There are a lot of factors that go into a home purchase. There are the simple ones, like the number of bedrooms and bathrooms your family desires. Then there are more complicated ones, like what compromises are you willing to make on your wish list to get to the price and location you want.
I started looking at real estate options in central KY just out of curiosity in June. I knew we wanted 4 bedrooms and at least 2 bathrooms, but it would probably be more like 2.5 bathrooms (master bathroom, kids’ bedroom bathroom, and a powder room on the first floor for guests). We knew we wanted a 2 car garage, which worked out well for us in our RVA house.
Then there’s more trivial things that I learned from experience. I preferred the master bedroom to be on the second floor with the kids bedrooms. When we built our RVA house, we didn’t think it would be too much to have the kids on a separate floor. Well, we made that decision before we had kids, and it turns out that having infants doesn’t make it easy to sleep on a separate floor. Yes, I had monitors. But kids are noisy. So once I ‘kicked’ them out of my bedroom, I didn’t want to have a monitor right next to my head to still be kept up by all their little squeaky noises through the night.
Our RVA house had a loft upstairs. It had a ‘wow’ factor to it, but it wasn’t practical. We used it as a den before we had kids, and then it was hard to keep it organized and clean once kids came around. Therefore, we put a basement on our must have list, and we weren’t going to compromise on that. We knew from our living style that a basement was going to be something we’d enjoy for a long time and didn’t want to take that off our list just yet.
We had a lot of criteria associated with the lot. We wanted about 0.25 acres. We felt that 0.5 an acre was more land than we really wanted, but anything less than 0.25 acres wasn’t going to leave enough room for multiple kids and a large dog to enjoy. We want to be in a neighborhood with several neighbors close, but we want more room than a garbage can width between the houses.
One of the sad parts of the house we were leaving behind was the backyard. We had a really nice natural area in the back half of our yard. We had put a firepit in and had a beautiful tree-scape back there, but still had a decent size grassy area for the kids and dog to play. Another downside for leaving was that the playground and pavilion (hang out space) for the HOA were two lots away.
When Mr. ODA and I got pre-approved for our first home back in 2012, we were approved for $750,000. Sure, we could afford that monthly payment, but then we couldn’t afford food or furniture or electricity. We had set our spending limit based on our down payment available at the time because we didn’t want to pay PMI. For this purchase, we could have afforded a monthly payment associated with a $500k house (or more), but that size house isn’t necessary for our life right now and we didn’t want to be saddled with that down payment.
I’ve already quit my job. Mr. ODA expects to quit his job in the near future. We don’t want to have him quit his job to hang out in an expensive house and never be able to do anything else because we need to pay $2,500 per month for a mortgage.
When looking at houses, we’re fluid in the cost. We preferred to stay below $400k, unless there was something we could get for more than that making it worth it (e.g., more land, more amenities). We found out that we could get everything we wanted for $350-400k, so it would have been hard for us to go higher than that.
When you’re pre-approved by a bank, they’re looking at your debt to income ratio. Your debt is categorized by your routine monthly payments (e.g., car loan). We don’t have any loans or debt payments in that sense, so they’ve set our pre-approval almost solely based on our income. This is a faulty expectation in a homeowner’s reality, since we all have fairly fixed monthly costs: cable, internet, cell phone, electricity, gas, water, etc. Then you have the cost of groceries and entertainment that may or may not be on a credit card and able to be tracked against your credit. Essentially, we don’t need a bank to tell us what we can afford, and we set our own expectations.
We know what we have for a down payment and closing costs, and we know that we’d prefer to pay $1200-1500 per month for our mortgage, which includes our escrowed real estate taxes and insurance.
We got a 5 bedroom, 3 bathroom (with another bathroom roughed in for the basement), 2,750 square foot house with an unfinished basement, on about a 8,500 square foot lot. The basement is not a walk-out, which we were bummed about, but at least we have the space we wanted. The lot is slightly smaller than we set out looking for, but because our house is really wide and not deep, we actually ended up with a nice size back yard, which was really the intention of our lot size desire. Our house cost about $346k.
FINDING THE HOUSE
We looked in Lexington, KY first, and we explored resales and new construction. The neighborhood I was really interested in was sold out in one section or over $500k for a new-build in another section, so I started over. For resales in Lexington, we were looking at houses that were about 30 years old and needed updating. I really wish I had an eye for the potential in some homes. When I started investigating the new construction market, I realized that we could have a new build house for the same price as the resales that needed work. Most of the neighborhoods in Lexington have the houses on top of each other too, which we really didn’t want. We like neighbors, but we also want to be able to walk between the houses.
Through July, I tried to figure out the new construction market in the area. I thought I had a head start since we had built our house in Virginia a few years ago, but the process for these Central KY builders was much different. It was hard to stomach the fact that their build time was 11-12 months, and growing. We had built our house in Virginia in less than 4.5 months from contract signature to move in.
I looked up the different floor plans for as many builders as I could find. One builder had very large, but partitioned off, floor plans. Another builder had options available in Richmond, KY, and another builder had those options available for a year from now. I found a deal being offered by one of the builders in Richmond, KY that said “last basement lot of this section – free finished basement.”
I reached out to the listing agent. She took me on a virtual tour of the floor plan I liked, and it was by far my #1 contender. I asked her what “free finished basement” meant, and she said they’d cover the basement and finishing it. I verified several times – a $50k value??? Well, Richmond, KY wasn’t my preferred location, but hard to beat this deal. Plus, that neighborhood was just starting to be built, and we really liked being at the beginning of our last neighborhood’s build out. The listing agent put together a contract, but didn’t mention this deal. I said I wasn’t signing anything that didn’t have that in there. She added it, and then said she had to wait for her boss (the company owner) to come back to town in a couple of days to go over the details. Well, the deal was too good to be true. The deal was that we paid for the basement pour, but they paid to finish it. This deal was going on because the lot was less than favorable, so between the poor lot and less of an incentive, we walked away. That floor plan is still my favorite though, and if we ever move again, it’ll be hard not to go back to that builder. Also, they have the laundry room connected to the master closet or bathroom in their floor plans, and this is the most logical, amazing thing that I had even pointed out in our last house as something that should have been done.
Well, now I was getting desperate. How are we going to find something that we can move into? Maybe we’ll have to wait to list our house in Spring of 2021 because we’ll only find something to build that’s several months out. I’m very grateful that we found something when we did and didn’t have to wait until Spring of 2021 when housing prices have risen so much!
I had tried to get more information for a house that was under construction. We couldn’t change anything, but it was mostly ok. I didn’t love the tile in the bathrooms. The house layout was manageable, but it had a lot of wasted space (we don’t need a sitting room in the master bedroom or a formal living room). The house had a walk-out basement and was part of a neighborhood that had golf and a pool. It was also $393k. Affordable, but not what we were looking for. The lot was over 10k square feet, which is something we wanted. We asked Mr. ODA’s parents to go check it out. They went to see it and were quick to say no. I’m glad they did, and that I didn’t settle. We want our kids to ride their bikes in the driveway and street, and this house is on a greatly sloped hill (like recently rode our bikes down it, and I was scared).
I kept looking. We mostly were looking around Lexington, KY, but not within Lexington because of the lot spacing. We considered several re-sales in Winchester, Georgetown, and Richmond. They all were about $400k and not perfect, so it was hard to jump in.
At the end of July, a house popped up on my search. It was new construction and had been under contract, designed by someone that had to go with a different house because this one was significantly delayed. It was being built by the builder that had 11-12 month lead time on newly constructed homes, a builder without a good reputation, even to me, someone who didn’t grow up in the area. I requested the ‘spec list’ so I could see if there were any deal breakers in the design and selections.
I had hoped for white kitchen cabinets, and these were dark. I loved that there was a covered deck and that the already-selected upgrades to the floor plan were exactly what I would have selected (e.g., mudroom, guest suite, laundry room location, master bathroom layout). It had a pit basement. It was in the area we wanted; it was on a flat part of the road; and it could be ready before next year. The light fixtures were more eclectic than we would have chosen, but those weren’t a deal breaker.
We were told that it was probably going to be ready at the beginning of November. We figured a mid-August list on our home may take a week or 2 to get under contract, and then usually you see a 45 day close (versus our push for 25-30 days usually on rental purchases). We thought we may have a couple of weeks to bridge between selling our home and getting into the new house. Nope.
This was just as the bidding wars were really ramping up and people were losing out on 20-bid type offers on listings. Our house was under contract at the end of the first weekend. They wanted a 3 week close, and we pushed it to 4 weeks. That left 7 weeks of us being ‘homeless,’ which I covered in Part I.
This is very specific to our needs and desires, but I hope that the thought process and ‘give and take’ in the decision making can be helpful to some. This information is also geared towards the Central KY market, and what you get for the price of a house in different areas of the country varies.
While we’ve had several issues with our home in the first six months, we’re happy to be in KY with family, the location of our house, and the general feel and functionality that it’s given us.