Sunday, January 11, 2009

Because there isn't enough going on already...

Before I start this topic, the answer to pretty much every question is: I don't know.

For the last several years, maybe longer, Jer and I have had a loose goal to buy a house. We've lived in apartments together for about 9 years. Let's take a look back:

The first apartment we shared was conveniently situated across from the International House of Pancakes and the freeway. It was two floors, more of a townhouse really, and the insulation was terrible. In the summer, it was very hot. And in the winter, very cold -- almost a magic trick in our temperate Santa Barbara, CA climate. The pilot light on the stove always blew out, so if I wanted to cook I had to lie down on the floor and wave a lit match up inside the broiler. The fridge leaked. I kept a large bowl to collect the drippings which would freeze, then unfreeze, then I would dump out the large bowl-shaped ice cube in the sink and watch it melt.

It was also next to a prison. Once after an escape, a bunch of officers ran through our complex and helicopters hovered above. But it never seemed that scary. The washing machines were about 50 feet across the courtyard and took rolls of quarters, and there were only about 4 washers and 4 dryers for something like 50 units.

My favorite bit about the place was the funky layout. The master bedroom upstairs had shutters you could open and look down below. This feature also made for difficult sound-proofing. Late night TV watching in the living room could never be blocked out. We had 2 parking spaces, which was nice, lots of natural light, a spacious master bedroom with two closets, and two bathrooms overall. Those things were attractive.

Our second shared apartment was also in Santa Barbara. We moved for some of the reasons listed above, but also because we wanted a cat. Or really, after we had acquired a cat, we wanted to keep him. This next place was the front half of a duplex. The owner referred to himself as a capitalist hippy and he enjoyed sailing. This unit was all one level, 2 small bedrooms and 1 small bathroom, but only 1 shared wall. Also, we had our own washing machine and dryer, tenant supplied. No more collecting quarters! The kitchen was slightly bigger than our previous place and more open. The main set of pantry cabinets were completely dominated by a hot water heater, so we purchased a cabinet and set it up on another wall.

The unit was in an actual neighborhood, a real suburb, on the west side of downtown Santa Barbara. Most days I took the bus to work, necessitating a transfer at the downtown bus stop. We had a little closed in patio out front, where we kept our unused barbecue, and a small plastic set of table and chairs. I also watered a few plants and bought a nectarine tree we ultimately left behind after the owner trimmed it to death. Thanks, owner!

We parked on the street in front of our place and had an interesting neighbor who was a Buddhist with a strong Brooklyn accent. He had two small cats and played the same song on his piano every night and occasionally invited his Buddhist chanting group over and we would hear a lot of low harmonic humming for awhile. He lived in the house across the driveway from us, a tenant of the same owner, and he would often knock on our screen door and admonish us for never letting our cats outside. Finally we bought a harness for Vash and walked him around a bit, but he hated it and we gave up.

Eventually my company site was shutdown and I was laid off with a reasonable severance so Jer and I decided to move to Seattle and we found this place we're in now.

It was a difficult move, which I've covered in other entries. We used a great company called ABF U-Pack (liked them a lot) and they drop off a semi-trailer for a few days, you load all your stuff, and then they drive it to your destination. The hard part was unpacking the trailer on the Seattle end with just the two of us, but I digress.

Our place now has a great view, is fairly spacious, we don't have to hide our cats, it costs the same as the last place we lived in Santa Barbara, and so far we've never had a problem with parking. I feel safe here since the building is secure and it's easy to commute by bus. It's hard to have real perspective until we've been gone for awhile, but the worst parts are really the age of the building and that there are some maintenance problems. (This is why I wouldn't want to buy the place we rent)

So all that said, and it was a mouthful (I congratulate you if you're still here), we are beginning to actually consider buying a house. The only thing I know for sure is how much money we have to do this thing, and a vague idea of what would be a dealbreaker. We are open to where and mostly when, which are both big questions.

Last night Jer and I went to Staples and bought a 3-ring binder to begin getting our financial paperwork together -- for loan documentation purposes. We've already discussed -- we're literally on the same page and that page is in his notebook -- what features we are most interested in, and ranked them. Soon we will actually have to go out into the world and do something, but since we are first-time buyers, I have a lot to learn about this process.

This will not be my only time bringing it up, but if you know of anyone in the Seattle area who could help us with this process -- real estate agent, etc. -- now is the time to refer them to us, either privately or in comments. I'd be grateful for any personal recommendations we can get. :)

Our lease isn't up for a few months and the landlady has agreed to move us to month-to-month then so we're not in a hurry. I am just trying to ease us into this big ol' process now that it's the new year and all.


KikiRiki said...

Our agent was AWESOME. I could email him for you if you'd like, or you can just call him and tell him Chris and I referred you.
Angie and Brandon also used him.

Lily said...

I contacted an agent and looked at a few places, but when nothing clicked, I drove around and collected flyers and then contacted an agent to look at the places I had found. I also used a mortgage broker so I'd know how much I was qualified for. If you find a place and others are interested, being pre-approved for a loan is a good thing. I bought my house and looked at and told my dad to buy, or not to buy, some of his rentals so you know it's not all that complicated. It's basically just signing your name 40 million (or so) times. :)

danf said...

I'm kinda right there with ya. I'm very happy renting as it allows me to live where and how I want. I started crunching numbers to see if the current interest rates and buyers' market are enough to prompt me to get into the hunt (Answer is cloudy. Try again later). It might not make sense for me personally to buy. Most people think I'm crazy for saying things like that, but most people aren't me. Anyway, this is your blog not mine. :)

The bottom line is even in this economy, real estate prices in Seattle are still very high. I'll be interested in your future posts on this topic. Maybe you'll inspire me to make my own move.

Maya said...

I know a great real estate agent if you are still looking. I had to halt my looking for now since I got laid off. :-( I still really want to get a house though... Good luck!

Maya said...

In case you haven't found a real estate agent yet, I found the info for mine. She has been great with me as a first time home-buyer. I really recommend her! Tell her I sent you if you talk to her. Here is her info:

Tonya Hennen
Windermere Real Estate/Wall St. Inc.-West Seattle

(206) 228-4638 cell
(206) 937-6574 fax

The CoHo Team of Windermere Agents--Building Communities, Bringing You Home

Over $500,000 donated to community development and housing non-profits since 2000

Learn more about us at!