House hunting is hard, guys. We bought our first home for a little over a year now, and we’re still getting to know this little abode of ours. I feel like house hunting is kind of like high stakes speed dating. You get to meet them for just a moment, probably stalk them a little on social media afterward, but then you get married. That’s crazy, right? Most people look at their potential home once or twice, do some research, put in an offer, and then live there for years after only seeing their home for a few hours (if they’re lucky)!
It’s even harder when you are looking for a fixer upper like we were. Turn key homes are great since you usually don’t have to face many issues once you move in. Houses that need a little more love though might have some hidden surprises you weren’t anticipating. It’s hard to walk the fine line between houses that need a little work but are ultimately good buys and houses that are too much work to be worth it.
I have to say this though to get it out of the way: there is no perfect house. You just have to pick the one that is best for you, which is hard because you have to think SO long term. How do you think you’ll use the home in one year? Five years? Ten years or more?
And sure, everybody wants a house with a 4 car garage, a woodworking shop, a pool, great schools, 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, and a sauna, but how many houses out there like that exist? AND in your price range? Having a clear and concise future-proofed wishlist can really help you find the house you want.
Also, if you have pets or family living with you besides just you, it should be mentioned that you should think about their needs as well. Do you need a mother-in-law suite for an aging parent? Do you need a fenced in backyard for a dog? All things to think about.
Basically, I think the best advice I can give is to look at things long-term in multiple scenarios. Think about what you really want, and take into account the people that will live there and how they’ll interact with the space. Then make your wishlist from those conversations.
All of that being said, if you try to find a house that checks everything off your 100 point checklist, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble finding somewhere to live. Make a list of wants and needs. You don’t really NEED a pool, but it might be nice to have. If any amenities are true deal breakers, put them on a no-go list. Be prepared to walk away from some properties that might be a good fit otherwise, though. On the flip side, there are going to be a few things that will be dealbreakers, and it’s good to write those down on the list as well.
Our Must Haves:
- Central location, close to both of our jobs
- Fenced in backyard for Tabby
- 3+ Bedrooms
- 2.5+ Bathrooms
- Space for an Office
- Outdated kitchen/Houses that need cosmetic updates
- In our price range
Our Nice to Haves:
- In my high school’s attendance area (I’m a high school teacher and want to live in the community that I teach in)
- Wood floors
- Attic storage
- Playroom for kids
- In our dream neighborhood
- Front porch/back patio
- Larger lot
- Under our max budget
- Converted garages
- Bad neighborhood or neighbors that don’t keep up their property
- Renovated kitchens/bathrooms (I want to pick my own finishes and not pay a premium for renovations that I will ultimately end up changing)
Our wants/nice-to-haves/dealbreakers are probably way different from what you will come up with. You may want a turn key house, and that’s fine! Not many people’s wish lists include an outdated kitchen, probably because they are way more sane than me. Buy guys, I watched too much HGTV growing up. It caused me to have an obsessive NEED to DIY things. So I wanted an old kitchen to transform.
Another big reason for wanting some of the list items that we did was because we wanted to save money. Housing bugets in Austin are astronomically expensive compared to Louisville, where we grew up. We wanted to buy a nice home we could live in for at least five years but weren’t willing to spend ridiculous amounts of money to do so. Buying a home with cosmetic issues, but no major structural or big ticket issues helped us save a lot of money.
I do have to say though, we did walk away from one house because it was just too big of a project. It was a flip. The house was abandoned mid-renovation. Imagine me jumping up and down, excited to look at it. Ultimately, we decided not to buy it because it would have just been too big of a job. The wiring wasn’t finished so there was no electrical, there were squatters, there was graffiti, and we would have had to deal with a lot of other expensive issues.
If you want to buy a fixer upper like us, you’ll want to make sure the issues with the home don’t include any major $ items. For example, needing a new roof, termite damage, water/fire damage, etc. Look for a house that seems like it was maintained well, but maybe not necessarily decorated very well. That’s why we bought a house full of gold trim – it was U.G.L.Y. but clean and didn’t have any signs of neglect.
It does take a little bit of imagination. Check out that metallic gold front door in all its glory! It doesn’t exactly scream modern and updated.
We looked past the ENORMOUS furniture that overwhelmed the room and the beige on beige on beige to see a huge master bedroom with lots of potential.
It had a lot of the things we wanted though, like a fenced in backyard with a patio that we are slowly making our own.
Our current house is the right fit for us at this point in our lives. It crossed off all of our must haves, and a bunch of our nice-to-haves. We looked past the gold trim and saw a house with a playroom, office, four bedrooms, fenced in backyard, etc. It just needed some cosmetic updates and we would be good to go. There was nothing structurally wrong with the house.
We also loved the floorplan. There were essentially two living rooms. One for company and family time, and the other we would make into a playroom/office for the kids and ourselves. The kitchen was huge and open, which meant it would be easy to watch the kids we eventually planned on having while making dinner. The kid’s rooms were upstairs, far away from the social spaces. That meant we could relax a bit when we put the kids to bed without worrying about waking them up. There are a few things we wish were different (like the master upstairs with the kids so we could be closer during the infant years), but overall it’s the perfect house for us.
Don’t let ugly wallpaper, bad paint choices, or clutter deter you from buying a house. It might be otherwise a good purchase. You can change a lot of cosmetic things really quickly. A coat of paint can do wonders to transform a space. Light fixtures are super easy to change.
On the other hand, avoid compromising too much. I would think long and hard before making an offer if you have reservations about a space. Remember you are going to be there for a few years! Layout concerns, room size, or lack of space for activities might be a reason to keep looking and not settle.
Sometimes speed-dating is good. Sometimes it really is love at first sight and you just. know. But do your research – figure out if you are compatible. You’ll be much happier 5 or 10 years down the road!