Sunday, June 10, 2012

Can you buy a house in a 3-day house-hunting trip?

In August, I will be moving to a new academic position � I will be an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Merced. This news is very exciting. It also means I have to move myself and my family from Lawrence, KS to Merced, CA.

Our home in Lawrence, KS - now for sale or rent.
We own a home in Lawrence, and would like to own one in Merced. Thus, UC Merced offered to pay for me to make a trip to Merced to look for houses. They specified that they would pay for two or three nights in Merced � which they presumed would be enough time to find a place to live. I was not sure if I agreed, but figured I would give it a shot.

I did know two things: 1) Life would be much easier if I did in fact find a house; and 2) Finding a house would require some research beforehand.

Before my house-hunting trip, I talked with several colleagues about desirable neighborhoods and schools. I mostly consulted with one colleague who has done research on schools in Merced and who has two young children. I decided to trust her judgment and look in the neighborhoods she suggested.

Another colleague recommended a real estate agent. I contacted him, told him I was planning a house-hunting visit. He asked me to let him know the parameters of my search and I told him my preferences in terms of

  • School district
  • Number of bedrooms
  • Price range

I also told him that I preferred a house that had hardwood floors, a pool, a big yard, and in a neighborhood with large trees.

The real estate agent sent me an online list of about 80 houses that met those specifications. I looked at the list and selected those that I wanted to see. It was a bit daunting, as there were so many houses, and they ranged in value from $115,000 to $300,000. As I was looking at the houses, it became clear that there were a couple of neighborhoods where I probably did not want to live � as the houses were all brand new and cookie cutter and there were no large trees. Still, it was hard to know without seeing the houses and neighborhoods.

I arrived in Merced on Sunday evening, and had dinner with fantastic new colleagues. I should note that I was already exhausted after attending a four-day conference in San Francisco. So, I tried to get back to the hotel early and sleep.

The real estate agent met me at 9am and we began to view houses. I had chosen 26, and he brought printouts with color photos and we set out to look at each of them. The first house on his list was one that I thought I was going to love. It was one of the more expensive ones, and I really liked it from the pictures. However, when we got there, I realized that the layout was not actually ideal, and that maybe it wasn�t the perfect house.

As I saw more and more houses, it became clearer to me what I liked and what I did not like.

I do not like:

  • Wallpaper
  • Linoleum
  • Houses that are too wide open � meaning there is no quiet space.
  • Houses that are too closed � where you can�t see everyone else
  • Small yards
  • Neighborhoods with no trees � too much sun!
  • Houses with little or no natural light.

I do like:

  • Houses with a pool.
  • Hardwood floors � except in Merced there really weren�t any houses with real hardwood floors.
  • Houses that have a study � or a separate family room.
  • Houses with open kitchens.
  • Large yards.
  • Large windows.
  • Big bathtubs.
  • A house where you don�t have to get in a car each time you leave the house.
  • Fireplaces.

Towards the end of the day, we went to a house that had a separate family room, an open kitchen that looked out onto a large family room with a fireplace, four bedrooms, a pool, and a hot tub. It was not as nice as some of the other houses we had seen, but the issues it had were not that difficult to fix � the kitchen floor has linoleum and the front entrance has a fairly unattractive tile. My husband knows how to fix both of those issues. I decided that I probably liked that house.

Later that afternoon, my wonderful new colleagues invited me over for a cook-out. I took the piece of paper with the house description on it and asked for their feedback. They all agreed that it was in a great location. I found out that the house is next door to a great elementary school where my younger daughter could go, and just one mile from the middle school where my twin daughters could go. It is also just a few blocks from a great park and an awesome bike path. You also could walk to a coffee shop and a grocery store from the house.

The house in Merced, California!

I called up my real estate agent and told him I wanted to see the house one more time. He picked me up and we went back over there. I looked it over, took some pictures to show my husband, called my husband, and we decided to put an offer on the house.

I met with a lender, and got pre-approved for a loan. I also reviewed some options with her and decided on a low-interest 15-year loan. I couldn�t believe how low the rate was � 2.75 percent! The UC system also offers loans for faculty, but it appears those are variable interest rates, so I went with this loan � an FHA loan. By putting down 10 percent, the mortgage insurance is fairly low - $40 a month, and it seemed like a great deal.

I left town the next day and heard from the real estate agent that the sellers had a counter offer. I reviewed it and it was reasonable, so I accepted it. The next step was to order the inspection and appraisal. I did that. The house passed inspection with relatively few issues and the house appraised just above the asking price. Things were looking good.

Now, we are in the final stages, and it looks quite likely that this will go through. At this point, we are just waiting for the sellers to agree to make some repairs and for the loan to finalized. If this actually works, we will be very happy to be the proud owners of a new home in Merced, California!

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