MONEY house hunt

‘It Took 3 Years To Find a Home in a Good School District:’ A Buyer’s Story

Paul and Cassie Wilcoxes' new home in the Morningside neighborhood of Atlanta. Courtesy: Zillow

The Wilcoxes struggled with the classic parents' dilemma: Move to an expensive home in a great school district, or stay put and pay for private school?

All Paul and Cassie Wilcox wanted was a home in a good school district in Atlanta. Three years, numerous house hunting drives and an emotional appeal later, the Wilcox family is finally ready to move into their new home in the Morningside neighborhood of Atlanta. This is the story of their House Hunt.

They grappled with a classic dilemma: staying in an affordable neighborhood with poor schools or moving to a good school district with pricier homes.

The neighborhood we lived in didn’t have a a great public school system. So, as soon as our son, Connor was born, we started looking for homes in neighborhoods with good public schools. There aren’t a whole lot of those in Atlanta. We considered staying where we were but private schools are expensive as college. So we decided to move out.

They settled on their neighborhood, but it took a year to find a home that suited their budget.

We would drive out to Morningside often, surveying the place and just looking at houses. Finally we figured that being in the car all the time wasn’t going to work out and we had to make up our mind. (Notes their agent Danielle Coats, “It usually takes only three to four months to find a house.”)

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Financially, things came together, though it’s a stretch.

My software business took off right about the time we planned to move. That gave us the confidence that we could do it. I now work two jobs — one as a systems architect at a financial services firm and my own firm.

Then they had to win the actual house.

It’s a very competitive area. We knew we had to make an aggressive offer and offered full price only to find out that we were up against four all-cash offers. We decided to write a nice letter to the seller, who was a kind, elderly woman. We told her that we wanted our son to go a good school and make the home special and raise our family there. And, it worked. We got a response in 10 days and another two weeks to close.

The list price was $469,900 and I was able to put down 28% of that.

They actually sold their house in October (for $245,000) and had to rent for three months while working on the new home.

Properties in Morningside have a good resale value. I know that if I were to sell my house tomorrow, I’ll make a profit.

More House Hunts:
‘At 27, I’m the First of My Friends to Own a Home’
‘I Have $1M in Investments and I Couldn’t Get a Mortgage’

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‘At 27, I’m the First of My Friends to Own a Home’
‘I Have $1M in Investments and I Couldn’t Get a Mortgage’

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MONEY house hunt

‘At 27, I’m the First of My Friends to Own a Home:’ A Buyer’s Story

Nathan Davenport's condo in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. Courtesy of Zillow

At 27, Nathan Davenport seems to have most of what he wants -- a steady job, a girlfriend and even his own home.

When Nathan Davenport moved from Birmingham to Atlanta three years ago, he was fairly certain he wanted to make Atlanta his home for at least a while. So the sales associate with AT&T recently closed on a condo in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta, two blocks from a new mega-development bringing 80 high-end retailers to the area by the end of the year. Just shy of 27 and single, Davenport is the first among his friends to own a home. This is the story of his House Hunt.

He knew exactly what he wanted.

I knew that I am not going to change my job anytime soon. I knew that I wanted to be around people and have stuff to do. Buckhead seemed really attractive with all the stores coming for the first time. I wanted grocery stores and restaurants within walking distance, like in New York. And, I knew that I did not need a lot of space.

I figured property rates will go up, which also motivated me to buy a condo in the neighborhood. And the commute to work is an ideal 15 minutes.

Although he was looking at condos, he did not want to compromise on amenities.

I wanted hardwood floors and granite kitchen tops. And, this might sound weird coming from a guy — but a walk-in closet. I definitely wanted one. I did not like the modern open bedroom, loft-like apartments that I saw.

Once he found his ideal condo, he waited five months for the exact unit to become available.

I started looking at places in August last year and purchased the place in April this year. The unit with the floor plan I wanted had just sold out, and it took five months for another one to get on the market. As soon as it did, I put in my bid, even without actually looking at the unit.

He bid the asking price of $205,000. But then …

The appraisal valued it at $190,000. I changed my bid to $195,000 and closed the deal. I put down 5%, most of what I had saved and the rest is financed through a mortgage.

I wouldn’t say I want to live here long-term. When I get married, I might want to move out. I will rent out this place then. I might think of buying my next house in five to eight years. But I definitely want to stay in Atlanta, preferably in this neighborhood.

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‘I Have $1 Million and I Couldn’t Get a Mortgage:’ A Buyer’s Story

Lynda Pratscher bought this two-bedroom condo for $138,500.

Despite her more-than-$1 million investment portfolio, Lynda Pratscher couldn’t qualify for a loan because she wasn’t earning income.

Lynda Pratscher, retired telecommunications project manager, downsized from her $315,000 four-bedroom home Middleton, WI to a $138,500 two-bedroom condo in Wheaton, IL. This is the story of her House Hunt.

She was ready to sell but wasn’t sure where she wanted to end up.

I’ve been a single parent for 15 years or so, and my oldest son was off to college. A four-bedroom, three-car garage home in Middleton, WI was just way too big for me and my younger son and way too much for me to maintain by myself.

I was hesitant because the market hadn’t completely come back yet. I was lucky because I bought in 2002 and the home was worth about $50,000 more than what I paid for it. I sold it in 2012 and decided to rent for a while until I decided what I wanted to do. We went out to Las Vegas and tried that out. We stayed for a year and then moved to Illinois, where we were originally from, in Aurora, just outside Chicago.

After a while she started looking for condos, but saw they were selling fast.

I liked Aurora, but I wanted to go back to college and take classes. I didn’t want the congestion of a big university town though, and I don’t want to live near Animal House. I started looking at towns near the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, IL. They have a fitness center, classes, events. I figured, I could build my social life around that.

In February I started contacting agents and looking on all the websites. I set up custom searches and got email updates from agents about new listings. I found a beautifully landscaped condo complex near a lake and started watching for that. When a condo there came up, I contacted the realtor and it was already under contract.

Related: What mortgage is right for you?

At first, she wanted a mortgage. She didn’t want to use all her free cash for a home purchase.

I had quit my job in February, knowing I could live off my savings. I will be 63 in July but I wanted to wait to take Social Security if I could. I have $1.1 million in investments, plus the money from the house sale in a CD. I went to my credit union, and they wouldn’t give me a mortgage because I didn’t have an actual income. They wouldn’t even look at my investments! To them, I had no income. It just sounds crazy.

Then her perfect condo showed up.

I saw a condo on a realtor’s email list and it had everything I wanted. It was on the first floor. It had a one-car garage. It had laundry inside the unit. My agent called me the next morning at 6 a.m. and said, ‘We have an appointment at noon, are you OK with that?’

I walked in and loved the place right away. It was very well cared for and the bathrooms had just been updated. I knew I wanted to put in a bid. She said, ‘I think this thing is going to go very fast.’

The list price was $139,000 and I bid $135,000 cash. They dropped the price by $500, but my agent told me two other people came to see the place after me. I accepted the counteroffer. I didn’t want to lose it. Later, their lawyer told my lawyer they had a backup bid for substantially more than the asking price. I got a great deal.

It turned out that paying cash saved her some money.

Closing was so easy, and the original estimate on my closing costs was $3,000. I ended up paying only around $2,000. I had no idea how much it was worth to pay cash.

House Hunt is an occasional series about buying a new home. Have an interesting story to tell? Email us at realestate@moneymail.com.

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