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Before you buy a house, you should tour some houses. I did that. - John [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Before you buy a house, you should tour some houses. I did that. [Dec. 19th, 2009|11:56 pm]
Oh, my goodness.

Okay, first off - there's a lot of houses out there.

Second off - there are a lot of *nice* houses out there.

Third - wow, home buying is complicated.

I ended up bumping up my maximum price - we can always offer my maximum, right? They can always say "no", right?

And we went touring today.

The rambler I was looking at...

...is a fixer-upper. But...
But the only thing demanding attention *now* is a roof and windows. Everything else is stuff that can be done a bit at a time. The shag carpet? It's awful, and dated. But it's covering hardwood floors. Pull up the carpet; refinish the floors. Even *I* can do that.

Some of the walls could use paint. Again, *I* can do that.

The exterior? It's ugly. But painting it would help a lot, and it's a single story, so I don't need more than a stepladder - so *I* an paint it.

The kitchen could be remodeled, and so could the bathroom.

And each of these things could add value to the home, much more than their cost.

If I wanted a slow introduction into home-refinishing, it's perfect. And it has a large living room and a fireplace.

I found a split level that I had to check out...

It was amazing. 4 beds, 1.75 baths, and, of course, steps :-).

A nice kitchen, a large living room, and a decent sized entertainment center.

An interesting supply of 220 volt outlets, which I understand might mean that the previous tenants might have been interested in indoor gardening. And I'm sure they grew some nice flowers or, uh, herbs.

If it was a choice between this and the rambler, it would be *tough*. But it's ahead on points, for having multiple levels.

I then started to think about some other things - walkability, and more importantly, jog-ability. The rambler is near some interesting drainage ditches; if I wanted to break my leg (or my neck, for that matter) I could just go jogging carelessly near those ditches. And there aren't any sidewalks - there's space on the side of the road, and it's not heavily traveled, but I might find myself hesitant to jog, especially at night. The split-level might be better, but it's all over hills, and hills do not make for happy joggers.

With that in mind, I checked out the NearlyPerfect Rambler.

It's smaller than the first, and only a single bathroom. But it has a *huge* yard, with a *heated*, *powered* - hold on to your hats for this, folks - *NETWORKED* - outbuilding.

The entire house is networked, and there's a network hookup to the outbuilding. The kitchen is small-ish, but open to the living room, which is sweet - chat with your guests, or watch TV, while making dinner.

So, why haven't I just made the offer on this house?

Because it's a cinderblock house on a slab foundation. My real estate agent explained what this means to me, and however oh-my-god-wonderful this house is, I think I'm going to take a pass on it. Combine the disadvantages of a slab foundation with a lack of sidewalks, and presence of hills in the neighborhood, I think I'll go with the other rambler, before I take this one.

There was another house, built on a lot without a yard, that I'd considered - and at this point, with three dandy prospects just waiting to be taken, I decided to skip this. It doesn't matter *how* good this other house is on the inside; there's no way it measures up.

So, then we went into downtown Renton. First house - it was lovely and livable, but we had better prospects for the price - and my agent mentioned he was glad I was finally ruling houses *out*. (I think he was justifiably nervous that I was starting to love too much about too many.)

The next house we checked out was cheap - and with good reason. Opening one closet, we saw mold covering the back. Walking through the house, well... my agent put it best. What's the value of the lot? You want to buy it for that, and hope as you start scraping out the moldy stuff and otherwise fixing it, that you get enough salvageable stuff to make a profit. Not what I'm looking for.

Checked out another, and it was sizable, and had a nice yard, and it definitely went into the list of prospects, but it was so expensive it didn't seem to have any advantage over the other houses we were looking at.

Checked out another, and it was much too expensive - no real advantage.

Checked out another - oh, my goodness. A huge kitchen, with a dining area. A huge living room. The bedrooms? Nothing to write home about, but serviceable. An unfinished, but clean, basement. It's on streets with sidewalks, and streetlamps - no problems jogging here!

In fact, there's exactly one problem with this house - while the electrical panel is good, most of the rooms are only 2-prong. The kitchen and bathroom are 3-prong, and the panel seems modern, and the crawlspace is really good. My agent thinks I could end up with all of the outlets I want for under a thousand dollars, most likely, under 2 almost certainly.

So, we put together offers for the split level and this last house (technology is an amazing thing!) and they'll be transmitted tomorrow. This means I have positions on four houses - but one is a likely no-go.

The first rambler - I like it, and the price is right, but I'm not sure about the location. If I can't step out the door and jog, I'm less likely to jog, and that's a bad scene. The split-level is wonderful (it needs some cleanup, but that's all it is, is cleanup), so it's a strong possibility, but it has the same kind of location problems.

The likely no-go is likely a no-go :-).

And the fourth is wonderful, right in the middle of downtown Renton.

And, we can still consider the NearlyPerfect Rambler if all of these fall through and nothing else opens up.

[User Picture]From: grey_lady
2009-12-20 09:32 am (UTC)
I'm really out of practice with US house terms; what is the issue with cinderblock construction on a slab foundation?
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From: siliconshaman
2009-12-20 02:08 pm (UTC)
I would think the fact that any kind of ground movement means the slab would crack, and the cinderblocks would wick up ground moisture. Plus..all that concrete would mean it gets cold..
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2009-12-20 05:20 pm (UTC)
The way he described it to me was, on a poured foundation, you create a crawl space, and place the floor on joists above the crawl space. This allows you to place things underneath the floor, and gives you more access points, for things like ductwork, gas, and electric lines.

A slab foundation is a flat slab, and the house rests right on top of it. Cinderblocks are referred to as Concrete Masonry Units (presumably by pedants :-) ) and they form the exterior walls of the house. They can hold moisture; if they're sealed properly, it's not a huge risk, but if moisture gets in, you're stuck with it. Because you've got what amounts to a large concrete shell resting on a concrete slab, it has few access points to run lines through the house.

So the NearlyPerfect Rambler has a bulge in one ceiling where they had to squeeze in the air return for the furnace, and has a gas furnace, but an electric hot water heater, because of the difficulty of running a new gas line to where the hot water heater was. It looks good and is well sided, but it would require a better inspection to determine if there are any problems.

If not for this - well, that gorgeous back yard and the heated, powered, networked shed... I'd have placed high offer by now, just in case someone else placed one spot-on the price.
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[User Picture]From: eleri
2009-12-21 01:12 am (UTC)
our house is cinderblock-on-slab. Most of the houses in Mountlake Terrace are, the area did a huge amount of 'returning from the war' homes in the late 40s-early 50s.
The good thing about it is it is as solid as rocks, with 2x6 stud construction instead of 2x4. Stays fairly cool in summer, not too bad in winter (would be better if we weatherized). Biggest problem we've had is with plumbing, but of that if from crappy do-it-yourselfing, rather than construction. Repairs under the tub are a PITB though.

And the floors get *COLD* if you don't insulate them.
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[User Picture]From: marypcb
2009-12-20 12:55 pm (UTC)
the thing I've always found with house hunting (did it with my mother twice, did it for myself twice) is that you see a lot of 'well, sure, I guess I could live here' places and then you see your first 'I want to live here' place and you immediately know the difference - instead of thinking 'the bed could go here' you say 'I want to put the bed there'. but then I bond with houses...
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[User Picture]From: jilesa
2009-12-20 01:49 pm (UTC)
What she said. For both of the houses I've bought, I walked through the front door and thought, "I'm home." Having had it happen twice now, I don't think I'd want to settle for a house I didn't have that kind of reaction to. (I'll note that the last time I was house hunting, at least one house I *didn't* buy engendered that reaction in me, but it was stronger in the house I bought.)
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[User Picture]From: jhetley
2009-12-20 02:41 pm (UTC)
Don't know what your winter weather situation is, but I'd dodge the cinder-block construction even if it had a foundation. You *can* retrofit insulation on that stuff, but it gets complicated. And you don't mention if the block shows on the exterior. If it does, that stuff is a lousy weather-surface.
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[User Picture]From: karenkay
2009-12-20 05:55 pm (UTC)
I'm interested that you see lack of sidewalks as a disadvantage. I see it as a clear advantage, maybe because I've lived several places without sidewalk.

One of the things I see is that you're concentrating on details (for the most part--or maybe that's just what you're reporting here) instead of big-picture things like floor plan. One of the advantages of touring houses, especially new houses that you would never buy, is that you get more of a sense of what fits for you without any investment in the process.
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[User Picture]From: essaying
2009-12-20 06:18 pm (UTC)
Another thing about the cinder-block-and-slab is that you live in a quake zone, and unreinforced masonry is *by far* the most dangerous place to be in even a moderate quake -- and the one the PNW is overdue for is not a moderate one.

My understanding is that a space that's been used as a grow house is much likelier to have serious mold problems. Something to mention to your inspector if things get that far. Also, if your instinct is right about the purpose of those 220 outlets, you may have a PR problem with the neighbors (at least that's what we're experiencing here... previous tenant had aggressive Rottweilers, and neighbors report that "we were never sure who lived there and who didn't, because people came and went at all hours").

I'm so envious that you're getting to house-shop. The amount of time it will take me to get back into the housing market lengthens with every month that the Oakland place isn't sold...
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From: kightp
2009-12-21 01:43 am (UTC)
Send me pictures of the last house!!! It sounds *really* good, and if you've got sufficient service to the house, putting in grounded outlets shouldn't be any kind of problem. It sounds great - especially the "no hills" part!
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2009-12-21 05:50 pm (UTC)
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From: kightp
2009-12-21 06:38 pm (UTC)
Sweet!!! I think that's the nicest house you've shown me so far. Love the kitchen. Love the yard - looks like plenty of room to set up your grill/smoker, garden if you want, have some folks over for fair-weather drumming, etc.. Love the location. Love the fact that it was built in 1904 (assuming infrastructure has been upgraded to modern standards. Everything else looks pretty nice, too. You've been inside this one, right?

Do the appliances come with it?

I'll burn some of your candles tonight (well, I'd be burning them anyway) with good home-acquisition intentions for you. This one would be *fun* to help you get set up!
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From: kightp
2009-12-21 06:42 pm (UTC)
Ooh, and it looks like a five-block walk to Cedar River Barbecue, too...
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2009-12-21 07:18 pm (UTC)
Did I mention the two apple trees in the side yard?
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From: kightp
2009-12-21 07:25 pm (UTC)


The only thing better would be if they were Macintoshes. (-:

I keep coming back to the realtor's page and finding more things to like. "Annual taxes $450"??? I know Washington relies less heavily on property tax than Oregon does, 'cause you've got the sales tax and all, but holy crap, that's low! My property tax is over $2400/year!

From the photos, it looks like the bedrooms/bath are down a hall off the kitchen, right? I approve of a direct route to morning coffee. (-:

What's behind the upper-storey windows? Upstairs bedrooms?
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