Category Archives: home buying process

The Real Estate Games.

From the time G started daycare at 4 months old until just about November-December, our routine involved walking into work.  We’d pack G up in the stroller and our little family of 3 would head out to start the day.  We’d walk about 1/2 way together and then Naomi made a left to head to the water taxi to take her across the harbor to the office and G and I would continue strolling straight into downtown.  I’d drop her off quickly at daycare and walk 2 more blocks into the office.  When my day ended, I’d swing by daycare and pick G up with the stroller and we’d walk home together.

I remember the day that the home hit the market because I had casually seen a new message in my inbox and opened it, but didn’t have any time to really look through it.  I was in the midst of our typical toy playing on the floor after our walk home when Naomi called, ‘did you see the new listing that came in?’ ‘Yes, that little tudor?  Something has to be wrong with it, did you see that price?  Let’s talk about it when you get home.’ I responded.  And that’s exactly what we did.  There were only 6 photos loaded with the listing which, as any recreational home searcher will tell you, means there is something wrong.  (Don’t even get me started on those that only post 1 photos, why bother, right?)  The photos of the interior were fairly telling.  We got a sense of the layout from the photos and saw that the stairs seemed to be in good shape.  The fact that it had a foyer added 1000 points (It sounds strange but a foyer, a true space to greet friends and family when they come to the house, was something we REALLY wanted in our next home.  Living in a 12′ wide rowhome where the living room was the foyer AND the hallway AND the playspace made welcoming people to the house with a baby and a boxer under foot very chaotic!) and when we saw the picture of the front facade and the backyard, we knew we had to call our realtor.

The price was VERY low for the area that the house was located in.  Sure, you could see wall studs in one of the pictures and the fact that they did not include a photo of the kitchen or bathroom, instantly lead us to believe that they were too horrible to consider keeping any part of, but at this price, it must be too good to be true.  Reading through the listing, we saw the previous sales price and then read the little line…bank owned foreclosure.  Ohhhh…now the price made all the sense in the world.  We went to see the house the following morning and found there was a reason there were not pictures of the kitchen, bath, or much else in the house because there was no kitchen, hardly a bath, and most of the first floor didn’t have ceilings, some didn’t have walls, and there was not a surface in the place that was not chipping and peeling.  Beautiful I tell ya, beautiful! We’re those people who yell at the TV when people are touring homes for sale and say idiotic things like, ‘I really love the place, but those paint colors, ugh, it would cost so much to change, must not be the home for me.’ and ‘we really considered this home but all the shrubs are overgrown and I really wish there was a deck, so I guess we’ll pass.’  We come to expect most of those things when we look at homes because we’d rather spend the money to make it what WE WANT instead of spending more to buy what someone else wanted (which in many cases, is nothing more than a Home Depot contractor special).  The layout of this house and the bones were great, almost exactly what we wanted and the things that were a little off, were easy to fix.  We stood in the backyard looking at the overgrown garage with our realtor and asked what purchasing a foreclosure really meant.  She was great and talked us through the process which is fairly similar to a regular home purchase but without the personal nature nor the ability to structure offers in anything more than bottom line numbers.  No escalation clauses, no hand written letter, no fixings.  You’re signing up to buy this place in the exact state it is, end of story.

Our realtor called the listing agent while we were there and was told that there were already 2 other offers on the house, so we decided to move quick and place an offer ourselves.  Having been disappointed with the previous 2 homes we considered, we knew we had to at least give this one a shot too.  It was in the right neighborhood, school, in the City, close to shops and necessities, could be a great home and had a great yard (somewhere under all the ivy, bamboo, and 3 years worth of dead leaves!), and with a low asking price, we could afford to renovate it before moving in.

All offers were required to include funds for renovations and homeowner occupant offers were being considered first by the bank that owned the property.  This could work out well for us as the first two homes we considered were lost to contractors who knew the value of the neighborhoods in which the homes were located. Both warranted them doing full renovations and reselling for a large profit.  We walked through with a contractor, set a renovation budget and scope of work, and included cash back from the seller for closing into our offer price.  Was it higher than the list price? Yes.  That price was solely listed to get multiple offers, that much was obvious.  Even with all the work to be done, the neighborhood alone was worth the list price.  We placed our offer.  We received a call that night from our realtor explaining that the terms we put into our offer were making it difficult for the listing agent to input into the bank’s evaluation system.  We talked pros and cons of changing our offer and after talking more about the house earlier that night, Naomi and I decided that we really did want to make it ours, so with this new information, we decided to simplify our offer and increase it slightly to make it a little more competitive.  Then we waited.

and waited.

and waited.

More than a week went by with not so much a peep.  We then received a call from our realtor.  We were in the running but the listing agent was making a round of ‘highest and best’ offers.  It was up to us if we wanted to participate.  This is where the real estate games really start.  You have no idea how many people you are bidding against or if there is anyone else for that matter.  You also have no idea if your existing offer is the lowest or highest as its current price.  Do we really want the house?  Is it worth ‘X’ amount more?  Isn’t our current offer good enough?  What would be the most we would want to spend on this house knowing all the renovation that needs to happen?  If we lost the house at ‘X’ price, would we be OK with that? These were just a few of the question that immediately came to mind at 7pm on a Sunday when we got the call.  Oh, and we had until 8pm to respond to the listing agent.

Talk about pressure, Naomi and I feverishly talked about the house, the price, what we’d be OK with as the minutes counted down.  In the end we took to heart the ‘highest and best’ offer request and did, in fact, increase our offer significantly to a point were we’d be OK if we lost the house knowing we did our best.  A quick call back to our realtor and our new offer was in.  Then we waited, again, for more than a week.

About 7:30pm on Halloween night we received a call from our realtor, hoping for good news, we anxiously picked up.  ‘You’re never going to believe this,’ she said, ‘but they are requesting another round of highest and best offers and we have one hour.’  Are you kidding me?!  Remember what I said about the games starting?  We couldn’t believe that we were being asked for another offer and, again, only having one hour to respond!  Needless to say, we were not happy.  What did they think our last offer was!?  We decided that after raising our first offer by a significant amount, that that was our highest and best and that we were not increasing it any more.  We responded back to the listing agent with the same offer and went about our night.  And not expecting to hear back for another week or so, we were pissed.

The phone rang a week and a half later, it was our realtor, we got the house!  How glad were we that we didn’t raise our second offer!?  I will spare you all the crazy details of scheduling 4 inspections back to back in one day and dealing with the mountain of paperwork needed for a renovation loan.  Let’s just say that a 61 day closing was still cutting it close.  It snowed on the day we closed which, for those that know us, know that is completely appropriate.  We are used to weather interrupting big events for our little family and have come to expect them.  What we were not anticipating was our Title Company finding 4 open mortgages on our home and trying to get an indemnity letter signed 24 hours before closing at the same time that the division of the bank, who owned the home and that they’d been dealing directly with, had a death in the office and the ENTIRE division was at the funeral and was on Central Time.  Needless to say, our 3:30pm closing time didn’t happen and we just barely signed the papers at 5:30pm on Friday, that 61st and last day of our contract.  How did we celebrate, you ask?  We took a bottle of champagne, carefully walked up to our new, snow covered pathway to the front door, turned on the one light in the dining room that had a bulb, plugged in a space heater (because the heat did not work), and sat in the corner drinking from the bottle while wondering what the heck we just got ourselves into.

We own this place?!  How did this happen!?

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The next post will have pictures of the house, we promise!  You’ve all earned it for sticking through all of this text!

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our house is a very, very, very fine…

roller-coaster ride.

There’s a reason the homebuying process is long and involved. Because it’s not for the faint-of-heart. Ok, perhaps that’s just our luck and not how it would be typically described?

What a whirlwind few months it has been!  Where did we leave off? Oh yes, we were happily in love with our house, neighbors, and street and settling into our new life with a baby when all of a sudden we’re ‘casually’ seeing what is really out there in the real estate world and BAM…you get hit by a bus! (FRIENDS anyone?  no? just me?  ok then…)

Because we weren’t seriously looking to move in the immediate future, we started toying with the idea of buying the proverbial worst home in the best neighborhood and then putting our architecture and design skills to the test to renovate the home, sell ours, and then move in.  After all, isn’t that the first rule of real estate?  Buy the worst home on the best street, in the best neighborhood?  We seemed to have success with that in our current home, could we do it again?  The thought of NOT living through a renovation, especially with a baby, was VERY appealing.  On the other hand, because we’d done that once already, we also had that romantic idea of walking into a great home that had all the perfect details and us falling in love and having to have it… a stark contrast to our previous experience.  With this potential new idea in mind, we spoke with our mortgage broker and worked out some financials to see if this was even possible.

There was a particular home we had in mind in one of the very best neighborhoods in Baltimore County, so we set out to see how crazy things were about to get.

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We will save the full story for another post, but suffice it to say, we toured the home, drew up some plans, met with a contractor, spoke to the listing agent, and even met the neighbors; essentially having all of our ducks in a row, just about to put an offer in when the house suddenly got another offer and we were out before we even started.  We completely invested ourselves in the idea of essentially building a new home saving only 1 room of the existing house and more than doubling the size of the structure with new construction, but was it really what we would have been happy with?

After that experience, we decided that we would keep an eye on what the market brought in and would only act on something if it really was a great opportunity.  Naomi was increasingly more committed to City life and I was increasingly more committed to finding the next great opportunity for our little family- City or County.  We were a little drained after all that fast back and forth and a little sad that we may have lost the opportunity to live in that very desirable neighborhood, so we diverted our attention back to work and life and thought, ‘maybe the spring will bring something new.’  Still not committed to leaving the City, we made a list of the top 5 neighborhoods within Baltimore City that we would ultimately want to live in and keep our eyes on.  Then, like fishing, we threw our line back in the market waters and carried on until we got a bite, a BIG bite.

Could it be?  A home in our number one neighborhood, 4 times the size of our current house with every room listed that we could imagine…and in our price range?  I think it took us all of one minute to pick up the phone and call our realtor to schedule a tour at the house the very next morning.  We pulled up to the house, completely ignored the overgrown yard and bright house paint colors, walked in and fell hard.  REALLY hard in love with every part of this very-much-in-need-of-love home.

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I don’t think it had been touched since it was built in 1901, even the servant bells still worked.  Nothing about this house was right for us- it was built into a steep slope with no flat yard, the kitchen location and layout was not at all what we wanted, there was a LOT of work that would need to be done and we’d have to live there and do the work over time, AND the house was MUCH too large for us.  We wanted a modest sized home to raise our family in, this 6 bedroom home with a 3 room master suite was not really what we had in mind – our current home literally fit within the foyer of this place….ahh…the foyer and the grand stairs in all its 1901 glory (think of the Home Alone house grand stair and enormous foyer- only difference between this one and Kevin’s humble abode was the stair case was flipped to the right-hand side).  Three levels of beautiful, original woodwork and open all the way through the house and all three levels.   I think we imagined Gabriella’s wedding day with her walking down the steps in true Father-of-the-Bride style during minute number 2 of standing inside the house and put an offer in on minute number 3 of being within the house.  We then ran around the place like kids discovering all of the quirks and details of this original ‘suburban Baltimore family home.’  One of the Roland Park Charmers, as they were known.  We were overwhelmed and completely ignored everything that was wrong with the place and put a full price offer in.

Things happen for a reason, right?  At least that is what we told ourselves when we found out the next morning that there had been multiple offers on the house and they did not choose to accept ours.  ‘What’s that, honey?  Oh, you feel like someone just ripped your heart out and then stomped on it with some running spikes?  Yes, me too.’  We were devastated to say the least and very defeated.  We had the same thoughts as house number one; that on our budget, we’d never be able to afford a home in a neighborhood that we wanted to live in.

Nothing on the market compared to that home and after seeing that we decided that there was NO WAY we wanted to live in a ‘newer home’; that it had to have some character and charm.  We would not even step foot in a cape cod or rancher (no offense but for some reason, they were very prevalent in the neighborhoods we were looking at, in our price range), and we were fairly certain that we did not want to be forced into a position where we’d need to live in the house through a full renovation.

‘Knock, knock, knock.’ Oh, hold on a second, there’s someone at the door.  Just when you think it’s all over, that’s Opportunity at the door with a silver platter containing the cutest home for a reasonable price in a great CITY neighborhood with the best school district, right in the middle of all the historic neighborhoods we love.  Would we see it the next day and go through the emotion of an offer again?

Yes, yes we would.  A myriad of decisions, paperwork, and game-playing back and forth and 3 months later, we owned a new home.  Foreclosures, you’re a b*tch, but wait until you see what we do with our new little place!  Welcome to our new site where Urban and Charm meet and we make this house our home… 🙂

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