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Never Mind

Richard Connor

WHEN I LAST REPORTED on our retirement journey, we’d decided to put our search for a second home on hold. Well, in the immortal words of Saturday Night Live’s Emily Litella, “Never mind.”

We looked at many properties in several communities earlier this year, but we didn’t find anything we wanted to purchase. We decided on a cooling-off period, while we pondered what our next step should be. We kept a casual eye on properties coming up for sale, but nothing grabbed our attention.

One Sunday morning in mid-July, my wife received a Zillow notification that a property in a desirable 55-plus community had just been put on the market. There was to be an open house that afternoon. We had nothing better to do, and it was a cloudy and rainy day, so we jumped in the car.

To make the trip more enticing, we’d get to see two of our grandsons, ages seven months and three years old. We found two other open houses nearby that also seemed worth a visit. The first two homes we toured were single, ranch-style homes. Both were nice, and would have been great for a young and growing family. But they were more house and property than we need at this point.

The last property was a townhome in a 55-plus community. It had a large first-floor master bedroom, upgraded kitchen, hardwood floors and a big two-car garage. The second floor had a large bedroom, bath, storage area, and huge loft area that could easily accommodate an office, sitting area and additional sleeping. The unit had a private deck looking out onto woods. The community had a pool, community center with fitness room, and courts for tennis and pickleball.

The realtor running the open house lived in the community, and spoke glowingly about it and its residents. After talking to her for a bit, we determined that she was originally from the Philadelphia suburbs, not far from where Vicky and I grew up. This led to an extended conversation about life in the community. She was a great salesperson.

We were very interested, as were several other couples who toured the property while we were there. Apparently, this community is popular with downsizers leaving the New York City area. We had seen a unit for sale back in March, but it was small and dingy, with an unappealing layout, plus the asking price was $749,000, which seemed high.

The asking price for this unit was $745,000. The most recent sale in the neighborhood was a few months back, at $770,000. That unit was slightly larger than the one we saw, and pristine. The dingy unit we saw back in March eventually sold for $723,000.

We decided to put in an offer. We knew there would be other bidders. We spoke with our realtor, and discussed recent sales and how they compared to the property we saw. I recalled the article that HumblerDollar’s Dennis Friedman wrote about the sale of his wife’s house. It was useful, because I thought we were in a similar situation. The asking price felt low for a property in great condition in a desirable community. I thought the seller was encouraging over-asking price offers. Our realtor agreed. We were the first bidders on the property, submitting an offer that night of $770,000—$25,000 above the asking price.

Two days later, we were told our offer hadn’t been accepted. Our realtor said we had one more chance to counter, but she felt we had made a very strong offer. We discussed it and decided to take one more shot, offering $799,000. Later that evening, we heard that the seller had decided on another offer.

We were pretty disappointed. But it gave us an opportunity to revisit our thinking. We agreed that the original reasons we wanted to move nearer to our children still existed, and had actually strengthened. Spending half the summer in our crowded beach community also reminded us of how much we prefer the town in the off-season. Imagine if your quiet little town went from 11,000 residents to 150,000. That’s what it’s like to live in a popular beach town.

A few days later, we saw a listing for a townhouse in the same community where our younger son and his family lived. It’s about a 50-minute drive from our older son and family in New York City. It looked in great shape. We contacted our realtor and asked to set up a showing.

Before we called the realtor, we spoke to our son and daughter-in-law to gauge their feelings about us living that close. They were supportive of us moving to the area, but this would be closer than any of us had anticipated. Their only concern was that we would expect them to be our only social life. We understood that concern and emphasized that wasn’t our intent.

With that resolved, we set up a showing. We liked the house very much, and decided to put in an offer. The listing price was $795,000. We thought that was high, so we came in with an offer of $750,000. The seller countered at $779,000, and we agreed to their price if they included the dining room and living room furniture. They said, “yes,” and we had a deal. We settled in mid-September.

When we told friends and family that we were buying a home, they were uniformly happy for us, but some were also confused. The confused folks were those who’d read my previous article. Several politely asked what changed. I told them that nothing had changed. The reasons we wanted to be closer to our children and grandchildren were just as valid—and perhaps more so. For instance, during the cooling-off period, our eight-year-old grandson joined a travel soccer team. We want to attend as many of his, his brother’s and his cousin’s games as possible.

The layout of the house doesn’t meet a couple of criteria we’d set. It’s a three-bedroom townhouse, with a basement and detached one-car garage. One of the best features is a two-story sunroom off both the living room and master bedroom.

But it doesn’t have a first-floor master suite—instead the master bedroom is on the second floor—and the laundry is in the basement. We’re very capable of navigating stairs. But we have experience with aging and infirm parents, and know that can change rapidly. My wife accurately captured the risk-reward nature of the purchase when she told a friend, “We are buying a lifetime of experiences, and a house comes with it.”

We’re considering what to do with our current home in a Jersey Shore beach town. We’d like to keep it, and I’m working to figure out how to structure our finances to our best advantage. We will likely rent it out for the summer season, and use it in the offseason. We have experience owning a seasonal rental property, and I’m confident we can manage it. There are some interesting tax ramifications when converting a vacation home to a primary residence and then back to a rental property. But that’s a subject for a future article.

Richard Connor is a semi-retired aerospace engineer with a keen interest in finance. He enjoys a wide variety of other interests, including chasing grandkids, space, sports, travel, winemaking and reading. Follow Rick on Twitter @RConnor609 and check out his earlier articles.

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