Saturday, April 27, 2013

How To Sort Through Houses Before Going House Hunting

I am sure there are many, better, easier ways to do this, but this is the way I have done it.

So! I discovered that I was doing things out-of-order! The House-Hunting Notebook is going to be very helpful while I'm on my trip, but first there were many, many houses that needed to be sorted through, because they would not all fit in the notebook.

There are lots of websites listing houses for sale. I've mostly been using this one and this one.

Because I didn't know exactly what my options were going to be, I started searching with a broader range of requirements than I wanted to end up with: a little smaller square footage than I wanted, no specific yard size, slightly higher than the price we can afford, a wide variety of locations. These criteria brought up MANY, MANY results, so I needed a way to narrow the results down further.

In our case, there is a pretty large area where we could live, so the number of listings I was looking through was overwhelming because of that. I finally decided to pick a location based on the school ratings; although I home school, there is a good chance we will be moving again in a few years, and we will need to sell this house, so, during this entire process, I have had to keep that fact in the back of my mind and choose a house that I hope think will be likely to sell when we have to move. If this was going to be the house we stayed in for many years, my search criteria would be different. A Lovely Person helped me find the school ratings by looking here. Note: I realize there is no perfect way to rank schools. This particular site uses test scores to rank, and I know that test scores are not an accurate reflection of quality of teaching or student knowledge, but I have to work with what is available.

With the school rankings in mind, I picked the top 3 locations that had been on my list. This helped narrow down the number of houses a little bit, but still: SO MANY.

I went through all of the listing results that came up and briefly looked at each one, keeping in mind the different categories in the notebook. If, after this initial look, I thought the house could work, I copied and pasted the web address (which, for the site I linked to above, included the street address) into an email draft with the subject: houses to look at later. I chose an email draft because, with the email program I am using, it allows me to keep lots of different windows open at the same time, but you could also use a word processing document. This part took a lot of time at first because of the number of houses available. I suggest doing this 3-4 weeks before you go house hunting.

After I had made it through all of the listings for my areas from my initial search, I've gone back about once a week to see if there are any new listings; this doesn't take NEARLY as long as the initial search.

Next, it was time to look at the houses more closely, to narrow the selection down. In my case, I had about 60 houses left at this point. I opened another email draft and gave it the subject "deleted houses" because I know my lack of memory, and all of these houses blur together after a while, so I knew I needed a way to check if I had already looked at a certain house. Every time I took a house off of the list of "houses to look at later", I cut the web address out of that email and pasted it into the "deleted houses" email; underneath that, I made a little note of why I had cut that house, so that I would remember when I looked at it later.

Then, I opened G00gle maps. As I went through the list of "houses to look at later", I clicked on the link for each house, copied the street address, and pasted it into G00gle maps. I got directions from that house to Husband's work and made note of the time. I zoomed in on the house to see it closer.
  • Was it on or near a busy street?
  • How close was the house to the neighbor's houses?
  • Were there any streams or lakes nearby?
  • Was the yard going to work for us?
  • Was there a fence (this could have changed because I don't know how old the g00gle pictures are, but I made a note of this anyway)?
Some of the maps, offered a street view, so I looked at that too. A few houses were cut off the list after looking at the map.

Then I went back to the house listing. Underneath the web address in my email draft, I listed this information: # of bedrooms, square footage of the house, size of the yard/lot, school district, whether or not it had a basement, and price. On the line underneath that, I put things I noticed as I looked through the house pictures:
  • Was there a nice kitchen?
  • Would we need to buy a refrigerator?
  • Were the rooms nicely painted (in colors I would enjoy and not have to paint myself)?
  • What kind of flooring in the main house and bedrooms?
  • Were there mature trees in the yard?
  • Was the laundry room a cave or did it have a window and cabinets?
Anything that caught my attention about that house, I wrote it down.

I looked up the information for our current house to help me compare. We need more space in the house and the yard, so any houses that were too close to our current measurements were cut.

I still had too many houses on the list, and then I remembered Swistle's tier system for rating chocolates and thought something similar could work for houses too! I decided to dream big and make the requirements for the top tier very specific and as close to dream house specifications as I could force myself to because, in my experience, dreams don't really come true and if they do they turn out to be nightmares. I opened another email draft and gave it the subject:
  • Tier 1: x+ bedrooms, x+ square feet, x+ acres, certain school districts, basement
I was quite surprised, when I had finished cutting each house and its information from the "houses to look at later" list and pasting it in the "Tier 1" list, that I actually had about 13 houses!

Not believing that it would ever actually work out for me to buy one of those glorious houses Just in case all of those houses sell before I arrive, for the houses that were close to Tier 1 status, I opened another email draft and gave it the subject:
  • Tier 2: x+ bedrooms, >x square feet, >x acres, certain school districts, may or may not have a basement
There are about 20 houses on this list.

So! About once a week until I leave, I will do a new search and see if there are any new listings that meet Tier 1 or Tier 2 requirements and add them to the appropriate list.

As soon as Certain Persons make certain decisions/arrangements Soon I will contact a realtor, tell her what I'm looking for, and send her my list so she can start making arrangements for me to see some of these houses.

The week before I leave to go house-hunting, I will be making CDP Exch*nge assignments, yay =)! put the Tier 1 houses that are still available in the House Hunting Notebook.

Now, what are the chances I will actually be able to buy a house in a one-week period of time? (Don't answer that.)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Example of a Crappy Day Package #18 (Edited)

EDITED TO ADD: I KNEW I was forgetting something! The red "Yum!" package, shown below, contained a package of GHIRARDELLI DARK CHOCOLATE & SEA SALT W/CARAMEL SQUARES! I must have eaten them before I had a chance to take a picture Somehow, I didn't get a picture of that. But I was SO EXCITED when I opened it because I had heard a few people mention chocolate and sea salt with caramel and I had wanted to try it!

The day I opened that present: I had to go pick up yet ANOTHER package at the post office (someone should really invent some sort of service that delivers packages TO YOUR HOUSE....wait...) and then the package did not contain the oil I was waiting for that I was hoping would help my arm stop hurting. To stop the downward spiral of despair, I decided I would stop for my favorite pork fried rice (conveniently, the fried rice place is right next to the post office!), but when I checked my wallet, I didn't have enough cash. Baby hadn't taken a nap that day and was GRUMPY, I received a load of the "look how perfect our family is!" Christmas cards, and it was day 29 of my cycle, which is always enough to make me quake with fright. It was the PERFECT day for Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt With Caramel, is what I'm saying.

Well. This has been a Crappy Week for TOO MANY people =(. I think it's the perfect time to be reminded that there are still good, kind, thoughtful people in the world!

A Lovely, Lovely Person* sent this CDPackage to me and was worried that I would think less of it because of the non-froofy wrapping. She need not have worried!

Helpful labels on the presents

If I display the mug prominently enough, do you think the children will catch on?
(Spoiler: it has been displayed prominently for some time now and the children haven't caught on.)

I had JUST been thinking that I would really like to get some towels for the kids' bathroom that I could crochet something on the top of to attach the towel to the towel rack so I stop finding them on the floor! These are PERFECT because that bathroom has red towels!
Soothing, lavender body wash
Lip stuff!

REAL MAPLE SYRUP!! I never knew, but it is SO DELICIOUS!
Usually I make my pancakes from scratch, but when I used this mix the ingrates children RAVED about how FLUFFY and DELICIOUS the pancakes were!
I hide flax meal in my baking, so this was also a welcome gift =)!

Mmmmmmmmmm. The ice cream toppings were especially amazing! It was a close contest, but I liked the fudge topping the best.

This was a fun one!

It was really cool to see that the corn popped right on the cob!

The popcorn was crispy and delicious!

The children are always using my skewers for one thing or another; now I am re-stocked!
I used the BBQ sauce to marinate and cook some chicken; it was delicious =)!
Food-related projects for the children
They IMMEDIATELY grabbed the recipe magazine and started plotting which delicious things they wanted to make.
Thank you, Lovely Person! The presents and resourceful wrapping job were much enjoyed =)!
*I will be keeping Crappy Day Present senders anonymous so that the sender doesn't have to worry that Person Q is going to see what they (the sender) sent me and possibly feel bad that their (Person Q's) package was not as fabulous as mine ;-). But if you don't worry as much as I do aren't worried about that, you are welcome to claim your package in the comments!

Monday, April 15, 2013

PSA: How To Keep Track of Information While House Hunting

If you are just entering house-hunting hell starting your house-hunting journey and are looking for helpful organizational information, start here, and then come back to this post.

Thanks to all of your great suggestions, I think I finally have all of the headings I need for my keeping-track-of-all-the-details-of-NUMEROUS-houses chart!

If you are the kind of person who is going to think, "But, DoingMyBest, you can just print all of those house descriptions and put them in a 3-ring binder and then you don't have to go to all of this trouble!" or, "But, DoingMyBest, it would have been more economical to use one of the notebooks you bought for $0.15 during the back-to-school sales than to spend THREE DOLLARS on a notebook just because it was pretty!" then this is not the post for you.

If you are someone who finds comfort in picking out a pretty, new notebook and making a soothing chart for a challenging occasion, READ ON.

I had to go to T*rget for something, so, having recently decided I should get organized for this house-hunting trip, I decided I would look for a pretty notebook to help make this job more bearable. Before I made it to the notebook section, I found an end display of some bright, cheery office supplies.

*******lack of picture here because the T*rget website SUCKS and I couldn't find it anywhere*******

One of the things made in that cheery design was a clip board/folder sort of thing. There was a clipboard on the front, but you could open it like a folder and there was a notepad inside. I was HIGHLY tempted because I liked the pattern and I thought that a clipboard might be useful, and then I was even MORE tempted when I found a similar one on clearance for 1/3 of the price! But I was a little concerned that the notepad might not give me enough space for all of the information I wanted to keep track of, and then I noticed that these things were called "portfolios" and I remembered that Husband had brought something similar home from a conference and given it to me...and it was still sitting underneath my desk at home.

One of the portfolios had a graph paper notepad, and I thought a graph paper notebook would be helpful for this chart, but I couldn't find one. I DO have some graph paper, lab book type notebooks at home, but they aren't pretty.

There were ALL SORTS of notebooks at Target, and I was starting to think I should just use one from home because I was never going to be able to choose, when my eye was caught by THIS:
Hello, Beautiful!
I was concerned that it would shed glitter everywhere, but it doesn't!

On the inside cover, I am writing the names and phone numbers of those who live in the area I will be visiting, who have offered to help.

On the first page of paper, I am making a list of the different areas in which I am looking for houses because I cannot seem to remember to save my life and it is necessary to ask Husband every time I need to know.

I skipped a few pages (in case I need them for something later) and then listed out the room dimensions of our current house, so I can more easily compare these spaces to the other houses.

Then came the place where I wanted to put all of the information that I want to find out about each of the new houses. I put it at the top of two pages like this:

Left page

Right page
I did not want to have to write the list of information at the top of the page for each of the MANY houses I need to keep track of, so I carefully cut the top part of the pages on the right side, so that I can flip the bottom part of the page, but the list of information I need stays up at the top.

I decided to turn the page twice to start the information for a new house, so that the writing from the previous house doesn't show through and distract me. If I need to HEAVEN FORBID I can go back and put house information on the pages I left blank PLEASE DON'T LET THERE BE THAT MANY HOUSES!.

I decided I'd better reinforce the top part of the page that has the list, so I put clear packing tape on the front and back and then trimmed it. Then I added some colors (because I forgot to do that before I put tape over it, oops), so that I could easily see which groups of information were related. For example, I have a column labelled "laundry room" and the two columns after that are "cabinets" and "sink/window"; since I am wanting to know if there are cabinets, a sink, and a window in the laundry room, I put the same color on the end of each of those columns.

On the right side page, I will write the room sizes, and, on the last 3 lines, the distance to the closest grocery stores, library, and parks.

At the bottom of each left side page, I am writing the address and listing number of the house. Above that, I am making a pros and cons list. There is enough room left on the pages for me to make notes while I'm visiting each house.

I used green ink to fill out the information I could find online about each house; when I visit the houses, I will use blue ink.

I tried to organize the information in the columns in a logical order, or, at least, an order that makes sense to me. I imagine I will get to a house, look around the front yard on the way to the door, look at the kitchen/living room/dining room/main house, the backyard, then the bedrooms, and, lastly, the basement, if there is one. The columns at the top of the pages are:
  • # of rooms
  • Sq. Footage
  • Yard size (acres)
  • Backyard size (not a specific number; a comparison to our current backyard)
  • Sidewalks
  • Proximity to neighbors
  • House material (brick, vinyl, etc.)
  • Neighborhood Ambiance
  • Busy street?
  • Type of roof
  • Spaces in garage
  • Fence in front
  • Front porch?
  • Cooling system
  • Heating system
  • Floors-main house (wood, tile, carpet, etc.)
  • Ceiling fans-main house
  • Hall closet?
  • Mudroom?
  • Overall energy efficiency
  • Windows (drafty?)
  • # bathrooms
  • bathroom storage
  • Curtains/blinds (what comes with each house?)
  • Kitchen space
    • Counter material
    • Counter space
    • Cabinet space, # doors
    • Pantry
    • Appliance age
    • Room for table 97"
  • Laundry Room
    • Cabinets
    • Sink/Window
  • Bedrooms #
    • floors
    • ceiling fans
    • closets
  • Painted rooms?
  • Bonuses? (built in cabinets or bookcases, etc.)
  • High Speed Internet (available?)
  • Back Patio/Fence
  • Outbuildings
  • Basement
    • Finished?
    • Sump pump
    • radon
  • Distance to Husband's work
  • Taxes-city, township
  • Price
Edited to add: I also need to find a spot for "Slope of the ground from the house", "Signs of water damage", and "Property taxes".

Apparently, I'm really doing this:
Flight information, ack!
A Lovely Person gave me a giant paperclip for when I need help holding things together.

House-hunting supplies:
If only there was a handy spot for a medicinal pint of ice cream...