“You can’t have everything you want, but you can have the things that really matter to you.” — Marissa Mayer
“Little problem in the kitchen, nothing trivial.” ~ Walter Fielding (played by Tom Hanks), in The Money Pit
Welcome to Part 6 of my series. If you’ve missed any of the previous installments you can read them here: Part 1-The Decision, Part 2-The Realtor, Part 3-Decluttering and Sprucing, Part 4-The Showings and Part 5-The Joy and Anxiety of the Inspection and Going to Contract.
We left off last time with the signing of the contract with our buyers. Now the shoe was on the other foot. It was time to find our next home before we wound up homeless!
Well, not really. As Paul, our realtor (and son-in-law) pointed out to us, there were short-term rentals designed for people who were between homes, so we had that on which to fall back. But we hoped to avoid that option because it would involve storing our furniture and many boxes of belongings and paying for two moves instead of one, adding additional costs to our already mounting expenses. Thus, we were highly motivated to start our condo living sooner than later.
Our List of Must-Haves
- Close to our daughter and son-in-law
- Condo (not a Co-op)
- Single story structure (no stairs)
- Three bedrooms (master plus two to provide office for me and a studio for Ted)
- Two bathrooms (at least) One for each of us, and one for guests.
- Pool (Courts and trails would be nice, too.)
- Parking for us and guests
- Deck (for grilling and hanging out)
- Allows pets
- Allows children! (Some “over 50” condo communities do not!)
- Turnkey status
Back in the spring, when we finally made the decision to sell our home, I asked Paul’s mother and business partner, Valerie — with whom I was long overdue for a visit and “girls” outing — to take me to see what was out there in terms of a new home for Ted and me. As my daughter’s mother-in-law, I like to think of Valerie as my machatainista (a uniquely Yiddish term to describe the relationship of two mothers-in-law to each other).
Valerie graciously agreed and we spent the day looking at properties in the area. We first went to Valerie’s favorite condominium community, a 15-minute drive north of our house. This was just for fun, because the condos and townhouses there were over our budget — way over our budget. I think there was an elegant two bed-one bath condo that we might have afforded, but it was too small for our needs. The community, however, is breathtakingly beautiful and I enjoyed the excursion.
Then we got serious. We went to my preferred condo community, a charming area just a hop, skip and jump from our current home, on a lake with a club house, swimming pool, exercise room, playground, tennis and basketball courts for use by the residents and their guests, and plenty of parking. We visited the one townhouse for sale. As we walked in, I spotted an immediate problem: a staircase. Well, it was a townhouse after all. Despite the stairs, Valerie encouraged me to keep an open mind, and I did. It did have three bedrooms, but only one bathroom, all upstairs, along with a laundry closet, and a powder room on the main floor. There was a cute kitchen with a cut-out to the dining area and a lovely deck overlooking woods with a glimpse of the lake in the distance. Looking around, I noticed something to which we had not given thought: where would a litter box go? We actually had two, one for each cat. A litter box could not go in the kitchen, dining or living rooms. The powder room was too small, and one could not go upstairs anywhere. (When we were first married, we had a one-bathroom co-op, and that’s where we kept the litter box; at this stage of our marriage I was not going back to such an arrangement!) The only additional storage was an assigned space in a storage facility on the property. And we would have to make some cosmetic changes in wall color, flooring, finishes, etc.
The next two condos we visited were single-level apartments, but they were quite small. One had to be accessed via an outdoor staircase, which defeated the idea of a single-level unit. At this point, Valerie gave me a reality check. She told me that if we want a single-level condo that worked for us we would have to move some distance away and spend about three times more than our current budget. Because we lived in a highly populated area, listings for single-floor condos with the square footage we were seeking are rare and very expensive. More commonly, we were going to find townhouses. Thus, we needed to reconcile ourselves to continuing to deal with stairs. And, Valerie pointed out, the house on which we ultimately settle might need some updating and we had to factor that into our costs. These were just the beginning of the reality checks we were to receive.
Next, we visited two townhouses. The first was in a community in which every house had the same brown barn-like facade, which I found depressing. The house itself, while very roomy and within our price range, needed far too much work throughout. The second was in a pretty community and I really liked the house! It was spacious with a massive finished basement and walk-out to a patio (great for Ted’s studio), a deck that overlooked a back road and woods beyond, good-sized rooms, a walk-in master closet, and a cozy loft area that I envisioned as my office. The two bedrooms provided the master and a guest room. If we had been ready at this point, I would have made an offer on this house, I liked it that much. It was a bit farther away from our current house, but close enough. I was encouraged.
Back to the Present
Recalling my excursion with Valerie in the spring, I felt confident that Paul would find us the right property for our next home. That did not keep me from browsing the online listings and I brought some to Paul’s attention. One thing I learned is that online listings are frequently inaccurate or outdated, but they still could be leads. Paul checked out every one I sent to him and got the up-to-date details. So, between a few that I found and the many that Paul lined up for us, we were very busy house hunting. Here are a few highlights:
The Cat-astrophic Townhouse
We really liked this townhouse, located in a lovely and conveniently located community with pool, courts, clubhouse, fitness center, library and sauna. It had three bedrooms, two-and-half baths, laundry, decent square footage, deck and patio, everything updated and within our budget, with just a few cosmetic changes needed. Reasonable maintenance fee and taxes. Seemed perfect, except for the fact that only dogs were allowed, and we had two very excellent cats!
The Adult Community Condo
This single-floor condo was very nicely appointed in a pretty and pleasant conveniently located community that featured a pool and other communal amenities. The single-level unit had a large deck overlooking beautiful woodsy landscaping. But it had only two bedrooms (one of us would be out of a workspace). The rooms were small with only one and a half baths (the former contained a very tiny washer/dryer). And the kitchen was not only tiny, but the decor was jarring to my sensibilities. The price was slightly over our budget, but doable. But we didn’t want to do.
Penthouse on the Waterfront
I came across a listing for a penthouse apartment on the waterfront. Wow! My heart was aflutter big time! Three bedrooms, two baths, large rooms, patio and stunning water views. Shared laundry facilities on each floor. The location was gorgeous and still close enough to Lyn and Paul. And this fabulous find was under budget! What was the catch?! There were two, actually: no pets at all were allowed (dealbreaker #1) and it was a co-op, not a condo (dealbreaker #2). I almost cried over that one.
The Townhouse (with Valerie) Redux
Months after viewing this townhouse with Valerie, the one on which I thought we might have wanted to make an offer, I saw online that it was back on the market (it had gone to contract but the deal fell through). Paul whisked us up there and we conducted a very thorough walk-through. By the way, a walk-through with Paul is quite an experience; he flushes toilets, checks electrical outlets, examines the range and dishwasher, scrutinizes the floors, doors, windows — all that is visible. He observes everything. Thus, on this second, more rigorous examination we found that the place needed more work than I had originally noticed. I had been enamored with the layout and overlooked many of the details. This time, there was also a very heavy odor of pesticide, indicating another problem. Even the deck had a broken railing, and we learned that we, as the buyers, would be responsible for its repair and upkeep; normally, the HOA (Homeowners Association) is responsible for everything outside the house or apartment. The property needed a lot more work than we found acceptable. The last straw was learning that the community had no pool or other amenities! All considered, this was not a good investment for us. Disappointed, I said a sad good-bye to a house I had never quite got out of my mind since I first saw it.
The Townhouse OTCL* #1
After viewing a dozen or more properties and rejecting them all for various reasons, Paul asked us if we minded moving a bit farther, just over the border of the county next to ours, to a nearby historic hamlet about 15 miles north of our historic village. At first we were reluctant to wander that far away, but it was only a 25-minute drive from our current home. As it turned out, the townhouse had good square footage. And while it had only two bedrooms, it did have two and a half baths, a large basement and an attic for additional storage. The community had a pool, courts and a playground, although no clubhouse. And it allowed dogs and cats, thank you very much.
The drawback to the house was that we would have to gut the kitchen — a big job. And it was Ted rather than Paul who noticed that what we thought were hardwood floors were laminate and there was an area that was peeling; that meant floor replacement. The basement, as well, needed finishing, but could afford Ted the space he needed for his studio. The second bedroom could be my office. There was a deck for our grill, and a pretty view of sweeping lawn and woods from the living room, deck and one of the bedrooms. Overall, it had the space, storage and community amenities we wanted. The cost was within our budget and the HOA fee and taxes were reasonable. And the hamlet was similar to our village. We departed, with something to talk over.
The Townhouse OTCL #2
We were close to deciding that the aforementioned townhouse was the property for us. Paul had checked off our most important must-haves: it was close enough to him and Lyn, it was not a co-op, it provided Ted with a studio, me with an office, and enough bathrooms to preserve our marriage. It had storage, a deck, parking and a pool and allowed pets. And there were many children of all ages in the community, as well as dogs, which we liked. It was not stair-free nor was it turn-key. But we were already resigned that a house with stairs that needed renovations was an acceptable trade-off to getting nearly everything else we wanted.
While we were poised to make an offer, Paul advised that we should keep looking because deals fall through, and we wanted to be prepared with back-up properties. And so it was that while I was surfing for more listings, I came across one for a townhouse in the same community with the same layout. The difference, which I noticed immediately, was the kitchen. The photo showed a beautiful modern kitchen (we had updated our kitchen several years before, so kitchens were a major deal). I called Paul and soon we were touring this lovely townhouse, which was mostly turnkey. Bingo! Now we were done looking.
Join me as we wind up the juggling of selling, buying and — despite some last- minute scrambling — two closings.
Until next time,