Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Real Estate Rhumba

I mentioned last month that some changes were in the works...well, today marks their potential fruition: I just made an offer on a condominium.

I love where I live right now. It's a nice neighbourhood, and my apartment is big, and it's within walking distance of my work AND a car-share car. I could see myself staying here for the rest of my life, except for two very important considerations: I'm renting, and the soundproofing is AWFUL.

The mice aren't exactly a bonus either.

I've been gradually working towards buying my own place. I got pre-approved for a mortgage two weeks ago, and then set out with a wonderful real estate agent to find my dream home.

I quickly learned that there are no guarantees and no right answers. The better the place is, the more you invariably have to pay, and the second-scariest phrase I've learned during this whole ordeal is "house poor."

The scariest phrase -- one I'm already well-versed in -- is "bad neighbours." I am not a fighter who wants to grab the world with both hands and twist it to my will...rather, I want to snuggle up in my own corner of the world and try to quietly coexist with my fellow snugglers.

So besides the essential considerations such as location (I have no car) and price (I am not rolling in dough), I have done my best to consider the people who will live around me. How much will they impact on my homelife? How will they respond to me walking through the door in a pair of high heels?

Unfortunately, assessing your potential neighbours is not like assessing your plumbing. Today we looked at a townhouse that is unfortunately somewhat buried in its little cluster of townhouses; you walk through the door and you are on stage. But I tried to look for tell-tale signs of neighbourly badness, and even on a sunny Sunday afternoon I didn't see them: no couches on the front lawn, no beat-up cars, no garbage, nobody yelling. As a matter of fact I saw some nice flowerbeds and some well-cared-for lawn furniture.

In terms of the townhouse itself, it's a two-bedroom end unit that is slightly larger than my current apartment (though it feels smaller because it's staggered on four levels). It's well-maintained and has lots of potential. The front and back yards are sort of crappy, but that's nothing a few trees and shrubs couldn't improve. The single shared wall felt solid and I sincerely hope it is.

What's more, it's only a short walk from a grocery store and a bus route, and even the walk to uptown Waterloo (and therefore my workplace) is doable. And the price is right.

Standing there with the real estate agent, I started to sweat. Even though I knew that a decision would eventually need to be made, I found myself completely unprepared for it. This was a hurdle I had to jump: the grown-up necessity to step into an uncertain long-term committment, without anybody there to make the decision for me. I had to be my own grown-up, for better or for worse. And I found it in myself to do so...I put forward an offer.

I'll find out tomorrow night if it's been accepted, and even after that there are a lot of conditions which need to be met, but I feel like I've made the biggest step of the entire procedure, if not my entire life so far. If the offer is refused, the next decision will be a bit easier.

My recommendation for those who are considering buying their first house or condo: find a GREAT real estate agent (I'll be happy to pass the contact info for mine if you're curious), be aware of hidden costs (water heater rental!), and...well, have some idea of what's important to you, and how much you're willing to pay for those things.

I wonder: is this whole process a little easier for couples?


CoachingByPeter said...

Learning about real estate also involves knowing what areas are going for and being able to calculate what a property is worth. This comes from years of knowledge and you can add this valuable tool to your arsenal by doing research. You should try to view as many properties as you can and start learning how to judge there worth.

Jenn said...

No, it's no easier for couples. At least, it wasn't for us, anyway. I still shook in my boots! There have been lots of sacrifices we've made for our house, sure (crappy little house that it is), but it's been worth it, I think.

Gary said...

Welcome to the Home Ownership Zone. Like the Twilight Zone, it can be fraught with uncertainty. It's the long-term commitment that's the scariest thing (besides the money, of course).

You should consider your long-term needs if you plan to stay there for years on end. For one thing, you mentioned four levels. This may seem nice and novel at first, but if you look down the road, do you want to traverse so many levels as the years go by?

As for the "couples" thing, two sets of eyes are better than one. But because it's for the both of you (and for others, if there are kids), compromises must be made. You don't haveto answer to anyone else.

By the way, anyone contemplating home ownership has to consider putting money aside for repairs, taxes, insurance, etc. Like it might say in Peanuts, "It's your house, Charlie Brown!"

All that being said, home ownership does have advanteges. Good luck on your new place. (If it doesn't work out, good luck on your hunt, and follow CoachingByPete's advice: do some research.)

Kimber said...

How exciting! Hope it works oiut the way you want it to. I agree with other comments that it's important to look around and not go with the first thing that catches your eye.