Housing surprises and making better decisions

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grundomatic
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Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by grundomatic »

Bottom line up top: How can one avoid surprises when selecting housing? More generally, how does one make better decisions when there are high costs of iteration?

A long, long time (8 years) ago in a fancy neighborhood in the desert, I read a book and blog called Early Retirement Extreme. Not ready to fully understand the systems thinking within, but convinced I needed to make some changes, I did what any good noob would do–copy the methods straight out of chapter 6 / day 1 of the 21 day challenge and find a new place to live.

Location, location, cost were the variables I was to manage. I found myself managing other variables as well. What ended up being the deciding one was the property managers. Many companies didn’t bother to return my communications, whether by email or phone. Others were happy to allow me to let myself into properties that had not been cleaned–not only was it hard to look past other’s schmutz, to me it signaled an unprofessionalism I didn’t want to deal with. So I kept looking.

Eventually I found a cute little middle unit in a triplex. It was owned by a cool couple as a side project/investment. She was the super outgoing business manager type, and he was the quiet musician that was proficient at fixing things. They had just remodeled the unit I was looking at, and had already done the others. They pointed out the changes around the place they had made, and their conscientiousness sold me. They wanted to make this a nice place to live. Location and price were good, so I wrote a check for my deposit and they did their background check. It was small, but hey, this new book and blog taught me how to get rid of stuff, too, so no worries!

We moved in, and things were good for a bit–saving money and being closer to things. The couple that owned the place ended up selling it to an older couple that had their idiot son manage the place. Afterwards, or maybe it would have happened anyhow, we started noticing how we were foreigners living in a different kingdom. The neighbors would fight loudly in the middle of the night. Then the new neighbors were even more hotheaded. Other neighbors, despite having the larger, nice backyard, would smoke on the front patio about 10 ft from our door, making it unpleasant to have the windows open during the many months of nice weather we have.

After some years, we decided to buy a house. This time I knew to filter for neighbors and noise as well. Much to DW and my RE agent’s surprise, on our second visit to the house we ended up buying I introduce myself to the neighbor and start peppering them with questions about the neighborhood. Then we test for noise. Newly stuccoed with new windows, a plane that was loud outside could barely be heard inside. While the neighbors ended up being great as we had been told, for whatever reason the sound of late-night car racing cuts right through the insulation that otherwise keeps out most ambient outside noise.

Housing is typically the largest line item in a budget, and for many there are high costs of moving. Seems like it is worthwhile to get it right the first time. We used a checklist when we bought our house to keep from being caught up with things we don’t care about, but still ran into surprises. Share your housing surprises and difficulties, or how you avoided them.

Now that I’ve written a whole long intro about housing, I realize this could apply to anything where there are larger costs to iteration. How can one make better decisions when the stakes are high?

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Ego
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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by Ego »

grundomatic wrote:
Thu May 11, 2023 12:41 pm
Share your housing surprises and difficulties, or how you avoided them.
The simple answer, don't avoid them. Deal with them.

Avoiding noise makes me more sensitive to noise. Acclimating makes me less sensitive. It is amazing how much of this is the story I tell myself about the noise. My father who grew up on a busy street in South Philly often talked about how he was unable to sleep if it was too quiet. Others frequently say things like, "So loud I can't think or sleep." Tell better stories?

Did you ask the neighbor not to smoke near your door?

zbigi
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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by zbigi »

grundomatic wrote:
Thu May 11, 2023 12:41 pm
How can one make better decisions when the stakes are high?
Experience? I've lived in 15+ apartments in my life, so I've accumulated knowledge about what was annoying in all of them, and now know what to avoid. For example, I now know not to live within couple hundred meters from a street that looks like it's good for racing, because it WILL be used for that, and you'll spend your summer evenings listening to reving engines of cars and motorcycles.

Unfortunately, many things are not verifiable beforehand. And, from my experience, there will be something wrong with every property - so you need to be learn to live with less than perfect.

Henry
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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by Henry »

Rule #1 - Never share a driveway with a pedophile.

https://nypost.com/2023/05/08/alleged-p ... -campaign/#

chenda
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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by chenda »

Henry wrote:
Thu May 11, 2023 4:03 pm
Rule #1 - Never share a driveway with a pedophile.

https://nypost.com/2023/05/08/alleged-p ... -campaign/#
It's not clear from the article why Nygard had it in for Bacon. Maybe he wasn't invited to the children's disco or something.

Anyway @grundomatic, a good rule to remember is that owner-occupiers are more invested (literally and figuratively) in the immediate vicinity than transient renters. So you'll likely get fewer social problems if you are surrounded by the former.

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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by jacob »

Buying has the same "change of neighbor" problem with the risk of someone being replaced by a new owner importing their own ideas about how one is supposed to behave. It's possible to look for neighborhood tenure like how often does ownership turn over. Zillow will tell you how long people have lived there.

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unemployable
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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by unemployable »

Try not to live next to an airbnb. Especially below one.

Materially no condo/apartment buildings were designed to be used as hotel rooms in re abatement of noise and handling of ceaseless tenant turnover.

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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by Slevin »

unemployable wrote:
Thu May 11, 2023 10:53 pm
Try not to live next to an airbnb. Especially below one.

Materially no condo/apartment buildings were designed to be used as hotel rooms in re abatement of noise and handling of ceaseless tenant turnover.
Agreed, this is 50% of the reason I sold my last townhouse. A lot of the time it is totally fine, until it isn't and then trying to do something about the noise issues is a pain, and then the problems just continue to reappear, etc, etc. Solving any certain problem just turned out to be a waste of time because one week later the tenant doesn't know about what happened a week ago. Like dealing with an Alzheimer's / dementia patient but 100x more frustrating because the tenant doesn't care one iota, and the landlord is knowingly getting paid at the expense of your time, energy, and mental health. I've never actually loathed and deeply wanted to physically harm anyone in my life until that experience.

And this was all in a place where AirBnb's were strictly banned. Turned out actually enforcing that was impossible because the Colorado Governor signed some law into place gutting any enforcement powers of HOA's to actually solve problems in a timely manner.

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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by Henry »

As JLF intimidated, you are not just buying the house, you are buying the neighborhood so do recon beforehand. Go at various times throughout the day but make sure you include Friday night and weekends. Look for the following:

- Pools with outdoor speakers and fire pits that can feed a Viking fleet;
- Disproportionate car to residency ratio. Look for junkers, collectibles, Harleys.
- Outdoor flags that are not limited to holiday and signal ideology or political party affiliation;
- Dogs that look they are fed raw meat and methamphetamine for breakfast;
- Boats on trailers;
- Semi-hot but tired women with a parade of middle aged men ringing their doorbell at 12:00PM on Tuesday;
- Middle aged men with ponytails drinking beer at 12:00PM on Tuesday ogling their semi-hot neighbor;
- If you don't like kids, swing sets and toys littering the back yard;
- Maintenance of lawn and exterior of house;
- Elderly single people both dying and dying for conversation;

ffj
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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by ffj »

Take your fuck-you money and buy yourself space, privacy, and a bit of isolation. It's worth it and you can fund it by being more careful in other financial areas of your life.

Anybody can get used to ambient back-ground noise or the occasional wafting of weed coming from a neighbors home, the sound of an impact driver as somebody is working on their car, but do yourself a favor and accept that there are classes of people in the world and they play, fight, and live distinctly different from ideal many times. That's not to say there aren't a bunch of insufferable twats in gated communities either, but for your sanity and your investment, feel free to discriminate against any community that will drive you crazy, or put your safety at risk.

Your home should be a place of refuge. The neighbors are much more important to suss out than any particular home. They will literally make or break your existence wherever you live. Obviously, if you are single person that's a free spirit that can easily geo-arbitrage their location then this is a fairly easy issue to resolve, but when you are married or committed, have children especially, then things get much more complicated. So make no apologies for rejecting any house or neighborhood or community.

I'm a survivor so I'm a bit jaded, :) but keep in mind that I still advocate for tolerance and understanding and being respectful, just keep your eyes open and head off any problems before they occur.

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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by chenda »

@ffj +1

white belt
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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by white belt »

jacob wrote:
Thu May 11, 2023 4:57 pm
Buying has the same "change of neighbor" problem with the risk of someone being replaced by a new owner importing their own ideas about how one is supposed to behave. It's possible to look for neighborhood tenure like how often does ownership turn over. Zillow will tell you how long people have lived there.
DGF is currently dealing with this now. She bought a townhouse in a quiet neighborhood with a mix of grad students, young families, elderly, and professionals. Fast forward a year and a bunch of owners sold (probably due to COVID price appreciation) or are now renting out their places. Her next door neighbor was a nice mid career professional but he moved out of town and decided to rent out his house to a tenant. That tenant happens to be an actual drug dealer who has violated the rental agreement multiple times but the management company is unwilling to evict. You would think a drug dealer would try to keep a low profile, but instead she has already had the cops called on her once because of a domestic dispute with her boyfriend outside the house. There are people coming at all hours of the night, often blocking DGF's driveway or parking in it sometimes. She lets 2 small dogs out that run around and shit in neighbor's gardens. I could go on but you get the idea. Now more and more the street just smells like weed and the sounds of loud cars reverberate at random times. Night and day difference from when she moved in almost 2 years ago.

DGF and I agreed that we don't plan on living in a townhouse or with an HOA again. She also has an HOA which brings its own challenges that I won't get into. Needless to say, it is not a smoothly functioning operation. The good news is she will still probably net $50k+ in profit if she sells next year, even if housing prices cool further.

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grundomatic
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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by grundomatic »

My intention with the post was not to solve my personal present and past problems specifically, but rather to think of and discuss ways to head off potential problems, like @ffj suggested. A list of things to look for is a great start, and partially what I wanted to accomplish here. I suppose that’s about the best we can do besides make the mistakes ourselves.

What would really be nice is to reduce the cost of making mistakes in the first place. Diet, exercise, and hobbies are all easy to iterate. Try something, then keep, change, or discard it. It’s harder to try out established neighborhoods and expensive to keep changing if we are talking about buying a home.

Maybe @ego is right, nothing to do but deal with problems as they arise…which aren’t all limited to working class neighborhoods. I have a friend that bought a million+ dollar house in a LCOL area. Calling it a petite chateau isn’t much of a stretch, but even he has problems with the only two neighbors he has on his cul-de-sac. He forgot to check for “Pools with outdoor speakers and fire pits that can feed a Viking fleet”

I may be a hopeless idealist but it just seems that there has to be a better solution that falls somewhere in between individuals plopping and locking themselves someplace based on what is really a best guess, and going to live in a commune (or country) somewhere where behavior is strictly dictated. I suppose if my neighbors and I were all loaded, we could buy the houses that come up for sale near us, and then arrange some rent-before-owning agreement with potential buyers. They get to try out living there before buying, and the neighborhood can make sure they aren’t totally bonkers.

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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by ffj »

When you buy a home, you immediately enter the trilemma arena. You can't have all three of anything so you'll need to entertain what is totally unacceptable in your life.

And explore your options: Are you single? Have a partner? have children? live-in in-laws? Commute? Work from home? Valuable items in the home? So many variables to consider. Also, are your wonderful neighbors old? What about their shit-head children? They are going to inherit the house and either trash the place or sell it immediately. What will the new neighbors be like? Or maybe your city has decided to dedicate a block of homes to section 8 housing? You know, keep moving the problem children around so it looks like you are solving urban decay. Sucks that you bought a townhouse right in the middle of it before they publicly announced their decision. It was such a good price. :)

Depressed yet? :) The only solution I know is to buy a home that has the potential to upsell so that if an insurmountable problem occurs in the future you can sell at a profit and buy another home more acceptable. And to make sure you and your family are nimble enough financially as well as materially uncluttered to pull it off without too much issue. Now if you have children or a job that is inflexible your life is going to be more complicated because children need stability and good schools and your job may be completely necessary. Workers being priced out of affordable housing is a real thing.

Secondly, I think you are on the right track. That is not to let a problem occur in the first place if possible. But I'll have to give Ego props are far as developing wonderful social capital as this can solve so many minor issues before they become major. I mention this because you will not be able to find any place without something that can cause friction and it is how you handle yourself that will decide whether your life becomes much more stressful or not. One of the most frequent issues you will encounter is the difference between your internal value system as far being respectful to your neighbors and theirs towards you. Some are completely ignorant at what constitutes disrespect and some just don't care, and if they are the latter then it is time to consider your options.

Short list at what to avoid ( for a home base):

college kid housing (parties, stupid behavior, youth)

rednecks with attitudes ( they have guns and a chip on their shoulder and love dirt bikes )

densely populated poor people ( crime and crime and crime)

densely populated AirBnb's or other rentals ( these people who visit have nothing to lose or respect, including your right to sleep)

Your cities liberal or conservative policies regarding homelessness, tent cities and charities

Charities: Salvation Army, drug rehab centers, etc. ( Not everybody gets rehabilitated )

Hospital ER's ( Do you like the sound of a siren? )

Airports ( How about the doctor who bought a stunt plane and likes to practice his barrel rolls over your house?)

Gated communitiites with HOA's that would make Goebbels proud. (shudder) ( nothing more scary than an old person with unlimited power and time)

O.K., some of these were tongue in cheek but lots to consider. Good luck

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Ego
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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by Ego »

grundomatic wrote:
Sun May 14, 2023 8:35 am
Maybe @ego is right, nothing to do but deal with problems as they arise…
Actually there are a thousand ways to preempt problems.

When you see someone moving in, introduce yourself and welcome them to the neighborhood. Offer to lend a hand if they have something heavy or ungainly to move. Offer to lend them your dolly and give them your phone number so they can text you when they are finished with it. If Amazon leaves a package in a place where it could be stolen, move it to a more secure place and later tell them you did so. Offer to take out and return their trash/recycling can when they go on vacation. If you share a walkway or driveway, shovel both sides when it snows. Give them a jump start when their battery dies. Lend them chairs, tables, coolers... if they are have a family get-together. Introduce yourself to their mothers, sisters, uncles, and cousins.

More broadly, we have options on how we approach the possibility of housing surprises. One option is to seek control of wider and wider circles of insulation between us and others. Another option is to get good at interacting with others so that we do not need to control the area between us. Neither option will completely eliminate surprises.

As Kevin Kelly said, "The best option is the option that gives you the most options."

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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by chenda »

Just living in a middle class area usually prevents most of these problems. And if problems do arise then they'll be more local clout to deal with them.

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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by jacob »

chenda wrote:
Sun May 14, 2023 12:23 pm
Just living in a middle class area usually prevents most of these problems. And if problems do arise then they'll be more local clout to deal with them.
More generally, living in an area compatible with your own values reduces friction.

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grundomatic
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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by grundomatic »

I have decent relationships with my neighbors, mostly forged from visiting while I'm outside working in the yard, and also sharing extra produce. I could do better, and being a better neighbor is on my long list of things to do on my sabbatical. I, of all people, can appreciate how one's life is improved by being able to better handle interactions with others. That is going to improve one's life no matter where one ends up.

Elsewhere on the forum there was a similar discussion about how one can become someone that fits in anywhere, or find a place that's a better fit. I like a BOTH/AND solution.

How to make sure that the values line up for a better fit? For the US, I've got:
Read American Nations by Woodard
Read Class by Fussell
The infamous Spiral Dynamics
Serious introspection
Make a checklist of things to look for from this thread + anything that came up in the introspection
Stalk the area at all days and hours
Accost the neighbors and ask about the neighborhood

For the fitting in anywhere, I guess in addition to the suggestions here there is the Social Capital thread as well as the Etiquette thread:
viewtopic.php?p=265016
viewtopic.php?t=12652

What else?

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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by jacob »

grundomatic wrote:
Sat May 20, 2023 8:34 am
What else?
Many places increasingly find themselves in flood zones. (And home insurance doesn't tend to cover flooding.) Not because of overflowing rivers or storm surges but because their inability to handle deluges from an increasingly moist atmosphere. Does the basement show signs of previous flooding (are the furnace, water heater, ... blocked up). Does the area have green zones that can absorb water or is it all asphalt? Are the sewer and drain systems separate? Is it at a low point in the landscape?

Henry
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Re: Housing surprises and making better decisions

Post by Henry »

Another angle to consider - how much your home is actually worth.

The discrepancy in the algos - Zillow/Realtor/the lender - that track my home is significant and we only purchased 2 years ago. There is now a 10% spread. It is not life changing money but it is significant money. But the real issue is that it's not money but possible money. So if you are factoring into your net worth, it's hard to get a grip on. I never really cared that much before, but now that we have a lot more net worth sunk into the home, it's a considerable hypothetical. We would never have purchased a home at the current low end and we would have never have dreamt of a home at the high end. Current trajectory is nice, but a crash would be, to put it politely, unpleasant.

So, when purchasing a home, look at past sales, low end and high end, and how it's trended. I would go back to 2008.

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