Sibylle and I are buying a house. Our house.
After spending much of the summer looking at various houses for sale, and realizing that our needs are specific, and not typical, we decided to look into building a house. We are two people with a piano studio as opposed to a family looking for bedrooms.
At one house-for-sale we were in the walk-out family room on the lower level talking about removing walls to make the family room large enough to house the studio comfortably. We came to the realization that a walk-out lower level with a large enough room would make a fantastic studio space. It’s included in the house yet separate from the other public and private spaces. The problem with houses-for-sale is that the lower level is almost always finished; it would therefore require some time, effort and expense to convert into a suitable studio space.
At another showing we both liked the listing agent enough to ask her to be our buyer’s agent. Eileen has been fantastic to work with and introduced us to a new development on the west edge of town that features walk-out lower levels and very nice houses. Houses that are still being built. Houses where we could, if the time was right, influence the layout of the lower level so that we had a perfect studio space from day one.
Eileen knew of a house that was nearly finished that met our studio-in-the-walk-out-lower-level requirement, and seemed to meet our other requirements. The house in question had already been purchased but it would give us a taste of what was possible. We both loved the layout and attention to detail. And the walk out lower level was nearly perfect without any alterations. The builder, Lon Swift, had several other lots in the same sub-division and we immediately started pouring over the house plans; and dreaming.
One potential lot backed onto a watershed, a small ravine actually, which would create a very secluded feeling. The lot was half an acre in total size, making it one of the largest on the street. Unfortunately due to the watershed there was a 40 foot drainage easement in addition to the typical 10 foot utility easement. Subtracting the area given up to the easements brought the lot size down to just over three tenths of an acre.
One evening while we were out survey and pondering and thinking aloud, Sibylle walked up to the corner, and came away with a new appreciation for another lot the builder owned. The first two houses (the nearly complete one that we had walked through, and its neighbor on the half acre lot) are located on a U-shaped street that is higher at the ends of the U and lower along the bottom of it’s curve. This adds to the seclusion, but also limits any potential view.
By walking up to the corner, where the U joins the main street, Sibylle discovered that there was a fantastic view. We shifted our attention to this third lot, which at the time had just a poured foundation. While this lot would have houses behind it, they would be lower (and single story) meaning we’d have a good view of the horizon to the east, south and a little west. This third house faces more or less north, and has the garage on the northwest corner, which nicely shelters the bulk of the house from the worst of the winter weather.
By the time we decided we wanted to pursue this house the framing was started and then complete. Some of the things we had hoped to do (larger shower, slightly larger laundry room) would now require redoing some of the framing. Eileen pointed out that another lot owned by the builder, on the U, but nearly at the top of the arm, would have a good view to the east and south. Since it hadn’t even had its foundation dug we could customize it with less difficulty.
We were torn, going back and forth in our discussions. Finally we decided we liked the overall location of the partially framed house best, and were willing to pay a little extra for the re-framing we wanted. Armed with a list of prices for the customizations we wanted we crafted an offer and submitted it through our realtor, Eileen. The total for the changes we wanted added nearly fifteen thousand dollars in cost to the house. The builder wanted an equal amount in the form of a non-refundable deposit to offset the risk of our not being able to complete the purchase. Many of the things we wanted would have to be removed or undone to make the house closer to specifications, which the builder felt he would have to do in order to sell it.
Our banker, and our realtor were very nervous about making such a large non-refundable deposit, especially in light of needing to get a very favorable valuation from the appraiser. Should the appraiser come in low, the bank would refuse to lend us the full cost of the house and we would have to make up the difference. We were disappointed and more than a little frustrated with the process by now. Adding to our stress was a trip I made to Illinois for my father’s 85th birthday – I was without Internet access and couldn’t read the builder’s counter offer.
The Sunday evening before Labor Day, and throughout the day Labor Day we exchanged emails with our realtor, asking questions and debating what to do. We crafted a new offer with a vastly reduced set of customizations, bringing the builder’s deposit requirement down to a far more manageable $4,000. During the process our realtor, and his, managed to convince him that we had a legitimate concern about the appraisal. Much to our surprise he lowered his asking price $1,000, meeting us more than half way between our initial offer and his initial counter offer.
With a signed contract in the works we headed off to the bank to start the mortgage process. After signing our names perhaps a dozen times we had satisfied our first contractual obligation, that of applying for financing within five business days of the contract being signed. Since then we have handed over our earnest money (refundable) and our deposit (not refundable).
We also spent a morning in Topeka with the builder and his interior design person selecting tile colors and styles for the kitchen floor and backsplash, for the master bathroom, upstairs bathroom, downstairs half bath, the fireplace surround, and the downstairs patio door entrance. We also selected the cabinet color and door styles for the kitchen cabinets, and bathrooms. And we selected the wood flooring style and color, and the carpeting for the stairs and lower level.