We must have looked at 50+ houses. It can get terribly depressing. Especially knowing that if we just went up to our max approved loan amount, we would have had SO much more choice. But we’re responsible. Or at least we thought we were. We happen to live in a very popular county in Florida. You don’t get much for under 200k. First world problems? Probably. But it still sucks.
We had pretty reasonable must-haves. Concrete block (we have hurricanes), having most big ticket items newer (HVAC, roof, water heater), no flood insurance required (harder than you think, also different from hurricane evacuation zones), and enough yard to be a buffer between neighbors. When we started, we thought 2 bathrooms were a must-have. THAT is a rare diamond not found in our price range. Unless you give up the concrete block for a wood frame. Everything is a trade-off. And of course, none of it matters if you find the house and it goes under contract before you can put in an offer (that happened only once, and I think I’m still salty about it because it was the ONLY house that fit all our wants except for the 2 bathrooms and it was meticulously cared for by an old school guy who lived there for 60 years and even had a hand-carved door that his kids gave him as an anniversary present).
If you’ve never experienced the amazing world of flipped homes, I urge you to go check out some listings. Everything looks like HGTV in pictures online but half of the houses are baffling in person. The one that sticks out to me is the one that was 199K with a completely brand new kitchen… and everything else in the 1960s house just had a coat of paint. Except the yellowed tile windowsills. The electrical box looked like it was going to rust away and/or explode.
And what’s MOST baffling is not that these people thought that a super fance kitchen would fool buyers, but that the electrical crap won’t even pass inspection for insurance so fooling buyers is moot…then again, knowing what I know now, maybe there’s a way around that.
We went to an open house that was over budget but we were there so why not? 239K for 800 sq. ft. It had beautiful tiles in the kitchen, a butcher block countertop, a barn door bathroom – but to get to the bathroom, you had to walk through the kitchen. Which, by the way, is at the opposite side of the house from the master bedroom. You have to walk around walls to pee in the middle of the night? Nooooo thank you. I think it finally sold for like, 220k – but I pity the people who had to make that work for that price.
Basically, the world of house hunting is a bitch when you’re trying to stay on a budget. If you find a house you like, do you like the neighborhood? Is it convenient? Is it slummy? Are all the houses around you rentals? Do your neighbors have loud dogs?
Things we ruled out houses we liked for:
- Teenagers milling around the neighborhood midday (even though the house was 2 blocks from a popular Italian market, which is apparently a HUGE selling point)
- Musty smell despite no evidence of water intrusion (it smelled like our mock courtroom which I know has water issues)
- Yard too big
- Bedroom too small
But mostly we ruled things out for being halfassed done and overly expensive. Or not done at all and terrifying.
In the end, it comes down to what you’re willing to sacrifice for the things you really want. You’re not going to get it all. It’s kind of a depressing thing to realize. And, of course, do the cats have good windows? That did weigh into many, many decisions. For all the problems in the house we ended up in, the cats have good windows and looooots of squirrels. Of course, by “good” I just mean “big” – they all need to be replaced. Including the one that has a window unit in it that was supposed to be replaced BEFORE we closed that as of today, went unreplaced for a THIRD TIME due to wrong size. THREE TIMES. I honestly thought the husband was joking but alas, he was not.