Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Please Shoot Me Before I Have To Buy A House

We went house hunting yesterday in Tooele, a community about 30 minutes' drive west of Salt Lake City. We made the mistake of taking the kids with us. They were excited to see the houses and we wanted them to feel involved in the process, but mostly what they were involved in was whining about how it was hot in the car and we weren't there yet despite having been on the road for two whole minutes since the last time they'd asked if we were there yet. Bagel, as it turned out, had diarrhea yesterday, and we ran out of clean diapers. Note to self: only Princess is old enough to be involved in picking out a house. Except for the numerous moments when she and Sonshine were duking it out over who got to steal whose french fries, she was pretty good. Unlike Sonshine, she had enough tact not to blurt out "I don't like this house!" in front of its residents.

We looked at several houses, all at the very bottom price range of available houses, because that's all we can afford. I knew we'd have to look at some lemons because of the low price range, but I was just shocked by the condition of some of these houses. There was one I wanted to see that had seven bedrooms, three of which were in a basement apartment, but between last week when it went on the market and yesterday, it had already gotten a solid offer. It was a good thing, though. We discovered we really didn't want any house with a basement apartment, which I'd thought would be an asset since it would give me a second kitchen for my dyeing or a possible source of income if times got tough.

The basement apartments were inevitably squalid and smelly, with windows six inches high. These were the sort of apartments where sheetrock and working toilets were luxuries the tenants couldn't afford. You couldn't even put a fresh coat of paint on the walls, because you were lucky if the walls were actually finished on both sides and didn't have holes in them. If (God forbid) a fire were to break out in that place, which is likely given all the exposed wiring, your tenants would just burn to death because they wouldn't be able to escape through either the tiny high windows or the tortured maze of rooms and doors that formed the entrances to these places. We just don't have time to put in the amount of work it would take to make places like that fit for human beings to live in. I'd seen a lot of "rat-hole" basement apartments when we first moved to Logan, but these made those look like paradise.

We looked at one five-bedroom house, but the bedrooms were all about the size of my master bathroom. There was no way the master bedroom could fit our dressers along with our bed, and we only have a queen size bed. In bedrooms that size we'd have to have the kids do a lot of living in the family room, but in that house the family room was totally unfinished. Plus I was decidedly not impressed with the quality of the construction. We toured a lot of smelly houses that seemed like they had been owned by cats or dogs (or both) who kept people as pets. We found one that was owned by a former SeaBee (Navy construction) who was doing some really extensive repairs to it and would have it totally ship-shape by the time we moved in. It had a fabulous huge yard with a stump just perfect to support a low-flying tree house, and a magical faerieland side yard with shady trees. We really liked the owners. But FH didn't want the house because it was in a windy area where it might regularly sustain wind damage to the roof.

We did find a few really good houses, but most of them had only three bedrooms without the possibility of adding a fourth (say, by converting a second family room into a bedroom). There was one that looks really promising. It's a newer home with three bedrooms, but the upstairs family room could be converted into a bedroom by just adding the top half of the half-wall and hanging a bedroom door. The house only has four disadvantages: one, the bedrooms are all on the second floor while the laundry room is in the basement; two, Princess wants the larger bedroom entirely to herself, something we cannot support since the two boys will need the larger bedroom; three, the entire place is carpeted in bright emerald green; four, it's at the very highest high end of our price range. The carpet is easy enough to do something about. We'll just rip it out and put in laminate flooring or new carpet in a more tasteful color. Princess can probably, with a little bit of paint and a few throw pillows, be convinced to take the smaller room. The laundry room thing-- well, I needed to lose some weight anyway, and I can always throw the laundry bags down the stairs. But the price-- that's a bit difficult. Our mortgage payment on that house will be nearly twice what we're paying now, and we'd need to come up with more money for the down payment. I was hoping to raise the remainder of our down payment this weekend at the Downtown Sidewalk Sale. We'll see how it goes. On the other hand, we can't afford NOT to buy this house. We need a place to live, and the cheaper places are all so squalid that we'll end up putting the difference in price, if not more, into making them livable. If we blow off buying and just rent, it'll cost us even MORE per month. So it looks like this is it. We're just going to have to pay the money and get the higher mortgage payment.

In the meantime, we'll have to move fast if we want this house. As soon as the loan officer gets in, I'm going to have to be on the phone with her working out the deal so we can make an offer today. If it falls through, though, we do have a second choice house that already has four bedrooms, but needs a lot of minor repairs like spackling, painting, baseboards, and door trim-- things I can do by myself. If we got that house we'd eventually want to rip out the tile floors in the bedrooms (the owners, I guess, were quite enamored of tile) and replace them with something less chilly and slippery.