Wednesday, July 21, 2010

the house hunters

Charlie and I are on the hunt for a new house, because while the continental breakfast here is awesome, we've both decided that we don't want to live in a hotel forever.

(Especially if the pool doesn't open until 5:00 PM.)

Meanwhile, in California, our house which hasn't even been on the market for a whole week, has received two offers, including one for the full asking price.

This should be good news. Right?

For the past two days, I've been in the office all day preparing for a meeting that I'm scheduled to lead, tomorrow. While I'm at work, Charlie and the children have been driving around the area and looking at all of those homes that we had tagged as "favorites" via online MLS listings.

The criteria for our house is relatively simple - or so we thought. All we want is a nice house, in a nice community, close to my office that doesn't cost a million dollars.

Late this afternoon, I went with Charlie and we drove around all of the neighborhoods we'd been researching and for one reason or another, houses dropped like hot potatoes off our favorites list. As it turns out, those homes which looked SO PROMISING on line, lacked any appeal when we actually saw them.

As of tonight, we have no favorites left.

The final "favorite" home on our list tonight was located on a very narrow road. There were cars parked up and down both sides and there were at least two cars and one janitorial supply truck parked on a front lawn. When I saw what might have been our next door neighbor standing in his driveway working on his El Dorado in his underwear, sans shirt, holding a wrench in one hand, a beer in the other, and a cigarette dangling from his lips, I actually started to cry.

Charlie banged a u-turn and pulled in to a pizzeria. We ordered a large carafe of wine for us and a pizza for the kids. While the children sat chomping down their dinner, we sipped our wine and contemplated our options. As it stands we can:

1) Buy a house directly next door to a car dealership, or comparable, and take on a mortgage approximately twice what we currently owe;

2) Move far away and I face a monstrous commute every day;

3) Pull the plug on the east coast dream, repay my company whatever will get us even, and move back to California and in to our adorable and comfortably affordable little house;

4) Charlie pursues his career at Starbucks while I tap in to the not yet discovered market of selling hand knit scarves on southern California beaches.

We really want to stay here. We love the lush green trees and the idea of being close to my family. We're particularly enjoying the weather (humidity and all) and at least FIVE of the people we've met have been very nice. Of course, there was the one totally deranged lady yesterday that screamed profanities at my husband (and children) and attempted to swerve her car in to his when Charlie didn't see the sign that indicated he could turn right on red ... but I suppose there are nuts everywhere.

The fact is: we're not willing to accept any offers on our house in California, until we can find something suitable in Virginia. And we don't mind a fixer upper. We just don't want to spend half a million on a house that needs a whole new kitchen, bathroom, roof and floors.

While I am all for branching out and trying new things, I'm also very much an advocate of not compromising your ideals. Our ideal is to have an affordable and pleasant home in an equally pleasant neighborhood, close to the office, so I don't spend an exorbitant amount of time five days a week, away from my family.

We're scheduled to meet with our Realtor on Friday. Tonight, I sent her a note recapping our impressions of those homes and neighborhoods that we'd driven past. I told her that we are both feeling very discouraged and we're looking forward to meeting with her and having her turn our frowns upside down. Surely she is going to show us some hidden gem.

Surely one must exist?

At this point, I'm beginning to think that it would be highly beneficial that in addition to her numerous realty credentials, she also possess a PhD in Magic.


  1. House hunting is tough we decided to build which was tougher!!Then we realised we should have just bought.

    Good luck,hopefully something great will turn up.
    In the mean time, I'll enjoy reading your amazing blog!
    be positive:)

  2. I would highly, highly recommend renting for a year before you take the plunge. We started out by choosing the school district/commute first and then letting the dominoes fall from there. VA is just different. Especially if you choose to live closer to the city vs. in the suburbs. Homes are older and smaller and expensive the closer you are to the city. They have totally affordable newer homes in Burke and Loudon County, but it is a long commute... You can't go with your CA instincts or stereotypes. Give yourself a chance to acclimate. East coast vs. West coast are apples and oranges.
    Not to mention the weather...wait until the winter comes. It will then give you more depth on making a permanent decision. We didn't buy out there because we knew we were moving back to San Diego, but in the end the proximity to work and the schools were what caused us to keep renting in North Arlington. If we were to move back we would chose the same area, knowing that our kitchen would be the size of a cubicle. There would be 2 electrical outlets in each room and we'd pay 100k more than what we'd pay here...

  3. It takes time to find the right house in the right neighborhood. Have you thought about renting until you can find that dream home? When we moved here that's what we did so we could get a feel for where we wanted to be.

  4. What part of Va are you working. I lived in Md almost all my life and we finally bit the bullet and moved to the panhandle of WV. The houses were a lot cheaper and the ppl are nicer to deal with for the most part. You can still tell with some ppl that they moved from Md as they still have that Md attitude lol. My husband does still commute to Gaithersburg Mon-Fri which does make long days but we make the most out of our weekends. We felt it was important to get our 4 children into a "country" school system, I laugh at that statement because here my kids really go to the city schools but it is much different here then city schools in Md.....Good luck finding that house but if you are near the WV line you may want to look at crossing the line and 81 doesn't get backed up too bad.....


  5. I'm sorry you are having such a hard time finding a house. No doubt housing is expensive, particularly in NoVa. I'm not as familiar with that area but I will tell you that Howard County has good home prices, great value for what you pay (4 bdrm colonial on a half acre, 2500 sq ft plus for 500k) and excellent public schools. Ranked number two on best places to live in the NATION. But not as close to your office as you want to be. That's what's doing you in. Finding inexpensive housing in an urban area near the Nation's Capital is going to cost you. Simple as that.

  6. Are you working in DC? Have you thought of moving to Montgomery County vs Fairfax County? The schools in Montgomery County are very good and you might be able to find something there. is a local site with lots of good information. But beware of the snarkiness. Welcome! :)

  7. Just remember, "turn on red" is not mandatory - if you don't feel that it's safe to turn, you don't.
    And so what if you didn't see the turn on red sign? In NJ you can turn on red unless otherwise posted, and I can't tell you how many signs are almost invisible, posted in spots so hard to see once you're at the stop line...
    And I must admit, once someone starts beeping at me for being cautious and taking my time, well then, it's NEVER going to be safe enough until the light turns green...
    Fair warning for all of you behind me on the street

  8. house prices in Nova are CRAZY. my friend's father works for the world bank and they live in a townhouse because thats the only affordable thing close to DC. (affordable being a relative word here) I hope you're able to find something...but if I had the choice between California and va I'd definitely choose Cali :)

  9. Good luck with the hunt for a new house. Hopefully your realtor will have just the right house for you and your family. Glad that you made your trip cross country safely and it wasn't too stressful for the kids. Have fun exploring your new area.

  10. My very humble $0.02...


    I'm sure you will be able to find a lovely rental home close to your office, and then you will have time to search for the perfect place to buy. That's what we did when we moved from New Mexico to New Jersey - it wasn't ideal, but it gave us the chance to drive around the area and find our perfect neighborhood. Which we did. And we bought a lovely house in said perfect neighborhood.

    Rent for now. It's a good compromise between living in a hotel and buying something you won't be happy with.

  11. BlackOrchid7/22/10, 8:38 AM

    Well, unfortunately VA/DC is the worst area to be looking, probably. No housing bust there.

    My advice is only look at new construction - the builders are the only ones likely to give you any kind of deal. Your agent will not like this, you might have to do it on your own. Stay away from Toll Bros however.

    And you know how I felt about you leaving CA in the first place, so I won't go there. It's a different (nastier) world over on this side, but you'll get used to it.

  12. Oh I am sure that you will be able to find that gem! Good luck!

  13. Jen, not to make you even more freaked out, but you really, REALLY, need to make sure the schools by your office are somewhere you would actually want to send your kids. That naked guy with the beer and wrench? His kid will be going to school with YOUR kids.

    There is a reason everyone moves out to the boondocks and commutes.

  14. Here is my recommendation:
    Do NOT give yourself a big commute. I cannot stress this enough. Live where you work! Accept some outdated stuff... you will be able to make little (and big) changes throughout the years. I'm assuming you've already checked out Mantua. You should also check out Kings Park West and Mosby Woods. Are you looking in Falls Church too? Don't get discouraged yet! You'll be able to find a great house here!

  15. your conundrum seems boggling.....where do you live in ca, and where are you looking in va, that the sale of a ca home doesn't get you something desirable in va???

    ~ former ca resident; current va resident

  16. Please think about renting for awhile until you find what you love. Have you called Sheila?

  17. I wouldn't get discouraged yet. We moved from Kansas City to North Carolina a few years ago. Every house that we loved online turned about to be awful when we actually saw them.

  18. Praying that you find the perfect house...

    Not sure what area you are looking in, but there are some areas around Fairfax that are within reasonable commuting distance and have slightly lower home prices. I lived in the Fairfax area for 25+ years and if I know one thing, I know it's expensive.

    Oh, and the drivers all have road rage too. ;)

  19. The crazy drivers, and their attitudes, is one of the main reasons we live out in Clarke County - you know, where people are...nice.

  20. She'll work her magic, J. Things always work out for the best for you guys, or even better, right? Remember how you thought you'd never have kids? Huh, huh, remember?

    Dat's what I'm talkin' 'bout.

  21. Ah, welcome to the east coast, where you pay for the privilege of buying someone else's rundown dream.

    Jen, there's a website you might find immensely helpful (we are relocating from NY to NC and I like it)'s called - go to the Virginia forum and ask any questions you might think of. You'll probably get a treasure trove of info from the natives.

    Good luck.

  22. Oh gosh I wish you lots of luck. Be as positive as you can be surely the right house will come along. Prayers will be said!! I don't know how you and Charlie accomplished everything you had to do to get to VA in the first place, that alone is AMAZING. You two will find the perfect doubt about it. There are always month to month apts. until you do find that perfect location and home.

  23. Woohoo on the house offers! Wishing you great success in your search. Don't forget to check out Craigslist, too! :)

  24. Miss you guys... it's just not the same in Cali without you!!!

  25. Hang in there; you'll find your house.

    I know this, because we are relocating from the Boston 'burbs to the Philly 'burbs ... and we are extremely limited by our finances ... and we looked at house after disappointing house ... and then finally happened upon this one, which was way out of our price range, but which the seller's were eager to unload ... so we actually got it!

    We knew when we walked in the door that it was the one we wanted ... and so will you. ;)

  26. Wow, you got an offer for your ASKING price? In less than a WEEK?

    what an amazing blessing. that is totally unheard of these days.

  27. There is a house out there for you, Jen. When we moved 10 years ago, albeit only from southern NH to suburban Boston, we could not believe the crap realtors showed us. We ended up combing ads and finding our own house. It looked like crap on the outside, but had been totally gutted and renovated on the inside. We hired a painter for the outside and ripped the yard apart ourselves over several years. It was in a GREAT neighborhood, and a perfect commute to Boston. Sometimes the lack of curb appeal can be to your advantage, although the underwear thing would be a deal breaker in my book. Hooray for red wine!

  28. I hope your meeting with the realtor went well! We've been browsing online for some time, and I've been amazed at how a realtor can find things you miss. They also have a much better idea of the area when you are new to it.

    If you find a neighborhood that would be good, with or without the help of your realtor, sometimes you can find gems by driving around and spotting for sale by owner signs. Those don't show up in the MLS, but you can usually negotiate something to have your realtor help with the contract, if you want them to, and they don't get snapped up as quickly as the same property would if it was in the MLS.

    Did you know you can look up an address on and see an aerial view of the property and surrounding area? That's helped me eliminate a lot of properties that sounded good until I looked at what they were next to. You can rotate the view to look at four angles, too.

    Good luck!!

  29. WOW! Full price??? In this economy and housing market I think you are fortunate to have an offer so quickly. And for full price... amazing. I know a lot of people who would love to be in your position (great job even if it's in an office and house sold) right now and would not be hesitating.

  30. Hey Jen
    I am praying for you and Charlie to find a house soon. I love reading your blog.

  31. Why do you take your 3 year old with you to visit the houses? Doesn't he deserve to have fun with the babysitter too???

  32. Sorry house hunting is being a pill. It's expensive here. Bottom line. Especially in Fairfax. BUT the schools are often amazing and it's worth paying a huge amount for a short commute and good schools. And a short commute is IMPORTANT here. Take it from one who drove from Maryland to Fall Church every day. Good days it took me over an hour to get to work and home. Friday afternoons, I spent the 2+ hour drive talking to my mom on my phone to just pass the time. Keep looking and consider renting until you find something!

  33. Hey Girlie :) So we live out here in the Shenandoah Valley of VA. Both my Husband & his Mom commute to Fairfax everyday for work... Not saying that it's the ideal situation, but it's doable. We have a lot of options out here. There's a lot of land here, wide open spaces, rolling hills, and um vineyards... Lots of them.
    Come out for the day, visit us. :) The kids would love to see you all, and hell I'd love to hug on you and Charlie.

  34. I would rent, like the others have suggested. Avoid the big commute if you can. You are going to hate it!

    I left a 100% work from home job (with some travel) about 1.5 years ago and started having a 45-60 minute commute. The company said after my initial training period they'd look at me working 2-3 days a week, but then I got a new boss and that didn't pan out.

    So fast forward to earlier this summer. My former boss emailed me about something she had open and wondered if I'd be interested in coming back. So in just 2 more weeks, that's exactly what I will be doing.

    I worked from home the first 3 years of their life, and while the idea of sometimes being in an office seemed appealing, I've since learned that being home is invaluable. You're going through this transition right now, and while I think our situations are a bit different (DH carries great insurance, so I don't have that need in my position), as someone who has "been there, done that" on the move from WFHM TO WOHM, it's hard and I'd rent out your Cali house and rent in VA for a while before you commit.


  35. I hope things are looking up. I have been worried all day about you buying a house that is too expensive and then having to give up your free lifestyle.Too buy a home that needs so much work and the cost is outrageous, whew---scares me for you. I know you will be happy with your family anyplace, but please do not put a big mortgage on yourself.
    Please take your time.