In September 2011, I signed over the final papers to my first place.
The idea of buying my own condo and starting the search process was all very sudden. I had been working at my new grown up job for a few months and had for a long time been saving money, hoping to eventually move out on my own. But renting an apartment was a dismal prospect. Sure I don’t live in a big city where you can’t get more than a shoe box for what I make in a month but prices aren’t exactly low unless you don’t mind living in the dangerous part of town or blood stains on your carpet. Being a bit of a college town there are no shortage of apartments, but they run the spectrum as far as price and livability. My parents really wanted me to find a place with a garage, to protect my beloved car and keep my insurance down, which narrowed the list of possibilities down even further. However, with the upside down market, buying seemed like a no brainer. My monthly mortgage would be cheaper, I’d get much more for my money, be making an investment if the market ever recovers, and build credit. No Brainer!
Of course buying didn’t seem in my league until I stumbled upon a listing for a very reasonably priced condo. On a lark I emailed it to my parents, mainly because it was in a nearby area we’d always been curious about but rarely ever had any units on the market. To my shock they encouraged me to start looking. That place was a short sale that was already pending (it didn’t end up closing until after I was moved into my condo–this is why I stayed away from short sales).
I won’t go in to the actual search, but we saw some pretty interesting places. One of my favorites was a condo I almost put an offer in on that had one of those tubs with a little door in the side-which I thought was hilarious and would be a good conversation piece. Most of the condos in my city were built in the 70s so you can imagine…
On the off chance my realtor (who restored my faith in all realtors, she is/was awesome), took us to a complex we were familiar with but was kind of at the top of my budget. This complex was literally three miles from our house and we passed by it almost every day, but had never seen inside. There were a few units for sale, being a normally pricy complex it had been hit hard when the market bombed. Lots of people bought really high when the market was booming and then couldn’t afford them when it fizzled out.
I was very eager to see what this complex was like inside so we went to the cheapest and smallest unit first (most of the units in the complex are 3 bedrooms and two floors). Let’s just say it wasn’t love at first sight. The place had been virtually untouched since it was built in the 70s. It was tired, outdated, and pretty obvious the occupants had been elderly. It was mostly cosmetic but still a lot to take on. But as we walked on to visit the other units for sale (one of which needed to be completely gutted and the other I couldn’t afford but was gorgeous), I was struck by how much I loved the complex. It was almost park like with lots of perfectly cared for greenery and old growth trees. It was gated and I could tell most of the residents were older, which meant no loud parties. I remember it was a Friday evening after work and the place was utterly silent and peaceful. We had always been curious about this place we passed every day, my mom had even joked that I should move there someday so I would be close, and here I was.
There was some soul searching to do after that… and finally a decision was made. I decided I liked the complex enough I was willing to compromise, for the right price I could make the outdated place what I wanted it to be—or at least try to.
Here is what I had to work with:
The condo was purchased new in ’79 by a couple who lived there until they both passed away. I had to sign one of those forms saying I didn’t care that someone had died in the place, and I don’t—when the phantom toilet flushes on it’s own I just blame Pearl my ghost. It was a time capsule as they had done relatively nothing to the place, it was complete with seventies appliances, lights, pop corn ceilings, and an intercom system (seriously an intercom for a two bedroom). It was also obvious that towards their later years certain things had gotten away from the owners. After the wife passed away the place sat vacant for nearly a year (which caused some unforeseen problems later on-but you’ll have to keep reading the blog to find out about those). There was no internet, no cable, the appliances were disgusting, both bathrooms needed updating (one of them had a huge crack in the sink which would cause leaks if used), someone had dribbled bleach down the hall, and it smelled like old people. That sounds negative but it did have it’s pluses. It was the perfect size for me, large by most standards (1600 sqft). Had its own garage and plenty of visitor parking. With tons of storage! It’s one story which is good for resale; and while it does share walls with two neighbors, no one is above or below me. Like I said it was three miles from home which has come in very handy when something goes awry at 1 am. It also means I get to visit my dog and cat, who stayed with my parents, a few times a week.
My dad who is recently retired is an excellent handy man and used to be a professional house painter when he was young. There are plenty of projects to keep him busy now. The first step was making a list of everything that we wanted to do and everything that we needed to do and put them in order of priority; then we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.