No Other Fish

Okay. So I should have been blogging on the house all along. Apparently, buying a house is way more interesting than joining the army, because the response on the last post has been off the charts. (It probably also has to do with the fact that I specifically asked for advice – for which I am very grateful.)

But I wanted to address a line of thinking I’m having a hard time with, but which seems to be very popular. It’s the “lots of good fish in the sea” argument.

Skipping over for the moment the fact that I’m not sure I want to compare buying a house to finding a wife, and the fact that the “plenty of fish” model didn’t really help my romance life in the first place, the truth is there aren’t all that many good fish in our part of the ocean. There are lots of bad fish, and a few really rotten ones, and only one or two fish that are passably acceptable. “Good fish” are out of our range.

Whenever we talked about eventually buying a house Valerie and I have always imagined that we would get something in the average to fair condition range, something of a fixer-upper in need of a few modest repairs that could be done over time while we lived in the house. We’ve never been interested in “flipping,” or in new houses with springy carpets and crown molding.

We also have a limited purchase range, because of our school loan constraints. The money we have available for a mortgage payment is essentially the same as the market rate for a 2-bedroom apartment. Any more than that, and we don’t have anything extra for repairs or for paying down debt at an accelerated rate.

Within those limitations, it shouldn’t be a surprise that every house we’ve looked at has been a foreclosure, and all foreclosure homes have difficulties. It just so happens that this particular house is the best on the market for our price range at this time. There are no other fish. If we don’t buy this house, we rest for a few months, and then we rent. We save up, and try again the next year.

We do want to make sure we get the best possible deal in the process of buying the house, and there are legitimate concerns that absolutely must be corrected if we are to buy. If we really do come to the conclusion that the problems are not worth the risk, we are absolutely willing to just walk away. I can do that. Really.

But to return to the dating model, there’s a difference between amicably ending a relationship that is clearly not going to result in a happy marriage, and dumping a girl at the first sign of trouble. There are steps to go through, even in a buyer’s market, and I want to go through them.

One thought on “No Other Fish”

  1. Hmmmm… My advice is don’t be afraid to wait. Honestly, after hearing the condition of this house – and though I probably don’t have all the facts – for what it’s worth, my gut says RUN. House repairs can quickly add up and, as a recent first-time homebuyer, I can say with confidence that you don’t quite know what to expect until you have actually had to deal with them.

    When we moved into our house, we fully intended to replace all of the windows which had lost their thermal seals and were now cloudy, however a more pressing need was the incompatibility of the old dryer outlet with our newer dryer (which we had not noticed until moving in). We shelled out $900+ to get that taken care of (they had to upgrade breakers at the box to support the new outlet… that and they were a big-name home repair service who, looking back, reminded me of when I used to go to a car dealer to fix up my clunker). After that, we placed all repairs on hold until we could fully assess how much they were going to nail us… and also determined to shop around for repair services.

    We next determined that having a house surrounded by untrimmed trees is not a good thing when you live in an area that gets frequent visits from tropical storms and hurricanes. So another $600 went to getting a tree service to fix up the trees around our house.

    Not to mention the infamous non-responsive dishwasher episode where we paid $60 to have a service tech show us a light switch that had been accidentally turned off which was hiding behind our paper towels!

    Now, having spent our first summer in our new (Houston suburb) home and experienced the pain of near $300/month summer electric bills, our priorities have shifted as we realized that the first order of business is ensuring the attic insulation is up to par. On our budget, the windows (which is the only thing we were focused on at signing) will probably have to be put off a year or two.

    These are relatively minor issues when it comes to home repairs, but they will still take time to work through. If any real biggies come up (i.e.: foundational/structural) then everything will have to take a back seat, as could our savings!

    One other thing. I’ve known several friends who went into first-time home ownership by purchasing a fixer-upper. They have all admitted that after moving in, they didn’t have the time/motivation to complete home projects as much as they wished. Some of these were even people who were handy with home renovations. It’s been said that the best electrician in the neighborhood also has the home with the worst wiring. After moving in, you quickly realize that you don’t want to think of your home as another job and things easily get put off.

    Finally, consider the cost of renting an apartment versus owning a home: Yes, you pay more, but the extra you pay goes towards maintenance that you don’t have to worry about and it is a stable price. Consider also that when you first start out with a home, you are still technically renting. It’s just that what you are renting is the money to cover the purchase, and you are completely responsible for everything else, which is more volatile from a financial and time perspective. If your budget and savings is ready to deal with that, then go for it. If not, then don’t be afraid to sit on the sidelines and save up a little while longer… a “good fish” is worth the wait.

    While a dating model is one way to look at it, it really needs to be viewed as an investment. In dating, there are mood swings and hormones. With a house, the cold hard facts are more readily apparent. You know your budget and you can get estimates for tax savings and repair/maintenance costs. Make sure that whatever house you intend to purchase that the potential savings clearly outweighs the potential risk otherwise it is not a good deal for you and your family and should not be flirted with.

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