We’ve been a little busy lately.
In addition to the things you know about — living across the world from one another and raising a toddler and growing a baby and starting a new job and getting ready to leave one post and bidding on our next post and an unexpected medevac to London — there’s something we haven’t mentioned yet.
We’ve been house hunting too. By “we,” I of course mean that I spent hours each evening pouring through online listings, and Andy spent hours each weekend visiting the places I told him to go see.
For a while now we’ve been meaning to invest in real estate, but we could never decide (or agree) on where to buy. In the Midwest, where our families are from? In Florida, where we could spend time off between tours and which would give us some tax benefits? In DC, with the best rental prospects, and in case we ever took domestic jobs there?
Knowing that we would be living in the DC area for at least a year finally prodded us into a decision. Rather than throwing away tens of thousands of dollars in rent, we would buy something. We would live in it for a while, and then rent it out once we headed back overseas. Maybe we’d even live in it again one day, and it would help resolve that complicated question of where exactly is Flynn’s home.
So, we had settled on buying in the DC area — but what exactly did we want? Well, we wanted a nine-bedroom, $14 million beauty in Georgetown, but baring the untimely demise of some wealthy long lost relative neither of us know about but who thought very highly of us for some reason, this wasn’t going to happen.
Realistically, we settled on a 1950s three- or four-bedroom Cape Cod near the West Falls Church metro stop as our ideal. A Cape Cod because Alex has an irrational aversion to any house built after 1960 or so, and Andy has a rational desire to make sure his wife’s not miserable. Falls Church because it’s the shortest commute and nicest, most walkable neighborhood available for the amount we wanted to spend.
While we were browsing this seemed like a very realistic plan. But by the time Andy’s DC job was confirmed and we were ready to act, inventory had dropped and prices had risen. It was a sellers market. Good properties were getting numerous offers within days of being listed, oftentimes selling for significantly above asking price after fierce bidding wars. We only had a few months to find something, so we began making compromises.
First we bid on a 1950s Cape Cod in a neighborhood just south of Falls Church. The house was updated, but strangely so, which was probably why it had been on the market for a while. But I guess our interest prompted interest from someone else, who bid higher than we were willing to go for that particular place.
Then we bid on a townhouse one metro stop beyond West Falls Church. It was nice enough, as nice as a newer townhouse could possibly be, but a newer townhouse is just not my style. And don’t get me started on my thoughts about homeowners associations. Let’s just say I could easily see us becoming these people. Still, the townhouse would be a comfortable place to live for a year, and it would be a solid investment, so I agreed to go for it anyway. But we lost this bidding war too.
We bid on another townhouse soon after, this time two metro stops beyond West Falls Church. This one was a five-minute walk from the metro and hence pretty much my public transportation loving husband’s dream come true. (According to him, “We wouldn’t even have to buy a car!” According to me, we still would.) The house itself was very much not my style, but time was a-ticking and we still didn’t have anything, so I caved. When we lost this bidding war (20 bids had already come in by the time we placed ours, the same day as the open house…), that was just fine with me.
We bid next on a 1950s Colonial in Springfield, a neighborhood pretty far from Falls Church. I can’t imagine a house I liked more. Hardwood floors and crown molding throughout. A hip new kitchen. And because of the location it was significantly under budget. Andy liked the house too, but the commute would be longer and this was a big concern for him. However, the fact that he might have to spend every weekend until the end of time continuing to go out and look at houses was also a big concern for Andy, and besides, it was his turn to compromise. He agreed to put an aggressive offer on this one.
One problem, though: literally hours after we sent off that bid, a 1950s Cape Cod near the West Falls Church metro, in our price range, came on the market. It wasn’t perfect. We’d need to add a bathroom and do some updates. But the price allowed for that. It was workable and better for us than anything we’d seen. I wouldn’t have to compromise the sort of house I liked, and Andy wouldn’t have to compromise his commute time. The schools were good in case we ever ended up living there long term. The neighborhood had sidewalks and leafy trees and other nice older houses and parks and a public library and a few restaurants and shops within walking distance.
This was the house we wanted. But, if it didn’t work out, we would still be happy to move forward with the faraway Colonial.
We worked with our realtor to quickly submit an offer on the Falls Church house in such a way that we weren’t breaking any rules by having two bids out at once. Andy didn’t even have time to go see it in person, but no matter. We knew what we were looking for well enough by this point to feel confident about acting based on photos and location alone. Plus, we could always back out during inspection if any major issues came to light.
In the meantime, the sellers of the faraway Colonial countered our offer as predicted, so the ball was in our court with that one. We hoped they would be patient as we awaited news about the other…
After a day of obsessively refreshing our email browsers, we finally heard back… the owners of the 1950s Cape Cod in Falls Church picked our bid! They had received other offers, but the desperate letter we included about me being pregnant and this being the perfect house for our growing family tipped the balance in our favor, the selling agent said. Three cheers for sympathy votes! (The fact that we were flexible on a few terms that were important to the sellers didn’t hurt either.)
We declined the counter from the faraway Colonial and proceeded to move forward with inspection, appraisal, and mortgage hoops. A lot of stress and a little over a month later the four-bedroom Cape Cod near the West Falls Church metro is officially ours, although we agreed to rent it back to the sellers for a short while so we’re not in it just yet.
Andy will move in a few weeks before Flynn and I arrive, which I for one think should be plenty of time for him to remove the wallpaper and paint the kitchen, and install flooring in the almost finished basement — don’t you?
Anyway, the homebuying process wasn’t always pleasant, but at least we’re happy with how things turned out.
Of course, I say this without yet having set foot in the house. Making major life decisions with partial information from halfway across the world? Only in the Foreign Service…