Whenever I watch reality TV shows about purchasing a house, they seem to be geared to a price point that is completely unattainable to my family and me. While people have “budgets” they are more like “responsibly within our range of affordability” type budgets rather than “family of three living off of $44,000 a year” type budget (our situation).
While we had managed to save up enough for a down payment, with a series of contract jobs, my partner and I felt like a string of apartments was all we could look forward to in the future. While this wasn’t terrible, the real estate in our area meant that paying monthly rent was often the same as a “starter house” mortgage, utilities, insurance and incidentals of owning a home.
Then I became pregnant (surprise) with baby #2, and at the same time (even bigger surprise) was offered a full-time permanent job. We had a four-month window where we could purchase a house, or wait at least two years to qualify for a mortgage. So we went house hunting, for a house $150,000 or under.
When considering what we wanted in a house, we made a list of what we were looking for based on our lifestyle:
- Walking distance from my work and the main bus terminal, so we didn’t have to be dependent on a car
- In “move in condition,” any cosmetic renovations (ie: painting, drywalling, tiling, refinishing floors) were fine, but we are expecting baby #2 in the near future so we were not looking to do any major DIY fixes (roofs, windows, basement, foundation etc)
- Outdoor space appropriate for children to play in
- Two-to-three bedrooms
- Good storage space
- Finally, a kitchen that allows you to see into the living room (so we can cook and clean while keeping an eye on our toddler)
While we looked at many houses, I will compare just our top three…
House #1: The lowest price range, quirky. surprise house
This house ticked many of our boxes on paper. At $129,000, it was well within our price range. It was about a 30 minute walk from my work, had a decent size yard, and an excellent wrap around porch, as well as great lighting throughout. I can honestly say I walked into this quirky home and was rapidly falling in love with it. The crazy wrap-around stairs! The all cedar master bedroom! The 1930s kitchen! I couldn’t get enough, around every corner was a surprise, and I could feel my inner DIY’er who loved a challenge start making the house my home in my head.
My husband however, was seeing the number of renovations we would have to make just to bring the building from “quirky and a giant baby deathtrap” to just plain old quirky. Neither of us was impressed with the strange kitchen with stair leading into the basement. Being kitchen-lovers ourselves we could see how user unfriendly the set up would be.
Still, we had hopes that perhaps, if nothing else turned up, we could still find a quirky house in our price range.
House #2: Upper end of our price range, estate sale, carpeting (bleh!)
We looked at this house only because it fit with our price range and it was in the area we wanted to live. Neither of us were really jazzed by the photos on the real estate site, and both of us were grossed out by the peachy beige carpet we saw in the living room.
When we got to the house, we realized how close it was to our public library, and three of our friends with children the same age as ours. The location was closer than the first house and the yard fenced in — all these things very much in its favour.
When we got inside, we were all quiet for a bit as we walked around. Then we started getting less quiet as my toddler tore around like she owned the place. It was spotless. There were no weird cracks, or renovations needed, or structural defects we could see. The kitchen was central to the main floor of the house, looking over the backyard and into the living room at the same time. When we hit that carpet in the living room, we tugged up the corner and revealed the original hardwood underneath. The house came with fridge, stove, freezer, washer, dryer, dishwasher, snowblower, lawnmower, curtains: everything apartment dwellers with kids need but don’t own.
Our real estate agent revealed it was an estate sale, the same couple had lived in the house for more than 30 years, and had died recently. Their children were selling. Which meant one of two things — either they would be emotionally attached and not want to sell, or they would take less than they were offering. We were understandably excited and glad we checked the place out. But onto the next!
House #3: Upper end of our price range, newly renovated, and across the street from our kids’ school
This house had my fingers crossed and triple crossed. It was the shortest walk from my work, was in the newest, renovated condition (the last house was very much stuck in the 1970s) and had just dropped in price by $20,000. New roof, new windows. Could this be it?
One definite fallback for this property is that was occupied when we looked at it, with three lodgers, who were filthy. It is really hard to get into a house that covered in filth and has people who wish you would get the hell out of it. The first thing we noticed was that to get into the house, there were about 40+ outdoor (unshoveled) steps you had to walk up up the side of a hill to get to the front door, from where you can park. For people in Northern Ontario, Canada, this spells “winter shoveling nightmare.” The backyard was also set into a hill, so in reality only had the space of a small walkway and porch. The outside, while well landscaped and newly spruced up, was very user un-friendly for people with children.
Inside was all well and good, until we hit the kitchen. The floor was questionable and spongy under our feet. When we headed down to check the basement it was a dirt floor nightmare. It seemed like the renovations to the rest of the house were hiding the fact that the floor was experiencing moisture seepage, and possibly issues in the foundation. Pretty on the outside, crummy at the center. One look at that basement told me all I needed to know: No, thank you.
Which house did they choose?
In the end, we saw several more houses — some strange, some so totally falling apart, that they are not even worth mentioning. We decided to make an offer and do a house inspection of #2. We were able to purchase it for $14000 less than the asking price and were given two enthusiastic thumbs up from our house inspector regarding the structural integrity of the house. With some cosmetic fixes, we are going to have a lovely house for the next five plus years to raise our family in, and best yet, invest money into something we own instead of rent!