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Kristen Philipkoski

House Hunt part 4: A new build, an Eichler and a surprise in Pacifica


House Hunt is a weekly series documenting a real family's quest to find a home in their beloved California coastal town, Pacifica, CA.

Eichler home photo by SanFranman59

How has this past week only been a week?

We submitted our first offer on a home in the Linda Mar neighborhood of Pacifica. It caught our eye because it was listed at right around our budget. The 1,500 square-foot rancher, very typical for the area, had been expanded a bit in the back to create a sort of "great room," as real estate listings like to call them, which opened into the small but pleasant backyard.

The home had a nice flow, and as I described in my previous installment, it provided various areas for hanging out, eating, sleeping, or working quite efficiently in a relatively small space. And from front to back everything was inoffensively updated. The kitchen was small but with attractive black granite countertops. When you think about the kitchen we've been living with for 10 years, it may have been small but it was lovely.

Kitchen Confidential

I just realized I haven't told you about our current kitchen, which we should really discuss. After a decade, it has us clear minded about a few items we'd like to avoid in our next kitchen. Our rental was built in 1973 and the kitchen has not been updated since. The drawers run on metal tracks fastened to the underside of each drawer, and a fine rain of sawdust sprinkles down on items in the cabinets below as they're worn thinner and thinner from being opened and closed thousands of times.

The oven is too small to accommodate most of the cooking pans we moved here with (yet said pans have languished in our cabinets for a decade). The stovetop's funny layout has the burners arranged in an L-shape and the knobs sit on top in the space where you wish you could position a bowl or plate on which to place the food you've just cooked.

A wooden table is fixed to the wall and juts aggressively towards the refrigerator, so walking through the kitchen will have to wait until the person looking for pickles has located them (they should stay in the door but someone places them on the shelf so they end up obscured in the back). If you're seated at the head of the table (we put our 8-year-old there) you have to hope no one forgot to get out the wine.

I'm not complaining because the counters are laminate but they're white and it's all basically functional and I can see the Pacifica Ocean while cooking. But since I will likely not see any body of water from my next kitchen wouldn't it be nice if the other stuff could be pretty?

The Linda Mar rancher via Redfin


Back to the Linda Mar rancher: A few days prior we had looked at several houses in Sonoma County that we were potentially interested in, but the thought of staying in Pacifica was compelling enough to give it a shot. We offered $100,000 over asking and included a family photo and a "buyer's letter" telling the owner how much we loved the lemon tree in the backyard and its proximity to a biking trail that leads to Pacifica State Beach.

Offers were due at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, and when we didn't hear anything by the end of the day, our agent said that might not be a good sign. Still, I envisioned our new life there, relaxing in the hot tub often since there was no bathtub in the master bedroom, but would I wear a bathing suit or just a robe and hope the neighbors couldn't see? Oh and then I'd have to take a shower after to wash off the chlorine but that's O.K. because how awesome would it be to have a hot tub?

On Wednesday morning, the buyer's agent thanked us for our offer and let us know that they accepted an offer that was more than $300,000 over the asking price. They received 27 offers.

When we got the news, Kourosh looked upset so I started stringing words together in an attempt to comfort him which I think went something like: "You know what, it's not that bad. We're lucky. We can afford to live in a beautiful house SOMEWHERE in California. Whether it's Sonoma County, East Bay or whatever, we are going to live someplace beautiful" and then I realized I was doing that thing where you try to talk but you're crying and it's embarrassing and man that was not comforting in any way. So I tried to be funny by closing with: "she said, while sobbing," and that actually made us both laugh. And honestly we are lucky.

But it seemed like the moment we realized we could not stay in Pacifica. My husband has our finances worked out until literally the end of our lives and if we bu a place at the peak of our budget and live there forever we'll probably be broke by the time we die. If we buy a place that costs at the lower end of our budget, we can leave our kids some money and maybe get takeout once in a while.

Photo via Richmond American

Back to Sonoma

In the meantime, our agent in Sonoma County, Jennifer Parr, was following up on the homes we'd seen the previous weekend. We liked one with a midcentury modern vibe on a pretty hill in Santa Rosa but hesitated on submitting an offer and in the meantime it sold.

Jennifer suggested we take a look at some new construction in Cotati, a small town north of Petaluma, South of Santa Rosa and close to Sonoma State University. (After writing that I searcher for any jobs there I might be qualified for and there were none.)

We sped north on Thursday evening, racing to make the development office's 5 p.m. closing time. We arrived just minutes before and the woman in charge stayed late to show us two model homes and one that was recently purchased. Although the visit was rushed, it was long enough to notice that the pantries were larger than most bedrooms we'd seen. The walk-in closets were impossibly enormous and the bathrooms were glorious, always with two sinks which seems almost too luxurious for words. Each house had a study on the main floor, which made my husband perk up, and the backyards were spacious. The homes were placed at a civilized distance from their neighbors, unlike other new builds we'd seen that packed them too close for comfort.

This was the first option my husband was truly enthusiastic about (except for another new build in Santa Rosa that sold the day after we saw it), so I put the question to my Facebook friends: what's it like in Cotati? The downtown was cute and it seemed lik a charming wine country town, but the reviews have been surprisingly mixed. We're also trying to sort out the seemingly confusing elementary school options.

Enter the Eichler

And then, dun dun dun! Our local agent Eileen O'Reilly sent us an Eichler home that recently came on the market in Walnut Creek, an East Bay town through the Caldecott tunnel. My husband and I both adore midcentury modern architecture and style. The home looked stunning in the photos, if small, and it was in our budget.

So on Saturday we headed to the East Bay to look at two homes in Oakland that didn't thrill us, then drove to Walnut Creek to take in the Eichler. As we entered, Eileen said "Welcome home!" and I truly wished it were true. We sat in the living room gazing through the glass walls into the backyard, feeling dreamy.

But we had to address the kitchen, unfortunately. It reminded me of a child's toy setup, so incredibly small with lower-than-usual counters. The bedrooms were also teensy and we doubted our king-sized bed would fit.

It was so incredibly pretty though. Mahogany walls, original sliding-door closets, a lovely walk-in closet between the bathroom and master bedroom. And then I imagined my wardrobe exploding all over it.

We would have to make an enormous lifestyle change and get rid of, I'm guessing, 75% of our belongings? This is something my husband has advocated for years so I thought he might want to make it work. But he's skeptical.

And then, a surprise!

One more compelling opportunity also came up this week. A friend from my daughter's school and the mom of one of her besties said a house two doors down from them was coming on the market. She had spoken to the owner who said she would sell it to us off market, which would leave us to do any necessary updates but could get us a better price and eliminate competition. Still, it's a four-bedroom and might be at the top of our budget.

The homes are in a small cul-de-sac, so the kids could play outside, we'd never need aftercare, we could carpool to school, and the kicker was that my friend said she's a master of infused vodkas and hosts weekly outdoor happy hours for the neighbors. It sounds idyllic.

So this is where we currently stand. A giant, brand-new home in Cotati with a walk-in pantry, a beautiful piece of history in Walnut Creek that could tuck comfortably inside the Cotati master bedroom, or a fixer that might max out our budget but would not only keep us in Pacifica but would make us neighbors to one of our daughter's closest friends and her awesome parents.

So here are our options as we see it after week four:

  • A stunning but teensy Eichler in Walnut Creek
  • A brand new, huge build in Cotati
  • A fixer in Pacifica
  • Move in with my husband’s mom in Orange County temporarily and save like crazy, potentially for two years if we go with the Sonoma County land we saw last weekend—we haven't given up on this yet.
  • If we find land, build a prefab home (we’re still interested in Connect-Homes).
  • Find a teardown to buy now and build later (this is looking less and less likely).

See you next week! Until then, catch up on parts one, two and three of our house hunt.

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