Author Topic: Maryland / Baltimore-area Mustachians - Looking for home buying advice!  (Read 3904 times)

Apocalyptica602

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(Apologies for the long post!)

Hi all,

My wife and I are looking to buy a home sometime in the next year or two, looking for some general discussion and thoughts.

Background and location Info:

-I'm a 27 year old Mechanical Engineer, wife is a 26 year old Pharmacist.
-Currently we live in a 2bd. apartment in Baltimore County, in the Sparks / Hunt Valley / Cockeysville area specifically for about $1300 a month. We like our apartment thankfully, although it was really one of the only complexes in the area that allow more than 1 pet anyway (we have 2 dogs).
-I have about a ~10 minute commute, my wife has about a ~15 minute commute in the other direction. I work the standard 8-5 M-F, she works day or night shifts and every other weekend.

High-Level Financials:

Gross Income: Little over $200k
Annual Savings:
-2x Maxed 401k's ($36,000 + employer matches)
-2x Maxed Roth IRAs ($11,000),
-HSA ($3,350 - maxed for me, added wife to insurance but haven't maxed for her yet).
-Aggressively saving for house down payment ($2000 per bi-weekly paycheck, so $52,000 / year)

Net Worth: About $250k (spread among above accounts, roughly 170k in 401k's and 36k in IRAs, 18k VTSAX in a brokerage I dropped a windfall in but haven't been contributing to)

Current Cash on Hand: 10k Emergency Fund, 16k in House Fund.

Debt:
None (!), student loans paid off, (unmustachian) wedding paid for, I drive a paid off 2006 Camry with 110k miles, she drives a paid off 2002 Celica with 130k miles.

So now to the meat of my questions:

We're starting to look at buying a house within the next year or two. Planning on having children (one to two TOPS - I realize this means I'll probably get quadruplets) in the ~3-4 year timeframe.

We live in a relatively HCOL area with respect to the Baltimore suburbs (Median sale price low 300s - although nothing like North Jersey / NYC Suburbs like where we grew up).

However, we do absolutely love the area.

I'm not interested in paying PMI so I'm looking to put 20% down.

Townhomes (or rowhomes as they're sometimes called) are very popular in this area and I'm not particularly interested in sharing walls anymore after nearly a decade of living in apartments throughout college and my professional life.

These tend to run in the $200-300k range. New or recent construction if possible is also fairly desirable for us as we'd prefer to not worry about a lot of 'fixing up / renovation' when we're starting our family. The issue is that a lot of the new single family homes popping up around here tend to be 5,000 sqft >$1MM McMansions which is obviously not at all what we're looking for.

More affordable (but still probably facepunch-worthy exploding volcano of wastefulness) houses can be found 'nearby' in Owings Mills, Reisterstown, but that increases our commutes to approximately ~20-30 minutes plus the risk of traffic.

On the other side of I-83, Fallston, Bel Air are more 'rural / peaceful' but all the new construction are primarily McMansions and an even longer commute (35-40 minutes)

From asking around at work... which may not be the best idea because of the 'Overheard at work' thread... some associates live ~30-40 minutes away across the state line in Pennsylvania like Shrewsbury or York and enjoy a $200k "savings" on an equivalent property. (punches self in face and re-reads the true cost of commuting article).

In short, we're relatively new to the area as of a year ago and are not lifelong Marylanders, looking for general advice, insight on areas, face punches, etc. Thanks in advance!
« Last Edit: September 04, 2015, 10:49:14 AM by Apocalyptica602 »

SuperSecretName

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Re: Maryland / Baltimore-area Mustachians - Looking for home buying advice!
« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2015, 11:03:39 AM »
I am in the MD suburbs of DC, and when it comes to home-buying, it all matters on the High School that the area is zoned for. 

You may not stay there for 20 years, but look at the top performing high schools within an acceptable commute.  You don't "need" a single family.  You can be just fine in a townhouse.  The fact that you say you don't want to share walls anymore means you haven't truly internalized the mustachian ideal yet.
« Last Edit: September 04, 2015, 11:05:26 AM by SuperSecretName »

Mr. Green

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Re: Maryland / Baltimore-area Mustachians - Looking for home buying advice!
« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2015, 11:23:36 AM »
I've lived in MD my entire life. Carroll County and Frederick County. My parents ran a business that saw us frequently in Baltimore County. I would recommend you look at older single family homes. You'll find they're generally built better, have bigger yards, and cost less (because people want new and the latest trends). They also tend to be nice neighborhoods (though not always if many of the homes have fallen into disrepair) because they were the "first" of the houses built outside of cities as people started to spread out in the 50's. 60's and 70's. You'll find the homes are frequently outdated but I see that as a bonus because you get the sweat equity of updating it, if you're into that sort of thing. Even if you're not you just can't replace quality construction. Personally, I look for a house built in the 70's or early 80's. That's usually new enough to avoid asbestos and lead paint but you still find all brick houses, copper pipes, real hard wood floors, stuff that was actually worth building.

Not sharing walls has nothing to do with mustachianism. depending on your reason. I bought the townhouse I live in now just after college, been there 10 years. About 5 years ago we noticed an odor in my unfinished basement. Long story short, it was my next door neighbor who was a hoarder. When she moved out last year the house had bags of clothes covered in animal urine, urine soaked carpets, you name it. The issue had become so bad the smell was leeching through the walls. I called every government organization you can think of for help but because it was inside her house and she owned it there was nothing anyone could do. I either had to sue her or deal with it. Thankfully the new people cleaned the place up and the issue is gone for us, though I think they're still dealing with the smell in some respect. Let that be a warning for those considering shared walls.
« Last Edit: September 04, 2015, 11:29:59 AM by Mr. Green »

Apocalyptica602

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Re: Maryland / Baltimore-area Mustachians - Looking for home buying advice!
« Reply #3 on: September 04, 2015, 12:36:03 PM »
I realize not wanting to share walls easily comes off as hedonic adaptation. It may be partially true in a way.

I did think a little more about my reasons specifically and most are more 'apartment' problems than 'townhome' problems:

1) Not having a proper yard to let my dogs out off-leash - townhomes can have fenced in backyards that my apartment doesn't
2) Having to worry about not stomping around too hard at night or hearing people above you - again - an APARTMENT problem, not a townhome problem specifically since you don't share ceilings and floors.
3) Having to worry about having my subwoofer turned up too loud when watching movies or playing video games or vice versa - I'm no acoustician but I think this is exacerbated more for the neighbors below you than alongside you.
4) Same as 3 but with loud guests / gatherings.

Mr. Green's horror story about his townhome neighbor is certainly something to think about although that's (hopefully) a very rare occurrence on average.

I'm a bit introverted and would like a bit of space between my neighbors and I, although I suppose 20 feet of suburban grass strip really isn't much more private than sharing a wall. Since all the lots with 'privacy space'  typically have a million dollar McMansion propped on it I'm ruling those out anyway.

Re: Sweat Equity - despite my profession I like to joke I'm the 'least handy Mechanical Engineer you'll ever meet'. I do basic maintenance on my car but loathe the thought of doing complicated mechanical work, for example.

I'm not sure how I'd feel about DIY house projects as I've only lived in apartments. The 'most complicated' work I do around the apartment is stuff like change lightbulbs/fixtures, fix leaky toilets, hang shelving and put together furniture. I suppose I don't doubt my ability to problem solve and figure things out, but I'm a little intimidated. Although even if I bought new construction we'd eventually have major repairs or renovations, and I'd have to get out of my comfort zone and figure it out... or waste shit tons of money hiring professionals.
« Last Edit: September 04, 2015, 12:37:56 PM by Apocalyptica602 »

mozar

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Re: Maryland / Baltimore-area Mustachians - Looking for home buying advice!
« Reply #4 on: September 04, 2015, 05:52:25 PM »
Will buying a house increase or decrease time to FIRE?
« Last Edit: May 10, 2018, 01:21:44 PM by mozar »

Ocelot

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Re: Maryland / Baltimore-area Mustachians - Looking for home buying advice!
« Reply #5 on: September 04, 2015, 11:48:59 PM »
I realise this isn't what you're looking for, but just throwing the idea out there for others - there are still crazy prices on foreclosed homes in central Baltimore. You can get rowhomes which require a little bit of work from ~$65k and fixed-up ones for ~$100k. These seem to rent for significantly more than mortgage payments+ expenses would be. In my (limited) experience, the shared walls are pretty thick too, I've not had issues with noise or anything else, certainly not as you'd expect in most apartments. Often they're in 'bad' areas but in Baltimore this can mean a nice area is just a block away.

Apocalyptica602

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Re: Maryland / Baltimore-area Mustachians - Looking for home buying advice!
« Reply #6 on: September 05, 2015, 12:09:59 PM »
Thanks for the advice so far. Yeah we're not interested in living in Baltimore City, I like the various neighborhoods and do spend time there every few weeks visiting friends or doing things. (Just a short light rail ride away)

However my wife lived in New York City essentially her entire life and now that we've moved has firmly agreed she's no longer a 'city person'. I'm not really either.

I don't think even owning a house would alter our FIRE goals too dramatically. We live very comfortably on much less than half of our income as we're a high-income family.

If I was the average american I'd say, "well since I can afford to save ~$4,300 per month for a down payment + $1300 a month in rent... that's a mortgage payment of $5600. I can totally afford that 1.1MM 6 bedroom house on 3 acres with the granite countertops, even moreso if I stop maxing my 401k and IRAs because who needs retirement anyway. Haha!

Conversely though, I'm not looking for validation to run out and buy a huge house for myself, my wife and 1-2 (POSSIBLE) kids.

If anything, I'm more worried that I'd be biting off more than I can chew, since I've kind of been spoiled by apartment life, not having to mow the lawn, the only snow I shovel is to get my car out of my parking spot, major repairs are someone else's issue.

Trying to determine if this is another set of 'time to grow up' jitters or more like maybe we're not ready to own a home yet.

mozar

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Re: Maryland / Baltimore-area Mustachians - Looking for home buying advice!
« Reply #7 on: September 05, 2015, 06:14:13 PM »
I suggest you don't buy in a "bad neighborhood" in Baltimore. I don't think its going to get better, what with Hogan cancelling the red line.

I think you should put aside the idea of "growing up" and look at the numbers/ how you value your time. I have a decent sized yard and I enjoy mowing it. Do you enjoy house upkeep (not just maintenance)? If I were you I would keep renting until the first child is 6, then think about what school district you want to move to.

Dicey

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Re: Maryland / Baltimore-area Mustachians - Looking for home buying advice!
« Reply #8 on: September 05, 2015, 07:44:38 PM »
I suggest you don't buy in a "bad neighborhood" in Baltimore. I don't think its going to get better, what with Hogan cancelling the red line.

I think you should put aside the idea of "growing up" and look at the numbers/ how you value your time. I have a decent sized yard and I enjoy mowing it. Do you enjoy house upkeep (not just maintenance)? If I were you I would keep renting until the first child is 6, then think about what school district you want to move to.
I like mozar's answers, but please don't wait until your first kid is 6, that's wa-a-a-y too late to start thinking about school districts, much less buying something and getting moved in before school starts.

My two cents equals mozar's other comment. End unit townhome, but don't be fooled by staging that makes a tiny place look big. Kids, even mustachian ones, take up a metric crap ton of space. You do not want to be moving twice. The right amount of square footage, price, parking, walkability and proximity to work are key considerations.  IMHO, proximity to work is a mustachian's secret weapon.

RunHappy

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Re: Maryland / Baltimore-area Mustachians - Looking for home buying advice!
« Reply #9 on: September 07, 2015, 03:29:52 PM »
I lived in MD for about 18 years and absolutely loved everything about it except for the HCOL.  With that having a Baltimore City address is not a bad thing.  There are a lot of nice neighborhood tucked away.  Unfortunately sometimes they are a few streets away from a not-so-nice one, however you would be surprised how a few streets can make all the difference.

I would first figure out how long you are planning to live there.  You said you haven't lived there for a very long time, so I would take some time to get to know the different areas.   Someone mentioned Owings Mills, but I would stay away from there. Crime in OM has really gone up in the past 5-6 years. It used to be a nice/trendy/family town, but not anymore.

Most people I know who used to live in your area moved up to PA or out to Carroll County.  PA is still pretty cheap, which means a lot longer commute but the COL is so much lower.  I lived in Howard County, which was expensive but kept me exactly in between Baltimore and DC which I needed to be for work. 

While I loved MD and miss it a lot I knew that I would never retire there because of COL and I do not regret leaving for a cheaper state.

loyalreader

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Re: Maryland / Baltimore-area Mustachians - Looking for home buying advice!
« Reply #10 on: September 08, 2015, 08:52:15 AM »
I'd head north a couple exits up 83 to what is known as the Hereford Zone. More of a country feel and single family homes. Someone is going to have a slightly longer commute but... you already knew that was going to happen. It will take you a while to find something but there are houses in your price range.

Bonus for your kids (to be)  - there is a weird band of weather there that will give them snow days when the rest of the area has no snow. Magic.

Apocalyptica602

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Re: Maryland / Baltimore-area Mustachians - Looking for home buying advice!
« Reply #11 on: September 08, 2015, 10:58:41 AM »
Glad to hear all these responses from Maryland Mustachians (even if you're not from the area feel free to comment in generalities re: my financials, attitude, thought process, etc).

Re: Pennsylvania - we've definitely considered this, one of my co-workers moved to York, although she's had enough I-83 commute horror stories to almost fully dissuade me.

That's coming all the way from York however, I'd consider maybe something JUST over the border like Shrewsbury, although that still would be at least a 30 minute commute with no traffic / snow / rain / accidents. Slightly longer for my wife, like 40-45.

You could knock 100-200k off the home price but that's still a lot of driving. Her shifts are 6a-3p or 3p-12p so rush hour shouldn't be a concern for her, but I'm a 8-5 guy with little flexibility in hours.

Monkton / Parkton / Butler / Sparks would be perfect and a ~20-25 minute commute. I didn't look too deeply as I'm at work right now but I'm seeing very nice homes for 300-400k. A bit steep but considering 10/10 public school district not too bad.

Does anyone recommend working with a realtor who might have a better finger on the pulse of the market and neighborhoods / listings not easily searched?

norabird

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Re: Maryland / Baltimore-area Mustachians - Looking for home buying advice!
« Reply #12 on: September 08, 2015, 12:30:48 PM »
I grew up in Towson; both of my parents worked in the county, but it's super close to the city line. Great schools and I suspect the row homes in Rodgers Forge aren't too expensive, plus the corner properties only share one wall.

http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/143-Stevenson-Ln_Baltimore_MD_21212_M64819-79932?row=10

I have lived in NYC since I left for college but as I get older I value the neighborhoods I grew up in/near quite a lot.

CanuckExpat

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Re: Maryland / Baltimore-area Mustachians - Looking for home buying advice!
« Reply #13 on: September 08, 2015, 02:15:20 PM »
Hi Apocalyptica,

Interesting thread you started and good feedback. I'd be most wary of increasing your commutes. Everyone feels differently about it, but until you look at it from the outside you don't realize how much of your life it steals away, especially if you are stuck in a car in traffic and can't do anything else with the time while you are stuck there. (I noticed you listed your commute in minutes, not miles so I assumed you were driving).

It could be relative, but I didn't think that was such a HCOL area, and it seems like you have good incomes, so I don't think you need to stretch with a bad commute. I think the main question that arises is why you want/need to necessarily buy right now. If you are making that decision for anything bordering it being "the grown up thing to do" I'd really revisit that and also consider the financials from both sides.

I don't think there is anything wrong with buying or renting, just that you have to make the right decision for you, not because it is what is expected of you. Based on what you had said about wanting to avoid most maintenance and snow shovelling, if you do buy I think there would be good advantages to your personality in finding a town home type setup where they take care of the major maintenance and snow removal etc (keeping in mind that the HOA might have other problems).

Also, with no kids yet, I wouldn't worry too much about planning your housing and moving needs around kids you might have in the future. You can deal with that as the time comes up, and nothing stops you from moving then, or multiple times to do what makes the most sense at a given time.

For what it's worth, I don't agree that kids take a lot of space. We only have a toddler, but right now there are two of us, one kid, and two dogs in a 750 sq ft SFH and I haven't found it ever tight for space. I mean the kid only takes up 1 sq ft at a time, and probably less. If we need more space in the future, we'll move when that need arrives. Similarly, we live in what I understand to be a "questionable" school district, but I don't really see a need to worry about that or have factored into our purchasing plans: at the least that's a problem for 4-5 years from now :)

CU Tiger

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Re: Maryland / Baltimore-area Mustachians - Looking for home buying advice!
« Reply #14 on: September 08, 2015, 04:19:25 PM »
We live on the NW side of Baltimore. There are house bargains to be had all over the county, you just have to be willing to look for them. I live 15 minutes from work on back roads, and consider it a win because I do not have to get on 695.

Moving to PA is insane. The time you spend in your car...you don't get back. Same goes for time spent on 695 or 795, cursing the other drivers while they curse you!

Have you spoken to a realtor, possibly about buying a foreclosure or a house on short sale?

mozar

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