12 April 2012

The new Casa P: checking out the prospects

Guess what?

We’re moving to St. Louis!

Oh wait. I think I’ve told you that before.

But what I didn’t tell you is that Mr. P and I slipped away last week to scope out our new fair city! And while we were there, we turned all that virtual apartment hunting into actual apartment hunting. True, it was a bit early for a summer move – some realtors told us they wouldn’t hold the apartment for a later lease date, even with a deposit in hand. But it was great to finally check out some places in person – ten places, to be exact!

I’ve already told you our must-haves. Basically all of the places we saw met those criteria.

And we were also working from this list of preferences:

But, as would be expected, we learned a few other things once we were there!

Neighborhood switcheroo

I was absolutely certain my favorite places would be in the neighborhood where Mr. P’s sister and brother-in-law lived a few years ago, west of Forest Park. Everyone – everyone! – recommended the area, despite the fact that it would be several metro stops away from my work. And look how adorably charming the old buildings are in those neighborhoods!

(All of these photos and those that follow were taken from publicly available listings of places currently for rent. I really, really hate not sourcing them properly, but it seems imprudent to obviously reveal street addresses for safety reasons. If I stole your photo and you are unhappy, please let me know and I’ll remove it!)

In contrast, the neighborhoods around my workplace mostly look like this. To each his own, but highrises fail to charm me.

As a matter of fact, we didn’t even look at any of those highrises because I flat-out-refused to live in them. Which makes me realize... oh. That should probably be on the must-haves list!

However, there were a precious few available apartments in that neighborhood that were NOT highrises and met our other criteria. Fortunately I’d kept an open mind and scheduled appointments for those places, even though I was sure we wouldn’t want to live there.

But then... once we were there, driving and walking around the city... I totally flip-flopped. I adored the neighborhood near my new job and preferred its vibe over those highly-recommended neighborhoods west of Forest Park. Plus, living near my job would have the added bonus of being able to skip the metro and walk to work. Suddenly, we had a new favorite neighborhood.

It just goes to show that, not only is location the most important factor in real estate, you really must experience the location for yourself in a new city!

Added: “walk to work” to the like-to-haves, “no highrises” to the must-haves

Must-have modern

I love older buildings, as you might have guessed from my squee-ing over the old apartment buildings above. Sure, they have scuffed-up floors and tiny closets and quirky layouts, but all of that just adds to the charm for me.

Mr. P’s opinion on the matter of old apartments is different: DO NOT LIKE.

I knew this while I was checking out apartments, but here’s the thing: everything in our desired neighborhoods is old. It would be nearly impossible to find a building less than thirty years old – most are over fifty – so I couldn’t just eliminate all older buildings. Instead, it became a matter of how much they’ve updated it... which is hard to tell from photos. Fresh coat of paint only, or fully remodeled?

Hard to tell, indeed.

Because it wasn’t always obvious from the photos, we ended up checking out those places and anything else that looked like them. Some turned out to be historic buildings on the outside and completely modern on the inside; others were still old and musty and quite obviously “ABSOLUTELY NOT” to Mr. P. After looking at just a few places, I could predict his overall opinion about the apartment just by listening to see how much the floor creaked.

While I’d enjoy living in a more “historic” building, I enjoy living with a happy Mr. P far more. After checking all our options, we mutually shuffled anything that was older, with wavy floors and uneven plaster and original tile, down to the bottom of the list. No amount of original 70-year-old door mouldings can make up for a disappointed husband. And truth be told, I’d likely be more comfortable in a modern place. Charm only goes so far, after all. A newer, or fully-updated place it had to be, then!

Moved: “updated” from the like-to-haves to the must-haves

Budget breakdown

Knowing that the cost-of-living in St. Louis is comparable to Nashville, if not lower, I was hopeful that we could find a place we liked with a rental rate that was the same as our current mortgage payment. And indeed, we looked at several that were the same price as what we’re paying now.

But... we also looked at a few that were above our target budget because they met more of our like-to-have criteria. I know, I know! You can guess what happened next.

When we realized that those few hundred dollars could be the difference between a home with older appliances and fixtures...

And one updated to Mr. P’s (and, let’s be honest, my) liking...

And the fact that I realized exactly how 1000 square feet (960 to be exact) feels, compared to the 1600 we have now...

And how I’d become enamored with the slightly-higher-priced neighborhood near work...

Well... the budget scooched up a bit.

But! Do not think we are allowing ourselves to become irresponsible, dear reader! Here’s the number-crunching:

The general rule of thumb is that you should expect to pay one-quarter of your income on your home and utilities, but you shouldn’t exceed one-third in the interest of financial responsibility. As it is now, our mortgage payment is less than 20% of our combined gross income (as a graduate student and school teacher). Which is well under that 25% target, so that’s great! But wait, there’s more: in my new job, I get a nice little raise from my graduate student stipend (and eleventy billion times more than my adjunct position now). So paying the same amount as our current mortgage payment with the higher salary would be way, way under that standard 25%... like half of that, actually.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t save money if we could! But once Mr. P and I realized that the very tippy-top of our mental budget was actually still less than 25% of our income – provided Mr. P finds a teaching position – well. We re-evaluated. And those more-updated, more-spacious homes we liked seemed a bit more reasonable, not quite the splurge that the price tag seemed to be.

Changed: “budget: same as current mortgage payment” to “budget: 25% or less of gross income”

Which left us with our adjusted lists:

Next week I’ll tell you about the ones that met our criteria... and the one we chose! Yes, we actually chose a place! Stay tuned!


Rachel said...

I can not wait to see what you all chose! I'm so excited that I feel like I'M moving to St. Louis!

Rachel C said...

Oh! I am so excited about your search! It's like a real life House Hunters. :-)

Sarah said...

That's so funny you said that, Rachel (well, second Rachel)... I had the House Hunters music going through my head while we drove around looking! So I've already decided that's basically the theme of next week ;)

Tina said...

I can hardly wait!!! :-)

Michelle G. said...

It is like house hunters, I love it! Richard and I have decided our future house hunt should be like house hunters "now we have to eliminate one..will it be the fixer-upper in a good neighborhood, or the new remodel?"