The Countdown

Thursday, June 26, 2014

At it again

Here we are, 3 years after we moved into the house that we designed and built, our baby, our crazy project... 

And we're doing it again.

Let me back up a year.

Last summer, two weeks after giving birth to our son, we were at the neighborhood park letting Lilly burn off some energy while our newborn was strapped to me sleeping.  I was watching my husband play with Lilly.  All the kids were a couple years younger than her at least.  When Andrew took a break and walked over to where I was sweating with a warm newborn on my chest in the summer evening heat, I looked at him and said "what are we doing??"  He looked at me for more information on where I was going with this.

Me: "Why do we live here?"
A: ....
Me: "We wanted that walkable life style right? How does that work for us right now?  We live right next to bars and restaurants we don't go to anymore."
A: "You're right."

(Wow, not what I thought he was going to say, so let's save that for posterity, shall we?)

Maybe it was partly the hormones, but after having a second child, something in me, something in us, switched on (or off if you like).  I finally realized that we were a legitimate family, not the couple with a kid who still got to act like they were kid-free some of the time.  Going from one to two was a huge shift for us.  The sheer logistics of that expansion were (and still are) exhausting us.  We needed help, and we are lucky to have our parents here to support us and provide those extra hands for help.  

But after Lilly, I learned how much easier, how much more enjoyable that chaotic routine can be when you have a community (physically) around you for support as well. The first time around we tried to do and manage everything ourselves, partially because we didn't know any better and partially because we just barely could and maintain some sort of adult life.  With two kids, I wanted to have other children around to play with in the neighborhood, other parents around to talk to, BBQ with - the whole tv-sitcom-walk-in-your-back-door-unannounced community.

This shift kind of came as a shock to even myself, let alone our family and friends.  The reality is that our neighborhood is great for singles, young couples, even very young families and empty-nesters, but when the kids get past the toddler stage, it gets dicier.

The local school system is it's own challenge, but in our neighborhood especially it is extra challenging.  Without boring you of the details of testing and lotteries and the complete cluster that process is within HISD, we survived it (barely), but were reinforced throughout that process that it was time to move.

So last fall we started casually trolling for areas with good schools.  Would we build?  Would we buy?  Where would we go?  How far out of the city could we live and maintain sanity?  More importantly, what could we afford?

About that time, the real estate market started to increase at a rapid pace, and in the past six months, it has gone completely nuts in Houston.  Listings don't last more than a couple days and the bidding wars in certain areas are ruthless.  Great for sellers, not-so-great for buyers.  I have become a HAR expert at this point and have spent an embarrassing amount of time on that app.

When we were trying to narrow down the neighborhood to search, there were a lot of *discussions* around this topic - we have lived in Midtown/Montrose for 9 years, have loved it.  Where would we equally love it just as much?  

The first instinct was The Heights, where we have many friends, it's a great neighborhood with lots of families and great access to downtown and Galleria area (our work locations).  I was having a hard time figuring out how we could be happy after getting to build our (realistic) dream home going to a tiny bungalow on a small lot eating spam sandwiches for eternity.  In the "good school" areas, it was expensive, competitive and old (in our price range at least, which is not bad, but means more $$$ for upgrades/renovations which means now those spam sandwiches are more like mustard-only sandwiches).  Then we branched out into various areas around town, even looking as far as Sugarland (I know! So far for us!), but we started gravitating towards the Oak Forest/Garden Oaks area.  It seemed like the right compromise for our family.  We drove around several times, taking in the feel of the neighborhood, checking out the schools and local stops,
talking to people about the area and it began to grow on us.

Needless to say, when Lilly got into the magnet elementary school program there, we took it as a sign and the search was exclusively in that area, and it was intense now.  We wanted to avoid the whole lottery mess when Gabe went to school if we could so school zoning was critical.  We had been talking to our builder (same team as last time!) and apparently there are a lot of people like us, thinking the same thing, and moving to the area.  Real estate had gone crazy between November and April and we started stressing big time.  Could we even still afford to live in that area?

Do we renovate something existing?  Honestly that seemed a lot harder than building from scratch (kudos to all those who have patience for remodels!).  We couldn't comfortably afford the way the new builds were going and couldn't find anything we even 70% loved at any close-to-affordable price point any ways. 

Be warned: This is what happens when you custom build and want to move again.  You become a total snob and nothing existing seems right and functional the way YOU want it.  This is a totally annoying byproduct of this process.  

Needless to say, Andrew wanted to build the whole time - Dude is addicted to it and had the bug big time.  So once we went to enough open houses, and had been frustrated enough times, I agreed and gave in.  We told our builder the plan, and off we go...kind of.

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