Real-Estate Chaos

When I moved back from Toronto, I gave myself a year to decide what I was going to do: either move back to Canada or stay in Houston and buy a new house. Living in Toronto was like living in utopia and I loved every single second of it, including living through the second snowiest winter in Toronto’s history. I applied for Permanent Residency, filled out the 974 required forms, got fingerprinted, got paperwork from both the FBI and the state of Texas saying I wasn’t a felon, and gave the Government du Canada a ton of cash for the privilege. But once I got back to Houston and started planting roots again, I decided to stay put. After all, my family and friends were here, the job I loved was here, I started dating awesome Texas boys, I made some fantastic friends in the Junior League, and just decided that it was less important to me to live in a place with an amazing quality of life (and yes, the sales and income taxes to go with it) than it was for me to stay in Houston for the things and people I loved. So I got my gajillions of dollars back from the Canadian government and started thinking about putting my condo up for sale.

Fast forward to January 2012. I found a way cool house and put in an offer to buy it. It was a foreclosure and needed about $100K worth of work, though, and after I started dealing with the bank (which was a complete and utter gong show) and thinking about how I was going to manage redoing a house while oh, I don’t know, working and living my life, I backed out. We’ll call this house #1. Then came the insanity of the Houston real estate market. Linsanity ain’t got nothin on the ding dang real estate craziness that was Houston over the last few months and, naturally, I was right in the thick of it.

I changed my focus from the location of house #1 to the Houston Heights, but low inventory and clambering to get into one of the two “good” public elementary schools in the Heights sent prices to infinity and beyond. Multiple offers were being put in on houses that weren’t yet active; sellers got brave in their asking prices, inflating the market even more; interest rates dropped and the school year ended, which caused even more chaos. I made offers on two houses (both of them <1,000 square feet, I might add) with multiple offers on both, and got zero.

Once again, I changed my focus and finally hit something. By that point, I’d become an official HAR whore and saw a new house in Braes Terrace come on the market. We were there at 9am the next morning, had put in an offer by 2pm and, by that evening, another offer had been made. We were asked to submit our “best and final offer” — an expression I came to loathe — and, after writing a letter to the sellers expressing my undying love for their home, got the house. Under contract we went!

Then came the fun part. The mortgage broker I’d been working with for four months — FOUR MONTHS! — informed me that since I hadn’t yet sold my condo (a teeny tiny oversight on her part), I didn’t qualify to “own” both houses. We knew my condo would sell fast, so we purposely hadn’t listed it so I wouldn’t be homeless. But the sellers of house #4 didn’t want to go under contract with a contingency, so I had to back out of the deal. It goes without saying that my heart was broken. I loved this house. It was exactly what I’d been looking for when I started this whole crazy mess, and I was beyond bummed. Everyone told me it was for a reason, just like they tell you when a relationship doesn’t work out. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “it happened for a reason” which basically sent me into finger-down-my-throat mode.

I expanded my search even further and started looking in Oak Forest. I saw a house I liked, but the seller received an offer the afternoon I looked at it. I saw a house I really liked in Timbergrove Manor and made an offer the same day. Thirty-six hours later, we still hadn’t heard back from the sellers and we knew — multiple offers. Sure enough, someone had outbid me on the house even though my offer was the first in the door, and they started and completed negotiating with the other buyer without ever telling us a thing. (I’ll also add that they had crosses all over every single room of their house but their behavior in that deal was anything but Christian, if you ask me. The selling agent was Elizabeth McCormick of Heritage Texas Properties. I never, ever speak badly about people or things on my blog, but I felt the way she handled that deal was completely unprofessional and, frankly, pretty slimy, and I would personally never use her or Heritage Texas. Like ever. But I digress.)

And then it happened. I was scouring HAR for the 27th time that day and saw a new listing. We were there at noon as the listing agent was putting the lockbox on the door and submitted an offer by 2pm. I made a full-priced offer — because that’s how insane things in Houston are right now — and found out the next morning that, although four other offers had been submitted, including two full-priced offers, the sellers had chosen me because my offer was in first. THOSE are the kind of people I want to deal with and a million angels began singing in the heavens!

This was three weeks ago. The inspections were good, financing was going well and the appraisal was ordered. Lo and behold, it didn’t appraise. Educational moment: before a lender will give you money, they want to know that the property they will essentially own is worth what “they” are paying for it, so the mortgage lender orders an appraisal. For example, if you try to buy a house for $500K, but the appraiser says it’s value is really $450K, then you either have to pay the difference in cash (and are essentially overpaying for something) or the seller has to lower their price (or go to another buyer and hope their appraisal might be better). There are apparently many appraisers out there and no two appraisals would likely ever come back exactly alike, but the number is what it is. When a house doesn’t appraise, you essentially go back to the negotiating table to work things out, which is where we are today. 

In the midst of all the buying drama, I sold my condo in three days very near what I asked for it (a good thing!) and will essentially be homeless later this month. Not one single part of this process has been easy. I’m sure it never is for anyone and I’m sure everyone has a real-estate nightmare story or two. I’ve been a homeowner for nine+ years (albeit a condo), so I’ve been through the buying part, but never the selling part and never in a real estate market that is New York-esque in nature. Who ever thought people would be paying over list price for a tiny house in Houston, Texas?! I sure didn’t and I can confirm that what they say is true: buying or selling a house is one of the top three most stressful things a person ever goes through.

All the drama notwithstanding, I’m glad I stayed in Houston. I know it will all work out like it’s supposed to. And if house #6 is “the one”, then I’ll be pretty psyched because it’s a great house with great bones in a great location. In the meantime, I’m living amongst boxes and not-so-organized chaos in my condo, and trying to find a place to live until everything unfolds. The moral of my story is this: if anyone needs a cute, sweet, cleanly, employed, very short-term roommate, you know where to find me. 🙂