Haggling For Our Rowhouse

After our first visit to Philadelphia in early December, we pretty much made up our minds that we wanted to make the move to the City of Brotherly Love. But being responsible adults who tend to think things through, carefully weighing positives and negatives, we didn’t want to act too quickly. We decided to take multiple trips to Philly over the course of several months to determine if indeed leaving New York City to start a new life in Philadelphia was right for us. And then shortly after our second visit to the city, we bought a rowhouse. Yep, you read that right…. We just went into contract for a house after having only seen it once for about 15-20 minutes. Oy! What have we done?

Allow me to back up a just bit. After arriving home from our early January visit to Philly where we fell deeply in love with a rowhouse located outside of our preferred area, we allowed it to sink in for a few days. We weren’t quite sure what to do. We wanted to go back to see the house again, but there was one barrier in our way. The funds to buy the house were tied up in the yet to be completed sale of Yoav’s old apartment we had kept as a rental property. Although we were only days away from that deal being final, the closing date had not been set yet. We really weren’t quite prepared to buy a house… Yet. Or were we? About a week after we had gotten home, we received a message from our realtor Josh. The seller had received another offer on the house. Oh CRAP!

By the next day we both came to the conclusion that we just needed to make it happen, somehow. We knew the other property was likely to close within the next two to three weeks, the proceeds of which wouldn’t quite cover the cost of the house, but close. so we explored our options and found a way to come up with the funds. From there we made a cash offer for full price plus another $1,000 to sweeten it enough that we may have an edge over the other buyer.

I must note that the very notion of buying a house without a mortgage still seems crazy to both of us. We have both done well, and we know that we have been quite fortunate, but we are far from wealthy, and neither of us have ever been in this position before. The fact that we could sell Yoav’s old apartment for more than four times what he paid for it nearly 20 years ago, and use the proceeds to buy a house outright was a major factor in our decision to leave NYC and establish a new life in Philadelphia. I will also add that we still need to sell our current apartment (which will not happen before next fall) to balance out everything and to also pay for the improvements the new house will need. We also know very well that our new home is not likely to increase in value at anywhere near the rate of Manhattan real estate, but not having to pay anything beyond taxes, insurance, and maintenance for housing is its own reward.

After several days of back and fourth, we managed to come to an agreement and we signed a contract for our new rowhouse on January 19th with a settlement date in mid-March. Simple, yes? Oh hell no!… Not simple at all. Now that we had a contract, we needed to have an inspection. In a flurry of activity that week, we managed to not just sign the contract for our rowhouse, but we sent the deposit check, and worked with our realtor to set up the inspection which also included a wood pest inspection as well as a 48 hour radon test within a matter of a couple of days. By that Saturday morning, we were back on a bus to Philly to meet Mike, the inspector.

 

This map from 1862 indicates that our block was completely built out. Some of these streets date back to the founding of our country in the 18th century.

Also during that week, I discovered online resources with historical maps and directories for the city dating back as far as the 18th century. After more time than I want to admit to, I was able to determine that the first resident in our rowhouse was a lumber merchant by the name of Daniel Smith in the 1858 edition of the city directory. I was also able to identify our rowhouse on a map from 1862 showing buildings and other details. That means that our rowhouse is nearly 160 years old. This actually explains a lot of things about the house. Things such as the rim-locks on the bedroom doors, the floorboards which were laid before tongue and groove became standard in the 1870s. It also explains the simplicity of the house. It was built for a middle class family before the excesses of the Victorian era and it is that simplicity that I actually love. The staircase is beautiful in it’s lack of fanciness (it actually looks quite Colonial in style). It also means that the rowhouse and the dozen or so others on the block were completed just before the Civil War. A history made even more interesting by the fact that Jefferson Square park across the street was temporarily turned into a Camp Jefferson, an army camp serving the Union Army only to be turned back into a park following the war.

This is Bixby, our beloved Jack Russell/Chinese Crested mix.

On inspection day, we decided to keep it to a day trip this time, leaving our dear Bixby all alone at home while we were two states away. We caught a late morning bus and arrived in plenty of time to pick up lunch and eat in the park across the street from the house. We then had some time to walk around a bit and arrived in time to meet Mike the inspector at 2PM. The inspection took about two hours during which we followed him around looking at the various parts of the house. We spent a lot of time in the basement, and on the top floor. He climbed out a window to inspect the roof. A lot of checking things, and testing electrical things, looking at water pressure and how quickly a drain flowed. Overall, I felt it was fairly thorough… And then Josh drove us to the bus depot to catch the bus back in time to take Bixby out. Then we had to wait for the results.

They came a couple of days later. The results were mostly what I expected. Overall, the house is reasonably sound, and for being 160 years old, it’s not in bad shape. But there are issues, some more serious than others. The staircase handrails are loose and rather unsafe should you need to use them to climb the stairs. The floor under the toilet in the half-bath is rotten to the point that I don’t think I want to risk sitting on it until we can assess further. There is a mixture of wiring from various decades, some of which will be a high priority to fix.

We went back to the seller asking for a reduction in price to help cover some of the unexpected costs and were met with a response of “Absolutely not, you are buying an old house, you knew it would have issues.” Well, true we knew there would be some issues, but a few of the things which popped up were unexpected, and potentially costly. In the end our realtor was able to get us a $1,000 concession bringing the price back down to the actual ask.

In the end, we were not able to get any of the reductions we had hoped for, but we got a rowhouse that we are both madly in love with and the excitement of our future builds daily.

Whats next? Settlement day in March….. In the mean time?

We wait….. And wait…..

Till next time. . .

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