WHAT SORT OF HOUSE should I buy? My first consideration was budget. While I’d been preapproved for a $403,000 loan, I knew I wasn’t going to borrow that much. Doing so would mean spending well over half my net income on my mortgage. Instead, I figured out how much cash I had for a down payment—$80,000—and then decided to take out a loan of not more than $300,000. That way, I’d be making a 20% down payment and could avoid buying private mortgage insurance.
With a price range in mind, and a preapproval letter from my credit union in hand, my house hunting began in earnest. I first put together a list of “wants.” A single-level home was important to me, but the overall size wasn’t. I’d been living in a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment for several years. I was, however, hoping to find a three-bedroom, two-bath home, because I felt it would prove to be a better choice when it came time to sell.
Location was also an important consideration. Ideally, I wanted to find a house in the same neighborhood where I’d been living for the past six years. I’d grown fond of the location and all its amenities, including a wonderful community center, a well-stocked library and several parks with walking paths. It also happens to be the same neighborhood my mother lives in. In my book, having a puppysitter nearby is a huge plus.
In addition, I wanted a house that didn’t require a lot of work. While I’ve owned—and completely remodeled—two homes in my lifetime, I’m now at an age where spending my weekends working on a house isn’t as appealing as it once was. I knew I couldn’t afford a newly constructed house, but I was hopeful I could find something built within the last 40 years.
Once I had an idea of my ideal home, I began searching online listings and eventually enlisted the help of a real estate agent. After a couple of weeks of searching, it became apparent there might not be any homes that met all my criteria. Housing costs in my neighborhood were high compared to surrounding areas. I realized tradeoffs would need to be made.
In another neighborhood, I found a home that met nearly all of my wishes, but it would have added 30 to 45 minutes to my daily commuting time. I also found an 80-year-old “fixer” home in my price range and in my neighborhood, but it needed several thousand dollars of work to make it livable. I began to think my chances of finding the “perfect” house were just about zero.
Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a small, liberal arts college. This is the third in a series of articles about her recent home purchase. Her previous blogs include Heading Home (I), Heading Home (II) and Happy Ending.