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Realty Builder
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Sep. 13, 201712:05 PM EST

The search for the perfect ‘smart’ home

Smart homes. That is the overarching focus of this month’s edition of Realty-Builder, my first as associate editor of this venerable publication. 
by: Andrew Warfield Staff Writer

Smart homes can mean different things to different people, as described by the experts who participated in the stories for this issue.

For me and my wife, Suzanne, “smart” meant making the right homebuying decision here. But how would we accomplish that in an unfamiliar and rapidly growing market such as the greater Jacksonville area? 

To me, “smart” means a focus on resale value. I want a high degree of confidence the factors that make a home desirable today will endure 5-10 years into the future. 

Perhaps this is because since I was able to qualify for my first mortgage, I’ve never owned the same home for more than seven years. 

For the past 33 years, though, I was in a familiar, albeit rapidly expanding, market in the Charlotte, North Carolina, region. 

We made the decision to relocate here after Suzanne received an offer from the PGA TOUR (the formal name is all caps, I am frequently reminded) to become a trademark paralegal at its headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach.

The TOUR graciously allowed her to work from our home in the bucolic Charlotte suburban town of Waxhaw (named after an extinct nation of native Americans) for some six months while her youngest daughter completed her senior year of high school and prepared for her transition to college.

That much time to consider where to live here was both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes being compelled toward a quick decision can be less stressful. 

First, we weighed the benefits and pitfalls of a short-term versus a long-term plan. Should we rent and spend time exploring the market? Should we buy now instead? And if we do buy, as newly minted empty nesters, should we go single family? Condo? Townhouse? New construction? Recently built resale?

We decided against initially renting because the prospect of moving twice within one or two years seemed too daunting. Thus, the grueling task of searching for that “smart” home began.

Weeks of online research turned into months, and the more information we gathered, the more confused we became. This neighborhood was too far from the beach. That one was too far for Suzanne to commute (I was more concerned about that than she was). The CDDs (what in the world is that?) in this one were too high. Those homes were too old to qualify for affordable insurance. 

Too big. 

Too small. 

Too much traffic. 

Too far north.

Too far south.

Not going to live in a neighborhood bordered by a railroad on one side and an interstate on the other.

Don’t like that kitchen. 

Don’t like that bathroom. 

Spare bedrooms are not large enough. 

The lot is too big.

The houses are too close together.

It was like living inside an episode of HGTV’s “House Hunters,” only without the scripted conversations and manufactured drama. There was plenty of real drama and serious conversation involved.

Selling our home in North Carolina, on the other hand, was easy. We lived in a former builder’s model after purchasing it four years ago from a builder that was leaving the neighborhood. The house included every upgrade the builder was offering at the time. 

We bought within two hours of it being listed and four years later, accepted an offer just as quickly. We went to contract with a cash buyer, making us attractive prospective buyers here. No contingency to sell. No chance of the buyer’s financing falling through. No complications.

Our listing agent in North Carolina referred us to a colleague here, and my first meeting with her, while Suzanne was at work, went something like this:

“We don’t want to be too far away from places to go and things to do like we are in North Carolina.”

“We don’t want to be too far from the beach. After all, that’s one of the reasons we’re moving here.”

“I don’t really want a yard. A townhouse would be great.”

“We want to downsize from our 2,900 square feet to about 2,000 square feet.”

“Suzanne wants a white kitchen.”

“I don’t want tile floors.”

“I want gas cooking.”

“We want a super shower.”

“Suzanne wants some palm trees.”

“Oh, and we don’t want to spend any more than (insert unrealistically low price here).”

Like a true professional, our agent took it all in stride and, with her experience dealing with buyers such as us, more than likely knew where we would end up anyway.

I ended up with a yard, but at least it’s not large. We don’t have a white kitchen. I didn’t get gas cooking. We are more suburban than we anticipated. We’re about 25 minutes from the nearest beach (albeit a significant improvement over the four hours away we were before). The house doesn’t have a super shower, but it is super-ish.

And while we did downsize, it was by a whopping 200 square feet.

Most importantly, Suzanne got her palm trees. They’re everywhere she looks. The yard has only one, but there will be more to come.

Like most people, we’ll find out in the future just how smart our buying decision was. It was that motivation that drove us to determine that, while we didn’t get everything we set out to find in our next home, we will be comfortable in our new place and it will pay off down the road.

And while we don’t have all the conveniences we sought, they are quickly coming our way.

 By today’s smart home standards, our house is pretty ignorant. Although only 4 years old, there’s not an automated feature in the place.

But be it ever so “dumble,” there’s no place like home.

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