Friday, October 29, 2010

I Love My Little Townhouse

I waited a long time to buy a place, longer than most people.  I was 35 when I bought my little townhouse last year, which was my first homebuying experience.  I see people on Househunters who are 23 years old and buying homes, and I think "Why?"  Why tie yourself down to a home so soon?  I suppose some people are perfectly happy to stay where they are, and know exactly what they want to do.  I wasn't so sure.  I didn't really know where I wanted to live or what I wanted to do with my life for quite awhile.  I lived in the Detroit area for awhile after college (which is where I am from), then I upped and moved across the country to Los Angeles for a few years, then I moved to Chicago for law school.  It wasn't really until last year that I realized that I want to stay in Chicago (because I love this city and to be fair, I have a great job here) and put in that commitment.

A house is a huge commitment.  I read this book called The Wealthy Barber right after I graduated from college, and one of the points he made was that you aren't throwing money away on rent if you aren't sure what you want to be doing for the long term.  I agree with that.  Why go to all the trouble of buying a place and having to deal with selling it if you aren't sure?  To me, buying a place was a commitment that I would be staying for at least five years, and probably much longer.  I didn't want to buy a one bedroom condo just to be owning a place, because those are very hard to sell.  Plus, I'd have to move when I ran out of space or wanted bigger space.  One bedroom condos are depressing.  To me, it was a better investment to rent for awhile and save up my money so that I could skip the "starter" one bedroom condo and go straight to the townhouse or duplex up or down with three bedrooms and at least two baths.  (Single family homes in the area I want to live start at around a million for a place that needs work, so that is way out of my league, at least for now.) 

So, last year I embarked on my search.  I knew where I wanted to live.  Location is everything to me.  Some people don't care about that and would rather have a nicer, newer, or bigger place.  Not me.  I want to be close to the train, but not too close, and close to shopping, bars, and restaurants.  I want to be somewhere fairly safe.  (Nowhere is truly safe in the city.)  I like to walk everywhere, including the grocery store.  I need to be in a neighborhood where there is a lot going on.  Of course, I paid for that.  One of my friends said I paid probably $100,000 to be in my location.  (They all want to come to my place!)  That's probably true.  I am in an awesome location. 

But, that was my choice.  And I Love My Place!  I didn't know how much I wanted a townhouse until I saw this place.  There aren't many townhouses in the city, other than a bunch that were built in the 80s and 90s and then some new ones that are mixed income housing to replace Cabrini Green.  Mine is one that was built in the 80s, when this area was starting to gentrify.  Now this area is unbelievable.  It's amazing what 20 years can do.  My place needs some work, although the kitchen and main floor was redone by the previous owner and is amazing.  (People walk into my kitchen and gasp at all the granite and stainless steel.  I never thought I liked that stuff, but wow do I love my kitchen!)  I have three full baths that desperately need to come out of their 1980s styling.  The whole place could use a fresh paintjob and some new carpet.  But none of what is here currently is horrid or unliveable.  The bathrooms, while 80s, are pure white, so look fine, really.  The carpet is berber and light beige, so it's fine.  The paint colors are also neutral and fine.  Nothing horrendous or anything like that.   

I just want to make it "mine." 

I looked at a bunch of condos that were in duplex or triplex units.  They were okay, and some of them I really liked.  One place I saw was amazing, but the location was awful.  God, I would have bought that place in a minute, but the location was so questionable.  With the duplex and triplexes, my big issue was that I did not want to have to climb a flight of stairs to get into my unit.  If you get the duplex up with the roof deck, that's what you have to do.  The duplex down (first floor unit) means half of your unit is below ground level.  Unappealing.  And to live in a highrise is unthinkable, due to assessments of at least $500 a month.  And $500 is on the low side if you live in a highrise with a doorman, pool, etc.  So, there are some benefits there, but $500+ a month that doesn't even include your mortgage is kind of ridiculous, at least to me. 

And then, this place, my place, came on the market.  We ran right over, and the moment I walked in I Knew.  I knew it had to be mine.  You don't realize how nice it is to have a place that is three floors, no neighbors above or below, and with a door straight to the outside, unless you have lived in the city for years.  This was a dream for me.  A dream.  This is a bad thing when it comes to home buying, because you are too emotional about it.  What's worse is that the moment we walked in my realtor also knew that This Was The Place For Me.  (He knew me well by that point!)  So, I was trying to remain calm, and he was trying to remain calm, but in the end we made an offer that night (place had been on the market for only ten days) and the rest is history.  When you know, you know.

Looking back, I think maybe I paid too much, but not too too much.  I don't reget it.  I wanted this place and I got it.  I still scour real estate listings in a kind of effort to prove to myself that I didn't overpay, and most of the time I'm not sure I did.  This place has everything I wanted.  Everything.  And here we are a year later, and I still absolutely love this place.  I don't know how I could've done better.  I walk home every night from the train, and I have a gorgeous walk on a beautiful street.  When I walk in, I love my kitchen, and my patio and my bedroom.  I'm three block from the train (perfect), I have a deck and patio, a front door that leads to the outside, no neighbors above or below, three full baths which is great when guests come, two bedrooms, a finished basement, a ton of closet space, and a huge, huge laundry room.  I can walk two blocks and be shopping on one of the greatest shopping areas in the city.  There are also probably 20 or 30 restaurants within four blocks of my place.  I mean, what more could I want?  And even though the market has now gone down even more, so maybe I've lost some money by now if I were to try to sell right now, I don't think about that, because I didn't buy this as an investment.  I bought it as my place to live for however many years, and a place that I can remodel and do as I wish to, and a place that I plan to stick around in for awhile. 

And isn't that what buying a place is all about? 

1 comment:

  1. If you plan on staying in your home for a while and eventually do those upgrades you'd like, I wouldn't worry about having payed too much. The market is going to bounce back one of these days and it really is all about location. If the location meant that much to you, it will be that important to someone else.

    My mom was a real estate agent and my dad owns a construction company. I am completely obsessed with real estate and home improvements and watch waaaay too much HGTV. Unfortunately it's a buyer's market right now and buyers are being really picky, demanding and low-balling like crazy. They'll pass up a less expensive home that requires $10K in minor repairs and painting to get an ideal move-in ready home for $50K more + interest over 30 years. (I yell at the TV a lot.) You have stainless steel and granite on your side. People are obsessed with that now! Ha!

    OMG those condo fees are insane! I could never do a mortgage payment plus those additional fees for the rest of my life.

    If you love it, that's all that matters!
    I wouldn't torture myself looking at other sale prices anymore, until you're ready to start making improvements and/or sell. You can end up improving so much that you upgrade yourself out of the neighborhood market and lose money.