House Offer Number 2

Over six months passed between our first offer in November 2014 and our second in May 2015. Very few houses were listed over the winter. Our options were also limited by the dearth of single-family houses on the market and the limited area in which we were searching. Jarrod drives to work in Evanston, the suburb north of Chicago, and I take the train downtown. We wanted to find something that made our commutes as equitable as possible.

Offer Number 2: Albany Porch Party

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Location: Albany Park, or to be more specific: Horner Park.

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Why We Made an Offer: Again, location. Bowmanville (which you saw yesterday) was a fluke, location-wise. We never expected that area to be within our reach. Albany Park, however, is a sweet spot of affordability on the north side of Chicago.

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CTA access is a high priority for us and there are basically only two affordable Brown Line stops left: Kedzie and Kimball. Kedzie feels nicer, and the neighborhood near it is starting to feel more and more like Lincoln Square/Ravenswood (which is immediately to the east). The downside is that the neighborhood is now priced more and more like Lincoln Square.

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The trick is to find something that is decent but not fully renovated.

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Listing Price: $350k. (Link to Redfin listing)

Our Offer: $360k. This property, like most houses in the neighborhood, was immediately a multiple offer situation, with the seller’s agent requesting “best and final” within two days. That means you have to throw a strong offer in the pile to be considered.

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One of the most important lessons we learned during our house hunt is that — in a competitive seller’s market like Chicago is right now — the offer just gets your foot in the door. The inspection period is a safety net and it is very easy to back out of an offer at that time. So, if you’re leaning strongly toward a house you might as well proceed with an offer and then see how everything shakes out. I wouldn’t recommend making bids on homes you wouldn’t be excited to win, but just remember that an offer is a first date, not a wedding.

In this case, a $10k-over-asking-price offer didn’t even earn us a response from the seller’s agent. The house is still contingent, so we don’t know what the winning offer was, but I’m guessing it was closer to $370k.

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This house had a few appealing features, namely the porch, the yard, and the location. Inside the house was eh. We would have made it nice over time, but the living room was quite small (don’t be fooled by the realtor’s wide-angle lens) and no amount of money (well, no amount that we’ll ever have) could have changed that. The addition they plopped on top of the house didn’t include a bathroom, so that space wasn’t as useful as it should have been. We weren’t brokenhearted not to get this one and now — looking back — I’m relieved.

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Onward to House Offer Number 3!

House Offer Number 1

If you follow me on Instagram you already know that Jarrod and I found a house! We made offers on five different houses and our fifth offer did the trick. We close on Friday.

When we started our house hunt (nearly a year ago), our home-owning friend Michael told us: “Making an offer isn’t like asking someone to marry you, where you probably already know they’ll say yes. Making an offer is like asking someone on a first date: you have no idea what the response will be.” This has definitely been true for us. So, ahead of our closing date, I’m going to recap each of the properties we made an offer on, and on Friday I’ll share some photos of our new home.

Offer Number 1: Vegas Ranch*

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* Our agent, Seth Captain, encourages his clients to give nicknames to the homes they tour to help keep them straight, and because it’s fun. This one was dubbed Vegas Ranch because the owners had moved to Vegas and it was fitting given the showy-but-shoddy 90s upgrades they had done to the property.

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(Forgive the arrows on the photos – they’re listing photographs.)

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Location: Bowmanville – right between Lincoln Square and Andersonville. The location was unbeatable and the house was totally devoid of charm. I said that it would be like buying a trailer in the Gold Coast (a fancypants Chicago neighborhood).

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Why We Made an Offer: Location, location, location. Homes in this area simply aren’t available in our price range. This one was priced relatively low because most buyers don’t like raised ranches (more on that below), but I do. In one our first emails to Seth I said “An ugly but solid post-1950 ranch is likely our sweet spot.” He replied “Those are some of the ugliest examples of architecture in Chicago but at the same time they are enormously solid, with massive foundations, incredible bones and very under-appreciated utilitarian value. And if somebody is creative enough, there are a couple of design ideas that can completely change the feel of these homes…” We could have done a lot with this house.

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Listing Price: Originally listed at $445k, fell to $425k, then fell again to $399k.

Our Offer: Because the house had been on the market for several months, we offered $370k. In response to that, the seller raised their asking price to $405k. WTF?! Game over. They were certain the house was worth more and were willing to wait it out. It eventually sold for $392k. (Trulia link to listing) 

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This was one of the many situations in which our agent proved he had our interests in mind, not his commission. At that point we were so eager to buy something, and so excited about the location and the potential of the house, it would have been easy for him to counsel us to bid outside of our range. I’m glad we didn’t. I still love the house, but the mortgage payments wouldn’t have left us with much money to spend on renovation — and fixing up a house is what I’m looking forward to.

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One final note: raised ranches aren’t appealing to most buyers because they’re small compared to other single-family homes. This house was listed as a tear-down, not because it was irreparable (far from it), but because the value was in the land given how desirable the neighborhood is. Raised ranches often sell to developers who pay cash, tear them down, and build a house that will go for significantly more.

This very thing happened to the home next door:

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It sold for $230k and was replaced with a generic mansion that sold for $630k.

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If you’re looking to buy a home in Chicago, keep an eye out for raised ranches! We didn’t end up buying one, but they’re great homes that can be had for significantly less money than bungalows and wood frame houses.

See you tomorrow for House Offer Number 2.

Two Unexpected House Hunt Game Changers

Allow me to begin with a quote from the The Hunger Games wiki:

“The Gamemakers’ job is to make the annual Hunger Games as spectacular, bloody, frightening and entertaining as possible. When the Head Gamemaker feels that the Games are becoming boring, they will introduce some new element such as a forest fire or tsunami or announce a feast to excite the audience to drive the tributes closer together and kill some of them off.”

The Head Gamemaker of our house hunt is clearly bored, and he has unleashed two muttations to raise the stakes on our heretofore stress-free search.

#1. This article was published in Crain’s Chicago Business: Can’t find a Chicago home to buy? Join the club (I used a Google search link which should get you around their paywall).

chartThe supply of single-family homes on the market in Chicago is smaller than it’s been for at least eight years. Owners simply aren’t listing their houses. This article confirmed what we’ve been experiencing and, even worse, fanned the flames. Houses are getting bid up above asking price and above fair market value.

#2. When our lease expired in March, we asked our landlords if we could go month-to-month so that we’d be able to move out easily once we do find a house. They agreed because we’ve been good tenants for several years. Here’s what we didn’t think about: while a lease is a tether for renters, it’s also protection. Our landlords decided to sell the building and it was listed this week. It’ll sell fast.

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It would have been much smarter for us to have renewed our lease. We could have easily found a tenant to take it over once we bought a house. That’s the most frustrating part: we could have avoided this, but we never had reason to think month-to-month was a risk. Learn from our mistake, dear readers!

If the buyer wants to owner-occupy, which is usually what happens with two-flats, they’d most likely want our unit because it’s on the top floor. And because we no longer have a lease, they can give us 30 days notice to move out. So, we may end up having to move to a new apartment while we continue our house hunt. That would be a major expense and hassle. Sonuvabitch.

We’re trying our hardest not to sweat it because there’s no way of knowing what will happen. Fingers crossed the inspection reveals something that’s bad enough to kill a deal but not so bad it could kill us.

Chicago House Hunting: The One I Loved the Most

Of all the houses we’ve seen, this was the house I had the most immediate emotional response to. Originally listed at $525k, sold for $400k, in a lovely Chicago neighborhood called Peterson Woods. It caught me by surprise because I’m rarely sentimental. I’m also wary of kitsch – I like mid-century design because it’s practical and clean-lined – not because I want to live in a time capsule. This house, however, felt truly special.

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It was owned by an elderly woman who had finally reached the point where she could no longer live alone. She bought the house from the architect when it was first built (in 1954) and had lived there ever since. The seller’s agent clearly loved her, and exclaimed “She’s 80-years-old and still drives at night!” Her home was beautiful. Alas, we decided it was too far from the CTA for it to be a serious contender.

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I’m a sucker for cove ceilings and corner windows.

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Such a kitchen!

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Both of the bathrooms had amazing metallic wallpaper.

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We called this one “Kimberly’s bathroom,” after our friend who most definitely has this decor in outfit form.

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And the basement bar was the ultimate Golden Girls party room.

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What got me the most, though, was when I opened the master bedroom closet and saw these shoeboxes:

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This was exactly how my grandmother organized her shoes. I took some photos of her ranch house — which she lived in until the day she died in 2002, with her Keds on her feet and her head on her pillow. Even the multi-color plastic hangers are the same:

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No good way to end this post, so I’ll link to this Courtney Barnett song that is the perfect soundtrack for emotional house-hunting: Depreston.

Chicago House Hunting: The One that Got Away

This is the house I’m still kicking myself over: a mid-century split-level priced at $314,900.

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For those of you who don’t live in Chicago: mid-century houses are really rare here, especially in our part of the city. This is a pre-1930s bungalow town. Per the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association: “With more than 80,000 bungalows still standing today, the housing style represents nearly one-third of the city’s single-family housing stock.” Bungalows are great, but I prefer a more modern floor plan. And vaulted ceilings? I would do unspeakable things for vaulted ceilings.

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We saw this house at the beginning of our house hunt, back when we were young and naive and stupid. It needed a lot of work — the roof, windows, and electrical all needed to be replaced immediately — and it simply seemed like too much for us to bite off with the funds we had available. We hesitated a day too long and by the time we decided to make an offer, it was too late. I felt heartbroken.

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Pristine hardwood floors under the terrible carpet!

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Glorious closet space.

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I later learned more about renovation loan options and determined that the house would have been within our means, which made me feel worse. The only consolation is that it ended up selling for $345,500. So, even if we had made an offer, we would have been scared off by the escalating bids.

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At night when I can’t sleep I still think about how I’d decorate this bar…

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