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Friday, May 27, 2011

The housing story

So, knowing myself and my penchant for details, this is probably going to be a long post.  If you don't care to know the intimate details of our search for a house, I'd suggest you don't continue.  But for those who do continue, I promise to cut out some of the details.

The Beginning

It all started when BJ got a new job at Instructure.  We decided that this would be a great chance to a) shorten his commute and b) get into a real house.  We started looking at the Riverton/Herriman area for a few reasons.  1) BJ's parents live in Riverton and both of us have always loved the area.  Plus we'd be near family.  2) Herriman has some pretty cheap, but nice, houses.  There was a big building boom several years back … and then the market crashed.  Leaving a lot of people in houses they could no longer afford and brand new houses never sold.  Like, there are entire subdivisions that are empty.  Which means you can get things for a lot cheaper than elsewhere.  Plus, it's a general rule that the more west you get, the cheaper things get.  (Herriman, Eagle Mountain, Saratoga Springs, etc.)  3) We wanted something more central to the two valleys.  In BJ's field, it's common to switch jobs every 5-10 years.  So in 10 years if BJ takes up a job in Utah County, we don't want to have to move again.  So having middle ground was ideal.

The Agents

When we first started looking at houses online, we stumbled across Our Utah Homes. I registered for the site so I could see all the houses and started perusing.  A few hours later, Jeff called me.  He's the agent for that site, you see.  So we chit chatted, I told him what we wanted.  Life was great.  We decided we wanted to see some houses so we requested some showings through him.  We also made clear that we wanted to meet him before we made a decision on what agent to go with.  He was cool with that.  So he showed us 3 Riverton homes and we liked him.  He was great to keep in contact with us and answer our questions.

Meanwhile we talked to BJ's dad and asked if he had any recommendations for lenders.  (The guy who did ours last time is currently in Afghanistan.)  He recommended Box Home Loans. For people with excellent credit (like we have) the interest rates and closing costs are really low.  Which is excellent.  And as we talked to them, they mentioned that they have a preferred agent.  And guess what.  If we use that agent, Box will give us .05% of our purchase price off our closing costs.  So we met Lori of Utah Elite Prudential.  We told her about Jeff and that we were still choosing an agent.  So she took us out to Herriman to see some houses.

And then we had a decision.  And it was hard.  We liked both Lori and Jeff.  They were both very friendly and very competent.  Jeff has helped more buyers in the last year, but Lori has more resources for selling.  Jeff offered us 1.5% off our closing costs if we used him to both buy and sell.  Lori offered us 1%.  But we'd also get Box's 0.5%.  The difference?  Jeff's and Lori's discount both came from our selling price.  But Box's came from our purchase price.  Which was guaranteed to be higher than our selling price.  So from a strictly monetary perspective, Lori was the better choice.  So we went with Lori.  (Sorry Jeff!  We did like you!  And if anyone is looking for a buyer's agent, we'd still recommend him.  But then again, we'd also recommend Lori, too.)

The House Hunt

We decided to put Lori to work.  We started going out to look at houses every couple of days.  We looked in Herriman, in Riverton, in Daybreak, in Lehi, in South Jordan.  (Many, many thanks to everyone willing to watch Kessa while we went house hunting.  Especially BJ's parents who probably watched her 3/4ths of the time.  Except for the once when Kessa came with us and that was hilarious.  Turns out, she loves just running around in empty houses.  Up and down stairs.  In circles.  Shutting herself in closets.  Going outside.  Going inside.  And running in more circles.  But seriously, thanks so much everyone!)

We got really excited about Daybreak.  It has a lake!  And lots of parks!  And walking trails!  And a gym!  And schools!  And high-speed Internet!  And it's all paid for in our HOA!  And when BJ and I went and walked through it, it just felt charming!  And it was all Energy Star certified.  Lori went with us to Daybreak twice to look at model homes and under-construction homes and for-sale homes.  And then BJ decided it was too expensive and I decided it was too claustrophobic and not enough private land.  (I'm sorry, but I shouldn't be able to lean out my window and touch the neighbor's house.)  Maybe in another stage of life, but not this one.

And house hunting was HARD.  There were so many things we liked about one house but other things we didn't which we did like in another house.  And if we could just combine these two houses and put it on this lot, that would be great.  And we just never found anything we loved.  Many houses that we could be happy in, but shouldn't we love our new house?  Especially since it could maybe possibly end up being our forever home?

And then by coincidence?  fate?  one of the houses I had favorited and asked for a showing for turned out to not actually be a house, but rather a lot.  And the pictures I looked at were pictures of a house that could be built on that lot.  Which led us to looking at floor plans.  And into the most complicated part of our journey thus far.

To Build?

To give us an idea of the standard features and quality of Aspen Homes* (the company who owns the lot), Lori took us across the street from the lot for sale to a house that they were currently building.  The plan of the house we looked at is called the Nebo.  Lori told us up front that the house was way out of our price range.  We were just there to look at building quality and standard features.  So we walked in and said, "Yes.  This is way out of our price range."  But we still loved it. (Of course we loved it.  It was nice enough to be way out of our price range.  And turns out, houses get bigger and more open and nicer the higher the price.)  But we also really liked the standard features and building quality.  Tile comes standard!  And an A/C!  And all sorts of other good things.  So we decided to entertain the idea of building.  Lori gave us Aspen's floor plans and we went our separate ways.

We spent the next day pouring over floor plans.  But the problem was that they didn't have prices on them.  So next day we sat down with Lori and she called/texted Russell (the Aspen agent) several times to get our questions answered.  And guess what!  The Nebo actually was in our price range!  We were floored.  But we also liked the Timpanogos.  (I love that they're all named after Utah mountains.)  So we went and walked through a Timpanogos under construction.  And compared to the Nebo, it just wasn't big enough.  (Duh.  The Nebo was more expensive.  We went over this already.)  And if we could get the Nebo, why wouldn't we?

Oh, did I mention that this lot we were looking at was a half an acre?!  Yeah.  That was definitely a selling point.  I could have a great garden.  And a lovely yard.  And a flower garden.  Like, the old-school kind that you can walk through and have benches in.  And I could have chickens!**

So we met with Aspen.  And the beginning of the conversation made me feel much less hopeful.  Btw, that price doesn't include permits and fees.  Which in Lehi are about $24k.  (Yipes!)  And that's only if we can get a $50k lot.  Which the one you're looking at is a $65k lot.  Which with those two things puts it far out of our price range.  [sigh]  But if we could get it on a $50k lot, it would still be in our price range.  The high end of it sure, but still, our price range.  So we asked them for a list of their bank-owned lots that we could get for $50k.  Or the ones that Russell's friend owned.  They said they'd get them to us that night.

They sent Lori the wrong list.  She asked for the right list.  They'd get right on it and get it to us that day.  They didn't.  Nor the next day.  Despite her showing up in his office and his boss' office at least 4 times.  Oh, and his friend's lots which hadn't sold for ages, which is why we could get them so cheap had suddenly become popular and he was now selling them for $75k.  So, that was almost a week and a half ago and we still haven't gotten a list of lots.


Enter the other builders

Well, after 2 days of not getting that list, Lori said to herself, "Why are we waiting for them?  There are other builders out there."  So she called other builders and on Saturday we went out and talked to them.  First we went to a Salisbury open house.  And if we signed a contract that week they were giving all sorts of incentives.  But the development they currently had going up in Lehi had a high water table and thus they weren't building basements.  Nor did they include A/C in their standard features.  (What? People still do that?!  In Utah?!)  So we weren't really in love.

Oh, and prior to this we went and looked at some Edge homes that were still under construction.  And we found one that we could have loved (it even had a spot for a theater room downstairs!) and it had a huge park next door, except for two things.  1) The standard features were way lower.  Like instead of wooden shelves in the closets and pantry, they had wire racks.  No thanks. 2) One of those ginormous power lines went over the back yard.  The ones that attach to those giant metal poles.  And man, those wires crackled!  I think I would go insane staying outside for long.  [sigh]  It was really sad, too, because it was a much cheaper house.  But on our find-a-new-contractor day, we drove through the Edge development to look at the other lots, but they were all too small.  (We were hoping for at least .25 acres.)

So then we drove through the Patterson development.  And I was in love.  The houses were actually spaced decently far apart!  I didn't feel claustrophobic!  They were beautiful!  So Lori said she'd set up an appointment with them.

So we went home and browsed through their website and I fell in love.  All of their houses are Energy Star certified.  And they'd put us up in one of their rentals for free if our condo sold before our new house was built.  And they'd let us use a storage unit for free while we were in-between houses.  And their standard features included granite and tile/hardwood!  So many good things.

On Wednesday we went and met with them.  And they were wonderful to us.  They had done a bunch of legwork before we even got there to find us houses for us in our price range.  They were super nice.  They really were just wonderful.  And we loved them.  They sent us home with 4 floor plans:

The Shae, The Spring, The Massey, The Stratford D

We liked the Massey the best, so they found us one that had just been built but the owners hadn't moved in yet so that we could go see it.  So we did!  Last night!  And… at first we liked it.  There were things we didn't like (like the hallway was remarkably narrow) but we decided we could still be happy in it.  On our way home we decided that we should do it.  Oh, and the lot Patterson would give us was on .28 acres and really close to a park, the church, and an elementary school.

The decision

You didn't think this post would ever end, did you?  Well, I'm impressed you're still reading.  I promise, we're drawing nigh to an end.

Lori called me this morning to see how we felt about the Massey.  But I was helping Kristin so I promised to call her back.  During that time I did a lot of thinking about what I was going to tell her.  Because even though the night before we were like, "Yeah, let's do it!" I wasn't feeling so great about it anymore.  It was on the high end of our price range.  It was smaller than a lot of the houses we had looked at buying for a lot cheaper.  And with finished landscaping.  What did we gain by building it?  New appliances, sure.  I'd get to design my own landscaping, which would be fun.  But was it really worth that small of a house?  I felt like I was settling and paying more to do it.  So I told her so.

But I also told her of an idea BJ and I had had the night before.  So, remember Aspen?  The first building company?  Well, remember how we loved Nebo so much that nothing else compared?  But now that Nebo was out of sight, what about the Timpanogos?  So I asked her if we could go look at the Timpanogos again, just so we could compare it the Massey instead of the Nebo.  So we went out today.

And holy cow, it felt like a whole different house.  When not comparing it to something about $20k more expensive, it's actually a rather nice house.  4 finished bedrooms (including a large master bath and walk-in closet and vaulted ceilings in the master) and a spacious laundry room upstairs.  A mud room off the garage and a half bath (so kids could go outside and play, then come in to use the bathroom and not have to track dirt through the whole house).  A larger pantry than the Massey (but not a corner pantry, sadly), an island in the kitchen, a dining area with a big sliding glass door behind it (and right off the kitchen, so if I put my garden close, I would have really easy access), a large family room and a study!  (With the Nebo or the Massey we'd have to convert one of the 3 finished bedrooms into an office and be forced into finishing our basement faster.)  And it's got a big covered porch with room for 2 rocking chairs!  (So quaint!)  Or a swinging bench!  And underneath that spacious porch is a spacious cold storage!  Would you rather see a floor plan?  I thought so.

K, so remember that their website is dumb and they don't have the floor plan online.  And my scanner is broken, so I can't just scan it in.  So I used my built-in camera on my computer.  So here is my low-quality version of the Timpanogos floorplan.  (Keep in mind that there is a basement not shown.  It'll be the same size and shape as the main floor, minus the garage.)

And the house we went and looked at actually had the upstairs rearranged.  And we like it better.  But there's no way I'm going to even attempt to describe it.  So hopefully we can just do what they did with no/minimal extra charge.

But here's the great thing.  If we do this floor plan on the .5 acre lot (CHICKENS!), even including the $24k in permits and fees, we'll still spend about $5-10k less than on the Massey.  And get more finished space!  (Though, admittedly, a smaller basement, too.)  And more land!  And we realized that we really and truly are excited about this option.  So we told Lori to make it happen.


And Russell told her today that that was the house they had originally planned on building there, so they've already done some of the engineering work for it.  And we don't know if that'll cut our costs or not, but at the very least it should save some time.

Our biggest strike against this decision is working with Aspen who didn't deliver the lot list for a week (but they really were helpful before that!) and turning down Patterson who was amazing to us.  Maybe in future, when we build our forever home (Timpanogos might end up being our forever home, but I doubt it) we'll go with Patterson.  Cuz we really, really liked them.  So now we're crossing our fingers that Aspen will also turn out to be awesome.  Because we're really excited about this idea of that specific lot with this house on it.

Wish us luck!

*Their website is actually not fantastic. At all. But I'm really hoping that it's simply in process and not just that their website is horrible.

** So, although I've had the idea of someday owning chickens in the back of my mind for some time now, it's never been anything that has come out in conversation with BJ. So when I saw it was a half an acre and could have CHICKENS! and started listing that as a pro every time that lot got mentioned, BJ was a little surprised. And now I say it more as a joke than anything, because it makes him laugh. Sure, he's laughing at me, but he's still laughing. And I like BJ laughing. :)

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

Hi, former co-worker of BJ (and Board reader) here - I find these stories very interesting because my wife and I went through exactly this quite recently. We looked at several of the same developments too. We liked Richmond's Alison, but ended up going with Edge's 1450. We considered the lot you mentioned, but rejected it for the same reason (crackly power lines), and grabbed a lot four or five houses away--compromising instead on a north-facing driveway. We moved in about two weeks ago.

All this time, my wife has still been getting email notifications of houses for sale in our price range (since she never bothered to turn them off), and we still haven't seen anything better. You'd think with the tens of thousands of houses around, the perfect one exists _somewhere_. (I suppose it does, but is not for sale.)