The houses were open, our hearts were closed.

The wifey and I spent our Sunday at church with some friends, followed it up with a nice little lunch at a local sandwich joint, and then spent the next three-ish hours losing our open house virginity to the city of Seattle.

Thought I’d share with you today a little bit of my experience, but first you need a few background details about our search parameters. Our price range that we put in on Redfin was $300-$425K (the upper end being out of our range for sure, but still fun to look at). We only looked at houses in the northern Seattle area (Greenlake and around UW for those familiar). We didn’t care about sqft, bedrooms, or bathrooms. 

House 1:

It’s a 1bd/1bth home listed at $385k. While GN and I have no desire to buy a one bedroom house, we saw in the pictures there was an unfinished basement and a finished attic. The potential for a second and maybe even third bedroom was there. That was, until we walked in the house. The realtor said it best, “the pictures oversell the house and leave most potential buyers disappointed”. Reality was, the attic was about 5 feet tall and could only be used for storage, and the basement was about 7 feet tall and had a crappy layout. The main floor was great, and ya can’t beat the location (two blocks from the coolest lake in the city), but there is no way we are paying that much for only three livable rooms.

House 2:

It’s a 3bd/2bth 1,600 sqft house in a northern seattle neighborhood listed at $400k. It had the best paper stats of any of the houses we’d seen (2 baths in Seattle is not easy to find in our price point). I was sad when we pulled up because the first thing I noticed was how small the windows were on the front of the house. This meant natural light would be limited. Unfortunately, that wasn’t where the awkward ended.

The kitchen was completely renovated and really nice, but it was no joke, the longest kitchen I’ve ever seen in my life. Just look at some of the pictures, it’s insane. While a big kitchen is great, this one just took up too much precious space. Did you see the size of that living room? It’s the size of a freakin’ closet! The best part of the house (the kitchen) ended up being the worst part.

House 3:

It’s a 2bd/1bth 1,060 sqft house with an unfinished basement that would add another 900 sqft of living space if finished, listed at $375k. The curb appeal was pretty good. The driveway was epic, could park like 6 cars in tandem. The main floor’s layout was a nice open concept and had been recently renovated. We went down to the basement, and although it was intimidating, it was pretty easy to see the potential. The ceilings were tall enough it could be rented out as a MIL unit and bring in $1,000/month in rental income.

The attic, however, was a nightmare. It was completely unfinished. In fact, it looked like the previous owners brought bags of dirt from outside and tried to insulate the attic floor with it. What’s more, the ceilings were too low for the space to be livable. If we bought the place, we’d have to finish the attic, and it didn’t make much sense pouring thousands of dollars in to an unlivable storage space. GN started dry heaving at the site of the attic, it was that bad. It was also the only house we looked at with no back yard.

We looked at two more houses that were well outside of our price range ($550K and $650K) and loved both. No surprise right? The most important thing we learned during our open house extravaganza is that you HAVE to go in every single house. The curb appeal, although important, is totally irrelevant. Some cute houses were disasters inside, and some ugly houses had potential. When you are looking at houses that are 60-100 years old, layouts are often funky and unpredictable. Drive by house hunting is pretty much worthless for these types of homes.

We still aren’t ready to buy a house, but it was fun getting out there and seeing what Seattle had to offer. I’m sure we will be frequent open house visitors over the next few months so we can figure out exactly what it is we are looking for. But for now, we like renting just fine . 🙂

20 thoughts on “The houses were open, our hearts were closed.”

  1. I totally agree with your finding that you have to go inside! Our new house doesn’t look all that great from the outside but is a little Gem! We did most of our house-hunting online before handpicking a few to visit. The outside really doesn’t mean much, providing it is not hideous! 🙂

  2. Point 1: Have you considered a condominium? Prices will be lower, you get all the tax advantages of home ownership, and if you move up to a larger house later the tax benefits can be quite attractive.

    Point 2: Does your newspaper have a real estate section comparable to that of the Sunday NY Times? Each week, some 6-8 houses are profiles with a detailed assessment of the pros and cons of each.

  3. Sorry to hear that losing your open house virginity was a little rough. It sounds like the lower priced options are just as limited as up here in Vancouver. That is the reality of looking to buy in an expensive city. Usually you have move further into the suburbs to get a bigger space. Good luck with future open houses.

  4. You have to be careful when you think about attics as potential for extra rooms, or even extra storage. The entire purpose of an unfinished top layer (attic) to your house is to improve insulation to the primary living spaces. If you close up an attic, you are decreasing airflow and decreasing the house’s efficiency (Ever notice that attics are really hot in the summer or really cold in the winter?).

    You want the attic to a wide open space with nothing between the insulation layer (right above the livable space’s ceiling) and the roof. A proper attic is at the same temperature as the outside temperature. This prevents radiative cooling of your home, which is the fastest form of heat transfer – proportional to the 4th power of the temperature difference.

    Think of it this way, if attics were totally unnecessary, they would never be built as empty spaces in your house. Why would a builder waste the time, energy, materials on building it? I know they look nice when finished, but you’ll pay the price every month when heating/cooling the space.

  5. I find the prices sickening compared to what you are looking at. I know location is a big factor, but in this day and age of cars I think you should consider a place farther out. It’s been a big dilemma for me because I work downtown yet the housing options around there are too ugly or a high rise HOA fees are ridiculous. Sigh. Looks like I’m going to have to move further away from work…

  6. Jealous… I lived in Belltown and near Lake Union while living in Seattle. Man I’d love to move back.

    Have you looked further north near Shoreline? I had some friends up there who were able to find cheaper housing than down near Green Lake (although if I could move back, I’d live near Green Lake in a heartbeat).

    • thanks for the kick in the nuts. Washington prices (even in the most rural of places) are not as low as Texas. You gotta remember, that although that seems high to you (and me), houses are only priced where they are because that is what they are worth. Truth is, Seattle is expensive and a lot of money gets you a little house. Houses here (even the small ones) sell quickly as almost all of the houses we looked at had been on the market less than one week. Location, location, location.

      • Ninja,

        After spending 12+months looking in the same-ish areas until we bought last June, I’d have to say all of those prices are way high (I also do work for a builder so I pay attention to house prices daily). If you are stuck on those specific blocks, then you’re going to be stuck on price to some degree, but I definitely second the Shoreline idea (or Greenwood/Richland Beach area) – there are really nice areas with lower price tags. And be SURE to get an inspection – one home we looked at ended up having a lake underneath in the crawlspace after a rain (something we wouldn’t have known if we didn’t go on a day like today!). And a lot of remodels have really shoddy work done – another reason to have a good inspector!

        All in all though, it is so worth it once you find your house!

  7. On another note of my paranoia lately, I’ve been having this irrational fear of something cataclysmic happening to the home that I own. What would one do if the home became worthless because of that? With earthquakes, tornadoes, or even a nuclear accident these days how secure is equity these days? The last recession decimated my equity here in Las Vegas. I wonder how many Japanese will rebuild in an area that was devistated by the tsunami and nuclear fallout? I know I’m crazy, that can never happen in Seattle….been watching too many disaster movies although I did enjoy that Yellowstone super volcano movie.

  8. I’m not surprised by your first experience. Many first time buyers are naive about what you can get in a home. If you want predictable, buy a new home. Too bad new also means boring much of the time.

    The red flags in at least two of those homes have nothing to do with a finish-worthy attic (unfinished attics are a good thing to have, BTW). Instead, I saw cheap finishes. Like bottom scraping, cheapest fixtures from Lowe’s. Make sure you pay attention to those things because you’ll want to be ready to replace them as they usually don’t have a long shelf life.

  9. Man…open house-ing is so hard for me. It makes me very aspirational and throws me into a tunnel of wanting to spend. House #3 was nice, but so tiny. I guess you’ll just have to wait for the MANteresting buyout 🙂

  10. I can’t wait to do my first open house excursion! That won’t be for another year or 2 at least, longer if we decide not to rent out our current house and sell it instead. If I went looking at houses now I would just get depressed at how badly I want to be out of my current house. Not an area where I want my kids to grow up in, something my husband didn’t think about when he bought it because he was newly divorced and not thinking of remarrying as soon as he did.

  11. I don’t know. The second one seemed ok except for the windows and if that was the only thing that needed to be changed, that’s not bad. The yard is really cute and the small living room seemed functional for chatting. You could use one of the bedrooms for a tv room if that is important for you.

    And only $400000 for 1600 sq ft. Such a bargain! You’re so lucky you have options in that price range.

  12. Wow, I’m not jealous of the real estate market you’re dealing with! For 300K, I could buy a 3,000 sq. ft. house (maybe a bit more). Minimum 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. With at least an acre or 2 of yard space!

  13. We’ve been considering a move to Seattle for a couple years, maybe 2013…

    Anyway, it would be a tough transition from our 4,500 sq ft house on a lake which is currently worth less than $400,000, despite being on 300 feet of beautiful lakeshore. Northern Wisconsin just can’t compete with Seattle… Prices in other locations are irrelevant once you have decided on a location, and the cost of moving further out of town is pretty much equal to the savings. (give or take depending on location)

    I’m sure you will find the right balance once you really get to looking, good luck! I’ll be following you with strong interest since I might be in your shoes in a year or two.

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