House Hunting for the Person You Want to Be

I mentioned on Twitter the other day that Chris and I have been doing some house hunting. We realized that we’re ready to get out of our current place and we’ve been falling in love with houses all over the city.

House hunting for the person you want to be

For Chris and I, the location of the house is more important than the house itself. I mean, don’t get me wrong. We don’t want to be living in some ramshackle shanty that happens to be in a really cool district. But we definitely don’t want to live in a dream house that’s nowhere near anything we do or like.

We know we want to stay in Norman. It’s where I work, and it’s close enough to where Chris works that it would be silly to go anywhere else. And we really love Norman. Sure, it’s boring sometimes, but it’s our city. And you really can’t beat a college town in the middle of summer. Then the city really feels like it’s ours.

(Yeah. I know. I work at the university and students are my livelihood. But you know what else students are? More traffic, 45-minute waits at restaurants, and impossibly long lines at Target. I appreciate all the tuition dollars that make their way into my paycheck. But I really savor those summer months.)

But here’s the thing: We’re struggling to figure out what kind of house it is we want. And the more we look, the more two very distinct paths emerge.

Our original intent was to purchase a home in a historical district. But all the historical districts are around the university. This would be great since I could easily walk to work. But it also sucks, because if a house is in a historical district, people get away with asking $200k for a cardboard box that’s duct taped to a milk crate. The listing will call it a “cozy fixer upper.”

I CALL IT GARBAGE.

The listing will call it a cozy fixer upper. I CALL IT GARBAGE. Click To Tweet

If you’re not familiar with the Oklahoma City metro area housing market, the majority of good, decent houses in a good, decent school districts are typically between $120k to $250k — depending on the size and the particular area. And historical houses are basically a bajillion dollars for 1,000 square feet, one bathroom, and zero closets.

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Chris and I tend more toward the minimal side of things. (Though we’d gladly take this place on Main Street in a heart beat.) We don’t have a ton of tchotchkes or collections of things. Basically, everything we have means something to us. And we are well-known for taking a load of stuff to Goodwill once a week. So, we don’t need a whole lot of space. Besides, we currently reside in a house that’s just over 1,000 square feet, and it feels like a good amount of space for us.

So, our house hunting started with looking at what the historical districts had to offer. And we quickly became disenchanted with that because apparently you can ask for over a million dollars for a house that hasn’t been renovated since 1963 and is missing 30% of it’s siding. And people will pay for it.

(I have a theory that these people are rich alumni who want a place to hang during football season. They can eat my dirty socks.)

We expanded our search, and that’s when I could see two distinctive futures in front of us.

The further from the university we looked, the bigger the houses became. The more we searched the online listings, the more we kept coming back to “the dream house.” Nestled at the end of a cul-de-sac, this house was 2,200 square feet, two floors, four bedrooms and two living areas. I spent a lot of time imagining how awesome it would be to turn one of those living rooms into my library/office.

We did fall out of love with it pretty easily though. The online pictures were obviously taken by someone who knew how to manipulate the depth of field. When we saw the house in person, it was the choppiest, space-wasting floor plan I could imagine.

But there it was. On the one hand, we wanted a small historical house near the university. On the other, we wanted a huge, suburban place to keep up with the Joneses.

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Chris and I had a come to Jesus sort of talk via Google Hangouts, because we’re terrible people who can really only communicate with some sort of digital interface between us. (That’s not entirely true. We are just more likely to be brazenly honest when we chat via computer rather than in person, where we will couch what we say in non-specific and overly nice terms.)

In this conversation, we really specified what it is we want in a house. Here’s our house hunting wish list:

  1. 1,600 square feet maximum: This may seem small to some, but it really is a lot of space for just the two of us. We know we want a bedroom for us, one for a guest room, and then we’ll both need some space to work when we’re at home. If that means we put some office space in the corner of a living room, or another bedroom, then that’s good. Plus, I grew up in a house about that size, and there was plenty of room for four people to avoid each other in there.
  2. Library space: Right now, my office in our current home serves as the library. I have no trouble putting my massive, messy collection of books in another bedroom in our new home. But if there’s a nook/small area in the living room for them, that would be awesome too.
  3. Two bathrooms: I feel I don’t need to justify this. When I used to live in a one-bathroom house with roommates, there was many a morning when one of us would drive to a nearby gas station to use the bathroom while the other was in the shower. I don’t want to live that life ever again.
  4. A location we love: There are a lot of fun areas in Norman, and they all tend to be around the university. We’re okay with paying a little more to be near campus and downtown, since those are the two main places we go. We have this beautiful vision of someday only owning one car, and even then, we mostly walk wherever we need to go. I don’t know if it will ever happen, but if it does, it’s going to be because we live around campus. But we’re definitely open to other neighborhoods that can offer us quiet, less traffic, and easy access to the highway for Chris.
  5. A non-galley kitchen: This is perhaps the most important thing on the list. The problem with the galley kitchen is that I’m really good at getting in Chris’s way when he’s doing something in our galley kitchen. Like, if I open the dishwasher while he’s stirring something on the stove, there is a good chance that we’ll bump into each other, or Chris will trip on dishwasher door. (Yes, just like what happened to Zach Braff’s mom in Garden State.) For the sake of our relationship, we need more space in the kitchen.
  6. Absolutely no wife-swapping: You may think that this item is a joke. It’s not. I would wager a guess that if you live in a more (but not necessarily) suburban area, you have people in your neighborhood that you suspect of wife-swapping. I’m not here to swinger-shame your groovy lifestyles, but I am saying that sort of thing isn’t for Chris and I. I think there are a lot of neighborhoods in the Oklahoma City Metro suburbs where wife-swapping, cheating on your spouse, and living a generally empty life is the norm. And that sort of things tends to stem from people earning a decent living, then coming home from work and not knowing what to do with their time. (I’m sure a level of marital dissatisfaction or a manic need for new and exciting things comes into play too.) Chris and I have side hustles, so we don’t want to get sucked into weird neighbor drama when our time off work is spent working on other things.
How wife-swappy is your neighborhood? Click To Tweet

So there you have it. House hunting in a nutshell. What do you look for in a house? What’s your house hunting wish list? How wife-swappy is your neighborhood? Are you selling a house near the University of Oklahoma? Wanna forgo realtors and sell it directly to me? Please?!

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24 comments

  1. Ryan and I are currently trying to knock down debt so we can be in a position to buy instead of rent for the first time in our lives. We definitely have a wish list, too. Here are some of my house hunting non-negotiables:

    1. Good school district. Bartlesville has 3 top-of-the-line elementary schools, and I want to stay in one of those districts. Preferably, it would be the one we are in now.
    2. 2 bathrooms. Again, no need to justify this.
    3. An office space. Since I work from home and will continue to do so indefinitely, I need a dedicated space for that. Right now, my office space is shared with our dining space, and it works but it’s not ideal.
    4. Some wood floors. I hate carpet, and it’s a nightmare with small children. If we find a house we love that has carpet, you better believe I’ll be ripping that nonsense up. It’d just be easier to avoid doing that if possible.
    5. A fenced-in backyard. Again, I have small children, and I don’t want them to waste away their childhoods in front of screens nor do I want to helicopter parent them when they’re outdoors. They need a safe space to fuel their imaginations.

    I have more items on my list, but these are the most important for me right now. I love to daydream house hunt, though, so I probably think about this too much.

    • Dude. I need to add a fenced-in backyard to my list. Not just for the dog or future children, but so I can sit back there in some sloppy yoga pants at the end of the day and just chill. Backyards are key. I have a theory that people who don’t have a backyard are totally missing out.

      And if I’m being honest, my list is way too long. Like, if I were to find a place full of built-in book cases, I would snatch it up IMMEDIATELY.

  2. The main thing I would do differently in our house buying journey was to hold out for someplace outside of city limits, and preferably on a full acre or two. There are too many regulatory-happy people in my neighborhood, ugh. I would have appreciated my neighbor talking to me instead of siccing the city on me right after our 15″ of rain (2 years ago) when we COULDN’T mow for 2-3 weeks because the yard still had puddles and you sank an inch or two when you walked on it.

    Hubby and I would both like to live in the middle of nowhere, preferably just so we can open the windows and not be blasted with the neighbor’s music, lol.

    Despite that, we still upgraded neighborhoods when we moved. With a couple of recent exceptions, the crime rate was dropping here when we moved, where it was going up where we were at.

    But really, house-hunting is a matter of patience. I remember seeing the house we are in now on the market well over a year before we bought it. It dropped $16k in the meantime. Why they ever thought it would sell for $70k in this neighborhood, especially without an updated kitchen, I will never know.

    • I think patience definitely works in some markets. Norman is kind of weird though. If the property is good, then it goes fast. And we’ve thought about living in the country, but definitely won’t do it until we both don’t have to commute every day.

  3. We chose our current house based on the following criteria:
    – porch
    – trees
    – bigger yard but not too big
    – more counter space
    – big shower
    – powder bath

    #nailedit

    • You really did nail it. Though, I’m holding out for when you guys add on a ball pit room to your house. That’s the one thing your new place is missing.

  4. Where’s the part about the garden space???? 😉

    And I have to admit, I wouldn’t have thought about putting wife-swapping on the list to things to avoid, but I have come to really abhor McMansion neighborhoods because they seem so depressing. So, maybe that’s part of it?

    Hah, you would have died living in Florida when I did. Two bedroom, two bath, houses from the 50s-70s (think retiree homes of that time) were going for 300K+. Some updated, some not. This was about 10 miles from the coast, too. Not even freakin’ within walking distance to the beach. Forget anything nicer…you’d be paying 500K and up! And apartments were turned to ‘condos’ selling for 100K and up. I mean, a generic apartment complex. Nothing fancy. It was awful.

    • The garden will go wherever the dog will allow it in the backyard…though I may just pretend I completely forgot about the garden for the first 10 years of home ownership.

      And I will never understand super-inflated housing markets. Though, I live in one of the cheapest housing markets in the US, so I guess I really have no point of reference.

  5. I wish I could recommend a place that fits all your criteria, but alas, the only house I know that is for sale is the one across the street from me. We’re on the corner of Porter and Rock Creek, the house is I think right around 1600 sq ft and probably under 100k because it’s in terrible shape due to 1) the previous owner was a hoarder and 2) it got flooded two years ago during that whole disaster. Also there’s a lot of little kids running in the street.
    Sean and I found a nice house on Boyd, about 1500 sq ft with rickety stairs and bookshelved fireplace and a shady yard, when we were moving, but I don’t know what’s available down there anymore.

    • It seems like a lot of the houses in Norman are either completely destroyed by bad owners, or way overpriced. It’s weird how it works out. And I haven’t seen any listings like that on Boyd, but I’ll keep my eyes open.

  6. When I bought my first house, I too longed for a historic district. Reality and my paycheck would not be denied. But I fell in love with the “west of Berry” neighborhoods. You can find good deals on moderately well kept ranches which usually have hardwood floors and big, fenced in yards. I lived by Rotary Park in a really cute ranch. The only thing that stinks is they are slightly out of walkable range for campus and stuff but definitely bikeable! South of Lindsey tends to be the priciest. Between Lindsey and Berry has a lot of nice houses (but the least good elementary school) and north of Main has a lot of variety. But I highly recommend for the cost conscious but authentic Norman feel!

    • I’m slowly falling in love with those west of Berry neighborhoods too! There’s a lot of good stuff over there with an old feel and some soul. And there are a few houses right off of Berry, just south of Lindsey that have recently gone up for sale that we’re thinking about.

  7. How would I go about determining how wife-swappy my neighborhood is

    Asking for a friend

    • Well, firstly, one must consume a drink or two with one’s neighbors. Then, when one’s neighbors are feeling a bit free with their words, then you’ll know. Or, you can also take the spy approach. For example, watch which neighbors talk. Then, notice the various spouses that walk across the street for a chat every now and again. Oh, and listen to the gossip. SO MUCH GOSSIP. Basically, we are all living amongst wife swappers.

  8. Bahaha, “a cardboard box taped to a milk crate”. You’ve got a great writing style. Although, you can find those shanty-like boxes in Sydney or San Francisco for around the million dollar mark , if not more. It’s slightly depressing really. Best of luck on the house hunt!

  9. We’ve been in the same house for 16 years. Not sure when we’ll go hunting again but I’ll be sure to steer clear of the wife swapping!

  10. Wife-swapping is a real thing? I obviously live under a rock because I thought it was just reality tv crap! House hunting can be so stressful…but I love the idea of house-hunting for the person you want to be. When I bought my apartment — my very first place — about 7 years ago, I was single and knew what area I was looking at but apart from that, as long as it was a 2 bedroom place within my price range, that’s all that mattered. And then I went with my heart and gut.

    • I think it’s so important to follow your heart and your gut in those sorts of situations. Usually you have the feelings they give you for a reason.

  11. It was so hard to find a place for us to rent in Sydney that met the needs of our family. Thanks for linking up with the Ultimate Rabbit hole.

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