Pandemic home-buying was a grind, but walkability was a surprise benefit.
Housing is a complex challenge and everyone’s story is different. In this blog series, Vital Communities Housing and Transportation team member Ellen Hender offers close-up views of how our neighbors are affected by current Upper Valley housing realities.
Both Ashley and Mike had already experienced buying a home when they decided to buy one together, but this joint venture was a very different story. Several years prior, just after college, Ashley had bought a foreclosure home in Chester, VT. Mike had owned a condo in Keene, NH, before selling it to move in with Ashley. With jobs that were now remote, Ashley and Mike wanted to find a home that was less remote. They had put a lot of work into the house, which had sat vacant before Ashley purchased it. They decided to capitalize on the late 2020 market, selling the house and moving in with Ashley’s parents while they looked for the home for the next chapter of their lives.
They chose to look in Keene for a number of reasons. They both work mostly remotely but wanted to remain within a manageable commuting distance; they had ties to Keene, with Mike having grown up there; and perhaps most important to them, Keene offered a more active downtown and easier access to grocery shopping, medical care, and other needs than did their location in Chester. They were excited to spend less time in the car and were pleasantly surprised by the walkability.
Asked to describe their experience, they agreed it was “a grind.” Ashley continued, “A house would pop up one day and if you weren’t there in 24-48 hours, you wouldn’t get to see it, it’d be sold already.” This meant they would have to drop things at a moment’s notice to try to see a house as soon as it was listed — or they would not be able to even get an offer in. While out of town, this even meant doing a video walkthrough of some homes in hopes of not missing an opportunity.
A difference from their prior experiences was that, this time, they were dealing with the pandemonium of the market and the emotions that went along with that. Being one of 50 or 60 people looking at a house was challenging. Inspections were waived, offers needed to be above the asking price, and while they had a list of what they wanted in a home, they had to be very flexible in what they held as “musts” versus “wants.” They had to keep an eye on interest rates each month as that had a big impact on what homes they could look at, even with being able to invest every penny they made by selling their Chester home. Friends of theirs closing on a home eight weeks after them found rates to be 2 points higher. Ashley summarized the process as, “You overbid, and you hope you’re the best offer.”
Mike and Ashley had already made six unsuccessful offers when their friends convinced them to look at the house they would ultimately get. Surprisingly, it met many of the items on their list and didn’t require any major work – another challenge with the lack of contractors available. So this, their seventh offer, was accepted. However, the sale of the house was contingent on the current owners finding a new home. Ashley acknowledged that their flexibility of living with her parents rent-free made this possible. Luckily, the current owners found a place relatively quickly and Mike and Ashley were able to settle into their new home.
In looking for this home, they had been really invested in finding something with proximity to necessities and being in a neighborhood. They found that and more. They’re right across from the hospital and have the dentist just up the road. They can walk to downtown and have access to mountain bike trails and hiking trails. Walkability hadn’t been on their list, but they note that they appreciate it. They didn’t want to remain somewhere very rural but also didn’t want to be right downtown. After getting through the grind of disappointment, hope, challenge, and luck, they were able to find the neighborhood feel they wanted and settle in with “the best of both worlds.”