Clearing the Cache

How We’re House Hunting

When Kadie didn’t get into the International School of Beaverton, it triggered the beginning of our ongoing house hunt. Our neighborhood middle school and high school have low ratings and a reputation for disengaged students. When we looked at our finances, it didn’t appear that we were able to move immediately, so we chose to home school Kadie for her middle school years.

Which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. A year after, when we started looking at houses again, the pandemic took over, and the other two kids transitioned into distance learning at home. When school started back up in the fall, all three kids were home schooled. Our home started feeling a bit cramped, we were stuck with ourselves, so we decided to try searching for a house again.

Little did we know that the pandemic also had a similar effect on a lot of people and since many are working remotely, the housing market has gotten out of hand. Part of me says to put off buying a house until the market normalizes, but another part of me says to trust God with this and He will provide.

Just like God provided when Kadie won the lottery to attend Beaverton Academy of Science and Engineering (BASE) two years later. We’re excited for her to finish her middle school years there and continue on through high school.

It has been thirteen years since we bought our first house, so our process changed with new tools and methods at our disposal. And a pandemic on top of that has mixed in unique challenges to our mission to find our next home.

Finding Our Home in a House

I use two services to find houses: Zillow and Realtor. I’ve tried Redfin, but I’ve found their filtering tools to be less robust, but their school neighborhood filtering is better.

In Zillow, I have a saved search to notify me immediately for any house that matches our ideal criteria. I have additional saved searches for when I feel like exploring beyond our ideal matches, but I don’t receive email notifications for those.

Our criteria for an instant email notification are:

  • 4 bedrooms
    One of the main goals with a new house is to provide each child their own bedroom. Our two daughters are great at wanting to continue sharing a room, but we feel that the teenage years might be best with some independence.
  • $400k-$550k price
    The upper limit price doesn’t allow us to overbid too much and the lower limit avoids oddball houses that I don’t need to waste time on.
  • 1,500 square feet or more for house size
    Our current house is 1,444 square feet. This size ensures that we can spread out a little more but also provide room for family gatherings. When both sides of our families come, we can get up to 30 people. We’re used to being cozy, but if we can make it more inviting and comfortable, we would like to be able to offer our home as a gathering place.
  • 2,000 square feet or more for lot size
    Jenni would love a yard for the kids to play and for her to garden. This minimum lot size hopefully avoids townhouses or homes with a lot of house but no yard.
  • For sale by agent or owner only
    We’re not interested in foreclosures or new constructions. Jenni and the kids are chemically sensitive, so new constructions wouldn’t allow us to move in right away.
  • Houses only
    We’re not fixer-uppers, so we need a home we can move in. We also want some space between us and the neighbors, so we’re avoiding condos, townhomes, multi-family setups, and apartments.
  • No HOA fee
    Our current townhome has a HOA. There have been some benefits as a first-time home buyer such as exterior maintenance, community pool and clubhouse, and lawn care. But we’re ready to take money we give to the HOA dues and spend it how we choose. And alter our lot how we see fit without a committee approval.
  • Sunset or Westview high school neighborhoods
    These two neighborhoods stay closest to my work and Kadie’s school. These also are tougher neighborhoods to get into because the schools are highly regarded.

If nothing shows up on this search, I tend to lower the number of bedrooms to 3 because the house could have a spare room to convert into a 4th bedroom. I do look at other school zones, such as Mountainside and Southridge because they’re graded well, but the commute to Vernier or Kadie’s school is less favorable. The house would need to impress me for us to consider it.

Our Routine for Reviewing

New listings can come any time, but they tend to show up on Thursdays. I believe that’s a popular day to list because it gives prospective buyers a chance to schedule a tour over the weekend and plan to attend an open house.

If I don’t get any notifications, I go through the filtered results on Zillow and Realtor. I skim through the photos to get a first impression, look at the price, peek at the property taxes, scout the neighborhood schools, and check the year the house was built. If my first impression is positive, I open my spreadsheet, and use a weighted score system to grade the house.

The weighted score sheet was conceived after we made an offer on a house that didn’t meet our needs, and we got caught up on it emotionally. Graciously, we didn’t get the house, and our realtor helped us clarify our goals. The score sheet gives us quantitative data on how well a house will meet our needs and eliminates some of the emotional decision making.

If a house scores over 80 out of 100 points, it might be a good candidate for a tour with our realtor. I take the listing and add it to Basecamp for further review.

We use Basecamp to loop in our family and realtor in one place. I use the to-do lists to keep me on track of tasks I need to do and I have a to-do list for the homes we’re considering. This gives me a running log of the houses we’ve considered and allows our family to see our progress.

For each house we are considering, the to-do item’s name is made up of:

  • Street Address
  • List price
  • Number of bedrooms
  • Square footage
  • Neighborhood high school

In the to-do description, I include a link to the listing on Zillow, the initial photo from Zillow, a floorplan (if available), and initial notes about the house from the listing. If we tour the house, I also embed the YouTube video.

Then all the comments about the to-do item are either our family, realtor, or us giving thoughts on the house. It keeps all of it organized.

And since I have a record of all the houses we’ve considered, I am able to go back and check on houses after they’ve sold to see what the winning bid was. It’s been eye-opening to see how much higher we need to offer for the popular houses.

Tour de House

For the tour, we bring a GoPro and a laser measurer. We use the GoPro to record our tour through the house and everything our realtor notices. The GoPro is compact and includes a wide-angle lens to capture more of the interior. The video allows us to review the house after the 30 minute tour if we need to remember specifics not provided on the listing. And our family can provide their insights without touring the house.

We’ve only recently added the laser distance measure so that we can get the dimensions of the rooms. If we like the house enough, we can use the dimensions to see how our existing furniture will be arranged in the new space. It’s more accurate and quicker than using a tape measure.

Here are things we look for in our tour:

  • We check for the bedroom arrangement as we require privacy between the master and the kids’ bedrooms. Jenni’s a light sleeper, so it’s a must to have distance.
  • We prefer a great room layout on the main level. We enjoy that about our current house because everyone does life in the same space. However, as the kids grow older, we’re open to the idea of a separate family room so that different activities could happen simultaneously.
  • The master bedroom should not be large, we would prefer if it was similar in size to the kids’ bedrooms.
  • Jenni spends a lot of time cooking and hosting, so the kitchen is an important space. In our current house, the kitchen is the most upgraded area of our house.
    • I prefer a gas stove but could get used to an electric model again.
    • I prefer a large sink rather than split sinks. Dishes tend to pile up and one large sink space allows us to clean larger items or items of unusual size.
    • Jenni loves a kitchen that has a view outside, particularly to the backyard where she can admire her garden.
  • Hardwood floors would be a great upgrade from our current home’s carpets. We love the look and it’s a much better dance floor.
  • We’re spoiled by our vaulted ceilings and I hope that our next house has them too. It makes the house bigger.
  • The entry way should make it easy for guests to come in and leave without jamming. We don’t wear shoes in our house, so there’s usually a clog by the door as people are putting on or taking off shoes.
  • Our realtor inspects the systems of the house and let us know if there are potential expensive replacements in the future. He is also great at identifying materials used and let us know what type of maintenance we can expect with the house.

Patience, Persistence, and Prayer

Our family has been encouraging throughout the process. Jenni’s family is familiar with home construction and my dad is used to fixing things up. My dad reminds me often that he looked at over a hundred houses before finding the one. We’ve only looked at around 40 so far. And we’ve only placed bids on 4.

Our greatest advantage is that we’re not in a hurry to move. Ideally, we should be in a new house before Violet goes into high school in two years. I’m hopeful that the housing market will cool off and we’ll be able to find the right house for us. It may not be our forever home as we won’t need all that space once the kids move off to college.

This opportunity has also given us a chance to trust God more. The current housing market is crazy with unrealistic bidding and unwise bypasses for inspections. With full cash offers going well over a hundred thousand above the asking price, we’ve found it hard to compete. However, that is the limit of our understanding and He has always shown us that His ways are not our ways. I have to keep looking to Him to provide and the courage to go where He leads.