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 time: buying 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!
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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!).
came with 1/2 acre of land; the back yard, which is all fenced,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
numerous tunnels under streets on the network of cart paths in Peachtree
this one is
near Huddleston Pond and looks "Lord of the Rings"-ish to me with all
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
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.
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.
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
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody, Casey, and Holly-pup
© 2017 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil