Day 37: House Hunting

November 19, 2014

Prior to Efrem’s moving here we had been talking about my moving out of my current apartment due to its wealth of “visitors,” lack of insulation, and no HVAC, which made for freezing winters and sweltering summers. It’s in a great location for a decent price but even beyond the aforementioned three drawbacks, there also isn’t enough usable space and no storage space whatsoever. I’d been looking for months for new apartments to move to, but the rents I was seeing were just ‘too-damn-high!’ So I toyed with the idea of buying a house. If I’m going to pay upwards of $1100 in rent, I may as well invest in a house.

But of course my ideas of what kind of house I want and the money I had didn’t line up. Not that I wanted some super-upgraded turn-key house, I just wanted a classically New Orleans house in a central location—somewhere that I could still walk to something. Not the french quarter or anything like that, but I wanted to be able to still walk (walkable meaning even 10 -12 blocks away) to some area whether it be a good strip of restaurants/bars, a nice park, a parade route, etc. Right now, my apartment is one block up from Magazine and a few blocks down from the St. Charles parade route. I’m also relatively close to the quarter too–if it’s a temperate day, I don’t mind the mile-long walk.

Location, even with a dumpy house, means more money. But there were quite a few houses with potential in okay neighborhoods that were well within my financial reach, and there was quite a bit of house flipping happening in those neighborhoods, so while they may have been somewhat dodgy areas, the homes were basically brand new historic houses. So the prospects seemed wide open. The problem, of course, was that those flipped houses would go as soon as they came on the market, and many came and went all before I was ready to go through all the financing. I wanted to wait for Efrem to get here.

So when he got here, we started playing around on the websites again to look at houses. And it quite quickly became apparent that we had vastly different tastes. I wanted a telltale New Orleans house, with some of the features like gas lights, shutters, tall windows, whatever those swirly/cut out things are called on the front of houses wedged into the corner overhang, a front porch or the double stoops, or the old interior fireplaces that could potentially have exposed brick. My must haves, though, were a raised house, wooden floors, high ceilings, open spaces, and a big kitchen, with walkability, i.e., located near something (anything) of interest. My deal breakers were newer houses (like anything built after 1975), ceramic tiles (exceptions being bathrooms), laminate floors, low ceilings, brick exteriors, small rooms, and small closets, and certain neighborhoods—like anything Lakeside, New Orleans East, or parts of Gentilly. He wanted a finished house, a quiet neighborhood, lots of space between houses, i.e. houses that weren’t right up on the property lines, land, and parking—he really wanted a garage if we could find one [note: in New Orleans, off-street parking isn’t guaranteed, and if you can find it, it’s most likely a driveway or carport–a garage is like a unicorn]. His deal breakers were renovations and shot-gun houses, which more or less threw out most of my house prospects.

The houses he picked off the listings often looked like brick houses, directly on the ground, newer builds, the flooring didn’t matter much for him but he often chose houses with ceramic tiles or laminate, and to meet his need for distance between houses and yard space, the houses were almost always in neighborhoods I didn’t want to live in—basically in seclusion, not near anything but more houses. He essentially wants a suburban lifestyle, but I want to be close, to feel the spontaneous energy of the city, to not have to go out of my way to enjoy life here. Even more than that, stylistically I want a house that if you look at it, you wouldn’t even have to ask, you’d know it was in New Orleans, and many of the houses he liked could’ve been anywhere in this country. My thing was, if we’re gonna live here, then lets live here.

By some fluke of looking for more information about a house that turned out to be well out of our price range, a realtor contacted me and that became the moment where we finally decided to start the process of getting financial pre-approval to really begin the house hunt. We started getting listings sent to us and started narrowing them down to our top 5. His favorites were all move-in ready and further away, and mine were usually fixer-uppers that were more centrally located. There was one gem that popped up that may have met both of our needs—centrally located, stylistically what I wanted, with the space he wanted and essentially finished—but the day we went out to go see some houses, that gem was already under contract. The houses we were left seeing, left us at a deadlock, with my hating his choices and his hating my choices.

So we both just kept checking the listings multiple times a day, trying to be ready to go in case something popped up so we wouldn’t miss it. While at a conference, I was passively checking the listings and suddenly a cute little cottage came on the market. It had a pretty traditional porch with front squared columns, a look-a-like gas lantern in the front (it’s really electric but you can’t really tell), a brick front porch with cast-iron foundation vent medallions, and a very detailed wrought-iron railing. The front door and windows were also very cute. The inside had high ceilings and was almost entirely hard wood—two rooms had the original hard wood – with only one small room with the ceramic tile. There were two full bathrooms, one a master en-suite, his and hers closets that were pretty spacious, a designated laundry area, a large kitchen with stone counters (yay, no more nasty tile countertops), new stainless steel appliances with gas hookups, and lots of cabinet space.

Additionally, the property was a double lot, so that gave us an entire extra lot’s worth of land, and a very long and wide driveway with a car port that continued around the back of the house, where it could function as a back patio area. The front of the house was fenced with a high wrought-iron fence and the other three sides had a (failing) wooden fence. Which meant I would get all the house features I wanted while Efrem got the privacy, off-street parking, and space he wanted while not being on top of anyone else’s property line. 

It looked like it would be the perfect compromise for both of us. Well, in reality, it was more of a compromise for me than him given the location–the Westbank. He would get the quiet, suburban-like area, the finished house, and the land and I would get the style I was looking for. But I would take a major loss on the walkability factor. Even though I had been looking at properties in the Algiers area, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that there really isn’t anything close by worth walking to, especially since it’s not like we can afford a house in Algiers Point. There is a park nearby the prospective house, but it’s not very nice and not many people go there. More than that, living on the Westbank means losing the potential for alternative transportation modes since most of the time you can only get to Algiers via the bridge, which doesn’t have a pedestrian/bike/or scooter lane and the ferry only operates certain hours during certain weather conditions. BUT, the house is only 5 minutes from the bridge, it’s in-between two main roads, close to Algiers Point, and right off the main drag for one of the West Bank Mardi Gras parades, which I’ve never actually been to.

Anyway, we jumped on that house and went to see it the next day. I thought given the way it looked and how much property there was along with the price, that we would be trailing behind some other prospective buyer who had all their finances in line. Surprisingly, we weren’t. I saw the listing on a Monday, we went out to see it on a Wednesday, and that day we put in an offer. By Friday morning we got a counteroffer, and by that evening, we came to an agreement, right before we packed up to leave for Thanksgiving vacation. It all happened so fast. But ultimately, we both loved it and we knew we couldn’t wait, so we dove in head first and came out with a contract. Now the real fun begins…paperwork, inspection, paperwork, money, paperwork….