House Hunting is a Marathon not a Sprint

Like how I tied this blog into the subject de jour of the last two weeks?  (Disclosure:  I’ve run 21 marathons, 12 of them in Chicago.)

While marathons and house buying might seem like apples and oranges, they do have some similarities.  A lot of training goes into running a successful marathon and a lot of planning and research is necessary for buying a house.  House hunting also takes a bit of time as you get your finances in order, come up with a down payment and figure out where you want to live.

The same can be said about botching either endeavor.  Sure you could just sign up and run a marathon.  You might do alright if you have good genetics and any kind of running base.  Most likely you would run a few miles and then decide to stop at Caribou in Lake View or check out the monkey house in Lincoln Park Zoo.  Similarly, you could just see a house you like with a For Sale sign on the lawn, knock on the door and ask how much.  You might get lucky and get your dream house though more likely you’d get a Money Pit Nightmare down the street from a crack house.

Figure out where you want to live

Gone are the days – if they ever truly existed – when you could buy a home and then sell it a few years later if some life changing event occurs.  Even in the pre-boom years, you typically had to own a home for 3-5 years just to break even on transactions costs (Transfer Tax, Title insurance, realtor fees, etc.).

Sure everyone knows that one guy who bought a property for cheap, painted it and replaced one broken window and then made a fortune when Starbucks opened down the block.  Not only doesn’t anyone like that guy but he’s lying.  Most of the time he didn’t make nearly as much money as he claims, or he’s downplaying how much he really put into the place.

Therefore you really have to figure out where you want to live for the next 7 to 10 years.  Or longer.  My wife and I are looking for our Forever House – the house we plan to live in until we are too old and feeble to take care of ourselves and our kids will force us to sell to pay for the retirement housing, or fight over on our deathbeds.

So here in Chicago the standard debate DINKS go through is City versus Suburbs.  I’ll summarize it for you.  Suburbs have good school systems.  City has walkability and certain amenities that you have to drive to in the burbs.   The irony is that you probably don’t fully utilize those amenities once you have babies, at least not until they are old enough to be left alone or with a sitter for a few hours.

We have opted for the city though we do waiver when we read about things like the Teacher’s Strike and the current state of CPS.  When I say city I’m not strictly referring to downtown or Lincoln Park with anything West of Ashland being considered Schaumburg.  There are tons of great neighborhoods with a 606 zip code that provide within the city limits but most ChicagoNow/Redeye  readers have never been to or wouldn’t admit it if they have.  These homes may be a bit far from the lake but the cost to size ratio usually offsets that giving you more house for your buck.

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