Thanksgiving, when you don’t think about the historic complexity of the holiday, is a wonderful day when a good deal of people are off and you have an excuse to share a meal and maybe even reflect on some of the goodness in your life.
I am thankful for good health, a husband who is my great friend and a baby who we are a little too obsessed with. I am also grateful for all the hope that this next year holds.
We were invited to a dear friend’s house and feasted as one should on Thanksgiving. I made these tandoori sweet potato fries which were a hit. The biggest highlight for me was that Nouri took a few of her first steps!
Here are some pictures from yesterday splattered with some of the cheesiest quotes I could find on Good Reads. Enjoy!
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
“It has been said that life has treated me harshly; and sometimes I have complained in my heart because many pleasures of human experience have been withheld from me…if much has been denied me, much, very much, has been given me…”
“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.”
Although finding a house has a lot of fun and exciting aspects, there are definitely less glamorous aspects as well. For instance- the home inspection. We didn’t know much about the inspection process, so we were pretty shocked at the length of the list of issues in the house. After talking to a few friends, I felt reassured that such lengthy lists were normal, especially when dealing with a house that was built in the 50s.
After we absorbed the initial shock of the inspection list, we had a call with our real estate agent to go over our must haves and asks. We would submit a list of the things we wanted fixed or credited and they would get back to us with what they could or couldn’t do.
Our agent advised us not to ask for too much. Since the DMV area is a sellers market, buyers can get very competitive, often offering tens of thousands above list price to make sure they get the house. Although there was another buyer in the picture, we didn’t feel threatened enough to be too conservative in our asks. From our perspective, we had shown good faith by offering full list price, now we wanted the seller to show some good faith back as well.
We asked for all the major things on the list to be repaired: the HVAC issues, the plumbing issue, the electric issues and the chimney. The buyers came back and told us to shove it. Just kidding. They were willing to work with us but didn’t want to take on all of the work since they were both older and looking to unload the house quickly. They agreed that our agent could bring in someone to prepare an estimate for all the work that would need to be done. After we had that estimate, we went back to the buyers. They initially came back with a lower number but this time we held firm and were eventually able to get most of it.
The inspection is a wonderful tool for a buyer. I had such peace of mind after getting it and since most of the things aren’t very major, we can work through them on our own timeline. Get an inspector that comes highly recommended and is experienced. The inspector is worth every cent you pay because most likely you will get far more than you paid him or her in your negotiations with the seller.
My dream home is a ranch. It has three bedrooms and a guest house in the back. It has an open floor plan with tons of windows everywhere. The kitchen, dining and family room all flow into each other.
Let me tell you about the house we bought.
It is three stories, five bedrooms, has an awkward kitchen, a small family room and NO dining room.
So, why did we buy this house? It was because it had a lot of the key things we were looking for that I discussed in yesterday’s post. The location is good, the neighborhood seems amazing and it has generally good bones.
Also, when we were searching for this house we weren’t looking for our forever home. We wanted a house that would let us enter the world of home ownership without too much stress. Something affordable and livable from the day we moved in. The house has a lot of cosmetic things I want to change but I can do them one project at a time as budget and schedule allow.
Best of all, I can share that journey here. I want to see if it is possible to create the house of your dreams on a reasonable budget and without too much stress. Sounds impossible but I’m up for the task!
So, lets take a look at the house!
I have longed dreamed of having a home with a beautiful entryway. With black and white striped hooks to hang coats on. A built in shoe rack that hides shoes away. Maybe some eclectic artwork on the walls?
Oh, that’s a kitchen you say?
That’s ridiculous! Why would your house open into a kitchen? Maybe because your house was put on the lot backwards? Yes, friends. The back of the house is the front of the house in our place. So, although we do have a door that opens into the family room, the main entry for the house opens into the kitchen.
Otherwise the kitchen is ok. It has nice, new appliances and cabinets and has very recently been redone. Unfortunately it was not remodeled at all how I would have done it. In my own remodel, the cabinets would be white, smooth and have modern fixtures. The backsplash would be a bright color(s) and not that terrible pattern. The counters would be a white marble or wood. And for the love of God, the faucet would be able to detach to wash huge dishes.
I know people are loving on the sterling silver appliances but I just don’t like them. I would have liked to have brought in a vintage dishwasher and stovetop but I can’t justify doing a kitchen remodel right on top of a kitchen remodel so we are going to live with this unless we decide to live in the house for more than ten years.
The family room is on the other side of the kitchen. I know some people love fireplaces but we don’t really care for them. I love how cozy fires are but they are not really worth the trade off of potentially draining heat from your house, the huge mess they can cause and the great expense of keeping your chimney swept and in good order.
See all the locks on the ‘front’ door? I’ll tell you a good story about that one day.
See the door peeking out behind the curtains? That would me the more natural entry point but there is no clear path to that door from the outside. That might be something we add once we tackle the outside landscaping but for now, that door is just going to stay bolted and unused.
This house has rooms for days. Since five bedrooms are more than we practically need and I really love having a dining room, one of the rooms will be ‘converted’ into a dining room. Meaning I will put a dining table in it.
Have you been noticing the terrible wall color? This was another thing that was freshly done and I felt bad spending a bunch of money on it when it didn’t necessarily have to change. My mom said to wait a few years and let the kids mess up the walls and then go ahead and get something freshly done. That way I would value it more and I wouldn’t have to worry too much about the walls while the kid(s) are young.
At the moment, I would love to take gallons and gallons of paint and just do the whole place in a nice dove grey but I think waiting will also help me get a better feel for what colors will go well with the light in each of the rooms.
The house also has a half finished basement, two full bathrooms and a lot of outdoor space- all of which I don’t have pictures handy. But as I work my way through each of the rooms in the house, you’ll get to peek into those rooms as well.
This house is far from the dream house I want to live in but I’m still glad we bought it. It doesn’t give us any major headaches, it is in a great neighborhood with awesome schools and neighbors and it has good appreciation potential.
This summer, when we started to think more seriously about buying a house, we decided to meet up with our real estate agent one weekend to see what was out there. With a baby who was fighting her nap time and a list of ten houses, we knew the day could go in any which direction.
We ended up seeing four houses and genuinely only liked the last one. We just weren’t ready to pull the trigger on an offer after one day of house hunting so we told our agent we would need to think about it and probably needed to see some more houses. During the week, a couple who had been out to see the house three times put an offer on it. Although we felt pressure to put an offer in, we knew we couldn’t feel good about doing that without waiting a bit longer.
By the next weekend, the house was not only still on the market, but the sellers had dropped the price by 10k. The other buyer was still in the picture as we set out on our second outing to look at houses. We saw two other houses and they both had major flaws. We found ourselves back at the house we were considering and after a second slow walk through, we felt good about moving on the offer. I learned the importance of five things during our short house hunting process.
You have to trust you real estate agent, especially if you are looking for your first house. Even though we have rented loads of properties, we don’t have the eye that comes with decades of experience looking at houses. Our agent could quickly look at a house and tell if it was priced above or below market, whether the renovation was well done or a quick sloppy job. He could assess things like resale potential and school districts without too much effort. As first time homebuyers, we may not have even have thought of some of the things he brought up, so having him there with us was an invaluable resource.
Our agent was very responsive to our questions about the houses he sent us and came to tour days with an itinerary outlining the houses we would see. He pushed us hard on the house that we bought because he knew that it was a good house, in a good neighborhood, in good condition at a good price. We were able to see these virtues but as first time buyers, our thoughts were that if we found something good right away, maybe we would find something even better if we just looked a while longer. At a fork like that, you have to be able to trust your agent and feel confident that he is looking out for your interest and not just trying to make a buck. Because our agent was referred to us by my boss and was a longtime friend of hers, I felt a bit more easy about relying so heavily on his advice. We decided to be aggressive and offer the list price instead of trying to negotiate. A part of me cringes at the thought that we left money on the table but I didn’t want to risk still being on the market six months later while dreaming about the one that got away
We picked our location based on closeness to a town center, public transportation, parks and affordability. By moving out of the very expensive neighborhood we currently live in, we are going to be saving a great deal on our rent while still having access to all the things that made us love where we live now.
When we first started to consider looking for a house, the advice that I heard most often was that you can change everything about your house except its location so make sure that is something you are happy with. Once you roughly know where you want to live, learn everything you can about that area. Stalk Zillow for a few months so you become familiar with the pricing and expectations for that location. Keep an eye on how fast houses that you like go. In more competitive markets, you need to be ready to pull the trigger the day you see the house and you will feel much better doing that if you have a strong sense of what a good price and good house in that area look like.
For people like us, who want to be a part of the community and friends with our neighbors, the neighborhood we live in is probably one of the most important parts of our home search. While we were looking at the house we ultimately put an offer on, one of the neighbors came out and introduced herself to us. She welcomed us into her house to show the differences in the house we were looking at and her house which hadn’t been expanded like our potential home. Her sweet daughter cooed over Nouri and told us how she loved growing up on the cul de sac. We learned many of the neighbors are friends and there is even a little neighborhood band. It honestly felt like we were in a staged scene written just for us. The number one reason we decided to go with the house we did was that interaction with the neighbor.
We also wanted Nouri to have a diverse neighborhood to grow up in. Although we love Bethesda, we have found our particular neighborhood lacking in diversity. Our new neighborhood has a great diversity rating with many of the residents having been born overseas or being multilingual. Neighborhoodscout.com has some good facts and figures on neighborhoods if you don’t want to go knocking on each door to see who lives there.
Beyond things like school district, walkability and safety, you also want to consider where your neighborhood is headed. Is there new development that could considerably increase the value of homes in the next five to ten years? If so, you could be sitting on a gold mine. Have the prices topped out and you might not see a profit for decades? That might be a factor if this isn’t going to be your forever home.
Whether you want a house that is move in ready or something that you can renovate for years to come, you want your house to have good bones. For me, this means having a solid foundation, a new roof and lots of light. A structurally sound house will save you tons of headache and money in the long run. Your inspector should know what big ticket repairs are and give you a good sense of what you are walking into.
Get every penny you can for big and small repairs. This may be the last time you will be able to get something for free for the property you are purchasing. You want as many tools in your belt as possible before embarking on the grand journey of home ownership.
Don’t Sweat It
It seems a lot of people get very stressed and overwhelmed at the prospect of buying a house. If the idea of owning a house seems oppressive and brings on bouts of panic attacks, it might not be right for you. If you are genuinely excited about buying a house, enjoy the process! When it gets overwhelming, take a break and return when you are ready to tackle it again. Just like finding the right partner, finding the right house requires a certain leap of faith. Once you have done all your due diligence, you will be in good shape when you find the one.
If I started to write about how this past week has made me feel as a Muslim American, I am afraid I would not be able to stop and eventually I would drown in my own tears- tears shed for those of my fellow Americans who denigrate this wonderful country with their hate, their prejudice and their fundamental disrespect of both Constitutional and humanitarian values. Instead, I will just leave a few images that have been floating around my Facebook feed here.