Real Life House Hunters: Top 3

Ten houses in two days. We saw ten houses in two days. There is definitely an art to being able to soak in the layout and character of a house after only a ten-minute walk-through, and I found myself barely even wrapping my mind around one place before we were whisked away to another one. The pictures I took turned out to be a great resource for recalling details about all of the houses (were there three bedrooms upstairs or four?), but I was surprised at how quickly four very different personalities could come to a consensus about whether the house was one we’d consider renting or not.

The schedule was hectic and the last few houses were probably unnecessary to look at, making me think that maybe there is such a thing as seeing too many houses. On our first day out with Svetlana, the real estate agent, she lined up three to show us, but tried to convince us after the second one that it was the right place for us and she didn’t have anything better. It’s true, we liked it, but hmm, well, maybe there was something better out there. If we see more, we thought at the time, we’ll have a better idea of the market to compare that house to. So she took us to one more that day.

We still weren’t satisfied. More houses! We called more real estate agents and combed newspaper ads. Svetlana showed us three more houses, then two other agents showed us four more later that day. Seven houses in one day was overkill, but finally we had clear favorites at that point and didn’t want to see any more.

The process for looking at the houses seemed relatively easy; the agent contacts the owner and everybody finds a convenient time to meet. The owners were mostly quiet, letting the four foreigners poke around their property, answer questions about taxes, bills and other mundane responsibilities. Some were absolutely gregarious, shrieking with delight about the Italian walnut banisters and happy to demonstrate that one of the few English words they know is “style”. Others came off a bit desperate and pleading, which has the opposite desired effect; a place we were decently impressed with suddenly turned into one we wouldn’t dare choose.

One of the strangest things about the entire process was the amount of luxury amenities that we all agreed we didn’t need. Like a swimming pool, for example. But it turns out, once you look for houses in the $2000/month range, swimming pools are pretty much obligatory. Why you would pay so much and not get a swimming pool seems to be the common thought among owners and architects. Even more surreal was trying to convince the agents that if we didn’t need one swimming pool, we most certainly did not need two swimming pools. (For those times when you’d rather not have to think about the decision to go outside to swim or stay inside?)

Eventually, we had to accept there could potentially be a pool in our future.

I originally planned on splitting up the houses into two posts, the top and bottom 5, but it turned out to be practically impossible. The decision came down to two houses, and the rest had some pretty major issues that sealed their fate before we finished the viewing. But, here are details on three of the houses (to throw off the readers, of course). Note that the numbers of the houses do not correspond to my personal ranking or to the order in which we saw them.

House #1

(Oops, I forgot to snap a photo of the outside of the house. That’s the large room in the basement.)
Price: $2300/month
Location: South of the city center, near Akhunbaeva St (a totally unknown area for me)
Notable amenities: Swimming pool and sauna, Italian walnut railings and finish work

Pros: With three bedrooms on the top floor, several rooms on the ground floor, and a basement that included a wide-open room and a smaller room (we envisioned general office space and a conference room going there), this place seemed to have a good layout to give each couple their own floor and have all company-related things in the basement. The basement had a separate entrance as well, giving more privacy to the residents. The pool and sauna are a nice addition. The kitchen was spacious and the oven (seen in this photo) was big (perfect for the oversized cupcake tin I impulse-bought last year).

Cons: The price is higher than we wanted, and the owner was adamant that it wouldn’t budge. The decorations were a bit on the garish side; in addition to the bright turquoise room shown above, another was shockingly pink. There were many paintings reminiscent of this t-shirt. Overall, there was a bit of a shabby, dated feel to the house, and the landlord was as over-the-top and in-your-face as his paint choices. The front yard was a decent size, but it was mostly paved over or covered in stones, which meant little room for gardening. (Farrell and the other couple really enjoy gardening.)

House #2

Price: $2500/month
Location: near the city center
Notable amenities: swimming pool, sauna, large yard, fruit trees, outdoor kitchen

Pros: A great location that is only a few blocks from our current place now, meaning we’d stay near friends and an area we know (and love). There is tons of space to garden and a mini orchard that has cherries, plums and other fruit trees. The swimming pool must be great because it’s so happy (look for the happy face in the photo!). The layout of the house is three floors, meaning each couple could get their own floor and leave one for the office. Generally, most rooms seem to get a lot of light as well.

Cons: Wow, the price is way over the top end of our budget, and $2500 was already a discounted rate (we think it has been sitting on the market for a while). The owner seemed open to negotiate, but would he realistically come down another $500 per month? The house itself is nice, a bit ornate and a bit dated. We all spent hours thinking of the layout and how it could reasonably be split, because the basement (which includes one large room, pictured top-left, and one smaller room) is just a bit too small to fit all desks and employees in the large room, while the smaller room seems too dark to be a permanent office. Most solutions we came up with involved breaking up the office over two floors, which would then reduce the privacy of someone’s living space. While the location is convenient, it would keep us in the same bubble we’ve settled into over the past 1 1/2 years.

House #3

Price: $2000/month
Location: South of center city (90% of the houses we looked at were in this area)
Notable amenities: newly renovated, nice hardwood floors

Pros: The price is exactly what we were looking to spend and the layout really seemed to work well for our needs. There were four bedrooms on the top floor, a big living room and office on the ground floor, and an oversized and normal-sized room in the basement (seems like a common basement set-up). We figured one couple could take three rooms upstairs, one couple could turn the ground floor into living space (leaving a bedroom upstairs as a guestroom for both couples), and enough space in the basement for a general office room and conference room. The basement landing was even big enough to put in a table and set up a dining area for the office, plus there was a separate entrance. The whole house looked like it had been recently renovated and the decorations were pretty tasteful and simple. The landlord seemed like a very easygoing guy as well.

Cons: Well, for all the talk about not caring about having a swimming pool and sauna, we kind of resented this house for not having either one. As we narrowed down our choices, discussions of hypothetically picking this one included, “Yes, we’ll choose this one and then we’ll just borrow our neighbor’s sauna.” The front yard was small and would mean much less opportunity for gardening. (It was covered in snow, but I can’t remember now whether it was grass or if it was just stone.) Plus, while the layout technically worked in terms of the amount of space needed, it was a bit strange to consider that one couple would get three decent-sized bedrooms to live in, while one couple would get a big living room and a small office to live in. Even though we all agreed on which floor each couple would get, we all felt like it was unbalanced.

The contract is signed and a deposit is down on one of these houses already. Which one do you think it is? (Don’t cheat if you know the answer!) I’ll post soon about our final decision and some of the truly ridiculous places we were shown.

5 replies on “Real Life House Hunters: Top 3”

  1. gah, I’m dying to know! I’m going with house 3, too. Budget house that fits your basic needs wins.

  2. Including a vote on twitter: House #1: 0, House #2: 2, House #3: 3. I guess it’s pretty obvious that we didn’t go with #1.

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