Leaving the suburbs

Yes, we’re moving. No, we’re not leaving Erie County. And no, we’re not going to be the latest to move to a trendy new downtown loft. Now that those questions are out of the way, the next is, “Why are you moving?” Two main reasons. First, we purchased our home five years ago, relatively cheaply, with the understanding that it needed an interior and exterior overhaul. Since then, we’ve resided the house, repainted the entire interior, added a new stamped concrete patio, added a gas fireplace, replaced most of the carpeting, installed hardwood floors, and updated the kitchen. After all of that, we realized that our little raised ranch, as nice as it was, just didn’t have the storage space or the floorplan that we’d really like, and it didn’t make sense to try and turn it into something it wasn’t. Our house was fixed up and in it’s prime. Time to cash out and start looking for another house.

The second reason we decided to move was location. Our little corner of Hamburg, near the McKinley Mall, in the Orchard Park school district and with a Blasdell zip code, was quickly becoming a major commercial district. As much as Hamburg officials were saying they didn’t want Milestrip Road to become Niagara Falls Boulevard, they don’t control what happens east of Abbott Road. That section of 179 is precisely where Orchard Park does want to put all their commercial development – well outside the village and right off the 219. Makes perfect sense from their perspective, but from ours we no longer wanted to be sandwiched between a recently quadruple-sized Quaker Crossing (with a WalMart yet to come) and the ever expanding McKinley Mall. I’ve always preferred a more scenic, quieter country setting, and for our first home we settled for a suburban house in a fairly private setting. Now that we had more of an opportunity to be choosy, we decided to look for what we really wanted. Since we both work north of the city, naturally we decided on a house in… Holland.

Let me explain how we got there.

This is going to be a long post, as it has literally taken months to write, so sit back and relax. It all started back in mid-June with finding Amanda’s “dream house”. Having returned from a stay at a beautifully restored farm house earlier this year, we decided to look into buying one of our own. We had looked at a few possibilities but they either didn’t have a workable floor plan or needed too much rehab for our budget. We started looking at more recently updated farmhouses instead. Amanda found a pretty 1835 built farmhouse on top of a hill in Wales. It seemed to be in good condition. It had really unique features, like a spiral staircase, servant’s stairway going from the kitchen to an attic office, and an attached garage (not often seen in farmhouses). The layout was certainly usable. We went back for a second visit and liked it even more. We decided to make an offer.

The negotiations didn’t go particularly smoothly. We felt the property was quite a bit overpriced for it’s age and location and bid accordingly. The house had seen very little traffic and was on the market for a year. We also asked for an adjacent 2 acre property to be included in the deal, as it was originally listed with the house, but broken out separately when it was relisted. The sellers were unwilling to move on their list price and didn’t want to bundle in the extra lot. We raised our bid substantially and were answered with only a token reduction in the price. We dropped our request to include the additional acreage, raised our price again, and presented it as our final offer.

Our offer was contingent on selling our home, so we immediately had to focus on prepping it for an open house, including finishing our kitchen remodel. We had about two weeks to declutter and depersonalize the house, as the realtors recommend. Two weeks seems like a lot of time, except that nobody canceled the rest of our lives. That two week period included my sister’s graduation, the Wine & Cidre Festival, my 30th birthday, and an extremely busy work schedule. The day of the open house we were at my sister’s graduation party. Shortly after the open house closed, our agent called with good news. There were two interested buyers coming in to present offers the following evening.

This was excellent news. Since we hadn’t yet had an agreement on the new house, being able to lift the contingency so quickly would put the pressure back on the sellers to decide what they wanted to do. We entertained both offers on our house and were able to use the situation to our advantage to get slightly over list price. There was much rejoicing. And ice cream.

The news of our sale did indeed prompt the owners of the house in Wales to sign a contract. They wouldn’t budge on the extra acreage, but they otherwise agreed to our price. At that point, we didn’t care anymore. We went into our agent’s office on a Friday evening to sign the contracts. After navigating our way through the five copies of the contract, lead based paint riders, and property disclosure statements, we were pretty tired, but happy. Then the [first] bombshell came. Our agent went to check the fax machine to see if the release came in from the home inspection performed on our current house earlier that day. It did. “The results of the home inspection were unsatisfactory to the buyers and they are therefore cancelling the contract.” We sat there dumbfounded, not having any idea what may have caused the buyers to back out. We certainly weren’t aware of any issues with the house. Worse yet, they don’t have to tell you what they found. Our agent would try to find out more information, but we walked out of the office and right back in the state of limbo we had just thought we climbed out of.

Subsequent phone calls determined that there actually wasn’t anything wrong with the house. The buyers had gotten cold feet and used the home inspection as an excuse to back out. A slight relief, but we still needed to sell the house. Over the following two weeks there were more showings, resulting in another offer that was negotiated and accepted for only slightly under list price. Not quite as good a deal as the first time, but this one would hopefully stick. The rollercoaster had peaked on yet another hill.

We turned back to the house in Wales we were working on purchasing. After yet another round of contract signings, we quickly scheduled a home inspection to finally move things along. We had already been through the house twice, once with parents, and had seen a few minor issues, not inconsistent with a 172 year old house. However, we felt it was prudent to have a professional take a closer look at the house.

We met the inspector, our agent, and my parents at the house the evening of the inspection. We started off looking around the exterior. A couple minor things here and there, and one biggie – the rear deck. All the supports holding it up appeared to be leaning at about a 45 degree angle. We weren’t sure how we missed that on our previous visits, but it certainly didn’t bode well for the longevity of the deck, which was being advertised as a feature of the house. Then we moved inside. The water staining that we had previously noticed was tested to be dry. No problem there except for the cosmetic. We couldn’t figure out how to get the downstairs shower to operate correctly, but that could have just been us. The drain on the kitchen sink had an awful lot of duct tape holding it together, but it was still leaking. We’d have to check out potential water damage from the basement later. The garage is where it really started to get interesting. First, there was the roof. The front half of the garage roof had obviously been torn off and replaced, as the new plywood was clearly visible from inside. However, the back half hadn’t been, and in one spot where there was a large gap between the plank roofing, you could see a sheet of metal patching the hole. A quick trip outside showed that there was an extra layer of shingles covering over that spot. Definitely a problem. Another spot on the front of the garage roof had daylight shining through a spot where there shouldn’t have been. Then there was the poorly spliced extension cord hanging across the garage to power the garage door opener, and a pretty amateur wiring job to the secondary breaker panel in the garage. Some of these issues were going to have to be addressed.

Finally, it was on to the basement. This is where it got really ugly. Consistent with most farm houses of this age, the basement was a small fieldstone one, although this one had a concrete floor poured in it at some time with a French drain surrounding the outer perimeter so water entering it either from seepage or through the removed and decked over Bilco doors to the outside would flow to the sump and get pumped out. We weren’t too sure where that water was getting pumped out to, but we did notice a few extra pipes leading into the sump. Tracing them back, they were determined to be the leaky kitchen sink and either the laundry room or one of the bathrooms. Now, this isn’t such a good idea when you have a septic system and well water, as you risk “crossing the streams” so to speak. The septic system holds and filters out the waste water somewhere far away from the well, but we weren’t exactly sure where the sump was getting pumped out to, other than knowing it wasn’t going into the right place. When you purchase a house with a septic system it’s tested by the county before the sale. They dump dye into all the drains in the house and return in a couple of days to see if they can find any trace of the dye seeping from areas it shouldn’t be, indicating cracks in the tank, or an overloaded system, or whatnot. Sometimes they inspect the actual plumbing itself to verify it’s integrity and this house would certainly fail the test. Our inspector said in all his years building, and then subsequently inspecting houses, he had never seen a DIY hack job as bad as this one.

The floor below the kitchen sink had in fact suffered severe water damage from that ghetto repair. The electrical in the basement was as bad as the garage, and the front of the breaker panel was rusted shut so the inspector couldn’t even see what was behind it. The prognosis wasn’t good. This house had some major issues that were going to result in some costly repairs, and those were just for the problems we could see.

Dejected, we left the home inspection trying to determine our next steps. We itemized the list of issues and separated them into ones that we wanted corrected (all electrical and septic issues) and ones we would request a monetary correction of only $4000 for (the roof and the deck). The next day, after several calls to our attorney and agent, we presented them with the list. Their answer was they would fix the repairs, but there would be no further negotiation on the price.

That put us in a difficult position as we then knew if we went through with the deal, we would be faced with moving into a house that we would immediately have to sink additional money into, would have repairs that would likely be questionably performed, and probably many more issues that we hadn’t been able to see that would be added to the larger than normal to-do list a 175 year old house provides you. Our hearts were still set on the place, so we called the parents all over for a roundtable discussion. Going into the evening our intentions were to go through with the deal. Coming out of it we were convinced we needed to back out.

It was a painful phone call to make, but we made it. We were cancelling our contract. It made for a very depressing day. I couldn’t help but think what a poor decision it was on the sellers’ part to turn down our request, as they had now lost the sale of their house over a relatively measly $4000, and would still have to fix or disclose all the problems we uncovered. I think it would have ultimately been bad for us had they accepted it, but it would have been smart for them, as their house had no interested buyers in over a year, and now several months later it’s still on the market, and for another $5000 less than it was when we bid on it. The sellers may have realized the error of their way as the day after we backed out of the deal, they had offered to give back $2000 of the $4000 we asked for. Frankly, we found the offer a bit insulting at that point, as we already had too much emotionally invested in the decision that the house wasn’t worth the amount they wanted for it.

We spent the rest of d[ecision][epressing]-day doing drive-bys of potential houses in the northtowns. In some ways, all that we went through helped increase our focus, as it was that day we decided to completely rule out the northtowns in phase two of our new home search. As we drove around from Lewiston to Oakfield, we realized that while the northtowns had some areas that matched what we were looking for, having all our family in the southtowns made the thought of trying to drop off the future kids at the grandparents’ houses on the way to work in the morning infeasible. The other downside to the northtowns is that the 990 is the only highway north of the 90, making it more lengthy to get from one place to another. The extra mileage to drive into the southtowns is alleviated by the fact that the 90, 219, or the 400 can get you closer to your destination, quickly.

To make a long story slightly less long, our next move was to put in an offer on a house in Orchard Park. It was more suburban than I really wanted and there was a bit too much traffic noise from the nearby 219, but it seemed to be an overall good fit in a good location that had a lot of potential and we knew we wouldn’t need to worry about a loss in value. Unfortunately, we were outbid by a family from Florida that was willing to pay substantially above list price to ensure they got it. Another swing and a miss. The hunt would continue.

Finally, one evening about six weeks ago, we had three houses lined up to see. Having driven by all three previously, we had high hopes for the first two, and were unmoved by the third, but figured we may as well take a closer look since we were running out of potentials on our list. As it turned out the first two houses were garbage and the last turned out to be the keeper. The house was an all brick, multi-level contemporary in excellent condition, with all the rooms we wanted, plenty of personalization potential, sitting on an acre and a half lot carved out of a cornfield. Standing in the yard, all you could hear were the crickets. We couldn’t come up with any downsides to the house itself, the only slight negative was the long drive to work. However, since our plans were to move more rural we knew that we would be sacrificing some free time for the locale that we really wanted. We scheduled a home inspection and went with offer in hand.

The home inspection went better than perfect, as it actually uncovered some features that we hadn’t noticed initially – an attic with a completely decked floor, 15′ of ice damn blocking material up the roof, and sections of subfloor replaced simply because they squeeked too much. We made the offer, negotiations were quick and easy, and we had an accepted offer before we left the house.

Our last major hurdle was that due to the extended time it took us to find another house after ours was sold [twice] we wouldn’t be able to coordinate the closing dates. That meant moving stuff into storage, us moving in with my in-laws for a few weeks, and having to wait to move a second time into the new house. That final piece of the puzzle will be clicked into place tomorrow, as we once again gather up friends and family to do the big move. Again. But we’re sure it’ll be worth it, because every time we’ve headed out to the house and we start driving through the scenic countryside, a big smile crosses my face. Standing outside in the yard at night, the only noise you hear are the crickets. That’s the way we like it.

3 thoughts on “Leaving the suburbs”

  1. Congratulations on your new house. It sounds like it was meant to be the ending to your summer of searching!

    The first house certainly did sound interesting, but some people (and houses) are just too much trouble to deal with. I definitely had times last year in our purchasing negotiations where I felt insulted by the sellers. I’m glad I don’t have to go through that process again for a while.

  2. Congrats… Im so excited for you both..this is a new chapter in your life and it seems it took alot of chaos to get what you were looking for Im sure it will all be worth it:)

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