The first thing you do when looking for a new house, of course, is to write down all the features you want. And then divide these into categories of "must haves" and "would be nice." It's important to be realistic here, and recognize that it's unlikely that any house will have everything on your list, and be prepared to compromise.
As an example, our original list was probably something like this:
1) Single family
2) 4-5 bedrooms, with a spot for an office
3) 2-car garage
4) On a cul de sac
5) Private yard
6) Space for a garden
7) How about a pool?
8) How about a HOT TUB?
9) How about a HOT TUB TIME MACHINE!
10) Sweet-ass kitchen from the future, completely redone, with stupid shit like a sink just for filling up pots of pasta water and fancy moving shelves in the cabinets and I don't know, Bluetooth-enabled microwaves.
11) Also a gas range
12) Sweet-ass master bathroom with a giant jacuzzi tub that I can swim laps in
13) A MILLION CLOSETS!
14) Kids rooms that aren't right by my room
15) Also a door that actually locks
16) New roof, windows, HVAC, water heater, basically we ain't buying shit.
17) Wine cellar for all the wine we don't drink immediately, so maybe like space for two bottles.
18) Something not "cookie cutter" or "McMansion-y," you know? Like a really cool mid-century rancher or modern contemporary. Something with some character, or a quaint little barn on the property we could fix up convert to a living space and like, document on a homespun DIY blog and also buy some chickens and/or fainting goats because yeah that's totally our life.
19) OOH OOH MAYBE THE WHOLE FRONT OF THE HOUSE IS ON ONE BIG HINGE SO WE COULD JUST GET IN WITH THE GARAGE DOOR OPENER!
20) Open floor plan
WOULD BE NICE:
1) Hardwood floors. But we can always put those in as long as we get everything else on our list and the place in not at the top of our price range, which is totally going to happen.
See? Super realistic. Super.
Naturally, reality sunk in almost immediately. The very first house we looked at had, at least online, most of the things we wanted. It was missing a pool, but was priced so low and sat on so much land we figured that could be easily remedied.
And then we pull up and discover that no, you can't put a pool in the backyard because there was already a GIANT ASS CELL PHONE TOWER COVERED IN RED BLINKING LIGHTS in the backyard.
(All the "land" was in the front yard, which was a downward sloping hill so steep that I am pretty sure you'd need mountain climbing safety equipment to mow.)
"Nope!" we said, and merrily crossed it off our list. No biggie! Our list was HUGE.
Yeah. We finished that first day utterly defeated. By day two we were more than a little panicked. Offers were already coming in on our place. What seemed like (again, online) a crazy amount of available inventory in our price range turned out to mostly be "shit that's sitting on the market and/or in that price range for a REASON, yo."
There was the fabulous-looking mid-century rancher with a beautiful pool and tons of potential...that had converted the two-car garage into a giant party room with an ugly bar. Even though there was already another giant party room with a (matching) ugly bar on the lower level. None of the rooms made any sense as bedrooms, and the "upgraded" bathrooms had all been turned into exactly the kinds of bathrooms we didn't like. There wasn't a single part of the house that didn't need major work and remodeling, and was absolutely NOT priced to reflect that reality. It had a beautiful pool! What else do you want? BEDROOM DOORS? Jeez, people.
(Oh, and the refrigerator wasn't in the kitchen. It was down the hall, by the washing machine. Okay.)
There was the updated colonial that stunk to high heaven of cat and dog pee, with floors and walls that were visibly rippled and buckled from years of repeat accidents. It had an amazing kitchen and a great home theater, but...yeah. It immediately became known as the Pee House, and we were not buying the Pee House.
There was the massive seven (7!!!!) bedroom, custom-built home that had literally everything on our list besides the pool and hot tub, and while there was certainly space to install a pool and hot tub, we were going to have to put them right next to the neighbor's house (with whom we'd also share a driveway/front yard area). Not a deal breaker, except that the neighbor's "house" was straight out of every horror movie I've ever seen, seemingly abandoned to rot and collapse in on itself and the hoarding situation visible through the filthy windows. But then I noticed the fresh tire tracks in the driveway and a quick look-up on Google Earth revealed that yes, there's usually a car in that spot (right next to the other car up on cinderblocks), and I was immediately filled with an intense, instinctual desire to get the hell out of there before that person returned to ax-murder us all. The idea of sending the kids outside to play anywhere near that? HELL TO FUCK NO.
There was also the lovely house with an honest-to-God ORCHARD and the garden of our dreams, a slightly funky floor plan that wasn't the greatest for three kids...but so full of character and nooks and crannies...and then two freaking acres of grass and a giant dilapidated horse barn overrun with groundhogs and random sinkholes and oh my God, we could never, ever maintain all this, no matter how tempted we might be to try. (And we were tempted.)
There were SO MANY houses. The perfect cape out of our price range that, after twisting the numbers around and around until we convinced ourselves it was doable, had already accepted an offer before the end of the open house. The great house in the middle of a crappy neighborhood. The crappy house in the middle of a great neighborhood that would require years of renovations. Dozens of expensively remodeled kitchens that matched tastes and preferences that were not our own. "Faux Fours" that would require one of the kids to sleep in a basement bedroom (that often barely seemed to qualify as an actual bedroom), and no option for an office. Water damage. Mysterious smells. Houses that were so utterly forgettable I'm not sure why we even bothered going inside.
And then there was the Yellow House.
We were running late for our scheduled showings by that point, having wasted too much time trying to convince ourselves that house after house could work even though they clearly wouldn't. We pulled up behind a moving van in the driveway and a weary-looking homeowner greeted us at the door. The photos online were of a lovely decluttered and well-staged home; in real life it was wall-to-ceiling boxes and chaos. Movers were pacing about, stacking more boxes and disassembling the remaining furniture. She insisted it was fine for us to come in, and dug around through stacks of paper covering the kitchen table to find me a brochure and information sheet.
Her husband's job was relocating them, she said. She asked if we had kids, and started tearing up as we chatted; she still couldn't believe they had to leave this house. Five kids, she's been raising in this house. She thought they'd be here forever. Anyway, sorry, please look around try to ignore the mess.
We awkwardly made our way around, sidestepping boxes and movers and several sullen-looking teenagers.
There were no hardwoods; it had wall-to-wall carpet everywhere. The kitchen hadn't been redone at all; it honestly was the same cheap white kitchen we've redone TWICE now, right down to the laminate counters and blah hardware. It had no pool, no hot tub, and some of the bathroom fixtures were showing their age. There was no barn or orchard and it didn't seem like it was in the kind of suburban neighborhood that would be down with fainting goats.
It was perfect.
We weren't even through the entire house (so many rooms! such a great floorplan! wait, look, there's more!) and we knew. This was the house we'd been searching for. I whispered to Jason what I thought we should offer (which ended up being exactly what the sellers' countered with) and look it'll be vacant in a couple days so they'll be okay with a speedy close and we can get in before the school year and it's been on the market awhile and the price per square foot is insanely low and LOOK AT THAT MASTER BATHROOM WHEEEEEE.
I came home and wrote the woman in the kitchen a heartfelt letter to accompany our offer. I meant every damn word.
(They had a cash offer that they'd previously rejected come back with better terms that very day. Their agent credited my letter as the tipping point to work with us instead. I will probably NEVER STOP BRINGING THIS UP.)
It has almost everything else we wanted, especially the important things. The things that ended up on the final list of "must haves." Enough space for everyone, but plenty of room to be together as a family. A big play set in the backyard with exactly three swings (safer than a pool, let's be honest). Garage and storage and endless possibilities. Room for a garden, an office, entertaining, guests, etc. Cul de sac. Great schools. A neighborhood full of kids.
The kitchen...eh, it's a blank slate that we'll soon make our own. Better than living with someone else's expensive-but-tacky tile choices. (Or at least that's what we're telling ourselves, lolololollllll, famous last words, etc.)
We're dealing with a relocation company so paperwork is...slow, to say the least, as we wait for final rubberstamping or whatever the hell they need to do while driving both us and the sellers crazy. Inspection is next week, then it's the final sprint through financing and closing.
I'm not really a woo-hoo universe-and-signs sort of person, and have spent the last month operating at hummingbird levels of panic and stress, but this part -- this part I'm calm about. This part will work out. This part will be okay. Because it's the Yellow House, and soon it will be our Yellow House, and our home.