Once we got our house under contract, we started looking in earnest at finding a new place to live that would give us more space and provide a much better commute for Paul. Although we toyed at one point with renting in the city, we pretty much decided against it because we would rather live in the suburbs since it just fits our personalities better. The East Bay was a pretty straightforward approach for us since there are 4 different BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) stations between Dublin and Martinez that would get Paul to work in about 30-45 minutes, depending on the station. While that is still a fairly substantial commute, it is way better than the 1 1/2 to 2 hours each way that he often does when commuting from San Jose and it would mean that Paul wouldn't be doing the driving. But in addition to the BART commute we had to consider the distance from a potential house to the BART station.
We ruled out Concord pretty fast even though there were quite a number of nice looking homes in our price range. The big issue with Concord was that the schools aren't nearly as good and property doesn't hold its value there as well as other options. We would have loved to have been in Walnut Creek but after looking at a number of properties we knew it just wasn't going to work for us there because real estate was too darn expensive, even for something a little smaller than what we were hoping for.
We really liked our real estate agent and he was super helpful in guiding us through the process and gave us access to all new listings in the areas we were considering as they came available, which was super helpful, especially since this is totally a seller's market right now and we knew that buying would be tough (having just come from the selling end of things). Anyway, one Saturday a few weeks ago we decided to just spend the afternoon going around to open houses. There was a house on our list in Dublin that was priced right and was almost 2,000 square feet on an 8,500 square foot lot, which is significantly more space than what we currently have (1,200 / 6,500, which has been feeling cramped with the four of us). It was listed as a "handyman special" but that is sort of what we were looking for anyway, especially since we have 2 months to stay in our current house for free (it is called a rent-back provision, and often you still have to pay the new owner an agreed-upon rental price or whatever their mortgage is while you are still in the property, but one of the reasons we really liked the offer we accepted is that they offered us free rent-back up front for 2 months).
We took turns going through it since both girls had fallen asleep in the car on the drive up. As soon as I walked in, the real estate agent showing the property told me that somebody had recently died in the house. That doesn't bother me since it was obviously an elderly person who had lived there and in California it is the law that a seller has to disclose if there has been a death in a property in the past 3 years. Anyway, as I walked through it just felt like a really great house with tons of potential. Yes, it obviously needs lots and lots of work but it is mostly all stuff that Paul and I have done before on our current house. New wall texture and paint everywhere, new carpeting and hardwood floors throughout, gut the kitchen and create an open floor plan, etc. The important thing is that the floor plan is good and everything looks structurally sound.
When I went back outside to trade off with Paul, I told him about the recent death. After he came out from walking through the house he told me that when he walked in another couple was talking with the listing agent so he had walked over and deadpanned "I hear somebody recently died in here. Where was he murdered?". It was such a Paul thing to say and it cracks me up.
Anyway, we both liked the property but agreed to keep looking so we went to all the other homes on our list. But nothing stood out at all like the Dublin house. So on our way back home we stopped by it one more time for another quick walk-through and decided that it was worth a call to AJ (our agent) to see about the area schools and what kind of offer we might make. Long story short, offers were due by noon on the following Wednesday and we knew that we had to offer more than asking to even have a shot. So we put in a good offer, leaving room in our budget for further negotiations but hoping we had offered enough to get past the first round. There were 8 offers and 3 of those (including ours) were given the chance to make an additional offer, due Thursday by 4 p.m. After discussing strategies, we went with our agent's advice to up our offer in order to lock down the property and beat out the other interested parties.
It is a bit of a bitter pill to make a house purchase in what we know is a higher market than when we first bought back in 2010 but we still feel like it was a smart choice for us since we can put in some sweat equity and protect our investment there. Plus, we feel like it is in an area that will hold value better than others and the house is only about 5 minutes from the BART station, so Paul's total commute should be around 45 to 55 minutes each way, and he won't ever have to worry about getting stuck in traffic, etc.
So, pictures, right? Here's the family room with the fireplace. The lovely wood paneling is coming down, we'll pull out the lovely gold fireplace insert, rip out the carpets, install can lighting, and lay down hardwood floors. I would love to do built-in bookshelves and a mantel around the fireplace, but that might have to wait.
I want to enlarge the opening to the backyard and put in large French doors instead of the sliding door that is there. On the left in the picture below you can see part of the kitchen and the doorway to the dining room. Those walls are all coming down. We were a little concerned that some of them might be load-bearing, but just confirmed a couple of days ago that they are not. So we'll do a large L-shaped island and have an open concept kitchen/dining/family room.
This is another view from the family room into the kitchen. This view will be drastically different after taking down those walls.
I really like that the dining room has a nice bay window that doesn't need to be replaced and brings in a lot of light. I hope we can find a really cool, sort of modern light fixture/chandelier to go in here.
The kitchen is livable, but ugly and totally 80's. The closet you can see on the right in the picture below is currently the laundry but we are going to move that to another location (hopefully the hallway just outside the master bedroom but it could also go in the garage, which is pretty normal in CA homes) so that we can put the fridge there along with a little pantry sort of area.
This shot of the double ovens and fridge will be really different. The plan is to put a range in the middle of this space with glass-fronted upper cabinets on either side and a hood in the middle. The wall on the right where the microwave is with a couple of small uppers will be knocked down so you can look out to the dining room and out into the backyard. The tile floors are coming out for hardwood.
We are kind of digging the step-down living room. It is just the tiniest bit retro without being awkward so we are keeping it although obviously the wood paneling is coming out, new lighting is going in, everything will get textured and painted, and we'll install new carpet.
The bathrooms aren't in terrible shape actually, aside from being ugly and having super low ADA accessible counters. But we like that there is space for double sinks in both the master and guest bathrooms. We plan to take the ceilings higher in here because right now they are built down for fluorescent lighting (who ever thought that was a good idea?). So they are probably going to go untouched for a while as other, more pressing projects, are tackled.
The master bedroom isn't anything fancy, but it is a good space and I'm excited about the big closet (not walk-in and not big by most of the U.S.'s standards, but certainly bigger than what we have had in our current house). The window treatments have got to go though. All the bedrooms will get textured, new base and trim, paint, and new carpet. The four bedrooms will be the first phase of the remodel since we have until the beginning of July before we have to make the move, and that way we can hopefully have those important living spaces done so we have clean, nice places to sleep while the kitchen/dining/family room areas are being worked on (because there is no way Paul can get all of it done before we move).
I hate that there is carpet in the master bathroom. This has got to change because it just grosses me out.
The guest bedroom has more lovely paneling, terrible window treatments, bizarre lighting, and flooring that needs to be ripped out and replaced with carpet. It is painted pink, but it looks like the homeowner whitewashed over part of it and tore out the closet doors without replacing anything.
Rose's room is currently a disgusting brown color with more bad floors. I'm excited to decorate in here and make it super cute for her. It is much bigger than her current nursery.
Just a hallway pic of Rose's room (the doorway on the left) and Clara's room (the doorway on the right).
Who knows what is going on with that strip of carpet at the back of Clara's room. But it is a nice big space and maybe when the girls are a little older we would even consider having them share this room just because I think that it is good for kids to share a room for at least part of their lives. I loved sharing a room with my sisters and even when I got my own room I often went in and slept with them. Those are some of my favorite childhood memories.
The entryway has a nice 1960's feel, I think, with an enchanting rock garden and random lightpost.
One of our most favorite things about the house is the backyard. It feels like it is almost 3 times the size of our current backyard, and we envision lots of fun parties here in the future. It will need a lot of work too (the deck has quite a lot of termite damage and has to come down, there are tree root issues, half the backyard is covered in gravel, the plants are pretty overgrown, etc.) but it actually looks pretty nice in photographs already I think.
We are even thinking about putting in a small shed and/or a small garden down the side of the house. We'll have to see what kind of light it gets once we are living in the house to determine whether a garden would even really work there. We would also really like to install a firepit somewhere, but all those projects are going to be a year or more away.
So those are our new digs! Or will be when we close on the purchase. We are hoping to have the keys by the end of next week so that the transformation can begin. Paul is pretty much planning on doing as much of the work as possible again (seriously, he is amazing and I recognize that I am crazy lucky to have such a talented, handy, hardworking husband). You should see the lists and spreadsheets and diagrams he has been creating to get things planned and organized in advance so that he can hit the ground running once we are in. Wish us luck!