How Hard Can It Be?

For a while now I’ve had this idea floating around in my head:

I pay a bunch a month for an apartment, it can’t be that hard to find a good home for a similar price.

This one thought lead to a story of ups and downs, of endless searches, of backstabbing betrayal, and ultimately… of a new home. But, really, it started with the weather and a blue car. We’ve had a crazy spring down here in East Texas. Large storm fronts sweeping in east from Dallas aren’t uncommon around here, but truly severe weather kinda is. We get maybe one or two storms a year that we actually have to worry about. Ones that produce large hair or tornadoes. This year we’ve had at least four. And all in the span of just a couple of months. Including at least two actual sighted tornadoes within our city limits. Beyond the tornadoes, we’ve had five or six storms producing large hail. And I’d just bought a new car.

BlueCar, a 2019 Lexus UX 200, has its own crazy backstory of dealer incompetence that ended surprisingly well. My previous car, a 2005 Toyota Corolla, was not immune to bad weather, but was beat up enough that I didn’t worry too much about it. A bit of hail here or wind there wasn’t gonna kill it. But BlueCar is special and pretty and each time this unusual string of bad weather would sweep through I’d drive over from my apartment to my parent’s house and hide BlueCar away in their big garage. And each time I did, my thought about finding a home popped back up. Me and my parents joke that I was less looking for a house and more looking for a garage that happened to have a house attached!


The Search

So thus began the search. Oops. Turns out I decided to buy a house in one of the worst times in recent memory. Interest rates were up. And housing prices were way, way up! Houses going for $180,000 two years ago were going for over $300,000 now! But, whatever. Let’s do it. My mom helped me a lot in the search process. She introduced me to a friend who was a Realtor®. And together the three of us kept a close eye on house listings and visited quite a few houses.

There were expensive houses that were literally falling apart. There were cheap houses that were much too small or had bad layouts. I will gladly rant all day at the stupidity of “open floor plan” homes. There were houses with no garages or ones with frighteningly steep stairs. There were houses so packed together you could cross several property lines in a single bound. It was crazy out there!

The first house I found had actually yet to be built. There’s a home builder in this area that builds out whole subdivisions of homes. They were a bit pricey, but their homes came with so many little features and extras along with just good solid layouts that the price was probably worth it. There were just a couple of problems. First problem was, none of the homes I wanted in this new subdivision were even started yet. Second problem… the slope this subdivision was built on combined with the new “drainage sidewalks” mandated by the city made for terrible driveways with massive, almost unusable dips where the driveway met the road. Some of the existing homes in the subdivision had such steep driveways I literally could not get BlueCar, which has decent front clearance, in without scraping the underside! So these homes became something of a safety net if I couldn’t find anything else. In the meantime, there were a variety of crazy bad homes I looked at, including one we were all sure was trying to hide massive flooding / water damage!

The second home I found was even less built. I believe it was actually my dad who discovered this hidden gem of a mostly undeveloped lot in a great neighborhood. This lot on the awkwardly named Fillbrook Lane had once been a beautiful garden kept by a couple who either moved away or possibly died. By the time I found it, much of that beauty had been overgrown. The lot had been on the market for months and had suffered several price drops in that time. From the front, it looked like something you wouldn’t want to mess with. But, take a couple of steps in, and suddenly you were within this fantastic canopy with stone walkways and rimmed flowerbeds and great rod iron fencing that all looked vastly undervalued.

My Realtor® thought so, too…


The Betrayal

I put down a contract on this Fillbrook property. It was mildly expensive, but not so much so that I couldn’t afford it. The plan was to find a builder and build a nice but frugal home on the site. Unfortunately, it turns out that home prices aren’t completely made up. I talked to three separate builders, including one who was the father of a friend, and all three came back with a very similar price point that was simply out of reach. Part of the problem was the lot had a minimum square footage requirement that wasn’t helping things. And then something crazy happened.

My Realtor®, who me and my mom and my family had trusted with more than just normal house finding information, took out a second contract on the property behind my back contingent on my not going through with the land purchase. The code of ethics for Realtors® makes it clear that they are to put your interests before their own. That’s not what happened here. She admitted this strange action to my mom one day as it was looking more and more like I’d have to back out of buying the land. She’d supposedly taken out the second contingent contract in order to convince the land seller that they wouldn’t need to worry about the lot going back on the market if I backed out. And… maybe that’s true. But it was also a massive breach of trust. I was sharing my every thought on my budgeting and misgivings about buying the land. My mom was sharing personal financial information and ideas on how she could bend her finances to help me get the house built. And all the while, the Realtor® was still showing me houses which, thinking back, seemed increasingly like a bad fit for me.

Ultimately, even if her actions were pure, that she did things without any consultation created a huge breach of trust. This was a fun person. Very knowledgeable. Had great connections. And not only did I have to back out of the land deal… purely because I simply could not afford to build any house on the property… I also had to part ways with this Realtor®. Because her actions left unsettling questions in my mind. Was she showing me the best houses, or was she trying to get me to buy something so I wouldn’t notice what she, her husband, and her personal home builder were planning? In retrospect, it did seem kinda odd that the latter two came out to view the property with her…

I was never really mad, though maybe I should have been. Mostly, I was sad that this person had done something that broke my trust with her. But I was also a little bit giddy. Because… what is life without good stories to tell?! 🙂


The Search, Part 2

With the land deal successfully cancelled and the Realtor®’s betrayal dealt with, I found a new Realtor®, Monica Moore of Leslie Cain Realty, and my search continued. Things were both looking better and becoming more frustrating. But then I found my first house that was a yes. It was located in the same neighborhood as the Fillbrook lot, oddly enough. Once again it was my dad who found something that might have gone overlooked. I toured the home, loved it, and put in an offer that afternoon. And… I got outbid by three of the five other interested buyers. The house went for thousands over the asking price and it had only been on the market for three days when it sold!

This started me down a path of finding houses that looked great but either sold before I could go see them or sold in well under a week at far above their asking prices. It was such a seller’s market it was kinda ridiculous! I had to immediately schedule a tour of any remotely interesting home coming on the market or it would sell before I could see it. I missed out on at least a couple of homes because I waited a day before deciding they looked good enough to view. It was frustrating but I pressed on. If nothing else, there were great houses for sell popping up in my area all the time. It would be worse to want a good house and there be none for sale… right?

The funniest moment was when we found a nice looking house that had a massive hoarder as a neighbor. Their yard was overflowing with old boats and kid toys and junk of all kinds! It turned out that in this red hot seller’s market, no less than five interested buyers had turned down attempting to purchase the nice house because of the massive mess created by their neighbors next door. Last I’d seen, someone, possibly the sellers of the good house, had built a massive privacy fence around the hoarder house. We’d heard that they were going to rent a dumpster and clean up their neighbor’s yard, but I think the fence was the actual solution they went with. I kinda wonder if the fence hiding the hoarding was enough and if the good house ever sold…


Alpha and Omega

After a couple more near misses and instances of getting outbid, I was about ready to quit. How was I supposed to compete when every home was selling for thousands above asking price within three days of coming on the market. But then we found a house on Omega drive, right off of, amusingly, Alpha drive. It was… unique. It had a good layout, a brand new roof, stunningly bright white shiplap boarded walls, and the best backyard of any house I’d looked at over the past 2+ months. When me and my mom went to look at it we came away from our walkthrough oddly depressed. Here was another house I won’t get, was how me and my mom were feeling as we got back in BlueCar after the tour. It felt like this was never going to work out. Hilariously, the climax of the song “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman resumed playing as we drove away. Me and my mom couldn’t help but laugh as Jenny Lind (Loren Allred) sang:

All the shine of a thousand spotlights
All the stars we steal from the night sky
Will never be enough
Never be enough
Towers of gold are still too little
These hands could hold the world but it’ll
Never be enough
Never be enough for me

Never, never
Never, never
Never
For me, for me
Never enough
Never enough
Never enough
For me, for me, for me

Turns out Loren Jenny Lind was wrong. Within a day of making my offer I was chosen as the winner! There were various reasons I won from my mom’s connections with the seller’s agent to my massive flexibility of being able to close quickly and give the sellers all the time they wanted to move out. I feel bad for the multiple other buyers who did not get the house. I’d lost out on four or five houses by this point. It’s tough shopping for a new home!


Now:

And here I am, about a month later now living as a new home owner. The big moving day has come and gone, though I’m still moving last odds and ends out of my apartment. One of the interesting highlights of the whole process was getting a chance to meet the home’s outgoing owners… something that almost never happens. They were the nicest couple who had redone the home five years ago and planned it to be their last home but were now moving again. All sorts of cool things fell into place including them letting me buy their nice washer dryer because the home they were moving to out of state had unexpectedly included a washer dryer combo. They left their house for me in better than like new condition. The roof had been completely redone a month earlier. Every bit of the interior was spotless. The husband even resealed the back deck for me just days before moving out! I was truly blessed to buy this home from this couple and I wish them all the best.

Now, a couple months later, things are finally just about settled. Art is hung. I have most of the chairs I need. Things are going smoothly. I’m basically at a 1.0 release… but looking out towards a distant 1.1. I need a bigger couch. And a TV sized to fit the room. And I really want to do a cool entryway wall thing with hooks for coats and packs and cubbies for shoes. Someday.

So… what now? Well. Live here, for one. Be happy I now have a garage to hide BlueCar from the storms. Hopefully, I can soon invite friends over for gaming nights. And… this house was never meant for just me. The next thing I’d love to fall into place is to have someone to share it with.

How hard can that be? :p