July 29, 2015

I’ve been living happily in Chesterbrook, Pa., for the past 11 years, longer than anywhere else aside from my childhood home. But the time has come for a big change — Joan and I have bought a single-family house!

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In June 2004, I made my first home purchase in the Chesterbrook neighborhood of Valley Stream Village. At the time, I was 29 and single, and my new two-bedroom condo with a loft and detached garage felt like a palace, especially compared to my previous one-bedroom apartment in nearby West Chester. I hardly knew what to do with all of the space.

More than a few wonderful changes have taken place in my life while I’ve resided in Chesterbrook. It’s where Joan and I first lived together, starting with her move from the city a few months before we were engaged. It’s where I woke up on the beautiful May morning of our wedding. And it’s where we brought our son Michael home from the hospital; our Chesterbrook condo is the first home that he’s ever known.

As of last spring, my former bachelor pad was home to three people, including one increasingly mobile little one. Joan and I still loved our place, but it was becoming increasingly cramped, and our ability to entertain guests or host our relatives for an overnight stay was difficult at best. So, Joan and I began searching for a single-family home with our realtor, Nancy, starting with several house visits in April 2014.

We expected our search to take some time, but it wound up taking over a full year. During that span, Joan and I visited 37 houses for sale, drove past (and often ruled out) many more, and viewed hundreds of listings through daily e-mail alerts. We came close to making an offer on a few occasions, but we couldn’t ignore some glaring problems. One beautiful home happened to be located in a FEMA-designated flood zone, and another promising candidate only offered an underground crawl space (four feet deep at the most) instead of a true basement.

Finally, in late April of this year, Joan and I made our first offer on a stylish farmhouse-style home on a cul-de-sac in Newtown Square, Pa. The early negotiations on the price were surprisingly tense, and the inspection revealed that the original, 28-year-old roof contained cracked shingles and was at the end of its useful life. We requested a financial credit to cover a portion of the estimated $20,000 cost to replace the roof, and even wrote a personal letter to the sellers in the hopes of a reasonable compromise. But the owners refused to budge, perhaps under the incorrect assumption that we wanted to buy the house at any cost.

Joan and I reluctantly terminated the sale, and the sellers even made a feeble attempt to negotiate only after we had decided to walk away.

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A few weeks later, we made an offer on an updated colonial house, also located in Newtown Square. The process went much more smoothly, and the sellers, who were being relocated to the Boston area, offered substantial credits toward some repairs and generously provided a personal walk-through of the home!

The four-bedroom house was built in 1967, but it had been completely renovated less than 10 years ago, and the most recent owners added significant upgrades since then, including a French drain in the backyard and solar panels on the rear roof! Also, many of the permanent features of the house were superior to the previous one, including a larger lot, flat front yard, more attractive neighborhood, and a better school district.

After a tremendous amount of preparation for our new mortgage and homeowner’s insurance policy, Joan and I took a day off from work to attend settlement on a Wednesday morning. The meeting took place at the Berkshire Hathaway offices in Devon, Pa., in the very same building as my previous settlement for my condo in Chesterbrook!

Joan and I celebrated with an indulgent lunch at the Capital Grille in King of Prussia, and took Michael over to see his new house that evening.

We still have a lot of work in front of us, including moving, unpacking, and selling our old place. But it’s a relief to finally get settled in a comfortable home, and we’re looking forward to many happy years in Newtown Square!

[ No. 684 ]