Monday, January 30, 2006

Home - Less

I'm back from my very busy weekend of baby showering, gift exchanging, and most importantly - house hunting. Sadly, no *perfect* homes were discovered. Lots of nice ones with many features we're looking for, but not one that encompassed ALL the features we're hoping for. Some near-misses. It's going to be hard. What are the most important features we HAVE to have? What are we willing to compromise on or lose outright? It's a balancing act, and it pisses me off, frankly. For the outrageous sums of money we're tossing around we should be getting everything we could possibly want and more. MORE, dammit. Not less. And yet "less" was the catch-phrase of the day.

I probably toured 9 or 10 houses on Saturday in a 4 hour time frame. It was a marathon of getting in and out of the car and going in and out of houses. During very stormy weather, mind you. It was a crappy, crappy day. But, I live in Oregon and it's January - it's simply how it is here. The first house I saw I liked. It would need some updating in the kitchen, and the bedrooms would all have to be painted, but that was minor. What I couldn't get past? The incredibly loud freeway noise deafening you when you were outside. It's not like the house was next to the freeway or anything - au contraire - yet you could hear it. Loudly. That was a deal breaker. If I have to raise my voice in my own backyard to be heard over the traffic? No thank you.

This is the house I saw next:

Nice, right? Yes it is - from the street. And really, inside, too, if you don't mind being really cramped. Everything just felt really compact. The kitchen? Nice, if you only ever want to have 2 people in there at the same time. And the yard was a postage-stamp at best. And yet sadly, it would prove to actually be decently sized compared to the others I would see that day. Newer developments are like that - they cram in as many houses as physically possible, yards be damned. See the front yard? Yeah, that's bigger than the back.

Then it was on to this house:

Lovely, yes? And it was, lovely, pretty much everywhere. I liked this house very much when I saw it and when I went inside. I like the floorplan and the separation of space. It has all the features I wanted. It's 2300 sq. ft. It has a (tiny) formal living room, a (tiny) formal dining room (you could maybe fit a table that seats 6-8 and a hutch but no more), a nice den on the main floor, a sweet glass-brick window in the stairway, and upstairs laundry (!), a nice master bdrm with walk-in closet and double sinks, and a huge kick-ass bonus room above the garage. AND it's in our price range ($358,000). And the weirdest coincidence? The family living there has a 5 yr old boy named Nicholas AND a dog named Abby. It was bizarre. I was really excited about this house.... until I paid closer attention to the kitchen and yard. OMG, the yard. It really didn't exist. None. This house is the biggest fishbowl EVER. The backyard is exactly as big as the width of a swing set. That's it. The family has a wooden swing set in the back yard and it nearly touches the house on one side and the fence on the other. It's that small. Less than 5000 sq. ft. More like 3500. And all the other houses around it are spitting distance and you can see them and they can see you. I could be spending time on the throne, open the window, reach out and shake my neighbors hand while they are on their throne. The houses are that close. And the kitchen. At first glance it's nice. It's white and clean and what's not to like? Until you realize that the pots and pans on the stove are clean and they're still on the stove because there is no place to store them. The kitchen really didn't have much counter space and cabinet space. It wasn't that functional. And no, you couldn't really solve the problem with a cute pot rack or something because of how it was designed. I don't know about you, but I tend to LIVE in my kitchen. It's the heart of the house. And this kitchen was sub-par. It would be a big problem if we lived there. I was trying to figure out creative ways to overcome the inherent problems with the kitchen until I remembered that there was no way in hell Mr. Chick would ever go for such a miniscule yard. No way. So the kitchen problems were really just the nail in the coffin. Too bad, because the rest of the house was a winner.

We saw a few others, which were nice but yet didn't work for various reasons. Nothing horrible, but nothing that reached out and grabbed me. Mr. Chick called me during this time to tell me he was looking at houses on the internet and found this one:

It's in one of the toniest parts of Portland called Lake Oswego. Lake Grove, actually, which is a section of Lake Oswego. So nice, desirable area with great schools. Mr. Chick went to L.O. schools for Jr. High and High School - he's a little biased. So my realtor and I went to look at it. L.O. tends to be a pricier area just for the address and this house is being listed for $325,000 for just under 1800 sq. ft. We drove up and I really liked the area. It's older and more mature. The lots are bigger. This house has a lot that is between 10k-15k. THAT'S more like it. A yard, not a postage stamp. Big, stately trees. Nice, right? Except this house has only ONE bathroom. One. At least in our little house now we have 1.5 baths. It has 3 small bedrooms, but the floors are really nice hardwood. The living room is ENORMOUS. Those two windows to the left of the front door? That's ONE room. It's like 28 feet long. The dining room was small-ish. The kitchen - OMG, the kitchen - ! Tiny and cramped and slightly gross. Old. The appliances are brand new stainless steel, but who cares when you have hardly any cabinets and nearly no counter space? When the cabinets you do have are icky? Sure, they put in nice appliances and new vinyl, and they even put on cute hardware, but the cabinets themselves are nasty and the kitchen is TINY. It would require a full remodel that would involve pushing out the entire wall. And then you open the door that goes into the garage only to discover that it's not a garage anymore. It's a strange hybrid of utility space and storage space because a new den or family room or something was built inside the garage space. Not the entire garage, mind you, but a room within the garage. Big, but yet odd. One of the biggest requirements from Mr. Chick is that a house have a 2-car garage. By all outside appearance, this does, but yet it doesn't. So no, right? I thought so, too. I quickly dismissed this house. But last night, after describing everything to Mr. Chick, we were both sort of strangely attracted to this house. We can't put our finger on it. The area is exactly what we're looking for. We're not really "fixer-upper" people, but we're both discussing what could be done to make this house work. It would require probably $75,000 AT LEAST to make this house work for us. The kitchen being priority one. Bump out the outside wall to enlarge the kitchen and make it awesome. That would also then increase the strange family room/casual dining area that currently exists into a much nicer, usable space. We'd HAVE to add a 2nd bathroom, possibly by re-working the small master bedroom and going out, again off the back, and remodeling that as well. THEN we could tear down that strange room in the garage area and bring back the garage as a garage. We'd have to live in sub-par conditions that weren't really working for us and endure a MAJOR remodel, but it's appealing. I dreamed about it last night. The worst possible house is the one I keep coming back to. I think it's because there is potential there. It would require a LOT of work and a LOT of money, but it could be really cool in the end. I doubt we'll go for it, but the whole thing surprised me. Clearly, I'm nuts.

So the search will continue. It's so hard! I even went and toured a FSBO on Sunday before driving back home. It was nice, but again with the fishbowl effect, although less dramatic, and a "great room" layout, which is all the rage but I'm not a huge fan of. I just don't want to have to eat and entertain in full view of the kitchen. I want to be able to kick the kids out of the kitchen while I'm cooking. I want to sit down to a nice dinner with friends or family, and not have to look at the piles of dirty dishes in the sink. I want to have friends over and not be tripping over kid crap. I want a separate place for them. So that house, while darling and practically right out of a Pottery Barn catalog (she had fantastic taste and I loved her color choices), just wouldn't work.

The house I most wanted to see - it had a gorgeous kitchen right out of a magazine and a really pretty yard and seemed to have a great use of space - went off the market (pending sale) just on Thursday. I was so sad to hear it. I'm secretly hoping the sale falls through so I can have my shot. In the meantime, I'll have to just wait until another potential home comes on the market and then make a mad dash up I-5 to see it before someone else snaps it up. There just aren't many homes on the market right now. I'm sure we'll eventually find something great, but I'm impatient.

And if we don't find something in the next few months we'll have to move in with my parents and I just don't know if we would survive that.

Hey MP - I absolutely loved this entry! I love looking for real estate. I always drive around neighborhoods, watch homes get built/go up for sale, etc... Love it. Your detailed writting about this house stuff is just so entertaining. I hope you find the home of your dreams - and soon! I hear ya on the newer homes being cramped and missing yards. Older homes do have the charm of mature trees and space. Of course the down side is the need for refurbishment. It's sad to think of a $350K-ish home as being a fixer-uper, isn't it?! I am staying put in my small home because the market is just too crazy. Good luck and please keep us posted on your progress! How about that weird baby shower? Was it as weird as you expected?

I love watching the show House Hunters and I can tell I will enjoy your house hunting entries! My in-laws are from that area. In fact my husband grew up in Mollala. Yuck I know. Now his family lives in Oregon city. Anyway, I love that part of Oregon. Lake Oswego is a nice area. I would rather fix up an older home with some charm than get into a move-in-ready new cookie-cutter fishbowl house. But you will make whatever you buy your home and that is what matters most Good luck! S
Welcome to my world (well about 8 months ago). Totally go for the fixer upper. Just say NO to 5x5 foot yards. Ha ha ha.
Wow, such large yards... just think if they were considered beautiful with 2 tons of crushed rock (welcome to Phoenix AZ) oh I forgot to add the adjoining wall to the neighbor's house...
WOW!!!! Good luck with the house hunting!!! GORGEOUS homes you are in the market for! CONGRATS!

Keep us posted! I LOVE watching home shows too!
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