Now that we have saved a modest down payment and the housing market crash has resulted in lower prices and rates, Don and I have been looking more seriously at buying a home. I confess that I am a bit hooked on Realtor.com and other websites that allow me to browse through hundreds of homes until I am having visions of wallpaper and hardwood floors as I drift off to sleep. I am fascinated by the variety of floor plans, features, and decorating styles of different dwellings. Yet as fun as house hunting can be, when the very cheapest houses are out of your price range, the search can be frustrating and sometimes even ridiculous.
When we thought we might be moving to Texas, where housing is more affordable, we looked at some nice three bedroom homes that were priced around $160k. Here in New England, we saw one single family home for the low low price of $160k. It turned out to be a seasonal two bedroom with no basement, no yard, and in fact, no kitchen...unless you consider shelves draped with a sheet to be cupboards, and a camper-size gas stove to be functional for feeding a family of four. And who needs counters or a dishwasher, anyway?
The same day, we saw a house for $200k that was also near a lake (in other words, likely to flood and situated in a crowded community with dirt roads and no available parking). This one was a newer home, with lovely wood floors, fancy bathroom fixtures, and cathedral ceilings. But it was a foreclosure - as many homes on the market are these days - and apparently when the occupants left, they literally took everything but the kitchen sink. If you look carefully at this picture, you can see what is left of the cupboards, but you can't tell that the counter is broken and a metal tube spouts out of the floor where a dishwasher may once have stood. Apparently there was a theme that day of kitchen-free houses. But I would like to know what on earth the homeowners did with the appliances, counters, and cupboards.
Another home in the same community, for the same price, at least had a kitchen. But the two "bedrooms" resembled walk-in closets; they fit a twin size bed and not much more. The tiny backyard featured poison ivy instead of grass, and a gravestone marked the burial site of a once beloved pet. I have been wanting a yard so that our children can play outside more freely, but digging up Fido's bones and acquiring painfully itchy rashes are not quite what I had in mind.
I have to say, I don't know how people shopped for houses before the invention of the Internet. With every property we have been interested in, Don and I could see detailed listings, look at it on Google Maps (including satellite and street view), find out what the home appraised for, and more. I am thankful for the technology that helped me to eliminate several homes without scheduling a showing, like two that were within a stone's throw of the interstate highway, and two others that had a river (prone to flooding and certainly not safe for the children) practically flowing through the backyard. Oh, and one of the riverside homes had a huge power grid on the other side. I know that we might not be able to afford our dream home right now, but we certainly are not going to spend our last penny to live between rushing water and rushing electricity. Of course, there are some things you don't find out until you visit in person, like the adorable cape that would have been almost perfect if my nearly six foot husband could walk in the basement and bedrooms without bumping his head on the ceiling.
The epitome of bad houses, and a sad picture of the housing market right now, was a once beautiful three bedroom home in a great neighborhood - within walking distance of our children's grandparents, in fact. It was set on a private lot with a big yard - a big, overgrown yard, full of oversize junk, and home to a friendly garter snake. If the torn up flooring, ripped off baseboard heaters, holes punched in the walls, and moldy ceilings weren't enough, there was a giant wasp's nest hanging off the back porch. By giant, I mean significantly larger than a basketball. Once again, this serious fixer-upper did not strike us as the ideal location to raise children. It actually reminded me a bit of the worst house we saw in Dallas, which was littered with dead cockroach bodies. I still shudder to think about that. We may complain about New England winters, but I think it is a worthwhile exchange not to have to contend with such horrifying creatures.
Lest you think our experiences are isolated, you can visit this blog for some hilarious (and sometimes scary) pictures. There have been more than a few occasions when Don and I commented on the usual, ugly, or positively useless pictures posted on real estate listings, and the Lovely Listing blog is simply a collection of such fodder. If any of my readers are thinking of selling their homes, I beg you to please hide your personal clutter before your realtor comes to take photos. And if your home has truly heinous decor, consider omitting the interior pictures, unless you want to find a familiar picture featured on the above blog someday.
On a more positive note, we recently had a much more productive house hunting trip, and even saw a few homes that seemed safe to live in, and did not need repairs equal to the purchase price. Only God knows if anything will come of it. Maybe He will give us a beautiful home with three real bedrooms, or at least two bedrooms with a respectable kitchen. Or maybe He will lead us to wait still longer. As hard as it is to wait, and to know that housing prices are quite possibly as low as they will ever be, I would take another few years in our apartment before I would wish for moldy ceilings, a poison ivy backyard, or a flooded basement. He has given us a good, safe place to live for right now. A grassy yard, a full-size kitchen, and a third bedroom would be nice to have, but they are far from essential. And I trust that Jehovah Jireh, our Provider, will supply our needs according to His perfect Will.
And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:19 NASB