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June 4

Adventures in House Hunting

Hey guys…

You may have noticed that my blog has been a bit quieter as of late and there’s a good reason.  Felix and I are officially house hunting, or shall I say home hunting.  We’re looking for a place to call our very own in the city.

I’ve been living in the city for my entire adult life and I’ve been a very happy renter during that time.  Sure, I’ve had some bad living situations before like an infestation of mice and neighbors so loud (below me) that they rattled my ceiling lamp out of its socket while I was attempting to sleep.

But all in all, those bad instances haven’t marred my love of renting.  I can pack up my stuff and move to an entirely different part of the city, any year I feel like it which I’ve done loads of times.

But with moving in with Felix, we’ve been far more stable than I’m used to.  We’ve had 2 different apartments over the last 7 years, my all time track record in one neighborhood.  Prior to this, I moved every year I’ve been living in the city.

Logan #1:

Logan #2 (our current place before we moved in):

But with the market the way it is and rates so low, we think it makes the best sense for us to start the search since we have been working hard to save some money for a down payment.

Everything sounds great right?!

For starters, I never dreamed buying a home would yield such a complex, hard process.  Additionally, everyone wants to live where I live.  We live in a great tree-lined boulevard with everything in walking distance.  Seems like everyone else wants the same thing and there’s a huge shortage of properties.

There’s such a shortage that Felix and I have yet to even be able to WALK INTO & VIEW a home/condo in our area of the city prior to it being taken off the market.  It’s craziness.  Pure craziness!

Our realtor claims he’s never seen such a shortage of places in our area (and in lots of other parts of the city as well) in the last 10 years.

What’s a girl to do?!

Felix and I have been out and about, driving around in unknown-to-us parts of the city in attempts to find another neighborhood to call home.  We want to be near some kind of public transportation, cafes, and some decent eateries.  That’s not too much to ask right???

So far, the most promising part of the city I’ve seen is Hyde Park.  It’s close to the lake, ample trees and green space and even some cafes.  The only trouble it that’s it’s an oasis.  No Joann fabrics close at hand, nor is there a close grocery store or Petsmart for quick and easy trips on my scooter.  We’d have to adjust the way we do errands which isn’t necessarily a deal breaker.  It just reminds me how spoiled we are living in Logan Square where everything is as handy as can be.

The additional caveat with Hyde Park is that we can only afford a condo here.  They’re really nice condos.  But still… no yard for the buns to hop around in which I’d been hoping for among other things (like a dog).

If the market stays the same for the remainder of the year, we’re either going to have to do a condo or move to the suburbs.  :|  I’d rather a condo than move outside the city, since I’m not ready for that big a move yet, nor do I think I’ll ever be ready for that unless it’s close to some form of easy transportation to the city for work.

*Le Sigh*

As you may have guessed, house hunting has been taking up a vast amount of space in my brain as of late.  I’m still working my 9-5, but I come home and do a bit of searching online, chatting with the Felix, and with what time remains I sew.

Any advice for a newbie house/home hunter?  :)

  1. K-Line / Jun 4 2013

    I bought a condo first (this was 20 yrs ago). It was a very sound financial move and it put me in the downtown Toronto housing market (where a bare-bones starter home in a decent neighbourhood that’s close to things starts at 600K). My advice is a) stay downtown (once you leave you’ll never get back in) and b) take the plunge as soon as possible (things never get cheaper).

    A good option might be a loft or a condo with character (i.e. refurbished apt in a low rise, older building). I’d go for something less desirable in the neighbourhood you want to be in, than something great in an oasis that will be hard to get into and out of.

  2. Kelly / Jun 4 2013

    How exciting, and exhausting! I’m just a renter so I have no advice, but I wish you and Felix good luck!

  3. MadeByMeg / Jun 4 2013

    Good luck on your search! I recently made a very similar decision, so after moving every year for 8 years I bought 3 blocks from where I was renting(near the lake, close to restaurants and public transit), and we moved in Saturday.

    But the market is crazy out there! The advice I got from my parents was to remember that it is not just an investment but a home – so don’t be afraid to keep looking until you find something that you can really live with! It’s a bit nerve wracking with the market getting more competitive and interest rates going up, but you are going to have to live there and love it, after all! And while real estate is all about doing your due diligence, I found it was really helpful to go with my gut!

    • Liz / Jun 4 2013

      Thanks Meg. This piece of advice has just helped me today already. My Realtor sent me something in a great location but looked rubbish. Knew we wouldn’t be happy there so I politely passed on it. :)

  4. Michelle / Jun 4 2013

    HOW EXCITING! I hope you and Felix find the perfect place! One thing I wish somebody had fully explained to us before we bought our condo is association fees. We bought in a newly refurbished building, so everyone got in at the same time and there was no reserve fund. Our assessments started really low, and we thought that was wonderful. But, when the water main busted out front… we had to have a special assessment to cover the cost of fixing it. And, within two years, we had to double our association fees to cover operation costs and build a fund. UGH! You definitely want to ask if the building has incurred any special assessments, (specials can make it difficult to sell your place in the future) and also how much the association has saved in its reserve.

    GOOD LUCK!

    • Liz / Jun 4 2013

      I’m a total newbie, but I did read about this *somewhere*. But this is really helpful about asking for special assessment history.

      If you don’t mind my asking, where did you end up buying in the city?

      • Michelle / Jun 6 2013

        We’re just north of Old Irving Park (technically Mayfair). It’s a nice neighborhood, mostly single family homes, but it definitely doesn’t have the same accessibility that living in Logan or Wicker provides. Mike reverse commutes to the burbs and I blueline downtown, so we both have great transportation access from our place. But, we find ourselves heading towards other neighborhoods to hang out.

  5. Jenny / Jun 4 2013

    Good luck! It’s fun and stressful but at the end sooo worth it. I agree with Michelle – if you buy a condo or a co-op make sure you review the financials and ask how often those association fees or monthly maintenance fees are increased. You may also want to ask if there are any special projects being considered in the near future. My old co-op (I’ve since moved and become a renter again) had to replace all of the windows in the entire building (over 900 apartments) and so that increased our monthly maintenance. Monthly maintenance was already $550 (but was still one of the best in the area – I previously lived in NYC).

    • Liz / Jun 4 2013

      Thanks so much Jenny! So far we were looking for multi-units or single family homes in our area, but they’re pretty non-existent right now. So we’re just beginning to think about a condo/co-op. It’s silly but I didn’t know we can ask to review the financials… Makes sense. I’m such a newbie. heh

  6. Allison / Jun 4 2013

    I used to live in Hyde Park! (Went to UChicago for undergrad)
    I’m actually totally refreshed to hear of someone who is not related to the university considering living there. That kind of movement is exactly what the neighborhood needs to revitalize. I like how you call it an “oasis” as I wouldn’t have used such a pleasant sounding word for it!

    • Liz / Jun 4 2013

      heh My husband and I walked all around on Sunday and went to brunch at Medici’s. Everything we saw is nice. :)

      And I did a bit of research and fount out that Whole foods is coming in 2014 which seems like a big deal for the neighborhood since there’s no large/chain grocery stores. Always a plus!

  7. Genevieve / Jun 4 2013

    I’ll admit that it’s not the city, but Oak Park is on 2 El lines (Green and Blue) and has lots of good walkable options for food and entertainment.

    • Liz / Jun 4 2013

      Oak Park is on the list… We haven’t visited the area yet but I know it’s a great suburb if you can even call it that. We’re still trying to work with the city first, but if that fails we’re definitely checking out this area.

      Taxes are crazy expensive which is the only downfall to that area.

  8. Emma / Jun 4 2013

    Good luck!

    When we started looking for our first house, the market was really active and anyone could get a loan (as evidenced by the fact that we got one without a co-signer, despite only putting down 15%, even though my husband worked 15 hours per week and I was a full-time student). We called on lots of houses that we never got to see, because they got taken off the market. One real estate agent seriously told us that if we were interested we could put a bid on the place, sight unseen, in which case he’d show it to us if we won the bidding war. The house in question was 20 yards from a motorway, 20 minutes from a town with grocery stores, so not even in the most desirable area ever.

    Crazy how fast it can move sometimes, isn’t it? And then you finally find something and it shifts and life’s suddenly like treading molasses (or it speeds up even more, like when we sold our house — 40 days from putting it on the market to handing over the keys, when several houses on our street had stayed unsold for over a year)

    • Liz / Jun 4 2013

      Oh wow! Nice that you were approved, given that you were able to afford a home.

      Honestly I was somewhat surprised I was approved for a healthy loan while my husband is only working as a contractor at the moment.

  9. Sarah / Jun 4 2013

    We bought a stacked condo as our first home in Toronto. The walls were paper thin (new build!), but it was so fun and convenient and had a surprising amount of space. Our rooftop deck was fabulous!

    Take your time and enjoy the hunt! The beauty of renting means there is no hurry :)

  10. kaitui_kiwi / Jun 4 2013

    We just went through this last year and it is all the same situation here in NZ. Everyone wanted the houses we wanted in the same suburbs, we had to look outside our comfortable circle and still we would see a house online and it would be sold that week before we’d even arranged a viewing. Worse is that we have Tenders here so everyone puts in their “best offer” without knowing how many other couples are also applying or how much they are offering, it is all for the seller and you don’t want to get your hopes up on each house but how can you not? Sigh! It was so tiring but my advice is just hit it hard for as long as it takes, you’ll get your home eventually. Best of luck xx

  11. KM / Jun 4 2013

    Good luck and stay positive! I’m in the Los Angeles area and inventory is so incredibly low here too that prices have definitely gone way up in the past 6 months. My hubby and are currently in escrow on a place, but we seriously had to contact the seller’s agent to request to see the property. We saw the property on a Sunday, put in an offer on Monday and opened escrow by the end of the week. I was expecting to be able to take my sweet ass time, but all the decent listings are flying off the market at record pace and above listing price (argh!). Hopefully everything works out for you!!

    • Liz / Jun 6 2013

      That’s so exciting!

      Sorry to hear inventory is low there as well. It seems it’s not just Chicago, but all over the country after reading everyone’s comments on here.

  12. Elena Knits / Jun 5 2013

    I perfectly understand you when you say that you want to be close to the city center. People later on chose the suburbs but it’s still too early for us! :D

  13. Becky / Jun 5 2013

    I don’t know anything about your area, but here goes my advice from 35 years of buying and selling houses. It’s a home first and an investment second. You don’t want to spend an unreasonable amount of money, but you want to be happy. After all, it’s where you LIVE. During the housing bubble, people spent way too much thinking of it as an investment, went crazy, and lost everything. Buy the cheapest house on a good street. The resale value is best for the cheapest house in a good neighborhood as long as it’s not falling down or has structural problems. I cannot emphasize this enough! Don’t worry if it’s not decorated well. You can fix that. You can also add on decks, patios, add landscaping, etc. It really changes the way a house lives and looks. Don’t underestimate the amount of time and money you will spend commuting. Saving 10K on a house in the suburbs isn’t much if you spend hundreds of dollars a year and 10% of your precious time commuting. Check those taxes, but again, convenience is very important. Lastly, don’t get into such a hurry that you make an impulse buy. WRITE DOWN your deal breakers and see if you can find something that meets at least most of your requirements. You’re smart, you will find something that will make you happy, and if you don’t, you can usually sell after about 3 years and break even or make money in a reasonable market.

    • Liz / Jun 6 2013

      Thanks so much for this Becky! I just relayed some of these points to my hubby as we were looking at a place yesterday.

      This is invaluable advice.

  14. Sally @ thequirkypeach / Jun 5 2013

    We were buying a house at this exact time last year! The house hunt is fun! We bought in the suburbs, so the market wasn’t quite as crazy as in the city, but it definitely was stressful – it was NINE months from putting an offer in until we closed. I’m not saying that to scare you off, but rather to encourage you – if you find the right one, don’t give up! I can’t tell you how many times we find ourselves saying how happy we are that we got this place. And let me tell you too, it was half the amount we were “approved for” – you really can find happiness in something simple in a great location :)

    • Liz / Jun 6 2013

      Wow, 9 months?! That does help put things in perspective and know I shouldn’t rush… But it’s really hard not to get anxious when nothing comes in the ‘ideal’ location. For us I think it’s a waiting game and we really just want to get a great space with room to grow.

  15. Linda HYams / Jun 5 2013

    You are living in my fav city of all. Good luck on your house hunt. Here in OKC we have a major housing shortage because of the recent tornadoes. I can’t wait to see where you move. I love all animals, but I always wanted a house rabbit. I’ve got four dogs, three cats, and two gerbils instead. Please post pictures of your critters.

    If I could find work in Chicago, I would leave tomorrow. I get to visit twice a year for conferences and I’m so jealous of everyone who lives there.

    • Liz / Jun 6 2013

      I’d be happy to post up more photos of my two house buns. :) They’re such great pets. Most people who own bunnies consider ourselves ‘bunny slaves”. They’re similar to cats since it feels like you’re on their time. My one girl bun, Baxter will seek me out when she wants attention but Quincy my adoptee won’t. I have to go to him and ‘serve’ him with pets and love. :)

  16. Another / Jun 5 2013

    You know what I hated most about house-hunting? People who tell you “when you see it, you will KNOW”.

    Yeah, I’m sure that’s true, if you’re looking a picture-perfect cottages with rose gardens, gourmet kitchens and spa baths. When you’re looking at basic apartments on a very low budget, which I was, you are probably not going to get a gut feeling. They are all bland concrete boxes!

    That said, I bought a concrete box. It was what I could afford (afford as in “pay this off easily and still have a life”, not “the bank says it will lend me X”) in a great position – close to a corner store, green space, transport and bike paths.

    8 years later it is (a) paid off and (b) home. It still doesn’t have a fantastic kitchen or bathroom, but it has some wild wallpaper and bright paintwork and curtains, and I’m never leaving it!

    So my advice is: buy what you can afford (really afford – interest rates can only go up, your circumstances might change) and pick a good position over everything. Then keep your improvements low-cost and pay off as much as you can on the mortgage as quickly as you can.

    • Liz / Jun 6 2013

      Thanks. People said the same thing to me when I was engagement ring shopping. I can’t tell you how long I looked and never found “the one”. (We ended up making one that was perfect instead). heh

  17. Sarah C. / Jun 5 2013

    Hi! An exciting but stressful time, to be sure. We live in Washington DC, where the market is also incredibly tight. I feel lucky to say that we love our home, and I can honestly say that these three things made all the difference when buying:

    1. Make your lists of priorities and really UNDERSTAND what you want. Is a great kitchen key? Space? Light? Location? Are you interested in something that requires renovations? So many people have lists, but they have not spent the time to figure out what really matters to them. Sounds like you are really thinking about this, which is so great — because only you can know what is right for you. Decide & stand firm! You are a smart lady with a great husband!

    2. Have everything ready. Literally, get every single thing that you might need to put in an offer together. One of the reasons that properties are coming off the market so quickly is that buyers are ready to go. They can just drop in the property’s details, and their offer is ready to be presented. Your real estate agent should be able to help you with this step…which leads me to point three.

    3. Make sure that you have an AMAZING real estate agent. I do not understand working with a good agent, or even a very good agent. I want my real estate agent to be PHENOMENAL. There are amazing agents at every price point (ie, not just for multi-million dollar homes), so make sure that you think yours is top notch. Some of the things that I value: I expect my agent to be very connected in any area in which I might be interested. I expect my agent to be networking with all the right people to know of any information that I might want to have. I expect my agent to be direct & honest with me. I expect my agent to know of any property that I might be interested in before it even comes on the market — and I expect to get to see those properties. I expect my agent to present my offer well. In other words, I expect my agent to help me find a fabulous home. I can look at listings online just fine; I expect an agent to provide all sorts of information and insight that I cannot find on my own. I want the inside scoop! Frankly, that is how properties are coming off the market before you can even see them at an open house. People are working behind the scenes to buy & sell. I can honestly say that our real estate agent did all of what I mentioned, and so much more. I have referred her to several folks, all of whom have loved her as much as I have, and she & I are definitely now friends. I say that just to reinforce that having high expectations is not about being demanding,it is about being confident and appreciating excellent service.

    I do want to stress that I, obviously, do not know your agent — and in no way am I saying that he is not amazing! I am just saying that when you are really ready to buy (whether it be next week or next year), make sure that your agent (whether this one or another) knows it and will do whatever he possibly can to get you into the right place for you. It will be a home to you, but always remember when it comes to agents: It’s not show friends, it’s show business!

    • Liz / Jun 6 2013

      Wow! Thank you so much for taking the time to write out such a long, detailed comment. This really helped me as I thought my husband and I were on the same page, but after seeing a place just last night with Felix, I don’t think we are.

      We’re NOW going to be writing up our lists of wants/likes/dislikes and will compare to have a better discussion on what it really is we’re looking for in a home.

      Thanks again so much Sarah.

  18. Rachel / Jun 6 2013

    Think of it this way- the longer you wait, the more money you can save for a down payment… so there are positives to it all ;)
    You might also sign up (if you haven’t already) for the various online apps… which will alert you to new properties in your area!
    Happy house hunting!

  19. Tasha / Jun 7 2013

    Awww, I’m sorry this is turning out to be a frustrating experience for you! And well, you know what I’m going to say– if things don’t work out in your desired ‘hood, before you contemplate the burbs think of Jefferson Park or one of our surrounding neighborhoods! Not hip like Logan Square but not as far as the burbs, so it’s kind of like having the suburban feel but still being close to trains/buses/Metra/highway (and -potentially- cheaper than the burbs while still being in the city). Anyway, you’re overdue for an email from me so stay tuned. :)

  20. Jen / Jun 7 2013

    Oh, we were here about two years ago (though it was a state-to-state relocation and our second home). Twice—twice!—we were literally pulling into the driveway of perfect, dreamy MCM homes we were gaga about (we called one “The Incredibles House”, b/c it looked JUST like the house in the movie!) only to have our realtor’s phone ring with someone telling her the house had just gone under contract. IN THE DRIVEWAY. Arrrrgh!

    I have to be honest with you—both times it was a long process for us, and for the home we are in now—we flat-out settled because we *had* to find a place and time was really running out (Hubby’s new employer gave us corporate housing for a couple of months, the wire was coming up, and when you have a 100 pound collie, no matter how well-behaved he is, it’s impossible to find a decent apartment, especially a short-term one). It seems that people fall into one of two categories: they look at four houses and find The Perfect Place right away (like my parents & sister & brother-in-law) or they look at so many their heads spin (*waves hi*). Since you sound like the latter group, just try to enjoy the search, hard as it seems to do that! We at least picked up all kinds of ideas seeing so many houses. ;)

    Also, it doesn’t sound like you’re on a time limit, either, which helps a lot.

    Just be sure you know not only what you really, really want, but…prioritize, because you may not find a place with EVERYTHING you want, but then, are some of those things really *that* important or un-fixable? We really wanted a front porch again, but this house has, I must say, a truly fantastic deck that’s the envy of the neighborhood and a big backyard perfect for my gardening. Many times a house you love won’t have X but it does have something you weren’t even looking for that you’ll come to love. If your must have’s are really on the B or C level of priorities…don’t write a place off should it not have a few of those, especially if you can DIY them later on.

    Also, it sounds like the parts of town you are looking at are hot stuff. Be prepared to jump, and fast. Definitely keep in close contact with your realtor, and if possible, be ready to duck out of the office to check a prime place out.

    Oh, and bring a measuring tape & measurements of your major furniture items. Had we not done that we would probably have walked away from our last home, which I adore to this day and will always love, because the rooms only looked small. Happily, we measured and everything proved to fit just perfectly. ;)

    Good luck! It can be an arduous process for some of us, but when you DO find the right place, it feels so, so good and you’ll just know you’re “home”. That is a feeling I can’t explain, but you’ll get it soon enough. ;)

    Again—try to have fun!

  21. Debbie / Jun 12 2013

    My husband and I are in the exact same position as you – searching for a house in Chicago – and our agent has also told us that this is the lowest inventory she has ever seen. It’s frustrating, but I definitely agree with the poster who said that the longer you wait, the more you can save up for the down payment :) That’s something I’ve been telling myself a lot lately.

    Also, don’t settle for something that doesn’t meet your basic requirements (number of rooms, neighborhood, etc.) Sure you can always remodel and do a lot to turn it into your dream house, but you can’t up and move the building if you don’t like the area (for example).

    One thing I’ve had to constantly remind myself is not to feel that I’m being picky with what I want (and sadly, I really am not). It’s just a lot harder to find because there are so few houses on the market right now.

  22. Mellzah / Jun 17 2013

    If you can’t find the combo of right space in the right area, do you have the option to continue renting? Because I don’t like the sound of “either we move into an undesirable neighborhood and get the house we want or we stay in this area and get a condo which isn’t really what we want”–better to play the waiting game and get something you’ll be happy with than to settle. Unless you’re looking at this as a foot in the door where you can eventually trade up to be in the area you want to live in? But I still would urge you to wait, it’s easier to buy a home when you only have to deal with a rental on your end than sell a home and buy a home at the same time.

    It’s an equally hot market where I ended up buying, my best advice is to know what you want and be willing to drop everything and go see a property IMMEDIATELY if you think it has potential. The place I bought hit the market on Friday afternoon, I saw it on Saturday morning and we put in an offer that day, there was an open house on Sunday, and they reviewed offers on Monday. There was literally no time for hesitation.

    The whole process is insanely stressful, take good care of yourselves and you will eventually find a place you’ll be happy to call home!

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