We Choose a House

The last time Lifelongnewyorker and Mr. NYer bought a house, the decision process wasn’t all that complicated.  We looked at a bunch of houses, no more than eight.  We found one we liked that was really really close to where I worked, and up the block from Mr. NYer’s oldest friend.  We were looking in January, 1983, when the average mortgage rate was hovering around 14 percent.  This house came with an assumable VA mortgage at 9 percent.

And that pretty much sums up the calculus that went into the decision to buy our house.  We saw it, we made an offer, they countered and we accepted.  Three months later we moved in and discovered, among other surprises, that the removal of pipes during a kitchen expansion resulted in the bathroom having no heat, and that the oven worked only if you draped an extension cord over the sink and plugged it into an outlet on the other side of the kitchen.

This time, put in charge of the search, I marshalled my considerable analytic and Internet skills to thoroughly vet the choices.  No way I was taking the heat for a bad choice, so Mr. NYer, despite being one thousand miles away, was going to get involved whether he enjoyed it or not.

Much of my spare time in December and January was spent reviewing the MLS listings on our realtor’s website.  I particularly liked the map feature that showed not merely location but also street-level and birds’ eye views.  After about 40 days of house-surfing, I sent a list of about a twenty candidates to the realtor.

We logged in a full 8-hour day one Sunday visiting those houses, with me taking pictures and scribbling notes.  That night, I whittled the list down to about five or six contenders and spent hours developing a spreadsheet to help Mr. NYer compare them.

Column A listed the categories I thought would help us both weigh the choices, from structure to yard/garden to good for entertainment.  I used paired cells to rate each on a scale of P (poor) to EX (excellent) and to enter short descriptions and pithy analyses like these:

  • Cosmetics: “Needs paint, removal of lots of wallpaper.”
  • Kitchen: “Redone tastefully; up-to-date; granite.”
  • Dining Room: “Would our furniture work?”
  • Bathrooms: “One fab, two good.”
  • Bedrooms: “Three.  One is upholstered; one is outside.”
  • Parking: “In back; porte cochere on side.”
  • Windows: “Painted shut.”

Off the excel went to Mr. NYer, along with MLS numbers so he could see the pictures.  In a series of phone calls over two or three days, we went through the six homes.  When we were done, I asked, “So, what do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think.”

Right, then.  This led  to the second round of house visits, more photos and worksheet number two for four  houses.  This time I added numbers — asking price, likely selling price, days on market, price per square foot, estimated monthly mortgage, insurance, utilities and taxes.  I included a section listing possible future improvements and the likely cost.  For the analyses/comments, I created about 65 categories and divided them into eight large groupings, from Exterior to Master Suite, to Cats.

From this we got down to three houses.  I revisited again, and produced worksheet number three.  Another round and I added color-coding and numerical ratings for worksheet  number four.

By this time, Mr. NYer was numbed by my considerable analytic skills and begged me to just pick a house.  Well, not quite, but we narrowed it down to three and then eliminated one.  Unfortunately we eliminated a different one each time we talked.

All in all, the process  lasted nearly three weeks, about 21 times  as much time and effort as went into our decision to buy our house on Staten Island.  But we finally agreed and last Wednesday I called the realtor and made an offer.

So, dear readers, we have chosen our new home in Montgomery.

It’s not the 1925 with lots of charm–proximity to a busy road, high utilities, and upholstered bedroom from which we’d have to banish the cats overcame our attraction to the piazza and the lovely french doors.

Nor is it the 1945 with the fabulous addition of open kitchen, great room, master suite and tranquil back deck.  The meth house next door, coupled with the perpetually soggy yard and the owner’s records of substantial foundation work scared us.  Montgomery is known for something called “gumbo soil.”  My engineer niece consulted  with a geo-guy in her firm and he said it’s nasty stuff.

Patio and Living Room Door/windows

Inside living room

The winner is the new construction, with drilled-pier foundation, two-car garage, huge kitchen, jacuzzi bath in the master, two guest bedrooms, each with its own bath, and–the coup de grace–an elevator.  I’d rather have closets instead, but what are you gonna do?

Lifelongnewyorker is feeling a bit rattled, knowing how fast/slow and final the next few weeks will be.  We’ve got a  lot to do:  choose fixtures and appliances; set a date with the movers; fly north (me); close on the Staten Island house; load the car and cage the cats; drive a thousand miles and hope the mid-Atlantic doesn’t get another colossal snow storm; close on the house in Montgomery; wait for the movers; settle in.  Uncage the cats.

And I ask myself just this one question:  How did we make decisions before spreadsheets?

A lot faster.

New house entrance

The entrance to the new house is on the right.

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7 Responses

  1. its ADORABLE!!! Can’t wait to visit!

  2. Love it and was hoping that this would be the one you would choose!

  3. Quite the process! It looks lovely and “new” would have been the major factor for me, I hope you are both very comfortable and happy there.

  4. I think your realtor is a saint!
    Seriously, it looks and sounds beautiful. And that gumbo stuff sounds like it would have been a nightmare…

  5. Great post (especially the last couple of sentences! lol), and what a pretty house. It looks lovely!

    You and a friend of mine would get along. She also used detailed Excel spreadhsheets in her househunt.

    Great house. Congratulations! I don’t often comment but I always read and enjoy your blog.

    Gail (Hoch) O’Connor, NDA ’88 (your pregnant-with Abanadoned-years, to answer an earlier post).

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