After quite a journey, our jobs are going well, the boys love their school, and we have delighted in exploring our new island home and the bounty that summer provides – from warm enough water to swim at the beach, to pick your own blueberries and sunflowers at the farm. The quaint fieldstone walls, farms, marinas, and neighbourhoods of Newport have enchanted us.
Our house in D.C. finally closed in March and we had started looking for a more permanent home in earnest, not just because we only had 3 months of lease left at Crest St. Although it was small, we thought to consider staying at Crest St. until we were told how much it would cost. The rent during December-May was $1750 a month for the 3 bedroom home. After June 1, the rent increased to $3000 a WEEK. Newport gets awfully popular during summer. The owner offered a $200-a-week discount but helpfully suggested we find better value elsewhere. We were psychologically prepared to move to San Diego or Monterey, where 3-4 bedroom starter homes within reasonable commuting distance of SPAWAR or NPS approached a million dollars (or more for Monterey). When we came to Newport, we were astonished to find comfortable 3-bedroom homes within 10 minutes drive from work selling for below $300K! Amazing! But then, we took a drive along the coast and saw the quaint New England waterfront homes…
Waterfront is still somewhat affordable in Rhode Island (remember we are comparing to Washington DC, San Diego, and Monterey when we say that). There were, and still are beach-batch-style waterfront homes for sale in the area for less than $400K. There are always a bunch of multi-million-dollar mansions and modern, updated flippers going for seven or eight-figure prices. However, there was recent historical evidence (on Zillow, Redfin, etc.) of a comfortable middle ground – ‘normal sized’ family homes not designed for cash buyers or foreign money laundering, but still big enough so they couldn’t be labelled “holiday home” or “beach batch”. These homes were in general slightly less expensive than what we were thinking for San Diego or Monterey. The problem was that very few came to market in proximity of work and when they did, they were only on market for approximately 12-24 hours before someone had put pen to paper and they went under contract.
Lauren, always the perennially positive one, suggested that we could just wait for the next ideal home to come to market. We could have the mortgage pre-approved and swoop down with an offer immediately, she thought. The odds of that happening were low, but in general 3-4 appropriate homes seemed to have been listed each year for the past few years, so we decided to focus on waterfront and ignore the incredibly tempting, modern and spacious homes available for half the price just up the road from work. We flip-flopped over this plan for some time. On one hand, we could potentially find a golden nugget. On the other hand, the plan seemed stupid, fanciful and would potentially stress us out. Why unnecessarily subject our family to continued moves, temporary homes and uncertainty?
There seemed to be a distinct lack of appropriate homes from February to June 2018. Sitting around waiting for something to be listed while watching the days count down to the end of our lease on Crest St, and seeing many fantastic non-waterfront homes come and go, was not comfortable to say the least. There were many times we doubted our strategy, although those times typically ended with one of us reaffirming “keep our eyes on the prize” with a sigh. We wasted a huge amount of time spending endless hours looking at the same listings online, hoping that the more we stared, the more likely that some perfect house would magically come up for sale.
In April, Lauren had a casual discussion with a co-worker and came to the conclusion that he lived in one of our dream neighbourhoods, and that his neighbour may be thinking of moving in the next 1-2 years. Lauren asked him to inquire if the neighbour would be interested in selling to us in a private sale. The co-worker came back a few days later and said the neighbor may be interested, but was still a long way from moving and wanted to make some improvements. At the same time, our realtor had helped us send 27 letters to waterfront homes that seemed like they may be within our price range and hadn’t changed hands recently, explaining our situation and our desire for a waterfront home. We didn’t apply any pressure – we just wanted to know if anyone was thinking of selling soon and if they would be interested in meeting us. We received 5 responses. Some were polite “maybe in a few years”. Some wanted more money than we could afford. One offered to sell us another home. We actually viewed one property but discovered later that it was in a flood zone. We decided to follow that model and send a letter to the co-worker’s neighbor, which we wrote ourselves introducing our family, our wishes for a smaller home with a big yard on the water, and our plan to raise our family in Rhode Island. Then, we received a phone call:
“Hello Simon and Lauren, this is Forest. I’m calling because I received your letter that you sent me, a really kind letter. I’m interested in meeting with you folks and discussing the possibility of you buying our house. So give me a shout when you have the chance. Hope to talk to you soon and hope you have a good evening. Bye now.”
The house was in Sea Meadow Farms, a neighborhood of quaint colonial-style Cape Cod style houses. Of the three hundred or so coastal properties around the island, perhaps 50 have piers. Houses with piers are generally unobtainable because the permitting required to get one is so arduous. If a house has a pier, the structure is typically grandfathered in from a time when permit rules were less strict. Being a sailing town, houses with piers are so desirable that they are typically handed down or sold privately to friends. Only one house with a pier had been on market over the last four years. This one had a pier.
This house seemed impossibly ideal for us, pending the unknown price of course. Location (something we can’t change) was the most important thing about the house and this one could not be beaten. The house was older, smaller and not updated which meant the price would hopefully not be astronomical. We have dreams of sailing and they could become reality with the pier and mooring that came with the house. Our oyster farm, which we had left in Mathews, VA, could be re-created here. Many dreams could be made a reality with a structure on the water like the pier on this house. If the pier was icing on the cake, the cherry on top was the cupola with a yacht-shaped wind vane above the garage.
We dressed up nicely (but not too nicely..), brought fresh homemade banana bread, hired a sitter, and went over to met Forest and see the house. We were nervous but he was truly a gentleman, down to the hand-written thank you note for the baked goods. Forest and his wife were looking to downsize. They wanted to sell to a family who would appreciate the home. They wanted a flexible move-out schedule. An agreement was hashed out, with both parties taking care to be open and considerate at every step. Two appraisals were conducted (they were incredibly varied, with a ~25% difference in estimated value!). After the appraisals, Lauren went over by herself to offer Forest the average of the two appraisals, which we could just afford (interestingly, the bank’s appraisal after we went under contract was within 3% of this average). I hung out with the kids at a beach nearby, anxiously building sand castles and waiting for a yes/no text message. She walked out with a handshake agreement that quickly turned into a written contract. We brought the kids to the house and showed them around, much to the delight of Forest and his wife. We would be house-poor until the kids started public school, but we could do it. Inspections revealed an older home that had been well cared for. Critically, the septic system was in good shape (we would have had to pay $40,000 for a new system, had this old one failed its exam) Forest wanted up to a year to move out leisurely after we purchased the home, which was fine with us because we had just signed on for a year lease at a Navy-owned duplex. A private sale would save both us and Forest tens of thousands of dollars, and would be easy with such a good relationship between buyer and seller. Forest invited us to a party where we met his friends and neighbours, who were all wonderful people, including the man who was Lauren’s office cubicle neighbour, who would become Lauren’s actual neighbour! We closed on the house. It is now ours. We still cannot believe it. There is a guest bedroom downstairs with a sliding glass door to the yard, beach and ocean. Friends always welcome!
This is the final post in our series detailing our decision to make a lifestyle move for our family, and the steps from that decision to finally making a home in Newport.