Buying a house is stressful and I hate it but I want a house now.
October 20, 2020 8:46 AM   Subscribe

This feels like the wrong time but now I want a house. Apparently, so do many other people, especially in the area that I currently live in (Essex County NJ). Houses are selling at way over asking and we have been outbid multiple times. I have very specific requirements that pretty much mean I will not be able to find what I want.

Walkable (I dont drive), near the train and other shopping, not in a flood zone, not too loud, not too close to neighbors, not too big, not too small, ranch style, and of course not too expensive. I know. Doesn't really exist. I realize that I need to be more flexible. At minimum I HAVE to learn how to drive (this terrifies me). But it will open up a lot more options.

In the spirit of being decisive and getting over my fears, we put an offer in on a house that checked a lot of the boxes. After signing we realized that it was very near a recycling center and that completely turned us off. There were also a few other things about the house that added some questions about the quality of the renovations. There were crickets in several rooms! We pulled out just in time but now I want to make sure we do better *before* we put in another offer and sign anything.

Does anyone have any experience living near a recycling center (batteries, electronics, styrofoam)? Was that an good choice? Would people with children have an issue buying a home near a recycling center?

I am paranoid that the realtor/attorney/inspector will miss things, not disclose, or just don't necessarily have our best interests in mind. How do I find professionals that can help us through this aside from who the realtor recommends? Yelp wasn't especially helpful and I dont have any personal relationships who can provide referrals.

I'm looking for tips and advice on navigating home buying. This would be the second time but I dont feel any more confident than the first time around. The fact that there is so much demand adds a level of urgency and bad decison making potential.
posted by mokeydraws to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Buying processes vary around the country and I have no idea what's done in NJ, but if you're allowed to hire your own inspector, you can find one here.

...personally , I'd avoid recycling centers and the like just from the increased heavy road traffic (large trucks). Use something like Google Earth to inspect the surrounding areas; you may be surprised at what can hide behind a row of trees. Also use a flood projection map to look at future risks; here's one but there are others; I don't recall which one I used when I bought my most recent house but I made sure I was on the right side of projected 100-year sea level rises.

You can also look at the Toxic Releases Inventory map to see if there's anything nearby that could be spilling methylmercury (or whatever else). Here's the Essex map, keeping in mind that the TRI is a trailing indicator (takes them a while to collate everything, so map data is circa 2018).
posted by aramaic at 9:07 AM on October 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

Well, there are other things to consider.. do you have kids? Is the school district important? Do you have to stay in Essex (I lived there growing up but now down in Monmouth). Is being near the city a requirement?

Also, does property matter? Like, do you need a lawn if there is a park nearby? For some people I know, they want to make sure the town is diverse.. Others don't care as much. Sometimes you can find homes on the border, where you enjoy a neighboring town's amenities, while the actual one you're in (walking, etc), the schools might not be as good, or the houses need more work (though if you get a good price, doing a reno can really be worth it).
posted by rich at 9:12 AM on October 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am in Chicago. I went looking for a house very similar to what you're looking for back in January and kept getting outbid on the very few appropriate houses available. I found one in June. I lost count how many places I made offers on. The one I bought I actually put an above asking offer on before I even saw it because of how tight the timelines had been getting. I only saw it after the sellers had narrowed it down to me and one other buyer (who could outbid me, but was coming in with an FHA loan vs my conventional loan). I think there were 48 hours between the house getting listed and me delivering a check with earnest money.

This is my first house, I have nothing else to compare it to, but I think a general "be prepared for it to take way longer than you expect, be prepared to act way faster than you expect" is probably a good rule of thumb right now.
posted by phunniemee at 9:36 AM on October 20, 2020 [6 favorites]

I agree with phunniemee ; I was also a first time home buyer a couple of years ago and the process is very much "hurry up and wait."

Also: I am paranoid that the realtor/attorney/inspector will miss things

There is a super high likelihood of this happening, and while it could be the result of greediness, laziness, incompetence or anything in between, most likely it is that all of these people are human beings. The best advice I have here is to be your own advocate. Ask a lot of questions. Read everything that is sent to you.
posted by sm1tten at 9:58 AM on October 20, 2020 [5 favorites]

Home buying was awful last year when I did it and I hope never to again and you have my condolences doing it during a pandemic.

We're in a different overheated market (DC region) but we managed to get a place walkable to transit by compromising substantially on our list of wants/needs and also buying a house that was in bad shape and had had a previous offer fall through post-inspection. Like, we spent three months handling things from the dangerous (incredibly, multi-colored-severe moldy crawlspace that required landscape regrading, mold removal, and waterproofing) to the more cosmetic (after a couple months to dry out, we had the moisture-warped floors sanded and resealed), and we will still be doing stuff for a LONG time to come.

But if you can keep cash in reserve to fix stuff, definitely do. The inspector will absolutely miss things, some of them important. The mere act of switching inhabitants with different habits will break things or uncover things near failure. That will help you if you go for a cheaper house in worse condition. Also, applying a little money to something I LIKE periodically, like painting a wall, helps off set the "we live in a miserable bottomless DIY pit of despair" feeling.

And if you can, in addition to ranking your wants, rank your deal breakers, because you're probably going to wind up with some of them anyway. Which are the worst and least bad? Try not to lie to yourself about what you can live with, but everyone is unique there so someone else's deal breakers won't be the same as yours. And are there any you'll put up with in order to get something you really want in exchange? Maybe it turns out you don't need a SFH if it means not driving, or you'll live in an architectural style you dislike if it's the right amount of space.

And a lot of stuff you can get used to. I grew up somewhere that was downwind of a rendering plant, depending on wind direction. I currently live two blocks from a pretty busy heavy rail line and we get train noise and vibration at all hours. Neither of those bugged me after the first week or so.

But seriously, your inspection will absolutely miss things and some of them will turn out to be important, plus there will be known problems/expenses so having a plan to pay for or finance those things - or a willingness to just live with them until you can afford it (we've had temporary adhesive paper shades for a year now because of money we had to spend on more urgent things!) will help with the anxiety.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 10:43 AM on October 20, 2020

One thing that might help alleviate anxiety about whatever the inspection will miss vis-a-vis systems and appliances that are about to kick the bucket: buy a home warranty
posted by carmicha at 11:35 AM on October 20, 2020

I recently bought a house in Chicago, and as it was said above, the market has been intense and it required us to be really on to on our game.

We ended up stumbling on a place that was structurally sound but had two possible large repairs on inspection that ended up negotiationing the price down for after our offer and the inspection. We viewed it at 9am the morning it opened (there was already an offer!) And had made our offer by noon.

It was anxiety provoking and quite intense, but were pretty happy now that it's all over. But that certainly wasn't our first offer , and it took tons of time and energy.

We used a local non profit that helps people buy homes in lower income areas (though not a requirement) which helped reduce some of our cognitive load in terms of trust and things with the referrals for everybody you need to buy a home. We were really glad we went with something like that, and everybody we interacted with was great, professional and not shady .

I did end up buying a house about a mile from a recycling center, but in Chicago that can feel way further than it actually is. My wife was far more concerned about it than I am, I tend to not stress about those things. I definately wouldn't grow food in the soil in the back yard, more so for concerns of lead contamination which are rampant in the area due to historic reasons but I'm not concerned about current emmissions, and the heavy traffic tends to take some major roads I don't necessarily access all that often.

You can find something you will be happy with, but it is quite a process. We did almost stop looking a few tines due to the stress, being outbid , and losing hope. But it worked out too.
I don't think waiting it out is harmful though, if you feel that you can and there's no rush for you to sell and move out.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:30 PM on October 20, 2020

I bought my (first) house 4 years ago in MI, and used a buyer's agent. Do you have one? The way it works here is that typically the 6% of the sale price that is paid out as commission is split between the agents. This means that your agent is incentivized to help you find and buy a house, sure, but they get $0 if they do anything to make you find a new agent so a decent agent is absolutely your advocate. I was fortunate enough to find an agent on a friend's recommendation, but just ask homeowners you know and I bet they'd be happy to tell you about who they used (I in fact recently referred an acquaintance to my agent).

Beyond that, yeah, buying in a busy market is frustrating. It took me 7 months and about 8 offers before one was accepted and now I own that house. Be patient, it'll happen eventually, you just have to keep at it.
posted by axiom at 12:08 AM on October 21, 2020

We bought a house a few years ago. It has a much, much smaller bathroom than I would really like, but the layout is good and the location is pretty perfect. Although I thought this was fine at the time, it needs more work on it than we're organised enough to do in a sensible timeframe. From previous experience, I know that I need to live in a walkable area in a house with character (as I define it). I cannot be doing with always having to drive. But also, I knew that the location I wanted to live in had a good supply of houses that I liked, about 1/3 of which would be in my price bracket, so it was a case of looking at everything that came up and making a quick offer on something that was acceptable and affordable. If you don't have that kind of location - either because the housing stock you want just doesn't exist in that location or it doesn't exist in your price bracket - then you will need broaden your search geographically.
posted by plonkee at 4:05 AM on October 21, 2020

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