I'm buying a house and looking for help

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Update August 31 @ 2:24 p.m.: I was pre-approved but for far less than expected, just $100,000, though I do have some savings that I could put to a larger down-payment. That said, some of my priorities have to be changed. Broadly speaking, I’m looking for a home that is selling at or not far beyond $100,000, is livable but could use real work. Some of my specific interests, though, are below.

Sometime next week, I’m told, I’ll be pre-approved for an FHA-backed mortgage through PNC Bank.

I hope to write about the process here a bit, particularly from the take of a self-employed young person, so it has relevance.

But to start,I’m beginning a more serious hunt for real estate in Philadelphia — a likely, but not certain decision to buy my first home in the 215.

I don’t have an agent. On the advice of a friend who plans to take the real estate exam next month, I’m starting by sharing what I want in that purchase and looking a bit on my own using powerful Web searches.

If I pick a neighborhood on which I am certain and come across an agent I trust who has some experience in that ‘hood, perhaps that’s someone who could represent me.

I’m a young, pre-approved first-time home buyer who is currently renting month-to-month and serious about for what I’m looking. I’m told I’m someone an agent might like to work with. While my pre-approval limit hasn’t yet been fed my way, it will likely be below $200,000, though I’ll be bargain hunting for something well below that.

Below, I share just what it is I want and will take any help or advice I can get.

While the market isn’t quite come back, the recession is weakening. Philly is already a cheap real estate market, so even despite other trends, renting isn’t all that cheaper than owning, and there’s the obvious credit, stability and eventual resale value of buying.

Philadelphia is coming, so it’s a historically good time to buy something, I think. I’m in a place and a situation that I think makes sense. So, below, see everything on my radar for buying a house.

I don’t expect to get nearly everything, but I’ll continue to add to this as it becomes my go-to checklist for what I really want.

WHAT THE HOUSE (ALMOST) HAS TO HAVE

  1. One mass transit trip to Center City — Without a transfer, I want to be able to get to Center City. That means being preferably within a short walking distance to the Broad Street Line or the El or even a single bus or trolley trip to a major hub of the city’s center. A regional rail station would be considered, but a big demerit.
  2. A corner lot — If I’m in a strip of connected rowhomes, I absolutely must be on the corner. The only deviation from this that I would accept would be if the home was adjacent to an empty lot that I would also be able to buy — admittedly unlikely. I want to be able to have side windows for the possibility of a cross-breeze.
  3. A full rowhouse — I’m not a condominium or shared space guy. That said, I would certainly be interested in more unique spaces, like a warehouse or, Hell, why not a Church?
  4. Three bedrooms or more — For possible resale value, the opportunity to rent out a room, have an office or grow into the home,  I want the extra space.
  5. One and a half bath or more — In a house I own, I never want to be limited by having only one bathroom, particularly if I intend to fix it up.
  6. Livable but in need of repair — I’m young and interested in maintenance and home repair. I don’t want to pay for a home with newly finished hardwood floors or new appliances because these are things I can do on my own. I want to be able to move into the home, but still see lots of places I can put my own time and sweat at a smaller cost than if I paid for it all to be done.
  7. Small backyard — Grass is certainly not even necessary. I just want a patch of the outdoors that is fairly private and large enough to house a grill, an outdoor patio set and a fire pit for entertaining.
  8. Basement — In addition to the possibility of storage, I like the idea of throwing a dart board and a beater pool table in a consistently cool part of the house. It’s also a great place for a laundry washer and dryer and the long term potential of finishing it for square-footage expansion.
  9. Stoop or porch — I love, love, love a porch, but any place I can sit outside my front door to interact with neighbors and passersby — even a simple chair next to the door — is something that I will require.
  10. Roof deck, full balcony or the possibility for one — I have fallen in love with having a semi-private spot to relax outside. This is the most superficial thing that I think is (nearly) a necessity.

DON’T NEED BUT WOULD MAKE A DREAM HOUSE

  1. Car placement — I’m not a big driver and lot of the neighborhoods in which I am looking don’t have very difficult parking now, but looking to the future and keeping in mind car insurance rates, a small drive, car port or garage is something I’d highly value but can’t, in good conscious, require. Still, this is something I’ll be very seriously judging.
  2. Walkable neighborhood — I am less feverish about the ‘hood than what I want in the house because I believe in neighborhoods around mass transit coming back. But of course, location, location, location, so there has to already be at least one restaurant, bar and grocer to which I can walk and would want to walk. That also means, I want to be able to walk to a post office, a bank (preferably a PNC), some kind of green space and a basketball court.
  3. Attic space — It doesn’t have to be big and certainly doesn’t have to be nice, but I’d look for something that could store seasonal items in an organized fashion.
  4. No front yard — I don’t want to spend the money on a house large enough to have a sizable lawn, so I have no interest in having to manage a postage-stamp-sized lawn. I’d rather the stoop or porch.

SOME OTHER AMENITIES THAT ARE ON MIND

  1. Bicycle Friendly — How easily can I store my bicycle and take it out and hit the road? How far and enjoyable is the ride to Center City or other nearby places I’d go?
  2. Forty-five-minute walk to Center City — Listen, I’ve walked 90 minutes and more to Center City, so there aren’t many places within Philadelphia that I wouldn’t walk, but on a particularly nice day, could  I walk to some portion of Center City in 45 minutes?
  3. Alternate entrances — I’m starting a new business, so I will at least be thinking about the possibility of having office space for that business or otherwise renting space to outsiders. I like the idea of having a separate entrance perhaps with a different lock.
  4. Nearby schools — This may be more for resale than anything else, but are there schools nearby? Charter, public or Catholic?
  5. Storage space — The specifics of a basement and attic space are on mind, but closets, crawl spaces and other places that can help reduce clutter and increase my ability to be organized will be valued.
  6. Outlets — I’m obsessed with the healthy dispersal of electric outlets for ease and redecoration.

Any thoughts or advice on the proess or ideas I should add, amend or change on this list?