House Offer Number 5

The risk with building up to our fifth and final offer is an Arrested Development-style “Her?” skepticism in response to our new house. If you have any doubt upon seeing these photos, you’ll just have to trust me when I say that, after a full year of searching, we know we landed a really great house for us. As I did with the other houses, these are the MLS photographs: I won’t try to make it look any better or worse. In real life, it looks both better and worse.

Offer Number 5: End of the Line

Location: Albany Park. Just south of the river, and so much closer to the train than we ever expected to be able to afford. It’s a 0.2 mile walk to the Kimball Brown Line station. That’s nothin’! We had hoped for the Kedzie stop, but homes simply weren’t being listed in that area. So, it’s the end of the line both literally and figuratively for us.

In addition to the Brown Line, we’ll be on three main bus lines. The Foster bus gets us to Andersonville, the Kimball bus takes us to Logan Square, and the Lawrence bus is a quick trip to Lincoln Square. We have friends along all of these routes and we’re excited to be so easily connected to them via public transit.

Why We Made an Offer: The first floor layout was unlike any other we saw. It felt so spacious and gracious. The living room flows into the kitchen/dining room, but there’s also a nice separation — one of us (Jarrod) can be in the kitchen listening to The Gist while the other (me) is in the living room watching Orphan Black. It’s also on an oversized lot: 40’x125′ vs the standard 25’x125′. In a crowded city, owning some extra outdoor space is a great luxury.

The open, light-filled kitchen is perfect for us. We don’t need or want a formal dining room, and I can see all our friends hanging out around that huge island.

The kitchen, of course, isn’t my style but I haven’t seen a single one that is. Remodeling a kitchen was in the cards for us no matter what, and this kitchen is functional and modern enough to last us several years.

Though it looks formidable in that exterior shot, it’s a great floor plan for us. Roughly 1600 square feet, with two large bedrooms and full bath upstairs plus a half bath on the first floor. Two toilets for the first time in 9+ years of living together: it’s going to be a game-changer.

I love this central staircase so much. If you’ve been in any Chicago bungalows, you know how rare open staircases are. They are usually cramped, steep afterthoughts. This one is sunny and beautiful. This staircase feels like a home.

Listing Price: $339k (no MLS link because, ya know, it’s our new address!)

Our Offer: $340k. We feel very lucky to have purchased this property in this market without getting into a bidding war. We have the tornado sirens and the Chicago Blackhawks to thank: we got into this house on that crazy Game 7 night and made an offer immediately. They accepted the next day and immediately had back-up offers from other prospective buyers.

There’s a great mix of short and long term projects: some expensive stuff we’ll need to pay for right away (e.g. plumbing work), some expensive stuff that will be fun to plan for over several years (e.g. redoing the kitchen, bathroom and, well, everything else), but also lots for me to do on my own. I see so many things that I’ll enjoy tackling without spending a lot of money. That’s what I’m most excited about: it’s a project house that is great and livable now, and I see a clear path for years to come to make it even better. PROJECTS FOR LIFE.

That’s it for now! I wrote this post on Thursday night and hit “Publish” as soon as we successfully closed today (hooray!). I’ll be back with so many more details: the exact timeline and all the drama that happens between offer and close, details about finances, and lots of photos of the house and all my plans for it.

House Offer Number 4

We’ve reached our penultimate offer, which I thought for sure would be our final offer. I was certain this house was The One.

Offer Number 4: Bernard Basement Bar

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Location: North Park. This house was south east of the property you saw yesterday, and it made a world of difference in how we felt about the location. It doesn’t seem like much, but 0.6 miles vs 0.4 miles to the train is a big difference when you’re trekking in Chicago weather. Bernard is a lovely street with well-maintained houses. It has a great neighborhood feel, with a new public library to the north and a quaint pedestrian bridge to the south. I would have crossed the Chicago River every day on my walk to the Kimball Brown Line stop.

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Why We Made an Offer: We loved this house. We didn’t have to talk ourselves into it: it simply had what we were looking for, both practically and emotionally. It was far from perfect — it reeked of smoke, the garage was falling down, they hadn’t done any major updates (roof/electrical/pipes) — but it was special in a way that made the flaws worthwhile.

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Most of the bungalows we saw had cramped floor plans, but this one felt spacious. It did have the traditional formal dining room, whereas we were hoping for a more open kitchen/dining area, and that’s one of the things I think about now to mitigate our disappointment.

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I didn’t expect to love the vintage bungalow aesthetic, but it was an appealing balance of historic character and a few modern cosmetic updates. Most notably, the kitchen had been renovated in the 90s — obviously not my style, but very clean and generally well laid out.

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There were three rooms upstairs that would have been great for guests. For our day-to-day lives, though, it was an overabundance of space for a family of two.

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I don’t have any photos of the best part: a vintage basement bar, complete with pool table. I’m sorry I failed you on that front! I usually don’t take pictures when we tour homes because I’m too busy asking questions and inspecting everything. I think this is the right way to tour a property, but the wrong way to be a blogger.

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Listing Price: $349k (Link to Redfin listing)

Our Offer: We initially offered $345k, hoping that the smoke, dilapidated garage, and lack of major updates would discourage other offers. In any other market, that would have been a strong offer for a house in this condition in this part of the city. But Chicago’s current market is inflating prices. The seller’s agent asked all bidders to submit their best and final offer. We raised to $360k and threw in a personal cover letter to the seller as a Hail Mary. Our agent responded “If someone trumps this, nothing you could do. Nice job of stepping up!” That made us feel good, and that’s what saves us from having any regret with this property. We did what we could, and offered the most we could given the amount of work needed.

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I want to give props to the seller’s agent, Carmen Rodriguez. She was the best we’ve encountered: she kept us informed at every stage of the process and we were never left wondering what the status was. She even emailed Seth after we lost the house, saying “This was a competitive process and my client did spend time to carefully review and consider all components of each offer she received. Your clients’ cover letter was, in particular, very well received. As it stands, she selected another offer that had a combination of sale price and terms which better suited her situation at this time.” That really softened the blow.

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I received the Redfin update yesterday that the property had sold for $362k. That doesn’t mean if we had thrown in an extra $3k we would have won the house: the price likely was renegotiated after the inspection, and the buyers had more appealing terms (e.g. a larger down payment). So, no regrets! Especially since we close on a house tomorrow that we are just as excited about.

See you tomorrow afternoon for our fifth, and final!, offer.

House Offer Number 3

If you’re just dropping in: we close on a house this Friday and this week I’m recapping each of the five properties we made an offer on. For other Chicago house hunt posts, check out Offers Number 1 and Number 2.

Offer Number 3: Garage By No Bars

5121drakeLocation: North Park.

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North Park is just north of Albany Park, with the Chicago River demarcating the two areas. It’s a nice neighborhood with reasonably-priced single-family homes and historic charm. It’s primarily residential, without many shops and restaurants, and it can be a hike to the train depending on where you’re located.

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The “by no bars” part of our nickname for this house is because North Park is dry. There are no bars, and the few restaurants in the area don’t serve alcohol. As we understand it, we have Mayor Daley’s 1990s vote-dry campaign to blame. Some neighborhood groups are working to overturn the ban: godspeed!

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Why We Made an Offer: This house was solid and filled with light. The owner’s renovations weren’t my style, but they were done well because he expected to be in the home long-term. He had paid for the un-fun, expensive major repairs: new roof, new wiring, and new copper pipes.

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To explain the “garage” part of our nickname: the owner had built a truly enormous garage. At least 18 feet high on the inside, custom oversized door, extra deep. I have no idea what he did in there, but we could have parked five Subaru Foresters. Check out this satellite view to compare it with the two garages on either side! You could see it from space.

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Listing Price: $340k (Redfin link to listing)

Our Offer: $320k. We could have moved into a clean, functional home on a nice street and made it ours over time… but nothing about this house sparked our excitement, and the location was a compromise. It wasn’t a must-have home, so we didn’t offer top dollar.

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When the seller’s agent put out a call for “best and final” offers, we chose not to raise ours — especially because a more exciting house had come on the market. See you tomorrow for Offer Number 4!

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.