House Conundrums

While we’re eager to explore and take in all that Western New York has to offer, we’ve been a little one-track-minded lately.  All we can think about is our house hunt . . . we have been going near crazy trying to decide not only what we want, but also where we want to live around Buffalo.  It’s so different than being in Boston, where we felt trapped by how over-priced and ridiculous the housing market was . . . we lived in a 1,200 square foot condo that came with, wait for it, a parking spot!  Now, for those of you not familiar with Boston, you’re probably thinking, ‘Really?  You’re bragging about a parking spot?’  And yes, yes we are.  Because that parking spot was AWESOME.  When it snowed 80+” this past winter, we threw caution to the wind and actually drove places (instead of walking snowshoeing or taking the T) because we knew we had a place for our car to come home too.  Trust me, if you haven’t lived through feet of snow in a crammed city with no parking, then you have no idea how awesome a parking spot can be.

Okay, phew–enough about parking spots.  Can you tell I’ve been a bit scarred by Boston’s parking situation?  Of course, there’s no shortage of parking here–in fact, it seems everyone has lots of cars . . . I guess if you fill your driveway, then there’s less you have to shovel?

Back to our house dilemmas . . . basically, there’s a lot to consider:

  • Location
  • School District (we hope to someday have some mini Bunches)
  • Square Footage
  • Outside Space
  • Neighbors (we’d like to live near folks similar in age or at least life phase–having kids, etc.)
  • Age of the house (we’ve heard stuff built in the 1960s and earlier is much more solid than stuff from the 70s, 80s, and 90s)
  • Layout (open is better)
  • Some other stuff we’re probably totally forgetting right now . . .

The hardest grappling point thus far has been location, and you know what they say: location, location, location!  So we need your help–we’re torn between two different areas: Amherst/Williamsville/Clarence and Orchard Park/East Aurora.  Initially, we were dead set on the Amherst/Williamsville/Clarence area–mainly because the Williamsville School District is the number one school district in WNY, and the Clarence district is number two.  (Quick aside–the school districts are sort of odd in that they aren’t based strictly on the town limits . . . so the Williamsville district includes East Amherst, the Village of Williamsville, and some of western Clarence.  Yeah, totally confusing . . . it’s taken us over a month to figure this much out, and we may still have it wrong.)  And initially, we had entirely decided against even looking in Orchard Park/East Aurora because they’re South Towns, which, in this neck of the woods, South = SNOW:

So even though that’s just a graph of the 2008-2009 season, I think it’s pretty representative of what we’re going to be dealing with.  Amherst/Williamsville/Clarence are just northeast of Buffalo, so they would be in the green area; Orchard Park/East Aurora are southeast of Buffalo, so they’re in the yellow area, and on the cusp of the red . . . I know, scary, right?!  (Although not as scary as that big brown dot in the upper right!  Kill me now.)  And now you’re asking, where’s the dilemma?!  It seems straightforward, right?  Wrong.  The problem is the South Towns have a lot more charm, a lot more space, and a lot less congestion (Amherst’s population is 110k+, whereas Orchard Park’s is 27k+).  Oh, and Orchard Park’s school district is usually number 3, so a close runner-up to Williamsville and Clarence.

But A/W/C has a lot more homes for sale, and a lot more in our price range, as compared to OP/EA, e.g. this 2,800+ square foot beast on a secluded cul-de-sac:

So why did we even venture to the South Towns to look when there are homes like this?  Well, the answer is because of these:

Yep, that’s a foundation crack.  But no, that’s not from the home above, it’s just a demonstrative shot of what these cracks look like from some other house that we’re not going to buy.  See, there are a lot of these cracks in A/W/C–so many, that Amherst asked the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study of the area’s foundations back in 2003, and this is what the results of the study showed in 2005: Amherst Foundation Issues.  Basically, all the little dots are where there have been foundation problems.  Apparently, A/W/C has sandy soil, so some foundations have been sinking as the soil expands and shrinks with the changing weather conditions.  And hence, the foundations crack.  And sink.  And shift.  And in one house we saw, practically cave in on themselves (don’t worry–we got out of that one in a hurry).  In most cases, it costs around $30,000 to repair a cracked foundation, but in some cases, that number can reach into the hundreds of thousands.  Can we say Money Pit?!  But our realtor has assured us that as long as the cracks are vertical, the repairs are far easier and less costly . . . even so, it got us nervous.  And we headed south.

And while we tried with all our might to hate the South Towns and to picture them covered in feet and feet of snow, we just couldn’t do it.  For one thing, the South Towns have one thing A/W/C entirely lacks: hills.  That may sound strange, but you have no idea how much you miss hills until you’re in Kansas Amherst.  Driving around A/W/C is kind of like driving around marshlands–totally flat, lots of standing water, but with some pockets of great homes and schools tucked between some tired and crowded neighborhoods.  Whereas OP/EA has rolling hills, wide open spaces, and quaint village centers . . . kind of sounds like a country song, right?

So now it sounds like OP/EA should be a no-brainer, right?  Wrong again.  There are just far fewer homes in our price range.  We drove around there a lot this weekend, hoping to find THE ONE, but instead we found the-one-if-we-want-to-double-our-budget:

Granted, that home is 3,800 square feet and on 1.5 acres, but still–you get the idea.  As of now, there are only a handful of homes in OP/EA that are within our budget and meet our other criteria (we’ll detail the criteria soon), so we’re feeling torn.

And that’s where you come in–we need help.  Please comment on this post with what you think we should do . . . any home-buying advice would be much appreciated, particularly as it pertains to location at this point.  Our heads are so foggy and we’ve gone back and forth so many times . . . just help us, please, before we entirely lose our sanity and move to that big brown dot.

Image of snow map from here.  Foundation study from here.

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