I mentioned that the real estate market went crazy this winter/spring, right? The prices didn't so much gradually creep up as they shot up overnight and kept climbing. Homes don't last more than a day or two on the market before they go to "pending" status. Builders are snatching up lots left and right, putting down cash offers which are attractive to sellers as they can close faster with less risk of default. We were definitely NOT putting in a cash offer so we were already at a disadvantage in the market.
Generally there are three options in the GOOF area (Garden Oaks-Oak Forest):
1) New, larger, two-story homes done by builders with pre-picked models where buyers can pick the final finishes. Price rating: $$$$$
2) Older, 1950s/1960s ranch-style, single-story homes which have had some remodel, renovation and/or additions. Sometimes the layouts are odd from the additions but they are generally nice homes. Price rating: $$$
3) Older homes with no or little renovation that are being sold at "lot" value. Price rating: $$ and climbing
We were targeting that third category, as we planned to tear down the old home and build to our taste and budget - our budget being max $$$$, relatively speaking.
Besides being able to design to our functionality, the benefit to custom building is that you can control the cost better. For us, the budget is the budget, so whatever is eaten up in the lot cost decides the house budget. There is obviously a reasonable size range and design level that we have to stay in based on comparable homes and resale opportunities later, so that is a large factor in limiting that lot price maximum. If you are willing to do a lot of research on details and make most decisions regarding design and amenities before you even have a construction contract, you can manage the cost and expectations better (famous last words) throughout the construction process.
When we became more serious about the Oak Forest neighborhood, we casually started playing our hand in the offer game. We lost twice, not offering very aggressively and trying to get a feel for what the price market was like. Frankly, the idea of a bidding war sickened me. The options were OK, maybe good even but not great, and I think we weren't quite ready to be serious about it.
A couple of weeks ago, a Wednesday afternoon I was working from home, I spotted a listing on HAR that I had not seen previously that day. I have been stalking HAR relentlessly so it doesn't take long for me to notice new posts. I called Andrew, no answer, he was in a meeting. So I called our builder and told him about the listing. He asked if I wanted to offer, I said yes, I would tell Andrew when he got out of his meeting.
Who does that, right? Who makes major financial decisions about their future home without consulting their husband?
In my defense, I knew Andrew would be on board with this one. It was a larger corner lot, with great access to the park and schools, zoned to Lilly's elementary school in the exact area we liked most. The lot was on a street name I liked and the address had the number 13 (Andrew's lucky number) in it so I took it as a sign (I subscribe to convenient superstitions). For the record, Andrew was on board and was excited about the prospect.
The home went on the market Wednesday afternoon, we submitted our offer on Wednesday night, sight unseen. We did however drive by that night to make sure the listing wasn't misleading. Thursday morning the seller's agent asked us for a bank pre-qual letter, which we had, so we sent it over. In the time it took for us to receive the request and send it over (maybe an hour?), more offers poured in.
Great. Now we go to bidding war.
The seller's agent asks all bidders to submit the best and final offer through the weekend and we would find out who won on Monday. Time for strategy. This is a blind bid, we know nothing about the other bidders or how fast the seller wants to close, and we need to decide how bad we want this lot. At this point, Andrew and I were starting to picture our life in this house, in this location, so we don't want to lose by a tiny margin but also don't want to blow the other offers away. It is The Price is Right up in here. Welcome to the realities of the Houston real estate market in 2014!
We deliberate all the way through Friday, going back and forth on numbers, come up with a competitive and what we think is generous offer given the market (with a number four as one of the digits because fours are lucky for home buying, yes, more wack family superstitions), and fingers crossed, submitted it on Friday the 13th. We held our breath the entire weekend.
On Monday morning, Andrew and I were on the phone when our builder called and Andrew quickly texted me that we got the lot. A familiar feeling of joy and panic set in. We are financially committed.
Holy crap. We are actually going to do this. We are going to leave the house and neighborhood we love and move to Oak Forest. But what are we going to live in?