House-hunting, sort of

It occurred to me a couple months ago that it was probably time to refinance. I got a very good rate on my mortgage five years ago, but there are significantly better rates available now.

But just as I was starting to explore this option, someone suggested that refinancing now might not be the best possible idea if I were going to sell my current house and buy another one, as I'd been vaguely contemplating doing for the past couple years.

And then I saw a house that looked really nice on; turned out later that I didn't like the interior of that house, but by the time I determined that, I had seen half a dozen houses and was lined up to see half a dozen more.

I rather like my current place. It's comfortable; it's big enough for me; it has a lovely yard and garden (thanks primarily to Twig); it has few neighbors; it's about as close to my workplace as it's possible to live.

And I hate change.

And yet: there may never be a better time to buy a house around here. Until pretty recently, my impression is that prices in this area had only slowed in their ascent; now they appear to be actually dropping. (Not much, but some.) I'm guessing they'll start going up again in a year or two.

And I do want more space. Having two (or even three!) guest rooms would make various social situations more feasible; having a wider living room (really the main problem with my current place is its narrow living room) would allow roundsings and story readings and other gatherings-in-a-circle; I'm more or less out of wall space for bookcases. And the industrial noise across my back fence at 5 a.m. doesn't happen so much any more, but does still happen on occasion. (And more often recently than had been true for a while.) And although my neighbors are mostly very quiet, I would very much like to no longer share a wall with anyone; among other things, it makes me feel like I have to be extra-quiet when I'm up late at night. And I would ideally like to be no longer subject to HOA rules--though that's not as easy to escape as I'd assumed, because some standalone houses have HOAs too.

So I've been looking at houses. So far, most of them in my price range are unsuitable for one reason or another--would require too much work, or are not actually bigger than my current place, or have an air of general decrepitude, or are too noisy. One had no garage, and instead had a big storage unit jammed into the space between the house and the fence; the city requires at least one covered parking space, and requires space between house and auxiliary buildings, so I would probably have had to tear down the storage unit and build a garage, neither of which I have any interest in doing. Another house is pretty nice, but is literally right next to Highway 85--there's the backyard fence, then some bare dirt, then the freeway sound-barrier wall. That place is (as the ad noted) surprisingly quiet for its location, but I'm still dubious.

But there have been a couple of places that I might like well enough. And there's one place that I loved, but that had certain flaws. It's down in the neighborhood known as Whisman Station, an impeccably pristine zone of near-identical (but pretty) Little Boxes, full of happy well-to-do young couples and their happy well-adjusted children. The house I looked at there was lovely inside: airy and spacious, full of light, not nearly as non-private as I had assumed, and full of delightfully unexpected little corners and spaces. It had a great deal of personality inside, much more so than I would have expected from a clone. And it was two doors down from a park, and not far from a Light Rail station. It wasn't as close to work as would be ideal, but I'm not gonna find anything closer to work than what I've got.

So it was tempting. But when I made a list of pros and cons, there were more cons than I had thought there were. And then while I was still waffling, someone else bought it.

So I put everything on hold for a couple weeks, and just came back to the search in the past couple days. And it turns out that another place, that had sounded interesting but that had sold a few weeks ago, is now back on the market--possibly a contingency fell through? Unclear.

So we went and looked at half a dozen houses today, and the one that's back on the market was the clear standout. It doesn't have as much personality inside as the Whisman one described above, but it's similarly lovely--huge high-ceilinged living room, big master bedroom, jacuzzi tub in master bathroom, and a big study/bedroom upstairs with an internal window overlooking the living room--kind of like a loft, only completely enclosed by walls. (I'm not so fond of those loft-type spaces where the second-floor room has no wall, just a railing overlooking the living room; I like bedrooms to have closable doors, and walls on all sides.) It's at the high end of my price range, but very nice, and a ten-minute walk from downtown Mountain View (and the CalTrain station there), and a mostly easy bike ride to work. (Twice as far from work as my current place--but that means only about two miles instead of only one.) It's part of another neighborhood association, which raises warning flags for me, but at least some of the neighborhood houses have unusual decorations and such out front, so I'm guessing their rules aren't as strict as some.

Anyway, I'm not quite certain yet, and someone else might get to it first, and the HOA might turn out to be not what I want, and all sorts of other things could go wrong, but I'm pretty excited about this place at the moment.

Unfortunately, to buy a new place, I'll have to sell my current place. My plan is to find a place I like, then make an offer contingent on selling my place, then (assuming anyone would accept a contingent offer) scramble to sell my place.

And to sell my current place, I'll have to get it into perfect shape (no more disaster-area mess in my room, for example) and keep it that way indefinitely. But that'll be true regardless of when/how I sell it, and if I don't want to spend the rest of my life in my current place (and I don't), it seems like now is the time to do this.

I could do what Mary Anne and Kevin are doing. They're selling their current place first, then looking for a replacement. That solves the timing and finance issues, at the cost of (a) potentially having no home for a while, and (b) trusting that someplace good will come along at a good price before prices start going up again. The former would stress me out; the latter seems likely but not certain.

A variant of that is something called "rent-back," where I could sell my place and then rent it back from the new owners for up to something like two months. That might be ideal; it seems fairly likely that I could find a new place I liked within two months, in the current climate. Still a little risky, though.

I'm told that banks used to offer something called a "bridge loan" for just this situation, but I'm also told that they rarely if ever do that any more.

So I'm gonna try to spend much of this weekend making my place presentable, which I think will mostly mean boxing up all the stuff that doesn't fit nicely on bookshelves. (And dealing with the vast piles of paper.)

Anyway. This is all in very preliminary stages. But it's possible that I'll be selling a condo and buying a house sometime relatively soon.

Any of you know anyone looking for a condo in Mountain View?

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