House Hunting

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

August 6, 2009


Categories: Family

It started, I mean really started, with a house being sold for $122,000.  I’d done the estimates.  I know our debt-to-income ratio.  I know how much we can afford, as in what’s 38% of our net income.  $122,000 was certainly feasible, and I knew this without talking to a bank.  So, after some pestering from Peter, I called a realtor.  I heard good things about one company, and they were supposed neighborhood specialists, so we made an appointment.  We were encouraged, strongly, like to the point of not being able to see the $122,000 house without one, to get a preapproval.  So, we called the recommended mortgage broker.

We met with the mortgage broker first.  Everyone says he’s nice, and I have no real reason to believe he isn’t.  But, what I saw were nervous twitches and a shiny yellow Lotus.  Based on the info I gave him, he approved us for an amount I never thought I’d see cross our path.  This amount is at least $50k higher than we can realistically afford based on what’s 38% of our net income, but it seemed hopeful, like the housing market isn’t dry in our ballpark.  Maybe the American Dream was within our reach after all.  Later, the credit union is having trouble approving us for what I believe to be our top affordable range – this is probably the more realistic approval.

The $122,000 house was interesting.  The bedrooms were proper, the bath was proper, and the loft was proper.  The kitchen had no room for a stove nor a refrigerator, however, and the only thought that crossed my mind was, “Where am I going to make my bread?”  It turned out someone already bought the place.  The wheels were just slow to turn letting us know.  We got to see the place, and that’s what we really wanted.

We saw another house in our price range.  This one was also without a proper kitchen, but here I could actually see a remodel.  There were just three problems with this house:  1) possible structural issues, 2) we can’t afford a remodel, and 3) it didn’t have permittable bedrooms, so it basically had no bedrooms.  They’ve since dropped the price $5k, but it’s still not within our reach based on the needed work.  Last night, we looked at another set of homes beginning with a property sitting on 3/4 of an acre in the city limits at the top of our price bracket.  Peter saw nothing but potential whereas I only saw four boxed mobile homes nailed together and joined by skinny hallways and doors.  The best features of the house were the backyard and the kitchen, but I’m not sleeping in either regularly.  Granted, I will agree with my dear husband that last night’s showings had more houses that were feasible.  Homes that we could actually imagine calling home.  Homes that had proper bedrooms where we could imagine putting our stuff and maybe befriending the neighbors.  But, still, they are out of reach for one reason or another.

We switched realtors.  The first simply wasn’t compatible, so I called the first place that came up in a search, saw their homes, and asked for a showing.  That was last week.  We saw, near our coveted neighborhood (where we are now) a home at the top of our price range with a tons of great features except the three bedrooms that were more like one giant bedroom with stairs in the middle.  This outfit gave us a little “let’s get acquainted book” that offered the regions realty report.  It looks like, for the first time in over a year, the housing inventory is on the rise of selling.  As in, we just missed the best time to look for a house in our price range in this geography.

The basics are this though.  Last year, after I graduated, I foresaw a 5-year plan of paying off my school loans and saving money for a down payment on a house.  I saw this blooming at the end of five years, not before.  We are well before that five-year mark, and I still don’t have a job.  That we could even conceive of looking at a house and think, realistically, that it’s a legitimate possibility is a miracle.  And, although the flea infested, non-permitted bedrooms, and 700 sq ft homes are enough to make me want to cry in my pillow – the point is we are ahead of the game.  My mother and sister looked for houses to buy because their then-current living situations were too stressful for which to continue.  They, in a large sense, had to find a new place to live.  We don’t have that same concern.  Our landlord, thank the good Lord, has been fabulous.  She’s let us do what we want regarding gardening and tending to the house, offers minimal input, and lets us make and deduct repairs from rent.  We have the most fabulous neighbors one could ask for, and our close friends live only two doors down.  We have a great walking neighborhood and it’s close to the amenities important to us.  We really are where we belong, even if the American Dream isn’t within our grasp.


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