So, we accepted the…

So, we accepted the offer on our place. It's definitely lower than we think it's worth, but it's also worth quite a lot to us not to have to wait six months to a year, dealing with showings and the like. I know we're very lucky to have it sold so quickly in this market. There's still tons of details to go through, inspection, etc., and Kevin tells me that something like one in three home sales fall through, but it's at least theoretically a relief to have it done.

I should be happy. But we took another look at the Mad Hatter house today, and honestly, I'm just feeling kind of sick to my stomach. I really love it. I walk in, and it feels like home, like the kind of house you can grow old in. Gorgeous first floor with living, dining, kitchen, and family room all in beautiful condition, fabulous master suite, bedroom for each kid + study for each of us + playroom, 3.5 baths total. 5200 square feet. Everything we want, and then some. Just lovely.

But it is at the very top edge of our budget, we think, what with all the renovation work that'll be needed. And if something goes majorly wrong in the next few decades, some unexpected $50 - $100K repair, we'll be in serious trouble. If we buy more modestly, we'd have more leeway for unexpected disasters. It makes Kevin really uncomfortable to ride that close to the financial edge, and I hate to ask him to do that. And my financial judgement has historically not been so good; I've always tended to live just within my means, not even thinking about saving for a rainy day. I don't trust my judgement on this. We should probably buy a less expensive house.

And yet.

We're going to try to get some estimates on what it'll actually cost to repaint the exterior, and get a thorough inspection, and get an estimate on a fairly necessary master bath remodel. If those numbers add up low, and if the owners are willing to go for a low offer, maybe we can do this reasonably. We'll see. I just don't know.

They countered our…

They countered our counter, coming up another $5K. Not much, but something, so I feel at least vaguely justified in having tried for more. I don't think this buyer is going to come up any further, so it's a choice between the offer on the table, and waiting to see if more offers come through. The next two weeks of June are usually fairly active realty-wise, but early July is apparently dead on the market, so there's a good chance that if we don't take this, it'll be at least a month or more before another offer. Average market time around here is six-to-nine months.

The question is, is it worth it to us to wait for an offer that's closer to what we think our place is actually worth, which might well take half a year or notably more, or are we willing to take the loss in order to move on with our lives and get the move hopefully done before the next baby comes along? Not sure.

We saw the three houses,…

We saw the three houses, and I think house #2 is out of the running. It has many good features, including a gorgeous butler's pantry, but the kitchen is not only outdated; it's just too small, and I can't even figure out how to renovate it to make it functional. Right now, the fridge is jammed into the pantry. Sad.

But the other two houses are just beautiful. The interior of the Beautiful Gunderson is much prettier in person than in the photos. The owner does professional restoration, and he's kept his house in gorgeous condition, a fabulous example of the Craftsman style, with tons of details that enhance the look. The renovated attic (master suite) and basement (guest suite) are a little more generic, but that's probably to be expected. I think we could move in there with no problem, and need to do very little to be happy there. It's also plenty big enough to suit our expected needs.

On the other hand, I'm afraid I've just fallen in love with the Mad Hatter house. It's also much prettier in person than in the photos. These people need to get better photographers. It's huge -- they haven't even bothered to finish the attic, and it's still a ton of space -- something like 5000 square feet. Large rooms and plenty of them. And it's just full of medieval-style details; fleur-de-lis art glass windows everywhere, including on interior pocket doors, for example. If the previous Victorian was like walking into a Jane Austen novel, this house is more than a little like walking into a castle. It's got a wood-burning fireplace in the living room, and a gas fireplace in the master bedroom. Even the murals (of which there are quite a few too many) include one I might be tempted to keep -- one room comes with walls painted with gryphons and magic-themed bookshelves; totally adorable. I could rave about the positives for quite a while -- and it's listed at quite a bit lower than the Beautiful Gunderson. But there's a but, of course -- it'd need a lot of work.

Not only would we want to paint most of the interior walls (and that's a lot of walls), but the exterior is overdue for a coat of paint, which may well be around $30,000 all by itself (due to all the fancy Victorian detailing and the hugeness of it), and need to be re-done every decade or so. At least one bathroom sorely needs to be redone, for another $10K, and two others could use some help too. (Of course, that does give me an excellent excuse to redo them all in gorgeous (expensive) stonework and really enhance the medieval feel. :-)

There are a ton of Gunderson-style homes in Oak Park, so if we don't get this one, there are going to be lots more that would work almost as well, or better. Kevin does want to look into at least 3-4 more that are high on his list. But there are very few large Victorians on the market in our price range. This one's been sitting a long time, but as recent experience has shown, that doesn't necessarily prove it's going to stick around. I wants it.

Overall, if they're willing to come down a good chunk in price, we could perhaps end up with the Mad Hatter house costing about the same amount initially as the Beautiful Gunderson, in order to get it into good shape. So that's okay. And it'd cost a bit more every year in taxes and the like, which we could probably live with, though it'd mean tighter budgeting. But Kevin is concerned that although their realtor has assured us that it's in excellent fundamental condition, with a good roof, foundations, etc., that maybe it really isn't. Maybe there are all kinds of cracks and warped wood and other problems, the sort that Victorians are more prone to than Gundersons. Maybe this house will turn into a classic money pit.

Maybe Kevin is just fretting because that's what he does. But I'm hesitant to urge him into what might be a foolish purchase, just because I want to live in a castle. Right now, even with needing to get a bunch of work done before we move in (mild nuisance), this house still looks like a steal to me. But maybe it isn't. I get emotional about these things, and then it's hard for me to think clearly on them.

On our condo sale, we spent quite a while thinking about it, and decided to go with a counteroffer, somewhat against our agent's advice (but with the advice of realtor friends of ours). It just seems too early in the process to settle for such a lowball offer, even if the condo market around here is supposedly quite slow. We'll see what happens.

Hey, folks. I’m back,…

Hey, folks. I'm back, after being swallowed up by four days of Kriti. Which was great, but I'm going to save the details for the next post. This one's about housing.

We got an offer on the condo on Friday. It's a lowball offer -- something like 12% less than our listed offer. We countered, and they countered again, now up to around 10% off the listed price. I know everyone's bargain hunting right now, and interest rates are going up, so maybe that's the best we can do. Yet at the same time, our condo's only been on the market two weeks, we've had a bunch of other showings and some interest at the open houses, and we don't actually have to move anytime soon -- not even this year, or next year. Not 'til Kavi's five, really, and ready to start school. On the other hand, we did all this work to get stuff into storage and do staging, and it'd be nice to feel like it was to some purpose. But on the other, other hand, that's really sunk costs, and probably shouldn't factor into our decision. Conversely, on Myers-Briggs, I am a strong J, which means that I really prefer to get things taken care of and move on with our lives, rather than linger indefinitely over this sort of decision! (Kevin is a strong P, so would normally waffle forever. Although he hates dealing with cleaning up for showings, etc., so that may factor in.)

I just wish we had more data -- at this point, we just don't know if this is the best offer we're likely to get (or even typical of the kind of offers we're going to get), or if this really is some random lowball outlier, someone who's just hoping to pick up a bargain in this market/economy. Want data! Can't get it in time, though. We're probably going to counter again today, which may lead to a) a better counteroffer from them, b) them holding firm at their second offer, or c) them walking away.

We're torn -- do we take this offer, just to be done with it and go ahead and hopefully buy and move before the end of summer, so we don't have to deal with all this again next spring, when we have a new infant? Do we wait, and see if other offers come in this summer? If the 231 Wesley Victorian were still available, I think we might just take this and go buy that house, but it's definitely gone (we called once more and checked on Saturday). And while we've seen several other houses in Oak Park that we think would work, so far, there aren't any others that we've fallen in love with.

We're going to look at three more houses today. Maybe we'll fall madly in love with one of them, and that'll make the decision easier. But any thoughts y'all have at this point on either the sale, or the houses below, would be really welcome. (Click on the houses for more details.)

This first one (which we've taken to calling the Mad Hatter house, aka the Red Barn), I love the look of the exterior, but we can't figure out why it hasn't sold yet at that price -- we're worried there's something really wrong with the interior. Or that the whole being-across-from-a-middle-school is more of a problem than we think it'll be. I don't love their interior decor (at all), but that can be fixed. The woodwork seems to be medium-toned instead of dark-toned, which we would have preferred, but at least it's not light-toned, which I really dislike. (Too modern for me.)

This one isn't quite as pretty on the outside, but is fine. And I love a lot of the interior details, including the fancy stained glass front door, it looks like? (Yes, I do know that I can add a stained glass door to any house I like. :-) It's a little worrying that they don't really give a picture of their kitchen, which makes me think it's in need of serious updating. I'm also not thrilled at what they did with the glass block and tile on their enclosed porch; too modern for the look of the house. But maybe that wouldn't be too expensive a fix. Of course, the list price on this is a lot higher than the one above.

This third one, Kevin saw at an open house yesterday (while I was finishing up Kriti), and quite liked. The photos don't look super-impressive to me, but he keeps telling me that these photos are really misleading, so I'm trying to reserve judgement. It's priced less than #2, but still notably more than #1. But as we're seeing with our place, list prices are misleading, and may have little to do with final sale price.

Appts. at 11, 12, and 1 today -- we'll see what we think. Opinions?

Open House report: …

Open House report: three hours of open house -- four couples came by. Is that good? I don't know.

One of them was a second look, a couple who had had an appointment on Saturday. So that's promising. They had some specific, very concrete questions about the condo reserves, sealing on the split wall, etc. We'll see what they think of the answers. At least it seems like they're seriously interested -- that's a promising sign.

Another open house on Sunday, 2-4. We'll see how it goes. And now I'm off to try once more to contact the realtors of the Mad Hatter house, which I really do want to see. Although we're trying to guess what's wrong with it -- it actually seems to be priced reasonably well, so why has it not sold in 271 days? Is it just the interior decorating turning people off? That seems unlikely, which makes us worry that there's something more seriously wrong with it.

Quick note -- my iPhone is having serious trouble -- I can't really use it as is. So if you try to call me on it, or text me, it probably won't work. I'm going to have to borrow Kevin's cell phone for Kriti, I think. Irritating!

This Sunday, we’re going…

This Sunday, we're going to take another look at the Victorian we fell in love with, but are also going to two other open houses. I think we've mostly given up on the crazy Mad Hatter house, because it's right across the street from a middle school, which is a bit more craziness than we want to deal with, I think. So here are three of the top on the photos for more info.

The prices are similar, as are the locations, so it may come down to the actual houses. Which has me thinking about styles of house. Obviously, the first is a Victorian -- the other two are American Foursquares.

They're all about a hundred years old, and all lovely. The Victorian is a bit more romantic, of course (turret!), but the Foursquares definitely have their own charm. They all three have porches (the one on Clinton is enclosed, which I think is possibly better, but not sure). At least one of them looks like it may have more of an open floor plan than the Victorian does, which is a good thing, I think?

We waffled for a long time between modern and old buildings when selecting our current condo, and while we've missed the romance of an older building, we've certainly enjoyed the open floor plan on our first floor. It's fabulous for entertaining, has a lovely spacious feel, and also makes it a bit easier to keep an eye on a small munchkin while still letting her have some space to roam around in. Our friends Anne and Daniel recently bought a home in Oak Park, and they had a firm priority to have an open floor plan -- which is tough to find there! There's only so much you can do to most older homes to renovate in that direction before you start running up against load-bearing walls and the like. Which is making me wonder whether we should be paying more attention to floor plans as we look, and aiming towards the homes with open plans?

Yet at the same time, with both Kevin and I working at home so much, one of the things we've missed in our current home is the ability to shut the door and hide away from the child / tv / etc -noise. Oh, we can do it, a bit, but only by closing one door. I'm finding the idea of having multiple closed doors (and a few flights of stairs) between me and the rest of the world rather oddly alluring. There had to be a reason why the Victorians built all those teeny tiny rooms separated by doors, right? They had big families in those houses -- maybe it's a good way of building in some privacy and mental space.

What do y'all think? Do you have a preference for open floor plan or closed doors, or does it just not matter to you? And if you care, why do you care?

Any other comments on the specific houses above are also welcome. The Victorian has dropped its price considerably, which is making it very tempting. But we're still planning to hold off on actually making an offer until we have a contract on our condo, because possible double mortgages are so risky. We have our first showing on Saturday, and an open house on Sunday. We'll see how it goes.

On Sunday, we dropped…

On Sunday, we dropped off Kavi at Jarmila's, and went to look at open houses in Oak Park. This was meant to just be a preliminary look at some of the places we've been avidly perusing online, since we're not actually listing our place until next week (the painting is half done! The de-cluttering, ditto! The masonry guy comes today! The handyman comes Friday!), and who knows how long it'll take to sell after that. Average time for condo sales in our area is about six months right now. We have some advantages (in that our place is gorgeous and unusual and there aren't that many three-bedroom condos in our neighborhood), but also some disadvantages (in that it's a high-end unit, and as a result, a lot of potential buyers would need a jumbo loan to buy it, and banks are not so happy to give those out these days). So while our place could get an offer the week it goes up, it could also easily sit for six months, or a year, or more. So our very sensible plan was to wait until it sold before seriously making an offer on an Oak Park house.

Then our sensible plan went (half-way) out the window.

See, we looked at houses. The first one was too small. The second one was workable, and relatively cheap, but would probably start feeling small in a few years when second kid starts wanting his/her own room. The third was the ranch house, and I vetoed it because it's just not the kind of house I like (apologies to those who love ranches, but I'm a multi-story gal, as long as my legs keep working). So far, so good.

Then we decided to just drive by one of the houses we'd really liked, but which didn't have an open house listed. We were very curious about it, because it seemed huge, and we were worried that they'd just extended the house right over their entire backyard. It was lovely from the front; we stopped and sat on the low stone parapet surrounding a massive tree, and admired the many levels of Victorian loveliness. The grey walls, accented with pretty purple trim. The incredible wraparound porch, and the mature shrub garden that screened off the porch, providing privacy. The turret! :-) But we couldn't see the backyard at all from the front, so Kevin suggested driving around to the back alley behind the house.

When we did, we ran into the homeowner, working in his open garage on his daughter's car. Kevin wouldn't have bothered him, but I have no shame -- I told him we loved his house, and had been admiring it online, and he said, "Would you like to take a look?" He said his wife was out, and so it would be particularly easy, since normally she liked to clean for two hours before anyone came to look at the house. Of course we said we'd love to, and he said he'd clean the grease off his hands and meet us in front. So we drove around and parked -- only to see a woman carrying a flat of garden plants walking up the front stairs. Oh, no!

At this point, even I felt a bit embarrassed, but her husband was expecting us, so we were pretty committed. We walked up to her, and started explaining the situation in a stumbling sort of way, while she looked astonished and maybe even a bit harassed. But then he came out, thankfully, and managed to smooth things over and convince her to let us take a look, even though the beds weren't made. And oh, my god.

It's gorgeous. GORGEOUS. You walk in, and it's like stepping back in time. You could be living in a Jane Austen novel. Six bedrooms. A beautiful breakfast room overlooking the porch in back and the very nice backyard (that has not been entirely built over, thank god). Original hundred-year-old stained glass (in nice abstract patterns, as opposed to the original stained glass sailboats in one of the other houses). Four baths. Beautiful dark wood. A terrific kitchen. Central air (rare in old Oak Park homes). A rec room downstairs. A small tandem playroom off one of the bedrooms for Kavi. They raised six children in that house, so it is plenty big enough for us. I might even say too big, except that with both Kevin and I working at home so much (every writer (and mathematician) could use a room of their own...), and with all the guests we have who come and stay for weeks on end, I actually do think we'll make good use of all the rooms. And if we happen to have one left over -- a library? a solarium? :-) Want a virtual tour? Take a look!

There are a few issues, of course. There's only one smallish full bath on the second floor, which is where all the bedrooms are, so we'd be sharing it with the kids. We're thinking that we might instead take the renovated attic, that they currently use as a massive family room, and turn it into our bedroom instead, since there's a bath up there. But we can't remember if that's a full bath or not... And the exterior walls are stucco, which wouldn't have been our first choice -- Kevin's concerned that they might have more maintenance issue than some other options would have had. It's closer to a mile walk to the subway, instead of the half-mile we'd hoped for. And....umm...that might be it. The house is damn close to perfect. And it's not just me saying that -- Kevin loves it too. :-)

It's also super-expensive. They've come down a lot from their original price, but it's still at the very top of our price range. Which is okay, as long as our condo sells quickly. But Kevin helped me run the numbers -- if we bought the dream house right now (with some help from his parents), and then our condo didn't sell right away, it'd cost us $10,000 for every three months it stayed on the market in double mortgages. That adds up really fast, and while we could manage it for as much as a year, if it takes longer to sell, we could be in big trouble.

We're trying to be prudent about this. Instead of rushing into an offer right away to try to lock the house down, we're going ahead with our original plan. We're finishing up the work on the condo, and putting it on the market next week. We're going to actually go and look at the three or four comparable houses in Oak Park, including the Mad Hatter's red house that so many of you liked last week. (Big downside to that place -- right across the street from a middle school. Which, okay, will be convenient eventually, but several years of noisy traffic/kids nuisance beforehand, we worry.) We're going to wait at least a week before doing anything rash. And of course, even if we decide to put in an offer, there's all the inspection issues, especially for a hundred-year-old house.

But gosh. Isn't it pretty?

Would you risk carrying a double mortgage? How do you decide, when you don't know how long it'll take to sell???

These are some Oak Park…

These are some Oak Park houses in our price range that have open houses this Sunday:

1. 2.

3. 4.

  1. Has sort of a bland, modern interior; it'd feel oddly like moving to another condo, I think. Also, lots of light wood, which I do not love.
  2. Stucco exterior, also not a favorite. But dark wood interior in kitchen, etc. Possible.
  3. Another bland one, and I'd prefer multiple floors. But the fact that it's a ranch, in Oak Park, makes it notably cheaper than it would be otherwise, for the square footage. (Oak Park definitely does not tend towards ranch houses.) So a bargain, maybe?
  4. This is more the kind of thing I'd been thinking of -- a Victorian with lovely wood and art glass. But the fireplace is decorative only, which is tragic.
There are many others that we're more interested in, but that we need to schedule appointments to see. Like this wacky one, self-described as a Neo Classic Revival Victorian, whatever that means. The interior decor is hideous, but I'm reasonably good at ignoring that as irrelevant. Instead, please note the art glass windows, built in buffet, 2 fireplaces, elaborate millwork and 3 outside porches. I don't even know what millwork is, but I'm pretty sure I'd like it. Mama want.

My main concern with the particular house right now is whether it has enough outdoor yard in back -- we'd ideally like a fenced in (or fence-able) backyard with room for a) a playset, b) some grass for child and dog, c) a sunny vegetable garden. I can do flower gardening in the front only, if need be, but if the backyard doesn't have room (or sufficient sun) for a, b, and c, it's a problem.

Plus, the price has come down $100K since they listed it last fall, which makes me sad for them, but happy for us...


Given that we're still three weeks away from listing our own place (it'll go up post Memorial Day), and that we need to sell our place before we can buy a new one, I'm not sure it makes sense to start making appointments now. But going to some open houses to start getting a feel for the possibilities isn't totally unreasonable, right?

Also, is it crazy that we're thinking of just using Redfin for our house-buying, rather than going through an actual realtor?