Road Trip to Buy a House More Stressful than Fun

I’m back!

I spent much of last week on the road, traveling to Columbus, Ohio, and back. This is my third road trip in four months. It’s starting to feel like I’m on tour.

Making It to Ohio 5-12-14I’m not, though. This was my second trip to Columbus this year, and if you follow me on Facebook (You do, don’t you?), you know it’s because I’m relocating. My wife and I drove out to Ohio State in February, so she could interview for a position, and since she got the job, we road tripped last week to find a house.

I am a fan of the road trip. If you read my recent blog on the subject, you know I believe they are internal journeys as well as physical ones. So it was with excitement and anticipation that I got in the car and pointed it east last Monday.

This trip, though, had a very different purpose than the last two. Driving Jill to Ohio for her to interview was open-ended. We didn’t know if she would get the job. It was largely an adventure with every possibility before us. Likewise, when I went to Wisconsin last month to give a reading at my alma mater, I had no idea whether it would be successful, but I had the excitement of seeing my old stomping grounds and reconnecting with some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time.

This trip, though, had a very specific mission: Find a house. It also had something else the other trips didn’t have — a clock.

A house is the largest purchase the average person ever makes. No matter how many times you go through it, it is an enormous undertaking that requires research, diligence, and just getting that feeling that this is the right place.

We had two days.

The mission was further complicated by the fact that we have three children and three pets, which sort of narrows the size and kind of house we could buy. It also necessitated us picking one in a good school district, further narrowing the list.

Again, we had two days. Two days to find the perfect house with all those requirements.

I’m a planner by nature — Hey! I’m an author! I’m all about carefully structured stories that turn out the way I want. — and Jill is a former journalist. Thus, a lot of research went into this trip. We had a realtor, we’d found houses online that looked nice and fit our needs. Before we left for Ohio, we sent him a list of 12 houses we wanted to see. Surely, a one-in-12 chance would be good enough to find the right place.

On our way to Columbus, we got a call from our agent, to set up a schedule. He informed us that two houses were in a school district we didn’t want, one was a short sale, and three had gone into contract over the weekend. Our list had been cut in half. Houses were vanishing before we could get to Columbus to see them.

We were both possessed by a nagging temptation to speed — a feeling that we couldn’t get to Ohio fast enough. We resisted it, but it was hard.

Tuesday was a busy day. We saw all six houses. The idea was to narrow the choices, see if anything else came up in the interim, and then do second looks the next day.

We eliminated Houses 1 and 2 pretty quickly. Houses 3 and 4 had strong possibilities. We left them feeling a little relieved. Neither was perfect, but both were acceptable. We felt as though we might be able to leave on Thursday with an offer on someone’s table.

House 5 was the worst of the lot. It was overpriced and not really what we were looking for. We made our way over to House 6 tired.

And that was The House. It had almost everything we were looking for. There were a few things to quibble about, and there was a carpet that needed replacing, but it was otherwise the right house.

We left our realtor and explored the community — awesome shopping district, refurbished downtown area, lots of culture and neat places to eat. We had a couple drinks at a local place and chatted up the bartender about the area. The review was good.

So the next day, we interviewed the middle school principal and a high school guidance counselor to find out if this was the right district for the kids. We left both schools feeling like we were home.

That afternoon, we viewed the house again. It definitely was what we wanted, where we wanted it. We cancelled the other second views and made an offer.

And then the real stress began. There was paperwork to sign Wednesday night. We gave the owners until 3pm Thursday to respond to the offer.

John and Jill Leaving ColumbusSo we left Columbus Thursday morning with an offer on the table but no idea if it would be accepted. Remember the part about houses vanishing so fast we couldn’t even look at them? And the part about this house really being the only perfect one?

It was a long drive back to Kansas.

But around noon we got a call that the offer had been accepted in principle. They wanted to dicker over a few things. So we hung up, and Jill and I talked about how to counter. Then we called back and gave the realtor our proposal. He thought it sounded good. He said they were due to sign papers at 5pm, so if everything was fine, there would just be an addendum to the contract. That would be forwarded to us, we’d find a truck stop with wi-fi and electronically sign the paperwork.

Five o’clock came and went. No word.

An hour later we called. It went to voicemail. More pins and needles.

Eventually we got a call back and it turned out they’d handwritten the changes into the contract and signed it. We just had to initial the changes.

By that time, we were almost home, so we took care of it at our dining room table (ironic in a sense). The house was ours.

Neither Jill nor I had slept well at all on this excursion. Driving for 12 hours is exhausting. Then there was the stress. What if it didn’t turn out right? What then?

This latest trip to Ohio was not the big adventure we were looking for. It was an adventure, all right, but not the fun kind. It was filled with anxiety and insomnia. We did our best to enjoy ourselves, but the specter of about a hundred different things going wrong made it hard.

That said, we got what we came for. We found a nice house in a good neighborhood with excellent schools. We beat out a competing bid and inked a deal to buy it. We now have a place to live in Columbus, which means we can actually move. This is all very good.

But I want my next road trip to be more fun. Regardless of its success, this one wasn’t what I’m accustomed to.

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