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Tipps on buying a house


BecxyRex
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Ok, during this quarantine my fiancé and I have been talking a lot about our future and I’ve been thinking daily on our next move. To the point it’s driving me crazy. We live in the US, but I’m from Europe. We have a daughter who was born here, we both have good jobs we enjoy and lots of friends in our city. We’re renting though and have been saving for a house. We’re ready to take that next step in the near-ish future.

 

Now the thing is we’ve been talking about moving to my home country. I just want to be close to family again, because I miss them and they are missing out on lots of time with our daughter. I also don’t want to sever ties to this country and our life in this city. Now this might sound a bit nuts, but I’ve been considering buying two homes, one in each country. I’m talking old cheap houses that are big but need a lot of work. We couldn’t afford two modern homes, but I honestly dig the idea of having some old country home. Does anyone have experiences doing that and did you regret your decision? How I see it is the repairs will cost a lot of money, but there’s no rush to get it all done all at once and can be spaced out, unlike a pretty high mortgage.

 

I need to add that we could easily work from home long term. We have been and it’s working great. The only thing to take into consideration is the 7 hour time difference to my country, but that is doable as well. We just wouldn’t have conventional work days most of the time, which I’m cool with.

 

Has anyone been in this situation? Having two homes? Have you bought an old house and regretted your decision? Anything is helpful at this point. Thanks!

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I can very much relate!

 

I have two homes that I own and used to bounce between, kind of in the US-Europe manner you're thinking about, before settling down in yet a third, which I now rent with my gf. Distance between them ranges from 1,700-3,000 miles, to give a sense of the geography. Long story, wasn't quite planned, though you could say became a plan of the sort you're considering.

 

All in all, my thinking, at least initially, was: How can I live in more than one place? Or: How can I move without letting go of where I'm moving from? I thought of it as expanding, really, rather than moving. Dreamy stuff, yeah, and keep in mind I'm not rich. But I do have a track record of willing some wild dreams into reality. Guess you could say I was trying to build a committed but a non-monogamous relationship with "home," to put it in ENA terms.

 

Answer? It was finding properties that, when I wasn't in them, I could rent out at a profit or, in tougher times, in a way that broke even by covering the mortgage. Has worked great! My first purchase kicked off enough in rent to eventually afford the second, which in my case was a multi-unit home that itself kicked off some money even when I lived in it and now pays my rent on the third home, while the two mortgages (if you're following!) are covered by tenants (when I'm gone) and myself (when I'm there). I'll eventually buy a third, so the system is closed as opposed to how it works right now, with my rent going toward...well, something another person owns.

 

So, what I'd say to you? Be shrewd, not emotional, when thinking of properties. Imagine all the worst case scenarios, and whether you could weather them. If you can rent out the one in the US for whatever the mortgage is, or a little more—great. It takes care of itself, so to speak, when you're in Europe, and vise versa. Yeah, things need to be fixed here and there, which is a bit of a juggle, but I've found all that manageable. I bought places in so-called "emerging" neighborhoods—hip here, gritty there, but good bets when it comes to value increasing, which means better equity even without selling: HELOC stuff in the US, say, though I don't know how it all goes down in Europe.

 

My nightmare, for the record, was to feel "married to a mortgage," and all in all my homes have provided me more freedom and a nimbler lifestyle than anything that feels like a ball and chain. I like knowing that if things go really bad, or if I needed to put a kid through college, I could sell one. Had I been doing that with someone—with two incomes—it would have all been even easier, so I certainly think it's something you guys could manage and a really awesome life to explore carving out together.

 

Weird time, of course, to house shop. Good, in some ways, since rates are so low and a fragile economy leads to people needing to offload assets. But less than good, potentially, as its much easier to see a future in which home prices take a big hit than it is one in which they remain stable or swing up. Stuff to keep in mind, I guess, as you look around and sharpen the vision.

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Ugh thank you Bluecastle. I’ve been throwing this thought around in my head for a while and it sounds so bourgeois to consider Buying TWO houses, but I’m seeing some offers for homes that go for dirt cheap, but I’d consider a dream, really. The repairs is what will cost a ton... but no rush, like you said. I very much love old creaky houses, so no Biggy. Was there a specific place you looked or was it Luck to find your homes?

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What I mean is was there some website you can recommend or did you stumble upon them? At this point I suppose the entire United States would be open for consideration, but I’d at least prefer to stay in our area to not make this ordeal crazier than it is.

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I also had the thought for a long time, and really suggest throwing out concepts like "bourgeois" that get in the way of entertaining the thought. There's ways in which it all feels decadent, but at the same time it's become a little American business for me. To each his or her own, I say. For whatever reason I'm less prone to thinking about homes as some massive emotional investment, but more like tools to enhance my life, as I want to live it.

 

My story involves a bit of luck, or circumstance. First place? I rented for years, knew the landlord. No way I would have been able to afford it, or really anywhere in that town, otherwise. Second place? Friend rented while I was starting to think about buying, told me the owners were prepping to sell, and I got the owner's number and made a deal in the back patio. I think both are sound investments—these are well-known cities—but they were also places close to my heart where I had history and still are part of my identity and personal conception of "home." Though since then I've gotten a little bug, and keep my eye out, nebulously, for emerging markets, blah blah. But no specific websites or anything.

 

You know your area, like it. Great. That means you have a sense of it, both in terms of where you like to be and where you think is growing, poised to grow. Good compass, right there. I say let it spin a bit and note where it stops.

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I would not buy two homes or any home that needs extensive repairs (if you need to live in it) - right now that would mean having many strangers in your home and home repairs can also be very stressful. I would get much more gritty reality about this and not romanticize it. Also whose name will the home be in since you're not married? We have my inlaws former home (they are deceased) hundreds of miles away and it just sits there but we have people who look after it regularly -otherwise it would be very stressful.

 

Also what will you do for unexpected leaks, power outages that can cause damage, fallen trees, etc from a distance? Will you also rent it out at all? Be a landlord? What kind of security system can you afford for an unoccupied home? I would do one house at a time (for context we've been renting for over 10 years and love renting, no desire to buy a home and have all the stresses of home ownership -yes we can afford a home just fine - it's so awesome when things break down to have our regular maintenance people there wilthin hours or sooner and practicing all the safe stuff during this pandemic for example - I see why people want to own homes of course!)

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Definitely expose her to both countries, cultures, languages and families. Not sure about the expense of handy man specials, but having homes in both places sounds great.

we’ve been talking about moving to my home country. I just want to be close to family again, because I miss them and they are missing out on lots of time with our daughter. I also don’t want to sever ties to this country and our life in this city.
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In terms of websites try realtor.com - it is very accurate in terms of showing exactly what's currently listen on MLS in whatever area and always updated, so you won't find old properties on there that are long gone from the market.

 

I would actually not recommend buying a large house. The bigger the house, the higher the costs of maintenance, taxes, etc, etc, etc. The smarter thing to do is figure out how much house do you really need to be comfortable as a family and go for that comfortable minimum. It will also factor in when it comes to rent - a more practical house is easier to rent out should you want or need to.

 

When buying an older house there are two things to consider - major repairs and cosmetic repairs. What you don't want is major repairs which will end up costing you more than a mortgage. Major things are foundation problems, roof, structural issues, ancient plumbing that hasn't been replaced (super difficult to redo in an older house and costs are huge as you will need to tear out walls, go under the foundation, etc), also depending on age, house might have lead pipes poison alert, electrical rewiring. In other words, those charming old houses are called a money pit for a reason - by the time you are done renovating, you could have bought an entire other house.

 

So look for a house that has good bones - meaning none of the above issues or those issues have already been done/replaced by previous owner. Cosmetic things are flooring, paint, cabinetry, appliances, etc. Bathroom/kitchen reno. Be mindful again that even with a lot of diy, these things can add up to a lot if you are talking large sq ft and it will cost even more if you have to hire people to do the job. Even smallest things a hundred here, a few hundred there quickly add up to thousands.

 

Oh and be sure to check a house for mold if you live where it's a damp climate or where you have basements or house is very old and has had leaking pipes at some point. Money well spent and ordinary inspections don't cover this.

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I would get much more gritty reality about this and not romanticize it.

 

I don't think it has to be binary. You have the romantic idea in one quadrant of the mind, and then you have another that does the nitty-gritty computations to see if the romantic idea can be realized, realistically. The pandemic—with its knowns and unknowns—of course factors into that right now.

 

Both of my homes are old, one an apartment from 1930, another a house built in 1849. Both were totally livable when I purchased them: seriously sturdy bones. Haven't done a thing to the apartment in 7 years, save routine maintenance, while the other I renovated extensively after generating some rental income for a few years. The big jobs are certainly stressful, and costly, but also quite satisfying. So depending on the degree of a "fixer upper" you're looking at I'd also talk to some contractors, find one you vaguely trust, and have them get you a rough quote on the job before purchasing. Take whatever number and timeline they say, and add 2 months and 10K to it. Then add another 5K, just because. If that is still realistic and doesn't boil the blood, keep going.

 

Everyone has different stress meters on this front. For one person renting is stressful, for another ownership is. My best friend comes from a wild amount of money—like, it's endless—but stresses to the end of the world when something goes wrong in one of his homes, like a leak in the ceiling. Mystifies me, frankly, since all you do is call the person who knows how to fix it, give them money, and it's fixed, which doesn't sound remotely stressful to me if I had the money. I always have some on tap for those moments—a tap that is trickling a bit, in these dizzying times—and have a little ad-hoc team of handymen in place where my homes are.

 

I can certainly outline numerous moments where it's stressful. I've had maintenance issues come up at times I really don't want to deal with them, be it while I'm hiking with my girlfriend or learning about Barolo at a vineyard in northern Italy when I learn my hot water heater 6,000 miles away has met its demise. Ugh! For me, though, the whole picture—the life I'm building—puts it all in perspective. Mind you, I am all about a no-stress existence, and wouldn't have taken any of this on if I thought it would feel like tsunami. And if it comes to feel like that? I'll let it all go without much drama.

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All good responses above. I will just add that having a property manager (although comes at a cost) will be critical to managing two homes. Much less stress for when you are a long airplane ride away.

Try to find a real estate agent in your targetted area specializing in foreclosures, investment properties). They can help you find a place and also a good resource to get a referral to a property manager.

 

Good luck!

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Honestly, I would buy a home where your home base is in the US. Sure, you can buy something that is priced lower in a neighborhood because no one wants a house with an outdated 1970s kitchen, etc, and improve it. But i would not buy two fixer uppers in two countries. You don't know how often you will go back to your country of origin and how would that affect your fiance's employment? I would start off by finding a place to rent for a couple weeks in your home country when you actually will be present there and if it turns out that you find you can be there for a few months, you can buy a small condo or do something more long term. Who will maintain the home in the other country when you are not there? What about property taxes?

 

I do not think not wanting your relatives to miss out on your daughter is enough justification to own property. We lived away from family for a time and some of them visited us and we went back 2-3 times a year.

 

I would buy one place first -- here --- and see how home ownership fits on you before tying up your money in another country

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The mortage rates are crazy low right now, but my area is such a sellers market since NYC was a hot zone for COVID, so now everyone wants to move to the burb's. Offers made in a matter of hours/days with a bidding war. Like all of them. Interest rates are insanely low right now too which makes it more crazy.

 

For you, buy one, and build some sweat equity into it. Then set it up with floors for rental units spaces, and rent out using vrbo and air b&b when you are ready. Then, when ready to move to next house, you do with with savings. Not sure what your downpayment/mortgage situation is, but always get one off the ground before moving to the next. There are so many expenses involved with home ownership you don't ever think of. You could always buy the country house, then get a condo in Europe.

 

Investment property isn't bourgeois - it's real estate.

 

I will warn you though, make sure you get the right contractors. My buddy started this giant reno a year ago with this married couple cuz she wanted to support women owned business. A month into the project, she leaves him, and it turns out she was the business side of the business, and he spent months crying how he couldn't figure it out. Then, COVID put it all on lockdown. So, she still doesn't have walls, and it's been a year!

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Best advice Becxy. Make haste slowly, very slowly.

 

Many many people own two homes. Nothing unusual about that. WE definitely are not of the bourgeoisie and we have two places. Over the weekend we've been with relatives who bought and refurbished a very old house that was, as they put it," falling down". They did a wonderful job on it. They do have another house.

 

Good luck with the hunting!

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I appreciate everyone’s advice so much. It seems we’ve got some thinking and hunting to do. I’m talking with a realtor next week so we’ll see what comes from that. Thank you again everyone for taking the time to chime in.

Regarding marriage, we are planning on it. We’ve wanted a nice little celebration in my home country, but since corona happened that’s not possible, so we’re currently switching gears and are thinking about doing a small court wedding. I might get smacked for this, but tax returns seem nicer if you’re not married, so I haven’t been in a rush. But we would before buying anything together.

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Unless you have a lot of money upfront, do not buy a house and flip it. Some of those repair will cost near the same as paying for a whole mortgage. You are better off taking a loan that you and your husband can afford. Depending on your salary and credit history, Some loans do not required a down payment!

 

Avoid dealing with contractors as much as possible unless it can’t be helped. I’ve had some really bad experiences with contractors personally and live in the US. I have found that many contractors are not always reliable because they are independent/self-employed and will work at their own pace... meaning it can take MONTHS before a flipped house is done and ready to move in. And if it’s a “small job,” they will just jack up the price for “labor” than what it’s really worth because they can. And they will especially do that to women who aren’t home maintenance wise. It’s a monopoly for these guys.

 

Buy a home where you plan to live the most. It can be small. Live in it for several years, do some cosmetic upgrades to raise the value on the house and build your equity and move out to a bigger, better home.

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I appreciate everyone’s advice so much. It seems we’ve got some thinking and hunting to do. I’m talking with a realtor next week so we’ll see what comes from that. Thank you again everyone for taking the time to chime in.

Regarding marriage, we are planning on it. We’ve wanted a nice little celebration in my home country, but since corona happened that’s not possible, so we’re currently switching gears and are thinking about doing a small court wedding. I might get smacked for this, but tax returns seem nicer if you’re not married, so I haven’t been in a rush. But we would before buying anything together.

 

Usually the opposite is true. Unless you make very, very little money and on paper (ie, you both live off of his money but don't claim it as your household resources and tell the IRS you only make $3000). But its not about taxes--- when you buy a house you will just push it off later and later (house expenses) and its also about solidfying your family for your child and its better if you buy a house married

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