The Countdown

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How did we get in this mess?

About one year ago, I took a nap. I know, that is pretty amazing stuff when you have an 8 month old. Naps are pure gold dipped in chocolate and Twizzlers. Andrew offered to take The Wee One for a walk, so I could get some rest. I was in grad school at the time, and the schedule of balancing academia and home life was taking it's toll.

I should back up and explain that for about a year previous to said glorious nap, Andrew and I were looking for homes we could buy once I finished school and rejoined the employed. It was a demoralizing effort. We were looking for something perfect within the following simple criteria:

1) inside the loop
2) single-standing home
3) 4 bedrooms

It didn't seem like that should be hard to find. I mean, wasn't everyone touting the buyers' market of the weakened economy? Fat chance. Criteria #3 was the sticking point really. Finding a 4-bedroom that wasn't considered a tear-down, inside the loop for under half a million dollars was unheard of. Maybe I should have brought up budget earlier. That was the omnipotent criteria, trumping all criteria's criteria. I hoped patience would become my virtue, that something amazing would fall into our laps and precisely the right moment and price point but I was slowly losing hope. We were going to have to relinquish the easy life of inner-looping, idiot-yuppies, where anything farther than 610 requires GPS and road-trip supplies. Andrew was the most crushed. His need to be within walking distance of bars we rarely inhabit is deep-seeded.

Back to the nap.

All too soon, my bliss was interrupted by Andrew attempting to wake me up.

Andrew: "Hey Hun," [sweetly while I scowled at him] "what if we build a house instead of buy one?"
Marysia: "Where, in Katy? We could never afford that here." [pulling the pillow over my head]
Andrew: "No, here. I called about a lot that went up for sale in the neighborhood, and it's not too bad. In fact it's affordable."

That is where the fun began. Andrew's innocent phone call prompted by a "for sale by owner" sign. He proceeded to spout off hypothetical fairy numbers to me while I tried to figure out if he was joking or delirious. I pretty much left that ball in his court. If we could get the lot for something reasonable, I figured worst case, it would be an investment that we could sell if nothing materialized in terms of a house. Hopefully it wouldn't hurt too much in the wallet.

So with in the week, Andrew did some intense research of "comps." Lesson Numero Uno: "Comps" are slang for "comparables," and it is how property is priced for market value. Basically, he had his uncle pull all the properties which had been sold in the area within the past 3 years (typically it's 6 months, but not a whole is for sale in our area so we used longer time frames), and we tried to put together an "apples to apples" comparison of said lot and those lots which had been sold recently. For us, the big comparison was based on neighborhood and square footage. Ahh, the spread sheets began...

The First Offer
We put together an offer which we thought more closely reflected the market value according to the comps, and then dropped it a bit from there, figuring that there was going to be negotiation and we needed wiggle room. Andrew had been in discussions with the seller for about a week, and they were playing a bit of a game in terms of tugging at the heart-strings a bit. There was a "woh is me, we are selling our family property" going on. I should say that this family owns a lot of property in the area, none of it was for sale, and frankly, this was peanuts for them.

We waited excitedly for a response, thinking they would budge from listed price a bit, but we were wrong. They came back with the listing price, not dropping a cent, and quoting us their comps. The comps they pulled were for neighborhoods not even close to us in terms of vicinity. We weren't even sure how they could be legitimately be called comps, as some of the said "lots," actually had improvements/partial homes on them. The lot we were looking at had none of the above.

The Second Offer
Ok, fine. I was already starting to sketch pictures in my case books of room layouts and patio furniture. We wanted that lot. So we submitted another offer, based on our comps, but without dropping it, and even padding the value a bit for contingency. We talked to the neighbors who within the last few years had built like we were attempting. They had gotten their lots for considerably less. We felt our offer was fair, had substantial back-up evidence for it, and damn it, we weren't going to be taken on this. Anxiety ridden, we turned in the offer, knowing that we weren't going to budge any further from that number. If it was meant to be, it would happen. Otherwise, we'd never feel good about the purchase, and that is a terrible way to start.

The next day we got our response. Counter offer of... you guessed it, the listing price. They didn't budge at all. Nada. I was almost relieved. We figured it wasn't meant to be, and this was the sign. That evening, Andrew and I wished them luck and pulled out of the negotiation. According to the seller, there were other potential buyers showing interest. We were prepared to let them have it. Andrew and I were content with the decision, even if there was a cloud of disappointment. We erased the Miami-bungalow style patio from our dreams, and figured it was over until...

Next Time.

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