Moving, Selling, & Buying
Q: I have a house-hunting question for you. What do you look for? What do you look past? Help! My main complaint of all the older homes that we’re looking at in our price range is that they all feel dated, but that seems to be what you guys look for. How do you know which dated houses are worth buying and which ones are lost causes? I keep worrying we’ll end up in a money pit! – Aviva (not the one from Housewives of NY).
A: First of all, I’m glad you clarified that you’re not NYC Aviva. Haha. And second of all, we actually get this question a lot. So when it comes to what we “look past” in a house (and what we pay attention to) my general answer is to never be deterred by the following things:
- baaaad paint on the walls or the trim
- nasty wallpaper (borders, or entire walls)
- dated or not-your-style furniture
- ugly curtains
- dark brick or paneling
- not-your-cup-of-tea light fixtures
- green/blue/pink toilets
For example, here are a few before photos of our first house to further demonstrate how off-putting those dated features can be… but we all know they can be remedied with a little elbow grease if you’re a willing DIYer:
As for what we always try to pay attention to or look for, it’s mainly:
- the neighborhood (can’t move a house after you buy it)
- the overall layout (you can adjust some things, but repositioning every room gets pricey)
- the size of rooms and number of bathrooms, which is another hard-to-change factor (ex: if it has too-small bedrooms or one bathroom when you need two, you probably want to keep looking)
- things like ceiling height and window placement (which aren’t always easy to change)
- interesting architecture, like a fireplace, ceiling beams, etc
- the terrain of your lot (a steep drop off in the back isn’t exactly simple to fill in, etc)
Here are some photos of our first house that demonstrated some of those great “diamonds” that we saw in the rough. For example, the same room that showed dated brick and paneling also sports a nice cozy centered fireplace along with architectural beams overhead:
Which meant that once we painted all the dark wood and brick, it completely changed the feel of the room:
Another great selling feature for us was the lot itself. It was nearly an acre (something you can’t change once you buy a house) with a nice flat and wooded backyard:
All that landscaping was a more than a little rough to stay on top of, but since we had a nice level lot that was private and wooded in the back, we knew it had tons of potential. And thanks to craigslist we got folks to dig stuff up for free (by posting you-dig-it-up-and-it’s-yours ads like this, which even worked for all that pea gravel) and we ended up with a nice easy-to-maintain yard that made us (and especially Burger) endlessly happy:
So although we’re hardly pro house-hunters (we’ve only done it two times), I think we’ve learned that the sweet spot for us is to completely ignore things we know we can change. If the walls are a color we don’t like, we don’t even pay attention since we know it can easily and affordably be updated. Same for the color of cabinets that we can potentially paint, or wallpaper that we can remove. Things that we can’t change as easily are what we pay the most attention to (ex: the floor plan of a house, the location of the kitchen and all the windows, the size of the bedrooms) – you know, things that would be a lot of money, and trouble, to alter.
For those who have a harder time seeing past the bad cosmetic things (like dated curtains and crusty old wallpaper) it probably helps to look at inspiration images in magazines, online, etc and save things that you love (in a binder, on Pinterest, etc). Then stare at them to see if any of those rooms could inspire something. For example, if you see a room that looks totally different than a potential home’s living room but look closer and realize it’s the same size and shape, you could totally repaint and hang curtains and otherwise decorate it to get that look in your space. Know what I mean?
Update: Oh and as for avoiding a money pit with structural issues or other expensive upgrades you didn’t see coming, we definitely value getting a thorough inspection! Of course they can’t always catch everything, but we’d never buy a house without one and you definitely have much higher odds of finding potential issues (and then being able to opt out of the purchase) than if you skipped the inspection. We hire someone super thorough who is highly recommended and in each case he spent a minimum of 3+ hours crawling under the house, on the roof, looking into vents, etc – our guy got verrry friendly with each house. It can definitely keep you from ending up with a lemon! At least for our two house purchases it has worked out well.
So what about you guys. What do you look for or look past when it comes to house hunting? Do you make must-have lists and must-not-have lists along with nice-to-have lists? It’s definitely smart because that way you won’t let something on the nice-to-have list creep into your brain and convince you buy a house that’s missing a few of the must-haves.
Something big happened last week: my parents sold the house I grew up in.
They’ve been planning to do this for a while, so it’s not a shock or anything. It’s also not as depressing as it could be since they’re selling it so they can move to Richmond (right now they’re about 2 hours away in Northern Virginia). My parents are both retired and have been planning to downsize for a while now. They picked Richmond for a bunch of reasons, including that four of their five grandchildren live here. So all in all, we’re really happy about the news.
But there’s still something major about the closing of this particular chapter, so allow me to be sentimental for a moment.
My parents moved into this house in 1979 (forgive the not-so-pretty winter pic above). It was a new construction home at the time, so they – along with my two older sisters – were its first (and up until now only) occupants. If you’re keeping track that’s two years before I arrived, meaning this is the house they brought me (and later my little sister) home to after we were born. So as you can imagine, a lot has happened in this house over the 32 years they have owned it. Including my mom taking annual pictures of us on the porch for first days of school and for our birthdays (note the homemade banner taped to the storm door behind me).
When we heard they accepted a buyer’s contract early last month, we took the first opportunity to gather there one last time for a family portrait. My sister Emily even made an homage to my mom’s birthday sign tradition for us to pose next to. Here’s the “original” six Petersiks (aka, the “Petersix”)…
…and now with our expanded family of spouses and children (can you tell that it was POURING rain during these shots – fortunately my bro-in-law the professional photographer knew how to handle it).
In addition to these pics, my sisters and I wanted to honor this big moment with a gift. After debating a few things, we decided to get them a drawing or painting of the house. They already own a pen and ink sketch of it, so (thanks to some suggestions from you guys on Twitter) we landed on getting a painting of their front door from artist Kal Barteski (she calls her series T+A - tiny and awesome). So I sent Kal this pic of the door…
And a couple of weeks (and $100 – split four ways among me and my siblings) later, this arrived. Tiny and awesome indeed.
It’s actually 5 x 7″, so it’s not that tiny. Kal paints them on thin onion skin parchment paper which is why it looks a bit wavy and textured. It threw me off a little at first, but when I read that she does it so your painting looks truly like original art – not a print or a replica – it won me over as quite charming.
The onion skin paper is also translucent so she invites people to mat her paintings on colored or patterned paper to customize them and add even more texture. We had fun trying a few colors & patterns underneath but ended up going the straightforward route and putting it on white card stock since we thought my parents would like it best that way.
We finally presented it to my parents this week and they LOVED it. Woo hoo!
Oh, and since some of you might be curious – my parents got very lucky when it came to selling their house. Before it was officially listed on March 1st, they had a preview showing at the end of February and that person put in an acceptable offer on the spot. Not bad right? Since it happened a bit faster than any of us expected (including them) they have around six weeks until they can officially move into their new house in Richmond. In the meantime they’ll be bouncing around between their Delaware beach house, my sister’s house in Northern Virginia, and my sister’s house here in Richmond. But we can’t wait for the day that they can officially call our city their home.
Psst- The babyproofing adventures continue over on BabyCenter where we’re sharing how we anchored a giant wall mirror in our bedroom (thankfully it wasn’t rocket science).