Finding a house that you like is difficult under any circumstances but it’s downright impossible if you are a residential architect. To say that I am picky is an understatement when it comes to my house and it’s appearance. That is not to say my house isn’t without faults – it has a million of them, and I am painfully aware of every single one of them.
When my wife and I have gone house hunting, it has been a fairly easy process to eliminate our choices (hate it, hate it, looks terrible, what is that?, hate it, etc.) but I knew it when I had found the right one. So far, I think my wife has been on board with my edicts but the houses we have moved into have all been in terrible shape and it has presented a lot of challenges. To give you an idea of my wife’s patience, we are living in our 5th house in the last 14 years whereas I had lived in 1 house in the previous 23 years.
Buying our current house was by far the most challenging experience we have had – partially because the banking world was changing daily (we bought April ’09) but mostly because of the area we were looking. Our daughter was going to be enrolling in kindergarten that fall and we were trying to buy in a specific neighborhood based on the reputation of the school district (HPISD). Because this geographic area is limited in size, and private schools in Dallas are ridiculously expensive, it is not uncommon that people with children try to move into this area because mortgages can be fixed while tuition rates generally just keep going up. As a result, home prices here are elevated based on demand (and a majority of the houses are builder specials – another topic that I’ll eventually get around to).
So we looked at one terrible house after another. Because we couldn’t afford most of the houses in this area, and I have rules against buying garbage, we weren’t having much luck and were desperately looking at anything that was a possibility. Most of the homes that were close to our budget were owned by people who were trying to flip the property. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, flipping is when someone buys a property that is in an obvious state of disrepair, or has not been renovated, and they come in and make mostly superficial alterations to clean it up and resell it at a profit. It’s a disgusting practice and one that I find loathsome because most people have terrible taste, or at the very least, not my taste. When I would walk through one of these houses, I always thought the same two things:
- I am going to have to pay for that piece of sh*t twice, once for them putting it in and once for me taking it out, and/ or
- Do they think I’m so stupid that I don’t realize that these are cheap renovations?
Don’t read too much into this, it’s just an analogy, but me buying one of these spec/ flipper homes would be like Vincent van Gogh buying art at a “Starving Artist Liquidation Sale”. I just can’t do it. Right or wrong, I always think people will judge me when seeing my home. Would you hire a personal trainer who looks to be one push-up away from a major coronary incident? I don’t necessarily think my analogy is a fair comparison because the short version is that I can’t afford me. What I know and how I think things should be done are outside my financial reach but it’s still something that I think about constantly and it’s probably a contributor to why I am on my 5th house.
The great news for me was we found a house that, except for an architect and his family, nobody would buy. In all likelihood, our house was on a path that would eventually lead to it being torn down and replaced with a terrible spec builder home (that had been neutered of all personality so as to appeal to the greatest possible cross section of the population). It was too small – only 2 bedrooms/ 2 bathrooms and for people moving here with kids, that reduces the pool of interested buyers. In addition, because of the banking problems last year, our timing was good because there weren’t too many spec builders looking to acquire development projects so we didn’t have to compete with them, most had inventory they needed to move. The homeowner, who had lived in this house for all but about 10 years of its existence, was moving into an assisted living facility - in an effort to sell his house in a terrible market, had resigned himself to sell the house for lot value. When he learned that it was an architect that was going to buy his home (and not tear it down), he was willing to work with us further on the price.
I love my house, but I realize that in it’s current state, it’s defined more by vision than reality. I try and remind myself of my own situation whenever I am meeting with new clients who want more than they can afford. I am also grateful for the clients who change their programming to reflect the budget rather than trying to get as much, for as little, as they can. When my wife and I hosted a Christmas party for a bunch of fellow architects, I was happy to learn that they understood what they were looking at and rather than focusing on the blemishes, they too saw what I saw – a well thought out plan, consistent detailing and personality.