We spent about one month searching for a house to purchase in McKinney, Texas. The first half of that search entailed driving through a few dozen neighborhoods, trying to get more familiar with the city and the kinds of homes that are here. We started by searching realtor.com and getting a list of homes at with at least 4 bedrooms that cost less than $300 K. Then we drove to each house (finding the location with the help of our Verizon GPS service). When we got there, we cruised the neighborhood picking up fliers from other houses for sale. After a couple weeks doing this, we had a much better idea about what we were looking for.
We concluded that we wanted a house in a neighborhood that was somewhat well established, where there was a variety of architectures (no cookie-cutter houses), where lot sizes were larger â€“ with more space between houses and with larger front and back yards. We discovered that over the last several years home builders started skimping on land as it became more expensive, so we wanted a neighborhood where the houses had been built more than 5 years ago.
But at the same time, we also wanted a house that was relatively new, with a floor plan that included a downstairs master bedroom and study and with a kitchen that had granite or Corian countertops and quality custom cabinets. After a friend of mine recommended his realtor, John Powell, to us, we started looking at the insides of houses. One week â€“ and 20 houses â€“ later, we narrowed our search down to a few different houses and neighborhoods.
Our favorite neighborhood included a park, called Falcon Creek, with a playground and jungle gyms, and a lake with a walking path that follows a wooded creek. It also has a highly rated elementary school within walking distance. There were two houses that interested us: one four-bedroom house that had just come on the market, and a five bedroom house had been on the market for quite a while but had come down in price. On Easter Sunday we placed an offer on the newly listed house but found out someone had just beat us to the punch and the house was no longer available. The other house, while a little more expensive, was larger and had an extra bedroom downstairs, which could serve as a nursery for our second child, which we’re expecting to arrive in the Fall.
The second house was also in a slightly more affluent part of the neighborhood, but it was vacant and had fewer bells and whistles, and so was selling for less than the surrounding homes. In addition to five bedrooms (2 downstairs, 3 upstairs), a downstairs study and upstairs game room, there are 4 full bathrooms, and a 2 Â½ car attached garage. After a few rounds of negotiations, we settled on a price that’s pretty close to what we wanted to pay for a house. Since then we’ve lined up financing (a 15-year fixed mortgage) and had the house inspected. The sellers also replaced the roof, which had been damaged by a recent hail storm. Here is a link to an online “virtual tour” of the house:
Although house prices in north Dallas are about one quarter of those in Southern California â€“ our home would cost over $1 million in Thousand Oaks â€“ there are a couple of down sides to purchasing a home in Texas: 1) property taxes, 2) utilities. Property taxes here are now about 2.3 – 2.5% of the appraised value, versus 1.5% in California. That said, the prices are much lower here and there is no personal income tax in Texas (it’s 9.3% in California). Utilities, however, are dramatically higher here. We’ll probably end up paying somewhere around $400-$500 per month for electricity, gas, sewer, water and trash. That said, we’re planning on improving the energy-efficiency of the house and, on balance, we’ll get a much bigger bang for our buck than areas of the country where the real-estate bubble pushed house prices above the affordability level for most folks.