Friday, June 3, 2011

Things I've Learned About Buying a House in Asheville

It's looking like Matt's hunt for a shiny new house is drawing to a close. He found one he really liked yesterday, and has a list of ten promising ones to view today. Before he left, he told me that he intends for today to be the last day he spends looking at houses. He's very, very tired of running internet search after internet search and trudging through house after house and is ready to just be done with it. I agree completely: I'm definitely tired of spending hours and hours looking at computer screens, scrutinizing details, and climbing stairs after stairs after stairs of potential (usually  un-air conditioned) houses. Yes, I've discovered something new about myself: house hunting makes me hot, tired, and incredibly crabby. It seems to have that effect on most people.

Anyway, we're entering the third months of looking for houses, and I've come up with a few observations concerning the state of home buying in the greater Asheville area:

  1. Bubble? What Bubble? Despite a steep decline in prices, houses are still pretty expensive here. Apparently, the bubble bursting led to housing prices going from exorbitant to merely absurd, particularly for a town this size in the South. Houses here cost almost as much as similar ones in Nashville, and that's a major city. Houses in Knoxville (which is larger than Asheville, but not by as much) cost substantially less. Matt bought his current house at the same time my mom sold her previous one, and they went for the same price despite the fact that my mother's house had over twice the square footage, garage, and lot that Matt's does. 
  2. No, seriously, it's nuts. Basically, it's impossible to find a house for under $100,000 that's in a decent neighborhood and/or not broken. Pretty much all the cheap houses we looked at were in varying state of disrepair, or were in pretty unfortunate locations (right next to the interstate, in a bad neighborhood, etc). If you want a three bedroom house, expect to pay at least $150,000 for it. If you find a house with that much (or more) space for under $150-200,000, you should be suspicious, because...
  3. Holy Foundation Issues, Batman! I would say that close to half of the houses we looked at had visible foundation or retaining wall problems. One of the realities of living in the mountains: lots of houses get built on uneven lots or into the sides of hills, and if the foundation's not done properly, it will start to crack and slide out of place. Interestingly, it was the newer houses that had the most obvious problems. After the first few trips, we started bringing a flashlight to examine crawlspaces and basements, and it really helped to narrow the list down. It's worth mentioning that every last one of the Too-Good-To-Be-True priced houses had obvious foundation issues of some kind.
  4. Speaking of Foundations, Will My Basement Become a Lake the Next Time it Rains? Asheville backs up to a temperate rainforest. We get a lot of rain here, and with lots of rain comes lots of flooding, even if you don't live near a body of water. Proper drainage is therefore very important. We had to give up on an awesome house because a detached garage previous owners had build uphill from it's gutter system poured directly at one of the foundation walls which, you guessed it, meant that that wall in the basement had water intrusion. It wasn't hitting the floor (yet), but the wall was seriously damp and had black mold on it. We're very lucky we visited the day after a big storm, or we might have missed it. Water intrusion can be a big issue with lots of houses, so checking for damage is a good idea.
  5. While We're on the Subject of Environmental Toxins... I don't want to say that black mold is a huge problem here because we only ran into it once; however, it's something you really don't want to have to deal with, so don't purchase a house with a dampness-prone basement unless you have the cash to spend on fixing any drainage issues and drying it out. A bigger problem in this area is radon gas. Most basements, especially in older houses, are going to have some kind of radon issue. It's probably unrealistic to hope for one that has no radon at all, but it is a good idea to get the levels tested ASAP (preferably before you sign the final contracts) and determine whether or not you'll need a mitigation system. Some houses already have them, but most don't, and if you plan on finishing or spending lots of time in the basement, it may become a necessary investment.
  6. Air Conditioning? We Don't Need No Stinking A/C! A lot of houses down here do not have air conditioning. It didn't used to be hot enough to where having it was necessary, but if the last two summers are indicative of anything...yeah. It's kind of important now. Depending on how old and big the house is (along with the extent of any existing ductwork), installing a new air conditioning system can set you back as much as $20,000. It's something to keep in mind when looking at airy old farmhouses.
  7. Buying Foreclosures is a Pain in the Ass. Fortunately, there aren't a lot of foreclosures around here. North Carolina has had laws against predatory lending since the nineties, so the housing crisis and credit crunch didn't do quite as much damage here as it did elsewhere. We've still looked at a few, though, and have found that buying one can be pretty fraught. There are about a million extra hoops to jump through when you're obtaining financing, which is a pain. They're also often sold as-is, meaning that if there's something that needs to be fixed, you have to arrange it because the bank's not going to do it. While you may be able to get them to knock off a few grand to compensate, you're still stuck dealing with most of the trouble associated with fixing existing problems. When looked at closely, the work a lot of the foreclosures required either eclipsed or came close to eclipsing the low price. 
Needless to say, this adventure has really been eating into my headspace and free time. Hopefully, it'll be over within the next few weeks.

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