2017  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Lake McIntosh @ Line Creek Nature Area, Peachtree City, GA

 

   
 
Runtrails' Web Journal
 
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   THE JOYS & FRUSTRATIONS OF SELECTING
A NEW HOME BASE

TUESDAY, APRIL 25

 
"[This book] came about based on my personal experience moving around a lot . . .  
I started thinking about why we were moving so much and what has to happen to make
us want to stay, hoping the next town would be a magical Shangri-La . . . When you
feel 'place-attached', you feel connected to the town; you feel rooted and satisfied
and you want to stay. I thought, 'I need to get my hands on how to make
that happen in my life.'"
 
~ Interview with Melody Warnick, author of "This Is Where You Belong:
The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live"
 
 

As an adult, I have owned and lived in ten houses in three different states, plus rented an apartment briefly when I first got out of college. Jim also owned several houses and a condo before we got married.

There were various common circumstances precipitating each move and each made sense at the timebuying my first house in my early 20s, moving from Ohio to Georgia for a better job and warmer weather, buying land and building a new house, moving closer to work, selling because of divorce, trying to find the perfect place to retire, selling that house to live and travel full-time in an RV, and coming back full circle to feeling the need again for a home base for any further exploration of the world.

 
Areas where Jim and I have lived; South Dakota was our legal residence
while full-time RVing but we never owned property there.

Although I read only some excerpts from Warnick's book last summer, it helped in the process of deciding once again what we hope will be the ideal house and community for us as we age. It's like "deja vu all over again" of the process we went through thirteen years ago when Jim retired.

And Warnick's bottom line? No one place is ever going to be perfect. If the place you live doesn't have everything you want, get involved enough to start loving it.

TIMING THE MARKET

Unlike buying stocks or mutual funds, over time I've come to realize that the "right" time to buy or sell a house is when you need to do it, not only when the housing market is to your advantage. I've bought houses in markets that were in my favor and not; I've also sold houses at advantageous and disadvantageous times because the timing was "right" for other reasons.

When Jim and I both realized last summer that we were tired of the hassles involved with full-time RVing, we knew that our timing to buy a house wasn't the greatest because it's been a sellers' market in most areas of the country for the last couple years.


Houses in Copenhagen, from the article on the website link in my quote at the top of the page;
I just like the colorful picture of houses!  (Shutterstock photo)

We debated about waiting until the next market downturn but we had no idea how many more years that might be.

And we figured in the meantime, if we waited for another recession to cause prices to come crashing down, housing prices would continue to rise more than the interest we're getting on our various types of savings accounts.  

For us, the time was "right" for several reasons.

And we knew exactly what we wanted in a house, yard, and neighborhood -- but first we had to determine where we wanted to settle down for what we hope is our last house purchase, one that will serve our needs in our 70s, 80s, and 90s.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION:  WHERE WILL THE SNOW BIRDS LAND THIS TIME?

Where is the best place for us to live the rest of our lives? And how do we determine that before we live there so we don't regret our decision? 

Those are questions we've grappled with since retiring. Obviously, the ideal way would be to rent a place for a year or two, or continue living in our RV, in all the places that look like they'd meet our priorities, then decide which was "best" for us -- then buy another house and live there happily ever after.

We ruled that out because we were unable to find a good place to stay in our RV near either of the two areas we were most interested in, and we had no desire to rent and add another move to the mix.


Colorado Springs is one of our favorite destinations but it has more months with snow than without.
The 14,000+ foot summit of Pike's Peak is marked by the arrow.  (6-21-16)

Where to put down roots has been a continual debate between us since we sold our first house together in Billings, MT back in 2004 after Jim retired. Everywhere we have traveled, we've wondered what it would be like to live there. Each place had some potential or we wouldn't have wanted to even visit.

No one place, however -- not even our beloved Colorado -- has everything we're looking for.

Just as when we chose to move to the Roanoke, VA area in 2004, we knew again this time that we'd have to decide based on our most important priorities and make some compromises on less important ones.  

By the end of last summer, after considerable discussion and continued research, we narrowed our choices down to two locations in the eastern part of the U.S. that appealed to us for mostly the same reasons.


There's no snow in far SE Georgia, just hurricanes -- so we ruled out any Eastern coastline areas.   
This is the park by the harbor in St. Mary's, GA near Kings Bay Sub Base.  (1-12-17)

Some of our high priorities were four seasons with moderate winter temperatures and minimal or no snow; a lower risk of hazardous weather conditions like hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, earthquakes, and wildfires; lots of green grass and trees (which eliminated the desert Southwest); a moderate cost of living; low state and local taxes for senior citizens; a stable housing market; excellent medical facilities; nearby big box stores and other shopping; not a lot of heavy traffic; good places -- preferably right out the door -- to safely walk/hike and ride our bikes; nice scenery; and a low crime rate.

There are some things you can change after moving somewhere but you can't change most of the things on that list. We wanted to get it right before we plunked down a pile of money for a house.

Both areas we chose were fairly comparable re: our list of priorities and both were somewhat familiar to us already. 

VIRGINIA VS GEORGIA

One choice was the Roanoke, VA area, where we sold our last house.

Although we lived out in the country and were gone traveling most of the ten years we had that property, we were already familiar with the weather, roads/traffic, medical providers, recreational opportunities, shopping, etc. And we also have friends who live there that we could reconnect with.

We still liked Roanoke for the same reasons that drew us there in 2004 but during this past winter and early spring there was nothing for sale that interested us. The inventory of small ranch houses in nice neighborhoods close to or in town was very low even as the weather was warming up. (Low inventory was also a problem for us back in 2004 and that's why we ended up with a house that was too far out of town..)


The Roanoke area has the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Pkwy.;
it also has SNOW, a four-letter word for Jim.

Our second choice was Peachtree City, GA.

We were less familiar with this area than Roanoke. Jim had never been there, nor had he ever lived anywhere near Atlanta.

I did live in the eastern and northeastern metro Atlanta area from 1974-1999 but the only times I'd been to Peachtree City -- which is southwest of the metro area -- was to run the Peachtree City Classic 15k road race several times in the 1980s. I remembered all of its green spaces, numerous trees, rolling hills, lakes, golf courses, and the extensive network of about 100 miles of paved multi-use paths.


Golf cart-bike-foot path by Lake Peachtree

As we talked about all the things that were important to us in our next community, those multi-use paths turned out to be one of our top priorities.

Although Jim and I are in our late 60s, we are still endurance athletes. We want to stay fit and live a long, healthy life. In other homes we've had to drive several miles (or more) to reach good trails and safe bike paths/roads. This time we wanted to be able to walk or ride our bikes right out our door to access a good network of paths or trails.

This factor was right up there with moderate weather in our list of top priorities. 


Jim and Casey on the path near our house

Amenities like all the green spaces and beautiful neighborhoods come at a price, of course. Housing prices in Peachtree City are some of the highest in Georgia and they are probably 30% higher than in Roanoke. So are property taxes, but seniors in our county get a significant reduction in those (we don't have to pay school taxes). Ditto for Georgia's state income taxes, which are low for seniors.

We wondered if we'd be able to afford to live in this planned city that's a model for other small cities in the U.S. Turns out, the general cost of living is average, almost the same as Roanoke, if you include utilities, food, transportation, medical, and other necessities.

We decided it was worth the extra money a house would cost for those paths, the scenic beauty, warmer weather than in Roanoke, gorgeous established neighborhoods, houses that retained their values well during the recession, a very low crime rate, convenient medical facilities and providers, nearby shopping at stores we like, less traffic than in metro Atlanta, and an excellent school system. 

All of those things -- except the higher cost of a house -- appealed to Jim, too.


Map of Georgia:  Peachtree City is yellow dot just below metro Atlanta;
Kings Bay Sub Base is yellow dot lower R. near St. Marys, where we spent the winter.

Jim has seen more of north Georgia than metro Atlanta so he was in favor of looking at some of the exurbs in that direction, too. They would be closer to scenic mountain trails and roads.

Once we narrowed our choices down to Roanoke, Peachtree City, or possibly one of the northern Atlanta 'burbs, we knew we needed to find somewhere in the Southeast to stay during the winter that had mild enough weather to live comfortably in our RV. It didn't make sense to be in Texas or the Southwest while we were searching for a place to live in the eastern U.S.

Even Atlanta is too far north to avoid freezing weather so we decided to go back to Kings Bay Sub Base on the Georgia-Florida border. Although it was a five - to six-hour drive to get up to Peachtree City or other parts of the metro area we knew we could get up there in a reasonable time if we wanted to check out particular neighborhoods or houses.

ROAD TRIP!

At the beginning of our search last summer we had a vague goal of finding a new residence "in the next year or two." 

However, since we had plenty of time on our hands at Kings Bay in the fall we went ahead and started our search on the internet for specific neighborhoods and houses in Roanoke, Peachtree City, and the northern Atlanta suburbs. We spent several hours every day researching the pros and cons of each area and looking at real estate websites like Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com to see what those housing markets offered. 


Jim admires the blossoms on a large peach tree along the bike path
at the end of our street during an evening walk with Casey.  (3-31-17)

Not only did we have a list of priorities for the location of our next (last!) house, we also had a list of must-have features for the house itself. Again, we knew we'd probably have to compromise on some things that would be nice to have but not critical.

At the top of that list was one-level living, i.e. a ranch-style house, that was either rather new or had been all or mostly updated. (More of our priorities are listed later.)

Virtually no new or updated single-story houses in neighborhoods we'd want were available in Roanoke during the next few months and the pickings were only a little better farther south in the Atlanta and Peachtree City area.

But with each new listing we gained a better feel for the prices we could expect to pay for the features we wanted in each area.


This 3-level house overlooking Lake Kedron in Peachtree City probably has 4-5 times as much
square footage as our small ranch on a slab. We see lots of pretty houses and yards from the bike path.

By the end of the year we were itching to go up to Atlanta to check out some of the towns north of the metro area like Woodstock and Alpharetta, as well as Peachtree City to the south.

We also wanted to eyeball some RV and mobile home parks in a wide area for potential places to stay in the spring and summer so we'd be closer to these towns if we saw houses we wanted to look at in person.

Kings Bay is a great place to winter in an RV but it was still more than a half-day drive each way on mostly two-lane roads to the Atlanta metro area to drive through various towns and neighborhoods.

Because of the distance we drove up there only twice before making an offer on a house, staying overnight at Dobbins AFB on a mostly wet, chilly New Year's weekend so we could explore the northern suburbs and a dog-friendly motel closer to Peachtree City in February.


Heavy weekend traffic nearing downtown Atlanta.

The first time Jim saw Peachtree City was for two drizzly, cold, miserable days on New Year's weekend. Even then the neighborhoods and all the green spaces looked inviting, and we could imagine how gorgeous it would be in the other seasons. The proximity of paved multi-use paths to every house was the icing on the cake.

Despite the weather and dormant season, Jim was as intrigued with Peachtree City as I was.

That weekend we ruled out the northern and eastern suburbs of metro Atlanta because traffic has become so much worse than when I moved from there 18 years ago.

The only good thing for us about that area was closer proximity to the north Georgia mountains but that wasn't high on our priority list since we're more likely now to use smooth paths to hike and bike rather than mountain trails. As we get older we not only don't have as good balance as we used to have, it also takes longer to heal if we fall.

WATCHING LIKE A HAWK

We had begun our online house search well before the New Year's visit and had contacted two real estate agents who do a booming business in Peachtree City and the surrounding area in Fayette and Coweta Counties.

We chose the agent who responded to our inquiries most enthusiastically, Merry Holley with Berkshire Hathaway. We corresponded with her by phone and e-mail for a couple months before we even looked inside any of the available houses for sale that met our criteria.

I don't often recommend any business or business person on this website but we can highly recommend Merry if you're buying or selling a house in either of these counties.


We got to watch several pairs of geese raise their offspring from little fluffy
chicks to young adults at the Kedron Ponds near our house.

After driving through Peachtree City, I watched several real estate websites for new listings even more closely -- several times a day! -- in January and February. We wanted to see what prices we could expect to find for the house, yard, and neighborhood features we wanted.  

The asking prices were higher than we expected. Isn't that usually the case? 

In most areas of the country in 2016 and 2017 it has been a sellers' market, not a buyers' market. Houses were/are approaching even higher prices than in 2006-7, right before the housing bubble burst and we entered a recession.

The market was just as frenzied in the Atlanta area this spring, too, with a shortage of available houses in all the lower and middle price ranges. Many people were eager to sell their houses for top dollar -- but they couldn't find another house they want to buy because of low inventory, so many homeowners just kept their house and either lived with its flaws or remodeled it.  

It's a vicious circle for both buyers and sellers, and remains that way in Peachtree City near the end of 2017, too. (I'm writing this entry in early October.)


Most of the houses on our street are two-stories. Our ranch is hidden in the trees from this angle.

By closely watching websites like Zillow and Trulia we quickly learned that new or updated ranch-style houses seldom came on the market and when they did, they were snapped up within hours or days. This was especially true in Peachtree City, where about 80% of the houses are two-stories.

We knew we had to get closer to Atlanta in the spring to more easily see houses as they came on the market but we had a difficult time finding a suitable RV or mobile home park to use as a base of exploration. We visited ten places around the metro area and down as far as Warm Springs but never did find a place we either really liked (too many scruffy RVs or mobile homes) or could make a reservation (already full for 2017 or didn't allow dogs over 25-30 pounds).

Ironically, it was easier to find a suitable house to buy than a place to live in our RV for a few months!

If you read my last entry, you know that finding good places to stay because of the explosion in RVing was one of the main reasons we decided to stop traveling full time in our camper.

HOUSE PRIORITIES

We knew this time we had to stick to our guns about a ranch house with everything we need on one floor, including at least three bedrooms, laundry room, and garage.

We made a mistake with our house in Roanoke by having the laundry and garage in the basement.  That was OK when we were in our 50s but is more of a problem as we age. This time we did end up with a stepless ranch on a slab. Although there is no basement we have a large attic that is accessible for storage. After living in an RV for so many years, we live with less "stuff" than most families so we don't need a lot of storage.

It would have been OK to have a basement or a finished upstairs with a fourth bedroom and bathroom for guests as long as we didn't need to go up or down very often. We considered those floor plans, too, because we didn't want to narrow our search too much.


Huddleston Pond (Peachtree City has lots of ponds, lakes, and creeks).

We also were adamant about buying either a new or updated house that we didn't need to remodel extensively. We've done enough updating in the past and just wanted move-in ready.

(This is sounding like unrealistic buyers on HGTV, right?)

It wasn't easy to find exactly what we wanted in Peachtree City but it was easier finding an updated ranch than a new one. The only newer ones are in subdivisions where they are practically sitting on top of each other. We learned that's because the cost of residential land has sky-rocketed in most cities around the country.

Living six or eight feet away from your neighbors is fine if you have great neighbors and don't want to do much yard work but we wanted more privacy and land around us. In Peachtree City, that meant buying a house built in the 1980s or 1990s (or a newer one on lakefront property that would cost over a million dollars!).


Our house came with 1/2 acre of land; the back yard, which is all fenced,
has some pretty zoyzia lawn and a large area we mulched and planted.

The two real estate agents we contacted had warned us about the lack of ranch-style houses in Peachtree City, especially those that have been updated, and we could tell by our online research that when they came on the market, they were quickly snapped up. Within a day, sometimes even hours, the listings said "pending."

The agents weren't just telling us that because they wanted to sell us a house. We could see it for ourselves.

Worse, we learned that some desirable houses we might want never even got listed or advertised because agents had willing buyers before they could list them. Ironically, even though we were down at Kings Bay, that's how we got wind of the house we ended up purchasing.

Meanwhile, absolutely no listings in the Roanoke area had appeared to interest us so we continued to focus on Peachtree City (PTC). Although the cost of houses is higher in PTC than Roanoke, the weather and other factors that are important to us are a better fit in Peachtree City.

FIRST DIBS

In the middle of February we were still waiting patiently in south Georgia for something to come on the market that appealed to us enough to make the five-hour drive up to PTC again. The few ranch-style houses we saw online during the winter either sold too quickly or needed extensive remodeling so we didn't drive back up there again for over a month.

Merry did her best to get a listing in one of the neighborhoods we initially liked by sending out flyers to homeowners with ranch-style houses. None came on the market, however, until after we put in an offer on the house we did purchase -- and they were sorely in need of updating.


The PTC Farmer's Market is open every Wed. and Sat. morning, year-round.

One of the reasons we wanted a buyers' agent was to find out about houses coming on the market before the rest of the world knew about them.

And that's exactly how Merry earned a quick commission on the house we bought!

The sellers interviewed Merry about a week before deciding for certain to list their house. Merry told us it was a "maybe" and described it to us -- about 2,100 square feet, one story, on a slab, no steps, accessible attic, completely remodeled and updated with some high-end features we never knew we needed (<wink>), with 1/2 acre fenced yard in one of the nicest neighborhoods in a city with mostly desirable neighborhoods.

It checked off enough of our boxes that we decided to make another trip up to Peachtree City to look at this house after Merry knew she was going to get the listing.   

 
Pretty spring flowering trees at entrance to our neighborhood

Although Merry represented the sellers and not us, it was thanks to her that we had first dibs on the house. We toured the house on a Thursday. Jim was ready to make an offer that day.

I was a Nervous Nellie because, despite all the research we'd done, this was the very first "used" house we'd seen inside in PTC and it didn't have everything we wanted. I knew nothing comparable was on the market in PTC at that point, but asked to see at least one more house for comparison.

Merry told us she was going to list the house on Friday afternoon after professional photos were taken. She showed us another house on Friday -- it didn't compare favorably at all -- and we drove ourselves through a lot more comparable neighborhoods in our price range that day.


Cart path over a finger of Lake Kedron

The listing on what became "our" house was posted on Friday night. That was *almost* enough to make me decide I wanted it!

We asked Merry to see it again on Saturday, not realizing how much of a frenzy we caused by not making an offer on Thursday or Friday. Four couples toured the house on Saturday, including us, and six more couples/families were scheduled to see it on Sunday.  

Three of us made offers on Saturday. The sellers were already tired enough of showings -- just five at that point, including two for us -- that they told Merry they wanted to consider those three offers before showing the house to more people on Sunday.  


Blue heron in Flat Creek, Peachtree City

We knew our offer was strong but didn't have high hopes of "winning" this house because we didn't offer more than asking price. Multiple bids often drive up the price and we told Merry we wouldn't under any circumstances offer any more than we did.

We were driving back to Kings Bay that evening when Merry called us to say our offer was accepted!

The main reason? According to Merry, it was because we didn't have a house to sell first and we could close more quickly.

HURRY UP AND WAIT

We felt like we'd won the lottery but also wondered if we'd acted too quickly. We didn't worry too much about that, though, because we knew about "due diligence."

One of the benefits of buying a house in Georgia is what's called the Due Diligence Clause. For any reason -- or no reason at all -- we could have gotten out of our contract for this house (and gotten our deposit back) within about two weeks if we changed our minds.

Because of this clause some buyers have even purchased houses in PTC sight-unseen from other areas of the country, knowing that they had some time to inspect them before being totally locked into the deal.


There are numerous tunnels under streets on the network of cart paths in Peachtree City;
this one is near Huddleston Pond and looks "Lord of the Rings"-ish to me with all the vines.

I admit I did have some second thoughts but during that due diligence period no other houses came on the market that could possibly compare with this one. Jim and I made lists of pros and cons of purchasing it, lists of things we might want to change some day since it didn't have all the features we wanted, lists of things we needed to do before closing, lists of things we'd have to buy for the house since we'd sold or given away most of our furnishings three years ago.

All those lists brought clarity. Each day we felt more confident we'd made the right decision.

Having the contract began another kind of frenzy, for both us and the sellers. They didn't know whether to believe Merry when she warned them how fast ranch-style houses sell in PTC. They were amazed they got three offers within 24 hours. After accepting ours, they asked for closing five or six weeks later to have enough time to make their next move.

We wanted to close faster than that but we had plenty to do in that time, too, including driving back up for the house inspection and doing all the things on all of our lists.


Jim and the inspector test the heated floor in the master bath and master closet.
That's my sock foot. Yes, it's warm!  I know, I know . . . it's Georgia, but it gets cold here, too.

The inspector was impressed with the condition of the house, which was built in 1991, the major systems, and all the upscale remodeling choices the sellers had made. Any doubts we may have had upon making our offer were quickly dispelled as we grasped the fact that we'd scored big-time with this house.

No house was ever going to have everything we wanted at the price we were willing to pay. We knew the location was ideal and we could always change/add some things later to make it work better for us.


Two things we added later were the SunSetter motorized awning above Jim
and the manual SunShade (L) to reduce the heat coming into our south-facing windows.

Once we were past the due diligence period we continued living in the Cameo at Kings Bay until a few days before closing.

Except for driving back to PTC one day for the inspection, we did all our remaining preparations for moving remotely from Kings Bay. The fun part of that process was shopping for new furnishings online and in stores in Jacksonville. We seriously down-sized when we sold our house in Virginia -- now we had a small(er) house to fill again!

A few days before closing we moved the camper to the Uchee Creek Campground at Fort Benning in Columbus, GA, about 90 minutes south of Peachtree City. We thoroughly cleaned the Cameo, rented a small U-Haul trailer to pull behind the truck, and put everything we wanted to take to the house from the camper into the U-Haul.


Home again:  final walk-through before closing

The afternoon before closing, we parked the camper at the long-term storage facility on base and drove the car, truck, and little U-Haul trailer to our new house. There are no RV parks near Peachtree City and the RV storage choices are very expensive there so we're storing the Cameo quite inexpensively -- and probably more safely -- at Fort Benning.

I'll talk more about living in Peachtree City in another entry.

Next entries:  getting settled into our new house and community

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, Casey, and Holly-pup

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2017 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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