walls on either side). The 1/2 bath was in the unfinished basement and didn't seem practical at all.  The yard was private because of foliage, but not fenced in.  Still, it was good.  It had all the must-haves.  But I didn't have that "feeling".  I just didn't feel like it was home.

As we were leaving, I noticed the house across the street looked vacant, the storm door was off a hinge, one of the outdoor lights was hanging off the front of the house, and there was a white piece of paper on the door.  Foreclosure.  Likely budget-friendly.  Bingo.  I told my husband we should check it out, so we trespassed  trekked across the street.  Sure enough, the home had JUST been listed as a foreclosure.  We walked around back to the fully fenced-in back yard with a big, beautiful deck!  We looked in the windows and, once I got over the HIDEOUS yellow and salmon decor (except for the upstairs bedrooms, which were pleasant shades of dull lilac and glow-in-the-dark bright green), was pleasantly surprised at the relatively open floor plan. 

Our realtor made some calls and got us inside and I instantly loved it.  Now, I had to overlook the outdated appliances, gray laminate counters with holes, hideous salmon and yellow paint (and by paint, I mean everything was painted: walls, baseboards, window frames, doors... EVERYTHING), and scratched up hardwoods.  But the place had potential, and it just felt right.  I could see us living here. 

Once we found out the price and budgeted the renovations we knew we couldn't handle ourselves, we were thrilled to find out the list price plus renovations would still cost FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS LESS than the house across the street, which was an almost identical home, and was also fifty thousand dollars under the average home price in the area.  My inner-cheapo was doing a victory dance at the investment potential. 

We put in an offer, and then we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  The home was owned by Fannie Mae at the time and y'all, let me tell you, the federal government is sloooowwww.   They finally accepted our offer after "reviewing" it for three weeks.  Inspection cleared, we obtained a renovation mortgage which would cover the purchase price plus the costs of the contractor-completed renovations, hired a contractor, and we were off!

Here is what we started with:

Exterior (notice the front door that won't close)

Exterior rear (and deck):
Kitchen (isn't she lovely in all her Big Bird yellow glory?)

The salmon living room:
the colorful upstairs bedrooms:
As you can see, there is a TON of work to be done (and about a thousand gallons of paint to be used).  For now, we're going to enjoy our new hot mess home!

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