Thursday, October 4, 2012

House Week Part 4: Offers and Decisions

After reading yesterday's post, if you thought that finding houses to see was bad, imagine what it was like trying to decide which one you liked enough to buy! Buying a house isn't as easy as simply walking in to Macy's or M&S, trying on a pair of shoes, deciding whether they fit, go with your outfit, and are good value, and simply taking them to the register to pay. Each property we saw was unique, and we went through a complex set of negotiations and emotions individually and separately to come to a decision about whether to make an offer on a specific one.

The process is something like this:
  • See a property – viewings tend to be around 15-20 minutes, shorter if you hate it, longer if you love it
  • Decide whether you like it enough to see it again
  • Schedule a second viewing
  • Make an offer
  • Negotiate
  • Either your offer is accepted or rejected
But the process is rarely that straightforward. Sometimes an estate agent shows you around. Sometimes the owner shows you around. Sometimes you see something in pictures that you love and when you walk inside you hate it. Little things about a place can colour your opinion; I remember this one maisonette had this tiny little bathroom off a stairway landing, and I refused to consider buying it because of that one particular feature. Sometimes you'll go away to think about the house and call the estate agent back and find out it's already gone, just hours after you saw it. Sometimes you'll see something and it will make you reconsider what you thought you wanted. The whole thing is so subjective that you really have no idea what you want until you see it.

The Irishman and I made offers on 3 houses before we ended up in the one we eventually bought. Two of them were what I called "granny" houses; these are period houses that have been lived in by families for the past 4-5 decades and haven't been updated since about 1965. The generation of my grandmother is still living in their homes, often widowed, and can no longer keep up the house. The upside of these treasure troves is that you can get them quite cheaply compared to properties that have been recently redone as buyers would go into them, have a look at the horrid wallpaper, and think "I don't want to do this job." We wanted to do that job, so we hoped to find an amazing home at a fraction of the price. The downside of these homes is that often there was a decade or so of neglect, and you got what you paid for; roofs, floors, even whole electric wiring systems had to be replaced in both houses we made offers on before we could even move into them.

We lost both of those houses, one because someone offered £35,000 more than we did and the other because even though we offered more than the other party they were a cash buyer – nothing trumps a first-time buyer besides a cash buyer. In both cases, in retrospect we were glad that we didn't end up with those homes. The sheer amount of money we would have had to pour into them to renovate them up to a liveable standard – just liveable, not even to a specific design aesthetic – would have exhausted all of our resources for the foreseeable future. We both borrowed funds from our respective parents for our downpayment (more on that tomorrow) and it's already looking tight to pay that back; had we gotten either granny house, we wouldn't have seen either of those parents for quite a few years we'd be so cash strapped.

The third property we offered on was a ground floor maisonette that featured a 70' south-facing back garden. When you start shopping for a house, you start to learn things like south-facing gardens are the best because they get light all day and into the evening; west-facing is a close second but doesn't have the morning sun, and north-facing gardens are the worst. So this lovely garden was full of grass and flower beds and even had a shed in the back! The rooms were a good size and the kitchen opened into a lovely sitting room with a great big fireplace. The downstairs bedrooms were just okay; I felt like I would have wanted to knock down all of the walls and redo them because they were all odd sizes. The third bedroom wasn't even really a bedroom, more of a study, but would have been okay for sewing. We made on offer on that house that was initially accepted but then the estate agent called back ten minutes later to say someone else had offered more so they were going into a closed bid: highest price won the house. Despited being convinced the jerk estate agent actually called another interested party to tell them the house was going at a certain price, we quickly scheduled a second viewing to decide how high we were going to go with our bid. On closer inspection we decided that actually we really didn't like the house that much, and it wasn't worth more than the prices that had been rejected. We decided not to bid on it, and let it go.

At one point around the end of March / early April, we got pretty down about the whole process. We'd lost out at two homes by now and were bickering over the houses we were seeing. I was ready to jump at anything, and could see potential of homes slightly out of our geographic area that needed quite a bit of work. The Irishman was leaning more towards smaller places in the heart of Stokey, and I was getting upset at him rejecting properties with seeming no rhyme or reason. After a few particularly gnarly fights, I was lamenting about the process to a friend of mine at work who shared her story of how she and her partner found their home. She said they put together an evaluation sheet that helped them both independently and objectively evaluate whether the house was someplace we really wanted to live in and make our own. I mulled on this and created the following form for us to fill out based on our core criteria and a few other mandatories that had emerged throughout the search:
Using this checklist really helped us turn a corner in the search, because all of a sudden it wasn't him vs me, or me vs him, but an actual score we could discuss. It turned out that some things I originally thought were really important actually weren't in the grand scheme of things, and it helped The Irishman see what I valued the most. For all of the properties we used the checklist with, we were never more than 5 points apart. We just needed the vehicle to help us talk about the houses rationally.

I've left the best for last – the house we bought and now live in! I'll tell you about it tomorrow, along with the wretched process of actually finalizing the sale. 


  1. I am really enjoying this house-buying series. Learning quite a bit about how buying real estate works here.

  2. Hi Mela, glad it's helpful/interesting (even if the posts are a bit long... !!!). Let me know if there is anything else you specifically want to know more about.