"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> urbanMamas

How do you choose a space for your family?

We are house-hunting, as we recently sold our home. Our seach has yielded a series of "almost perfect" houses. Almost perfect, but only one bathroom and on a different floor than the bedrooms.  Almost perfect, but too far away, in an undesireable school district. Almost perfect, but slightly too small. Each house has been so almost perfect that we almost love them, but there's that one something about them doesn't fit.

It's an interesting dilemma. Buy the house that's big enough, but not in the area you wanted? Buy the house that's smaller than you wanted, but with desireable yard/school district/neighborhood? Or rent and keep looking?

How do you choose a space for your family? What's important to you in a home? In a neighborhood? Would you prefer lots of room in a second or third-choice area, or a tight squeeze in a dreamy neighborhood? Or would you hold out for the perfect combination?


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I'm a beleiver in the "if it's meant to happen it will" mentality in most situations in my life, and house hunting is definitely one of them. At some point in the process, I think you have to take a little leap and have faith that you will end up in the right house for your family, even if the process is tiring and emotional.

We were in the same situation early this year when we were house hunting, although we had a limited amount of time to shop and make offers. We probably looked at 80 houses in 3 days, and on the 3rd day had 2 houses that we were willing to make offers on, but neither one was our "perfect house". The first house was plenty big, in the perfect part of town, but it was on a travelled road, and was more expensive but would still need some renovations. The second house was brand new, with all the comforts of new construction at a great price, but in a part of town and school district that we were not sure about.

We made 3 offers on the first house, and finally walked away when we decided the other party was not willing to negotiate at all. So we made one offer on our 2nd option and it was a done deal within 2 hours.

Tryg and I were talking just last night about how perfect our house is for us, right now. While we would have loved to be able to walk to Trader Joes, we have plenty of amenities within walking distance here--a brand new Fred Meyer and New Seasons are on our weekly agenda, even if it is in a more "exciting" part of town! And with a toddler in the house, I cant even tell you how excited we are that we dont have to do any renovations here. And even though the rooms are a bit smaller, we've got all the rooms we need and it's a great use of space. Overall, we've been very pleasently surprised with how the process played out for us.

Interestingly enough, the first house ended up selling at exactly the final price we'd offered on it, a few months later. Our gut had been telling us that their initial asking price was way too high, and based on the final selling price, we're figuring we were probably right! So trust your gut on value too.

We had the same issue a few years ago, we chose to go for the smaller house in the better area. I am so glad we made that choice now that I see how the other area we were considering has changed. We had to downsize and put some things in storage, but I love my neiborhood and my community. You can always change the house, but you have far less control over the neiborhood. Good luck!

are those houses your only two choices? There are lots of houses that pop up for sale every day, I bet if you just keep looking you'll find the perfect house in the perfect place. But I'd tend to go for the better neighborhood, since you can always remodel an "okay" house, and then you have the house you wanted in a great neighborhood.

When I was looking for a house, I found that if you had that almost love feeling, then wait until it's true love. It's just like a relationship. If you settle for a maybe, you will always wonder if the perfect house is still out their looking for you. I love my house, even though the bedrooms are upstairs and the bathroom (tiny stinking bathroom) is downstairs. I am constantly putting down masking tape on the floor to map out where the bathroom walls will be when I expand, and always getting estimates on putting in dormers big enough to fit an upstairs bathroom for me and kiddo once she is potty training! But I know if I won the lottery today, I would stay there and make it my perfect home instead of moving (at least for now). Now, if only I could find that fixer-upper man to start working on.... ;)

I like Mamala's sentiments about waiting until you feel true love for a house. I think your needs just change depending on where you are in life and what's important to you at that time and for the next few years.

When we bought our first home, we wanted a cool location, older Portland home, and we didn't care how much it needed to be fixed up because we didn't have kids, we love designing new spaces, and had more disposable income. So we got a small 1500 SF + unfinished basement house with great bones for dirt cheap in SE and did a ton of renovation work to it. Then we sold it three years later for a helluva lot more than what we bought it for. Even with all our work, it was just too small for us with a kid and a dog, we hated having just one bathroom, and although we plumbed it for another bathroom and could have put more work into it, once our son was born we were d-o-n-e remodeling and fixing up the little things that always need fixing up in older smaller homes.

So we searched for a larger home in a better neighborhood for our second. We knew it was The One instantly; there isn't one thing we don't 150% love about our house AND our neighborhood. The house has also already appreciated in 1-1/2 years as much as our first house did in three years, so research into neighborhoods has paid off for us.

So if you keep searching, I KNOW you will find the right house/neighborhood combo that is right for you and your family. If you've got the right agent and do the research, I don't think you'll have to settle for one or the other. Good luck!

We were in the same boat as you a year ago. We really wanted to live close-in, near where we had been renting since we moved back to Oregon, but we were priced out of that neighborhood (Irvington). We spent nine months trying to find the *perfect* house for us in a great neighborhood, but we never found that instant love connection with anything we saw...until my husband's childhood friend told us about his next door neighbor in St. John's who was moving out and selling her beautiful bungalow on a triple lot. When we first came to see the house (at night, in Februrary) we knew immediately that this was the house we were meant to buy. I wasn't thrilled about St. John's. It has a cute downtown, but the school district is not great. But we decided that this place felt right and we would work it out. Our house is not huge, about 1270 sqft, with a 900 ft. unfinished basement for laundry, etc. There is only one bathroom on the main floor. But it feels like home. I can't imagine leaving now.

So, I guess I agree with the other poster who said, wait until you know it's love. It takes time to find it, but it is out there, and you will.

We almost bought a not-quite-right house, but were saved by the sellers being stubborn about our requests. We were so offended at what they wouldn't do in the deal that we went to look at another house, and I really knew it was the one for us. I fell in love. We're making some changes to it right now to make it really just right for us and our lifestyle (connecting the living room and family room, for example) but it would have been fine without them for a long time to come.

It's smaller than some houses we looked at, by a little bit, but that's ok with me. Less to clean, less room to fill it with stuff we don't need. We're only a couple of years out of graduate school, and have two relocations between then and now that helped us jettison a lot of useless stuff.

The neighborhood has been golden, so I say make that your priority. Yes, the street gets a bit more traffic than we'd like but we're so close to things we didn't even realize we'd love having nearby (the pool at Grant Park - the library) that we feel like we won the lottery. I seriously don't know if I'll ever want to move.

I have a little different point of view. Unless you have lots of cash to spend, there will be things that you need to concede in order to find a house that meets your top requirements. While we, just like most LOVE a great neighborhood, walk to restaurants, that type of thing,we had to define our top priortities for our young families needs. For us, it was good public schools, livable home that requires little repair, appreciating and safe neighborhood and enough space for the fam and visitors. These priorities took us out of N/NE and brought us to the suburbs. Sure, we miss the character of N/NE, and no, we weren't head over heels in love with our contemporary house, but the house and neighborhood have exceeded out expectations. It sort of feels good to release yourself from the constraints of what you think you need in a home and focus on the reality of life with young children and what that requires.

I'm with Monica. We're not in the 'burbs per se but we're not in a trendy part of pdx. We are in SE, just on the East side of I-205. Its unknown territory to most Portlanders and it was to us too until we moved out here. Turns out, thats one thing we like best about it! We feel like pioneers.

We went with a spacious house on a large park-like lot in a decent, but not fancy, neighborhood with good schools. We have a cool midcentury home and we love it here. To be honest I don't miss being closer in. Its quiet here and while we don't have the coveted walk-to-coffee neighborhood, we just want to drink coffee at home now.

Of course, money was a big issue and homes were just more reasonably priced out here. We have no regrets.

When we were looking (and looking and looking) for a house, we did, finally, fall in love -- perfect house in great neighborhood! When we were out-bid, it was awful but now we can honestly say that if we were there now, we would not have enough room for our growing family (5 weeks to #2!).

The house we eventually bought we immediately knew we wanted because we recognized it as a diamond-in-the-rough (filthy rough, at that) in a neighborhood that we sensed would be improving in the near future. We put a lot of money into the house and it is still a bit "in-the-rough" but a great house and the neighborhood is coming along very nicely so we know were right to trust our gut-instincts. Perfect? No, but the right choice for us. And we knew it because we had looked at soooooo many houses and knew our priorites before we got to this one.

When I was house-shopping a few years ago, it was clear that North Portland was the one and only area where I could afford to buy, and still stay reasonably close-in. I ended up in Kenton, which is still a little rough around the edges but is gentrifying ever so gradually. (I view the slow pace as a good thing.) After a mad whirlwind of house tours, I made my offer on the first one that truly, simply, miraculously, wasn't awful. That may not sound like much to aspire to, but it sure felt like love to me....

We also live in Kenton, but we moved here 9 years ago. It was not what we wanted in a neighborhood, but we weren't even close to having kids so school districts weren't a consideration. We figured we'd be here 5 years tops. Then more families moved in. Then we painted the outside and landscaped. Then we had a baby and fixed up the inside a little. By last year we'd committed to this house. If we were just now looking I'm sure we'd think it was too small (3 bedrooms, 1 bath), but we've decided to commit to keeping our stuff to a minimum and use our space wisely. Because we've made the committment, and this house has appreciated so much, we can afford to make the house pay for any remodling. There are times when I wonder if we'll make it through the teen years now that we have 2 kids, but there's always the basement to finish if we have to!

i'm a believer that you need have to have a list of prioritites set in order of importance (must haves, nice to haves, and deal breakers.) oftentimes in life, we must make some compromises in order to get what we truly want. if you are waiting for the 'perfect' house, you may be waiting forever. or your idea of the perfect house is one that others consider perfect too, so your offer ends up getting outbid. figure out what you *must have* and also what you are willing to let slide in exchange for the things at the top of your list. then *make a decision*. with this housing market, if you wait too long for the perfect house, the prices could potentially soar out of your range to the point where, in the end, you will get even less of the kind of house that you originally desired.

It is true that you can get a number of the things on the "A-list" if you are willing to live further out. Bigger, safer neighborhood, not a fixer-upper,etc. But.. if you are working outside the home, you may also spend more of your time as an auto-commuter. I am a full-time mother to an 11-month old. It was important for me to spend as little time as possible apart from him. Being a 15-minute drive and 20-minute bike ride from work was really key. We are a one-car, two-parent family, and we didn't want to go to two cars. So we compromised a bit to achieve "close-in" (like, we are two houses off of major road so I hear traffic, which I hate.. and our lot is not large, rather it is typical of a close-in house at 5000 sq ft). I guess I am hoping that in the end, some of what we paid upfront to live close-in will come back if we count gas-savings and time-savings into the calculations. We recently moved here from Honolulu ("the parking lot of the Pacific") and we bought our house in June. One of the TOP things we prioritized was moving to a city with good transportation options (e.g., not having to drive everywhere, especially with child in carseat). So "close-in" kind of won out over other factors. Overall, we did not get 'everything' we would have liked, but we got enough to be happy. Coming from Honolulu where we were raising our son in a one-bedroom, 730 sq foot condo, of course we are happy!

My husband and I recently moved to Portland. We left Chicago, moved to Bend first and DIDN'T buy right away. BIG mistake. We hated renting after owning and rehabbing two places in Chitown. Plus, financially, renting was a bad decision. We missed the city so we looked all over Portland and stuck with our price range (a low one!). I was committed to buying an older house but for some weird reason we drove by a house that was the only new construction on the block. It was really cute - craftman style detailing - great proportions - blended right into the neighborhood. We went in and decided to just buy it. I have a 14 month old and rehabbing would have been just impossible. I'm so happy with our decision. We're in Kenton too. The location is sooo convenient to everything. As far as the house goes, it has three baths, three bedrooms, stainless steel kitchen, etc. A new house is not what I dreamed of but I realized that it's the things that I love (my antique furniture, my moms paintings, my sons toys...) that make the house. It's not the four walls around it. There are a ton of options in North Portland in the $250,000 range. I think it's a great area to live with a toddler on a tight budget. Sure, we'd all like to live in Irvington but living on less money and having all day to spend with my son is worth the trade off. I know that he doesn't care where we are as long as we're hanging out together! :) If you want any info on the North Portland area, please feel free to email me. Good luck with your decision!

SG makes a good point. You need to prioritize your list and think about your must haves versus things you can compromise on. When we bought our current home, location and access was key. We bought a not so perfect tiny house with a big yard in a close-in location. I never thought I could live in a house with only one closet, but four years and two kids later we're still here in a neighborhood where you can walk to parks, schools, restaurants, coffee shops and the grocery store. Living in a small space does have the benefit of forcing you use the space wisely and to choose between your worldly possessions. Basically, the bottom is that there's no room to be a pack rat!

When we looked a couple of years ago, we maybe saw 20 houses in a weekend. All that looking was tiring, but it sure did help us refine our priorities.

We needed:
- a layout that made sense to us (we were looking in close-in N/NE neighborhoods where homes are older and attics were made into master bedrooms. We didn't want to be on a different floor from the girls)
- completely fine condition & no fixing-up (we had a hard enough time committing hours to house hunting; we were sure we had zero hours to commit to major house projects),
- off-street parking
- two bathrooms
- walking distance to amenities (coffee shops, parks, a supermarket)
- staying "close-in" to downtown
- access to transit.

We were flexible on:
- off-street parking could be a carport or detached garage. Who would've thunk we'd luck out with an attached garage off the back alley?
- location of bathrooms. Even though all our bedrooms were upstairs, the bathroom with the bathtub is downstairs.
- amenities. When we moved into our house 2 years ago, we had two restaurants and a 7Eleven. Now we have a few awesome coffee shops, fine dining, quick eats, shops. This is Portland, and things are changing so quickly.
- when we were in hunting mode, we were renters living 2 miles from downtown. it was a stretch for us, but ended up buying a house 4 miles from the downtown core. We're in Overlook/npdx.

So, anyway, all this to say that we had a vision of our perfect house (yes it was a craftsman bungalow thingy with a humongous porch in the heart of Irvington), but we now have a house that is really a wonderful home. It's nothing like we originally envisioned, but it really is perfect for us.

I'm in agreement with Joan and Hau on this one. Finding a house close-in is far more advantageous than one in the suburbs if you want to be as car minimalist as possible. I grew up in suburban town after suburban town, and the homogeneity of it (mostly white, middle class) really got to me, but I do remember some kids found it idyllic.

We live near Alberta Street, and we spend our days and evenings walking everywhere, no matter what the weather, and we engage in spontaneous interactions with people on the street, and often hear different languages being spoken. I feel we've managed to find a corner of Portland that at least begins to reflect the diversity of the world, both culturally and economically, which is important to me.

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