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Archive for August 31st, 2009

Goldilocks and the 17 Condos

August 31, 2009

Mr. Karen and I spent last week in Idaho, which more than one person told us seemed like an odd place for a vacation. But Idaho is more than potatoes: it’s got beautiful scenery including grand vistas and lakes and, most importantly, real ski mountains, including Schweitzer, which we liked so much when we went this past winter that by the end of the week we were, and here I quote myself, “looking at real estate listings and trying to figure out just how crazy it would be to try and buy a place there”. In the months since that visit, we kept looking and figuring and pondering and decided that diverting some of our retirement savings into real estate might not be the worst idea ever. Yes, the economy is still iffy, and we worried about taking on so much new debt in this climate, especially since we know so many people who haven’t been treated kindly by this downturn, but the upside of the downturn is ski condo prices have gotten more affordable in a lot of places, including Schweitzer. So we crunched the numbers and chose a real estate agent and booked a trip to see what we could see.

The week before our trip, our agent found 29 listings in our price range that met all or at least most of our requirements. I went through and rated them based on how good a fit I thought they were: A for definitely see (there were eight of those), B for probably should see (six), D for probably don’t need to see because they’re too far from the hill (nine), and X for definitely don’t need to see (six). (There was no C.) I reviewed the groups with Mr. Karen to make sure he agreed and then sent the A and B groups to the agent so she could set up viewings for us at as many of those as she could. We got up to the mountain last Saturday night, and Sunday morning we drove around the mountain looking at the D group to confirm their locations (online map information on the area isn’t all that precise yet). That excursion led us to promote three of the condos into the B group, and we ended up getting a tour of one of them on the spot, as the owner happened to be taking his dog out at the same time as we were standing in front of the building trying to figure out which unit matched the listing we had.

Sunday afternoon we met our agent and toured most of the As and Bs, then Monday afternoon we saw most of the rest of them plus the three we promoted and revisited our favorites from the day before (Mr. Karen and I had surprisingly little difficulty agreeing on the short list, which I guess is a good sign). Tuesday and Wednesday are a bit of blur; we found a lawyer, we saw one more condo that had been taken off the market but turned out to still be for sale, we stayed up late reading the CC&Rs (covenants, conditions, and restrictions) and such for our top three choices, we drafted a purchase agreement for our favorite condo but left the dollar amount blank so we could think about it, we revisited our favorite, we met with the lawyer, we decided on a number. Thursday morning we finalized our offer and then escaped for a side trip up to Canada. I thought we’d have all day Friday to ourselves, as we’d given the sellers until Monday to respond, but Friday morning when I turned on my cell phone there was a message from the agent saying they had presented the offer and the sellers were very close to accepting it and could we meet with them later that morning. I left a message in reply with our schedule; when the agent called back she said they’d gotten verbal acceptance and expected to have a signed agreement by the time we could get there: no counteroffer. I was amazed. Holy crap, we bought a condo. I hadn’t really expected to get things wrapped up so quickly.

The unit we ended up buying was actually on our D list to start because of how far away from the ski trails it looked on the map but it turned out to be a reasonable walking distance—about 10 minutes to the village where the main lifts are. We walked it in both directions more than once before we made our offer just to make sure it was really do-able. It had been on the market for over a year, perhaps in part because of the 70s-fabulous décor; if the Brady Bunch had a ski condo, I’m pretty sure it would look just like this one, full of brown and harvest gold and groovy light fixtures. But décor is easier to change than the structural problems we saw at some of the newer places we looked at; granite countertops and a tasteful neutral color scheme are no comfort if the walls are cracking and the garage is wet because the building site wasn’t prepared properly. Another big selling point for us was the relative privacy of the unit; it’s on one end of the building, with no one above or below, and the only shared wall is the one beside the entry, which we don’t expect to spend much time in. It’s also got a nice garage, only one car, but easy to get into and out of and with plenty of space to park a second vehicle outside. Some of the units we looked at had very narrow garages with small driveways; if I was having trouble navigating them in the summer I didn’t want to think about what they’d be like in winter. All in all, I’m pleased with our choice and hope the rest of the process goes as smoothly as getting to the purchase agreement did.

(I still need to sort through all the pictures; check back in a day or so if you’re interested and I should have a link here to them.)

Pictures are here.

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