I’m writing this post the morning before we head out for our second round with the real estate agent. This story takes place last weekend, when she picked us up and took us on private showings of three different houses. Upon meeting us the weekend we drove ourselves around to the open houses, she said we’d never have to rent a car again as she’d take us to any open house or private showing we wanted to see. That is such a bonus for a buyer without a car.
Lesson #4 – Let the Real Estate Agent Show You Around
The first place we visited was a townhouse, sold “as is.” The townhouse we were there to see, which was in our price range, was unrenovated with winterized plumbing and uncovered fixtures. We stepped gingerly through the unit on rickety floorboards and dingy carpets, up and down shallow, uneven steps, and into the unfinished basement where we had to duck to avoid low-hanging pipes in the basement. It was here that I was reminded of the first rule when touring a house, dress for the occasion. I’m already very tall so adding in 1/2 inch heals and sending me into old homes and over icy driveways in boots with no traction was a recipe for disaster. In fact, the seller’s agent commented on how nervous I looked going down the steps. I blamed it on the small stairs and my large feet (size 11), but the heals are staying home next time.
We went around to visit the adjacent townhouse, which was partially remodeled and also for sale, for $50k over what we could handle. Our agent quietly pointed out the cheapness the new kitchen cabinets and other fixtures. While was interesting to see what could be done with the unit in our price range, we could tell immediately that this was going to be way too much house for us and that it would take, at minimum, if we did the majority of the work ourselves and relied on my connections with the architectural industry for advice, contractor recommendations, and materials, at least $40k worth of work before we’d be able to live in it.
The next place we looked at was located in the same area as the first house we fell in love with, the small home I feared we let get away the week before. The asking price for this house was at the high end of our comfort level, and it was represented by the seller who managed the open house we tried to visit two weeks earlier that drew so many visitors we gave up without ever going inside. This told us that no matter how much we liked the house, we were not going to get it. Still, we wanted to see it, and we were glad we did. It looked just like the stunning photos used in the listing, we could tell the home was well-loved and required little to no work to move in (the owners made such thoughtful improvements the most we could see changing was the color of a couple walls), the asking price was only slightly below the max amount we were willing to spend, and in this market we were positive there would be an immediate and expensive bidding war. We were right; the sale is already pending.
Finally, we came to the house I would tell everyone about at work the next day. This house was located in an area we’d never been to before and had the most delightful and terrifying amenities. First, because it had been empty most of the winter, the deep snow sat untouched so we had to walk across an inch thick slab of ice to get to the door. Inside we were greeted by a dated kitchen and views from the window of a busy commercial road with an outlet mall beyond. We chuckled nervously upon seeing four locks on the inside of the front door. Egads, what went on in here. This would not be the worst.
Exiting the kitchen into what appeared to be a living room, we were greeted immediately by the stench of cat piss. A lot of cat piss. When I was a kid, we adopted an adult female cat from one of my high school friends. We knew this cat was shy, but it didn’t take long for us to figure out that it must have been abused. If someone raised his or her voice around the cat, she would immediately pee. My parents had a somewhat volatile relationship, never violent, and there was a lot of yelling in our house, so I lived with that smell for a long time. She was just one cat, and I still have trouble visiting my parents because the smell is still present more than a decade later. However, this was a home that must have hoarded several improperly cared for animals. My husband and I have two male cats in our apartment, and we knew right away that no matter how much we cleaned and disinfected, ripped up and replaced, that the smell would still be detectable to them. It would not be a good situation.
The fun continued and the smell got worse as we traveled deeper into the house. We saw more locks on the outside of bedrooms and leading to the second level, encountered two safes in different rooms (one a badass large safe), and the grand finale, a server setup in the basement. Later I would look the address up and discover the place was just a failed data retrieval business, but it was more fun to suggest nefarious activities, such as offshore gambling, went on inside. I saw a door down in the basement with a hole cut in the bottom, large enough for an animal. Our eyes all started to water when we opened the door to reveal the source of the strongest odor, the room where all the cats must have lived.
This is a photo from the Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas
I’m all for a house that needs work, but this was too much. Structurally, it seemed fine, and surprisingly the exterior and the roof looked great. However, the costs to make this place work would bankrupt us. Someone had messed up both of the fireplaces (I feared what an inspector would say), all the carpets and floorboards would need to be ripped up and replaced, and, despite the convenience, our real estate agent strongly suggested we might not want to live right next door to a gas station. The final nail in the coffin for this house was that it was a foreclosure, which meant auction, which meant a lot of factors we didn’t really understand as first time home buyers.
I’m trying hard not to be discouraged. Not counting our year of procrastination, we’ve only been at this for three weeks. We’ve been to six houses so far, entered five, and today we are looking at four more. This is the beginning of the season, which started late this year because of Boston’s ridiculous winter, but I still know the real estate market in this area sucks due to the large number of buyers and a low inventory of options. It’s early, and we haven’t seen enough places to have come across the right house yet. We’ve entered both pipe dreams and nightmares, but nothing in the middle. I’m hopeful that when the market really starts to pick up we will start seeing homes that meet our basic needs, force us to get creative with the budget we have for immediate improvements, and allow us to finally host more than one person at a time in our living room.
Up Next: Paying Off My Student Loan