House Shopping: We Found “The One”

Houses going downAs most of you know, we sold our house this summer and moved into a temporary rental home while we looked for a new place.  And, it’s been interesting.  Our old house was 2,400 sq. ft. , after all, which is pretty darn big compared to the 1,168 sq. ft. rental we’ve been living in.  Regardless, I’ve enjoyed this small space aside from a few challenges.  It’s been fun!  I really like having the kid’s bedrooms so close to the kitchen and living room.  In addition, this place has been super easy to clean!  If you want to read about our move or house shopping adventures, you can find them here:

The Small House Experiment…In Pictures

Thoughts on Small House Living

House Shopping: Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget

Buying a House: HOA Fees and Other Shenanigans

Anyway, after looking at over 50 houses, I am relieved and excited to announce that we finally found the house we’re looking for, put in an offer, and struck a deal.  Here are the details:

  • Price: $188,500
  • Interest Rate: 3.5 %
  • Bedrooms: 4
  • Bathrooms: 2.5
  • Lot Size: .33 of an acre

Yep, those are the basics.  Basically, it’s about 400 square feet smaller than our old house, and about $28,500 more expensive.  Why, you ask?  Because it’s one of the cheapest houses in an extremely nice neighborhood in one of the highest rated school systems in the state.  Yep, that costs money.  We could, of course, choose to live a little further away from Greg’s work and find cheaper housing.  But, he doesn’t want to commute and we like the walkability of this place.  And since we’re too cheap to pay for private schools, this is the easiest way for us to get them into an excellent school district.

A few weeks ago, I talked about crazy HOA fees and ugly sheds, and I’m happy to report that our new house has an HOA that I feel comfortable with.  The neighborhood has two community pools, several parks, tennis courts, and basketball courts.  One of the pools is only a block from our new house as well, which will be awesome when I can walk the kids there this summer.  Our new HOA fee is $360 per year including access to the pools and parks and maintenance of the common areas.  In addition, a friend from high school lives in the neighborhood and I was able to ask her if the HOA had ever gone on a crazy power trip.  Fortunately, she said that there are no shenanigans, power trips, or power-hungry soccer moms to deal with.

House Remodeling Plans

Although this house isn’t cheap, it was pretty much a steal when we compared the recently sold homes in the neighborhood.  It was actually hard to find any comps less than $250,000 since most of the homes in the neighborhood are bigger and more expensive.  But, there’s a reason why this house was so cheap.  It’s kind’ve a fixer.  Nothing crazy, but it does need some cosmetic updates.  And so far, this is what we’ve decided we are going to do:

  • New Carpet
  • New Floor in Office
  • New Kitchen Countertops (they look nice in the pictures but they are mismatched and cracked)
  • Some added built-in storage in the kitchen
  • Paint

Things I love About It:

Our new house isn’t perfect.  First, it’s at the very top of the size range we were looking in (1,500 s.f.-2,000 s.f.).  And in addition to that, the house does need work.  Regardless, there are many redeeming qualities about the place that I am ecstatic about:

  • The house is tucked back in a neighborhood, away from all major roads
  • The guest bedrooms all have plenty of room for furniture and queen-sized mattresses
  • The house has pull-down access to an attic and built-in garage shelving
  • It already has a fancy reverse osmosis water filtration system
  • It is within walking/biking distance of so much stuff
  • The property taxes are surprisingly low
  • It’s 5 minutes from Greg’s work and 2 minutes from the grade school


master bedroom


master bathroom

back of house mid-paintkitchen new

Yes, I do realize that the house is half tan/half green in the picture of the back.  They just painted all of the wood siding and our pictures were taken in the middle of the process. I’m happy to report that the house is now brick and dark green with white trim.

How Does Affect Our Finances?

Unfortunately, our new house costs a little more than our old one.  Fortunately, we are transferring almost all of the equity from our old home into this one and continuing on the path to utter and devastating mortgage murder.  We’re doing a 15 year mortgage and plan on prepaying it as much as possible without sacrificing our retirement savings and other goals.

It’s weird….we were so stressed out about selling our old home and moving.  But now I can honestly say that I think it’s all for the better.  We’ll be in a better school district, in a nicer neighborhood, and nearby almost anything we could want to do.  I love our new town and I think we will love this new house once we fix it up a little.  We get possession on January 6th….and I cannot wait!

Would you pay more for a better school district?  What size house do you feel would work best for your family?

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About Holly

Holly Johnson is a wife, mother of two, and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Club Thrifty and a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, and U.S. News and World Report's "My Money Blog." Holly has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Fox Business, and Daily Finance.


  1. I think your girls are getting to the age where paying a little more for a better school district is worth it – won’t your oldest be starting school in a year or so?

    We’re so far out from having kindergarteners that it didn’t even cross our minds when we were looking at houses a few years ago. Somehow, though, we ended up in an area that actually has pretty highly rated public and charter schools… depending on the kid, homeschooling still sounds good sometimes.
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  2. Wow congrats on your new home! For me I would pay more for a better school district. Fortunately my daughter’s school is just near from our house so I’m very happy living in here.
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  3. Congrats! It looks like a wonderful home- having a pool one block away will be awesome in the summer!!!
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  4. Awesome find – whenever I see these sorts of posts I am always reminded how insanely different housing costs are in different areas. $180k was the cost of my 40 year old townhouse. No way a detached big house like that would be that cheap here :)

    When I have kids, I would likely make sure we were in the best, affordable school zone. But that is a ways off. Good luck with the move!
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  5. Sounds like a wonderful neighborhood, Holly, and the house is gorgeous!!!!! I would totally pay extra cash for a house in a great school district. Cheaper than private school, that’s for sure. :-) And I love the walkability of the neighborhood!
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  6. That’s awesome Holly, nice looking place! This has been a great experience for you guys, it sounds like, even though I’m sure it’s been very inconvenient for the last few months. Congrats!
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  7. I think the house looks awesome! And based on your income, I don’t think the price is really that bad. Just keep up the mortgage murder plotting, and all should be well :)
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    • No way. With our incomes combined, we could borrow like $600,000 on a 30 year mortgage. In that respect, spending $188,500 seems pretty reasonable.

  8. I am so excited for you! That is really great news. We live in a similar situation–nice neighborhood and on the lowish end of houses. I can’t wait to read about your fix ups! And moving!
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  9. Square footage is sometimes deceptive. I have some friends with a two story house that has a huge open foyer when you walk in the front door. Sure it looks nice, but the square footage it takes up on the main floor is significant, and completely useless. It’s all about the “functional square footage.” So, it’s hard to really pin a number on how big of a house is really needed for a family. The house does look great – doesn’t look like a fixer upper at all from the pics! You cannot put a price on a good neighborhood – we live in a great neighborhood / location, which was a huge factor in why we didn’t sell our house and downsize when we were trying to figure out the best way to reduce our expenses.
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    • Yeah, the house is a lot smaller than our old one but it really doesn’t feel like it. It’s laid out well. We mainly just lost the large Florida room we had on our old house and some square footage in the bedrooms.

  10. Congrats guys! You’d never get that much house here for a price like that!! Hope you build many fun memories in your new home :)
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  11. Congratulations!
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  12. Since you can pretty much put your kids in any school you want now and not have to pay extra, I don’t know if I would pay more to put my kids in a good school district. Of course living in a good district means you probably (not always) get bus service which is great. I do know, that if I lived in an IPS area, there is no chance in hell my kids would go to IPS.

    • Yeah, but I have no desire to drive my kids to a different town for school every day. That would especially suck when they get old enough to be in activities! Our new house is literally two minutes from my daughter’s new school…..we could walk there.

      • And the bus picks kids up at the driveway!

      • End of the driveway? That’s great. I don’t know when they stopped doing that in most districts, but I think it is insane that kids would have to walk to a kind of far away bus stop.

        • That’s what I’ve been told. I think it stops once per street but it just happens to be right next to our house!
          But, we may walk. The school is very close. I don’t know why the school would even pick up on our neighborhood to begin with.

  13. AWESOME!!!

    Sounds like you found the ideal situation. 2013 can’t get much better for you guys.

    A couple things I love about your house for you guys:

    -Walking distance to EVERYTHING: Being that close to the school and, what sounds like, a lot of other places to go will help you guys get outside and enjoy the neighborhood instead of being a stuck-in-the-home-or-car suburbanite.

    -That backyard is great for your kids. Tons of room to run and play.

    Congrats again! Well done.

    The Warrior
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    • Thanks!
      Yeah, I am pretty excited to be able to walk to parks and recreation. We won’t be able to walk to the grocery store or anything, but there are a few convenience stores and a sushi restaurant within easy walking distance as well.

  14. A good friend of ours said once that moving to an expensive area was “their private school.” It seems like you’ve done the same. Great yard!
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  15. Congrats! It looks like a great fit for you guys and it sounds like you got a decent deal. When do you move in?
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    • We are planning to move at the end of January. We’re going to get possession on the 6th then paint, put in carpet, etc. It will be much easier that way!

  16. Congrats on finding the perfect place! It may need a bit of work but it sounds like it’s all cosmetic stuff – nothing major or super urgent. And location really is incredibly important, so if you scored a well-priced house in an awesome neighborhood, I think it’s worth paying a little more for. Again, congrats on finishing your search and being so close to your being in your new home! :)
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  17. Of course I would pay higher for a nicer school district. It’s great to find a house before the kids start school. Once they start, it can be harder to move neighbourhoods. I can’t even believe how inexpensive housing is there! That house would probably cost three quarters of a mill where I live!
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  18. Congratulations!!! The house looks great! Being able to walk your kids to school would be awesome!
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  19. It looks like a lovely house. Congrats to you and your family! We’ve been looking for a house too…well a co-op since we’re in NYC. We found one a block away from our current apartment and made an offer which was accepted. Unfortunately, someone swooped in at the last minute and started a bidding war. A good school district is pretty important when you have kids…private school is way too expensive. And I also think walkability is another important factor. I don’t like having to drive everywhere…
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  20. Congratulations!! The house looks great- I bought the cheap house in the nicer street as well. I’m sure you probably know this, but in case you want to paint the wood trim spend the extra money on the BIN primer (oil base/brown label or the shellac/red label) it stinks but keeps all the wood grain from bleeding through the paint. Also, my carpet is from Home Depot and they let me use a Lowes 20% off coupon (has to be from print not online source) to get 20% off a huge order that included allllll the carpet for my house. The HD carpet has held up better than a friend’s who had a national brandname carpet installed around the same time.

    • Nice tip Heidi! I’ll keep that in mind.

      I’ve been carpet shopping. So far the best deal I’ve found is at Carpet One….but I’ll keep that in mind about the Lowe’s coupon. BTW, where did you get a 20 percent off Lowe’s coupn???

      • Going to the Post office for the ‘moving packet’ included coupons, some for lowes, and I think one ce in the mail, but actually my plumber heard I was looking coupons and told me. Doesn’t hurt to ask the tradesmen if they have some and it saved a BUNCH! HD also “readjusted” how they installed the carpet so there was less waste, and combined with the 20% off I think I paid 70% of the initial quote.

  21. Congrats on finding “the one”. That yard looks huge enough for some playing time with the kids. And you also mentioned many positives like distance from Greg’s job and the day care. I would pay more for a better school district.
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  22. I’d say you got a steal! I would move or pay more for good schools. Our daughter is out of district, and it’s never been a big deal, but if they ever got too full to take outsiders, we’d move.
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  23. Congrats on the house Holly! I think you got a great deal and is totally worth the extra cost to be in a nice district, not to mention being closer to Greg’s job. Those are really important things that are worth the cost.
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    • Greg’s company actually has three locations that are all close together. This house is basically right in the middle of the three and he can get to work in five minutes no matter which location he needs to go to that day.

  24. It looks very nice! Totally worth it to be close to work and in great schools! Congratulations!
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  25. Congratulations, Holly. I love the look of the place, especially the yard. That’s a kid’s dream out there (and a good place for Turkey Bowl football games, just saying). It seems the updates are cosmetic only so you can take them on as you have the motivation and inspiration (and cash).

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    • When we moved, I promised my kids a playset out of mommy guilt. So that’s another upcoming expense! At least we have room in the yard and hopefully I can find a cheap swingset on craigslist.

  26. Lisa Aberle says:

    So excited for you. The house is gorgeous and sounds like it’s in an awesome neighborhood! Congrats!

    • Hey lady,

      Thanks! I’m pretty happy about it. I hate being “homeless.” I think this place is going to be a great place to raise our kids and that is what I’m the most excited about. I’m sure you can relate to that!

  27. Congratulations! I don’t have kids but I think it would be totally worth it to pay a bit more for a good school system. That backyard is huge and so pretty!
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  28. Looks like a beautiful home, Holly! I almost started crying seeing your master bedroom. Our house cost about the same but is in a first-ring suburb of the cities so everything is more expensive. There is no “true” master bedroom and it looks like your master is the size of two of the bedrooms on our main level (hence the tears haha). One day I’ll have a true master : ) Really great house though and it sounds like you are nearly guaranteed to sell it for a nice profit because there are so many more expensive houses in that neighborhood.
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    • Yeah, the master bedroom is nice. The other 3 bedrooms are on the smallish side though. Honestly we didn’t plan on getting another 4 bedroom house but the deal was just too good to pass up!

  29. Sounds like you have some good comps there Holly. I would definitely pay more for a better school district. That is what my wife and I are in the process of doing now. You get what you pay for, right!
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  30. Congrats! I love the green color!
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  31. What a great looking house, and that’s awesome it’s so close to Greg’s work and in an excellent school district. Those are some of our main priorities when searching for our ‘forever’ house as well, and we would opt for a fixer upper that’s built solid over the cookie cutter houses that have been popping up everywhere (all too quickly). Congratulations!!
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  32. Hey Holly, congrats on buying the new house, it’s beautiful. I would definitely pay more to live in a better school district. Believe it or not, your small rental house would be just as big as I need. Thanks for sharing!
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  33. Looks nice! I would definitely pay more for a better school district (whether or not we had kids).
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  34. Congrats!!

    We definitely paid extra to be in a top school district and it was well worth it. Friends of ours had to sell their homes at a big loss in order to move out to a better district; guess they didn’t plan on that when they purchased, which was silly…

    That’s amazing you’re so close to the pool and wow does that backyard look huge!
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  35. Congrats on the new house, Holly! That must feel like a huge relief to have off your shoulders at last :) Can’t wait to see you guys kill that mortgage either!
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  36. Congrats, Holly! I just recently started creeping on Zillow (not ready to buy but getting a feel for the market) and I always check school district ratings :). And I don’t even have kids yet! So yeah, I would definitely pay a premium to be in a great school district.
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  37. Wow your house looks nice! I bet your kids are REALLY excited about that pool!

  38. Congrats, sounds like a great home in a terrific spot. Love the size of the yard and the fact that you are so close to the pool…WINNING. We have a pool and the upkeep/cost is a major pain in the ass.
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  39. Congrads Holly! I am very jealous of the price ranges and types of homes available in the wider area you live in. It ALMOST makes me want to move to the midwest… almost.
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  40. Congrats on getting a house! My step mom just got a house too after they sold theirs. Their old house was great for people with kids (great schools) but far from my step-mom’s parents so they found a smaller house closer to her family. As my dad is 62, he’s hoping to get as short of a mortgage as they can handle as he’ll be out of the workforce soon and while my step-mom is only 54, she doesn’t want to be paying it on her own for long!
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  41. Since I live in Socal, any time I read a housing article from someone in another state it kind of depresses me haha. But I’m glad you guys found something you liked and for a great/reasonable price. Do you see yourself living here until your kids are all grown up? I think your house is the perfect size since you won’t have to downgrade when you’re older and your kids are moved out. A lot of my friend’s families now live in houses way too big since their kids have moved out.
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  42. Looks great Holly! Congrats…your patience and sacrifice (living in a rental) paid off in the end. Have fun with some of the renovations.
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  43. It sounds and looks like you found the perfect house within your budget. Good job. Yes, you’ve got some work to do, but once everything is done, I expect you and your family will be very happy.
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  44. I am so happy for you guys!! The house looks really nice, I love the wood floors in the kitchen and the ceiling in the master bedroom. If I had kids, I would likely pay more money to be in a better school district. Education is important, and as someone who went to one of the better districts here, I felt like I had a better overall experience. Less violence, a good curriculum, and expansive after-school activities were nice. Of course, being within walking/biking distance is awesome, too. What a wonderful way to start the new year!
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  45. Congrats on the new house!!!! It looks great. Can’t wait to see after pictures.

  46. When our children lived at home, we had a 2,600 sq. foot home. I had a n separate office and my children had a separate play room. Did we need all this space? Probably not, but now it is just 2 of us and we live in 1,850 sq. foot townhouse. Everything depends on location, layout and a lot of intangibles!
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  47. That looks so great!! The girls are going to love that big backyard! You two must be thrilled!
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  48. Congrats on your new house, guys! Looks great. The yard looks amazing for your children. It may be a bit smaller but since you’ve been living in a MUCh smaller house, you’re already used to it, right?
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  49. I would definitely pay more to be in a better neighborhood (I don’t have kids, so the school district doesn’t affect me -but good neighborhoods usually have better school districts.) However, I’m drooling over the price of the house! I live in Southern California and am frequently reminded that affordability is all about location, location, location! Congrats on your new home!
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  50. That is awesome, congratulations! I have seen people pay for fake mail addresses in order to enroll their kids in a better school. Then they just say they “moved”.
    $30K for a better school sounds like a lot but you’ll probably sell for even more anyway so it seems like a good investment.

  51. Congrats on the new house! It looks great! Yes, I would pay more for a better school district. That was one of our top considerations when we chose where we live now. We didn’t have kids but we planning to. Many public schools unfortunately don’t have a great reputation in SoCal but our public school system is top notch and within walking distance from our home. You’ll love it being so close and I’m sure Greg will love the short commute too!
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  52. I think the added expense is worth it to be in a great neighborhood! Plus, the house looks awesome!
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  53. Congrats, Holly! It was clearly well worth the wait and you finally found the one you are looking home. And I would always go for nice neighborhood, great schooling options and walkability over a few hundred square feet. And the house still looks huge by Romanian standards :)
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