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House hunting

Posted by joeabbott on October 12, 2015

Suzy and I have lived in our modest home here in SeaTac for a long time; almost 20 years. In that time we’ve transformed the house and property from average to awesome. Maybe not in the mode of the rich and famous, it certainly won’t be making it to MTV Cribs or some HGTV episode, but it’s worlds away from where we bought it.

We’ve completely landscaped the backyard: what had been 5’ tall grass, ragweed, and blackberry brambles is now multi-tired, festooned with flowers and flowering shrubs, and home to a bunch of chickens. While the chicken parts won’t win some fans, few who come into our backyard don’t say “wow” and fewer yet aren’t charmed by our Sicilian Buttercup or any of her other hen friends.

Inside the house, we’ve built-in cabinets, replaced countertops, installed new lighting, redid the master bathroom, and built Suzy’s office onto the home. Some rooms are unchanged, but overall it’s a very fine place to hang one’s hat.

So why are we house hunting?

Well, it’s part of a 5-year plan. I’m looking to retire sooner rather than later and we realize our current home isn’t suited for our long term plans. It’s very close to everything and a great place to launch from to see other destinations, but SeaTac has a bit more noise and a bit more busy than we’d like for “retired” living. Also, I’ve taken a few bumps and bruises in my day that have left me with ankles that beg for a rub after a busy day on my feet and a knee that’s likely going to need to go under the knife. Finally, if we buy a place that needs any of the sort of work we’ve done on our current home, we’d rather do it now when we’re physically able than in 10 years when sitting hand-in-hand on the deck is preferred to putting in a path on the steep terrain.

So we’re house hunting. But the hardest part is that we’re not ready to buy; our hunting is just to educate us on what we like, what we want, and what we’re willing to compromise on. And that’s hard. For two people biased toward action, putting us in front of a decision like this and options like we’re seeing … well, it’s all we can do to keep from lining up financing and making an offer!

But we’re learning a lot.

First, what we’re looking for: a rambler (we’re happy down-sizing) on about 5 acres of usable land; it should have a territorial view and have some distance from neighbors but still “on the grid”. We’d like it to have water on the property, either in the form of a small lake or creek, but not have the water aspect be the main feature … that is, we’re not looking for a lake-side home. And, we’d like newish construction and not a fixer-upper … while the property can need work, we want the home to be solid.

The kicker is that we’d like to trade up our current house for this magical piece of retirement property. Not literally a trade with the current owners, but price-wise, we’d like to sell our home for X-amount, and then hand ‘X’ over to a bank in exchange for our new place.

The first thing I’m learning is that I’m not being reasonable.

While SeaTac may be the center of our current world, it’s not everyone’s idea of a great place to be. And location-location-location is dictating the price on our home … which is less than we’ll need to satisfy our Retirement Requirement list.

The next thing I’m learning is that folks are awfully proud of their offerings. Compared to our current home, there’s a lot of garbage on the market. We drove about 300 miles recently to visit a lot of places that fit our 5 acre requirement and came away pretty disappointed.

Most of the new construction on ~5 acres, were two-story houses purely because there wasn’t enough flat space on that 5 acres to allow for building a rambler! Or that was our take. I was struck by basic lack of features … like a complete driveway or even a modest deck. Most of the sliding glass doors in the back were tiny … I’m used to our 4’ sliding door with an overall 8’ opening; the 3’ doors and 6’ opening just gives a small, cramped appearance. And they just had a cheap quality to them.

We looked at other brand new homes proclaiming “nearly 1/4 acre every unit!” and shook our heads … we’re on 1/3 acre now and still in a tightly packed in development … 1/4 acre is nothing. Some places had space but were in valleys (no views), some places had views but, outside the home, the land was unusable.

At one point I looked at Suzy and said, “I don’t want people to think we fell on hard times and had to settle for a crap place in the boonies.”

But even established homes (i.e., not new construction) had problems. The house on the lake we went to see evoked a “cabin at the lake” slasher film: rutted gravel road just wide enough for my car with a cramped driveway and closed-in feel to it. The other home near a lake that didn’t even appear on our GPS because it was so far off the main road; while I saw potential, the current owners had junky cars and trucks all over and did the property no favors. Suzy nixed it.

There was a fantastic home deep in the rain forest off the Mount Loop Highway but, while the home had tons of quality and charm, you’d have to embrace being in a rain forest and give up your views. It lacked a bit in the way of a garage or shop area, but was otherwise fabulous to image as a get-away home … and you had to embrace being knee deep in detritus if you ever planned to do maintenance there.

We talked to one owner who was at home about his house on the Sauk River. When asking him, “where’s the 5 acres to this parcel”, he looked up a steep and rocky slope (I’d have had a hard time picking my way up it) and he said, “it goes up there”. 

And on and on.

We finished our tour racing against daylight and pulled into the last home wishing we’d brought flashlights as the sun started fading. But the home was nearly perfect. Nearly. It wasn’t new construction and didn’t have a working shop but you drove up a winding road and when you got to the home, that was all that was up there. It was located on usable, flat property with plenty of trees and even with the low clouds we clearly saw the rocky mountain ridge behind it and the territorial view out the other direction. It had a deck that needed work, a small water-feature that we’d put time and energy into revitalizing, and a vast field we’d loose our chickens into. We started driving away wondering if we should let this property go. Suzy pointed to the For Sale sign and asked if there was additional information posted; as I flashed my high beams on it we both read in large, red letters: BOUGHT. Which is good as it wasn’t time. Not yet.

And so our efforts are paying dividends: we’re learning what’s out there, establishing our budgets, and really narrowing down on what’s important to us opposed to what we’re willing to compromise on. Mostly, it’s telling me that I should be happy with where I am and, while we may move in the future, we have a very fine home for now, chickens and all.

House hunting isn’t for the weak of heart and I have to remind myself that we have time on our side and don’t have to hurry. But, when we do find the place of our dreams, we’ll have to act fast because homes typically aren’t on the market for long around here. And the ones that are … well, once they drop their prices, they go.

So, Suzy looks around the yard and wonders which of her plants she’ll want to bring to our new place; I wonder if I’d be happy commuting for a year or two from a new place if we need to act soon.  And we both continue our 20 years in this little place we call our happy home.


4 Responses to “House hunting”

  1. francesjoanabbott said

    Thanks for sharing The Process. It’s so good to get an early start on seeing what’s out there. And there’s a wonderful place just waiting for the two of you. But not yet. Maybe you two should start a Dream Board or whatever they’re called these days. I’ve used both pictures from magazines and written words & phrases. I came across my old one quite a while ago and was surprised when, on finding it, so much of what I wanted, and affirmed, had come to me in one way or another. In fact, I was surprised when, on visiting a granddaughter, I saw a “Dream Board” (she called it something else) that she and her new husband had set up in their bedroom, so it’d be the last thing and the first thing they’d see each day. Momma

  2. Jay said

    Here it is baby – time to move back to MN!!!!!!!! 🙂

    Do it… doo it…dooo it….. I think I hear a chant growing…

    Your bro

  3. Dana said

    Neil and I think we’re in the place in which we will retire. While we didn’t hear angels sing when we bought it, we’re content. It is fun, though, to read your adventures and think what if??? Thanks for taking us along for the ride.

  4. joeabbott said

    Well, thank you, all, for your kind words! Especially Jay starting the “growing chant”!!

    In a nod to Dana’s comment, the more we look at other places, the more we find ourselves looking at our current home and finding happiness there. It would be ideal if we could lift our tiny parcel out of the busy noise of “SeaTac” and find it a home in some quiet hills somewhere.

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