Our SoCal house hunt

Figuring out where to live was a huge piece of the “should we move to California” equation. That’s probably not surprising given we were abandoning our dream home and care enough about our residence to blog about it. Per our usual form, we dove head first into learning about the area and considering our options, which ranged from crazy ideas like living in a relatively rural area (nixed when I drove on a “road” which was actually a dirt path and was convinced I would get my rental car stuck trying to get back to civilization) to crazier ideas like buying land, living in a trailer and building a huge workshop (nixed when we figured out the cost of running utilities to a vacant property & zoning restrictions).

What we settled on when we really got down to it was the following list of criteria:

  • Less than an hour commute from Thousand Oaks
  • Workshop space (probably in a two car garage, but bonus points for an oversized garage, three car garage or detached garage) for Aaron’s woodshop
  • A view and/or a very private backyard
  • Parking for our camping trailer
  • Minimum 1,500 square feet
  • Ideally, under $600k
  • Additional bonus points for a good kitchen, something with some of our style and fruit or palm trees (because California!)

Besides the budget, which is an obvious limitation (and actually increased over time, because California), the most important factor and the hardest to determine via the interwebs was WHERE we should look. We basically drew a circle around Thousand Oaks and looked at anything within 1 hour… which we eventually learned had to be 1 hour WITH traffic.

While we are far enough out that we don’t get “LA traffic”, rush hour is still a factor and that ultimately made us cut out areas like Santa Clarita, which was a bummer because there are magnificent mountain-side homes up there. I spent a lot of time outside work trying to get a feel for these locales so that that when Aaron came in for the “home buying trip” we could be a bit more strategic with our time. When we “narrowed” down our list (our poor realtor) we ended up looking at about 20 houses in Simi Valley, Fillmore, Ventura and Camarillo over the course of 4 days. Rather than recapping our months-long search in detail, I thought I’d give you the highlights of the four areas we seriously considered.

Simi

Simi Valley

By far, I looked at the most homes in Simi Valley and was pretty convinced that we would end up here. Not only is it relatively close to my work (via highway or surface streets if traffic necessitates) it sits in a valley and has very close, very beautiful mountain views… the kind of views that were driving us to leave the firehouse.

Simi (2)

The top contender in Simi Valley was a house on Colleen Street with a very secluded backyard and a personal mountain view. It had high ceilings in the great room and a lush private patio out front. In the negative column, it had a serious Spanish vibe and needed a kitchen like woah. The thing that blasted it to the top of the list and even helped us imagine life in some of the other homes we toured wasn’t even included on the listing. The backyard included a very large walk in shed which made us consider how much additional workshop space we could get in that shed or by replicating the set up elsewhere. Local building codes don’t allow for the addition of a large structure, but Aaron (ever the thinker) realized he could add two sheds, back to back and subvert the requirements. We quickly coined the term “Sh-workshop” for the shed/workshop we could build on any property with a big enough backyard.

Fillmore

Fillmore

Fillmore is a cute town nestled between mountain ranges, and with an iPhone, I have been unable to properly capture its beauty. It’s a bit of a drive from Thousand Oaks, and the route includes traversing a mountain (read: really twisty mountain road with no guardrail, which is probably my worst driving scenario….) Despite that, it was high on the list because of the value. It was one of the only areas where we could easily afford a three-car garage.

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The very first house we fell for was in Fillmore. It had vaulted ceilings in the great room (there’s a theme here), three bedrooms, an orange tree, a two-car garage and an EXTRA FOUR CAR DETATCHED GARAGE. It was a dream set up for Aaron’s workshop, but by the time I saw it in person there was already an offer on the table and we weren’t far enough along in our process to be able to make our own offer.

When Aaron arrived, we still looked at quite a few places in Fillmore because value. We actually looked at some new builds (who are we?) and a super charming house in walking distance to downtown Fillmore. Ultimately, we crossed Fillmore off the list because it’s really far from everything… work… the beach… a Home Depot. It didn’t help that we drove from Fillmore to Ventura one day and got to see/feel the difference between living in a valley and living with an ocean breeze. Everyone kept telling me that it’s hotter to live in a valley, but driving a few miles and seeing the temperature literally drop made such a huge difference in our overall house hunt.

Ventura 2

Ventura

When we started looking in this area a LOT of people (here and in real life) told us that we would love Ventura. Honestly, I didn’t see it for a long time. It seemed no different than any other city in the area, except that it was closer to the ocean and therefore the houses were more of the beach bungalow variety (small) and more expensive. It finally clicked when we visited downtown Ventura after a day of house hunting. This super quaint area is filled with shops (antique, thrift and otherwise) and cute local restaurants. It is totally our jam. If we could have afforded to live in walking distance of that area, we would have become very serious about Ventura. Alas, budgets.

 

Camarillo

Camarillo

Camarillo was the last stop on Aaron’s whirlwind trip. I hadn’t spent much time in the area nor had any homes hit our radar that made us go “Ooooh!” So I went into the day thinking we would make an offer on the Simi Valley house. We planned to meet our realtor after lunch so we stopped at a Thai place beforehand and it was so good that I joked that we should buy in Camarillo just to be able to make this “our” Thai place. During the drive through Camarillo to the first house something clicked. Something about this town, with it’s cool ocean breeze (like Ventura) and the number of trees lining the streets, reminded us of a perfect resort town. We were crushing hard.

Cam1

The first house we saw was small – 1,400 square feet, which feels tiny when you’re coming from 5,500+ but the backyard was stunning. It had a charming dining area, plenty of grass and a space for a sh-workshop, but the thing that put it over the top was a terrace that looked weird in photos, but made so much sense in person. It offered the perfect home for multiple fruit trees and sitting areas with views of the mountains (and even the ocean on a clear day.) We were enthralled. We booked a second visit to the Colleen house in Simi Valley and it just didn’t have the same magic after experiencing the weather and seeing the yard at the Camarillo house. So we made an offer… a low offer… and it was rejected. It was a defeating blow to end Aaron’s trip, although the entire trip was invaluable for narrowing our search to Camarillo (with Simi Valley as a backup).

In the midst of this trip, we accepted an offer on the firehouse! That was such a relief, but it also put a bit of a time crunch on the house hunting. Our window to buy and move everything to a new house (rather than into storage) was quickly closing. Aaron headed back to St. Louis and almost immediately a new Camarillo house hit the market, this time on Rowland.

Cam2

It had high ceilings in the living and dining room, a good (albeit small) kitchen layout, the potential to open up the space between kitchen and living area, white walls (hello no painting), a good two car garage and a natural space for the sh-workshop. The biggest negative was the backyard. It backed up to several two-story homes, many of which looked down into the yard. The backyard also lacked landscaping. If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you may have noticed that landscaping is not our forte or our passion. Still the interior stole my heart and we deiced to make an offer. When our realtor called to find out the status she discovered there were already 4 offers, including one full price, cash offer.

So I did what anyone would do at this point: I cried. Stress and frustration (mostly at myself for falling for a house before it was ours) just welled up. I took a shower and eventually gave in to Aaron’s suggestion that we offer anyways, because you never know. I called it an early night and didn’t even write back to his text about a new-to-the-market house that looked promising.

Camhouse

Nothing recharges me quite like sleep and after the emotional rollercoaster of Rowland, it was just what I needed to look at yet another potential house. By the next morning Aaron was really excited about the new property, and when I looked I agreed that it hit just about every one of our requirements, which we tweaked slightly as we got to know the market. It had:

  • Good garage space
  • Laundry not in the garage (this is really common in the area, and besides not wanting to schlep my clothes in and out of the garage for cleaning, it would take away space from the workshop)
  • Sh-workshop potential – This property listing included three existing sheds on the left side of the house
  • Private backyard – It’s surrounded by single-story homes
  • 1,800 square feet – A little larger than average thanks to an add-on in the 70s
  • An extra wide driveway for parking the trailer

Having learned how quickly homes go under contract, we contacted our realtor immediately and found out there was a midday open house I could attend with her. The house was good enough that I awkwardly face-timed Aaron to give him a tour. Seeing it in person yielded a few additional positives and negatives for the house.

  • Positives included:
    • A vaulted great room in the rear of the house with a fireplace
    • Mature avocado tree
    • A peekaboo mountain view if you stand in the right spot of the backyard (“Peekaboo” may be a bit generous, but it makes me happy nonetheless)
    • A window and some vaulted storage in the garage
  • Neutral but interesting: There’s no direct access from the garage to the house, which worked just fine for us because it would be easier to contain the workshop as a workspace (including the inevitable sawdust.)
  • Negative: The laundry is in the kitchen.

For those of you who don’t know, the home buying process in California is very different from the Midwest. In the Midwest, you can view the seller’s disclosure before making an offer and once an offer is accepted, you’re pretty set. In California, buyers make offers with less information, but have 15 days to do the necessary inspections and can walk away much easier. So even though Aaron hadn’t seen the house, we decided to make a slightly above asking price offer. This was on the Thursday of Memorial Day weekend and we ended up having to wait until Monday for an answer. Ugh! In the interim, the realtor hosted THREE MORE open houses, which gave me a chance to scope out the house again and also caused us a bit of angst in the form of “JUST ACCEPT OUR OFFER ALREADY!” Ultimately, we were asked for a best and final offer and it was accepted!

In escrow, but not fully committed – emotionally (learned that lesson) or financially – we booked Aaron’s travel, a home inspection including scoping the lateral line (we always recommend this) and separate termite and HVAC inspections.

More details and loads more photos next time!

 

Assorted musings:

– If you need a realtor near Thousand Oaks or up into Santa Barbara, I can’t recommend Natalie Miller enough. She listened to our needs – explicit and our reviews of each home – and by the end she could tell as quickly as I could whether we would like a particular home. She made herself available for our whirlwind house hunting trip and expertly planned each day’s itinerary. Her service didn’t stop after the offer and she patiently answered our 101 questions about the details around buying in a brand new area of the country. On top of all that, she’s just a lovely person to hang out with and gives expert restaurant recommendations.

–        We looked at a house in Simi Valley that was completely turnkey – white walls, updated kitchen, good backyard, good RV parking – and it convinced me that we could never buy a house that is totally done. I felt like we kept wandering through the space and just NOT bonding with it. It was even a really good price, but we just didn’t care.

– The fastest way to turn this introvert into an extrovert is to make me move to an entirely new area. EVERYONE became a person to interview. “Oh you’re from here. Where do you live? Do you like it? Have you heard of Fillmore?” The most extreme example came one Tuesday evening when I drove to Fillmore to view the 4-car garage house. I stopped at a Mexican restaurant to grab a quick dinner and walked into the restaurant behind a threesome of elderly, local women, one of which invited me to dine with them. To which I would normally reply, “Oh, thanks but I’ll pass” but instead I said “Oh, do you live here, because if you do I will absolutely take you up on it.” They are incredible ambassadors for their town. Besides answering all of my questions, when it was clear that dinner would not arrive before my viewing appointment, they offered to buy my dinner and get it to go. I swung by their house on the way out of town, to grab my tacos and try to express my gratitude for their kindness.

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