Home is Where the Heart Is

Home is Where the Heart Is

I wrote the following essay in December 2015, one year after we moved from Northern Virginia to the Charlotte area of North Carolina, and waaaaaaaay before I ever thought I’d be in the real estate industry.  It’s funny reading this and seeing much of the same advice I’d give clients now as they prepare to make a big move.  Not only is the home buying experience one of the most expensive investments we make in our lifetimes, but the decision affects almost every aspect of our life.  Our homes are our sanctuaries, where most of our memories and traditions are made.  In this new work/school/play at-home era, where and what we live in has become more important than ever. As you’ll read, our decision to move to NC was a (calculated) leap of faith and one that has led me to this awesome career in real estate. In 2020, many others have figured out that the Charlotte area is awesome place to live, too. In fact, recent data has shown that over 100 people move to share every day and is Realtor.com’s top 3 housing market in 2021!

There’s rarely a time – especially when I’m working with first-time homebuyers and relocation clients – that many of the lessons we learned in our first rental home, the home buying process, and the move to NC don’t help me guide my clients.  Enjoy reading about our experiences, then don’t hesitate to give me a call. I’d be honored to help make your move as seamless, stress-free, and as memorable as possible in the coming year.

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Some say your wedding day is the most memorable day of your life. For others, it’s the day their first child is born. Both of these events were life-altering, incredible experiences for me –moments I didn’t think could be topped. However, that all changed on December 27, 2014, as my husband Nate, son Caleb, and I packed up the last of our belongings and said our final goodbyes to our home in Northern Virginia.

You may be thinking, “Really? Moving out of a house is more monumental than the birth of your child?” But for us, that small 1950’s rented rambler in Vienna, VA was more than just a house. For the past six years that house – or more importantly our life in the house – has shaped us into the individuals, couple, and family we are today.

Our little house stood as the backdrop for countless memories and life experiences. It is the first place Nate and I lived together after getting married – where we laughed, cried, argued, and grew together as husband and wife. It is where I decided not to continue on with graduate school, but to become a Mom instead. It is where I experienced pregnancy, where we spent nights awake with a newborn, and it (rather the small dining table or screened porch) became my “office space” as a work-at-home mom. Most recently, our home was the site of much contemplation, reflection, and prayer – in search of our true purpose and God’s calling for our life.

For much of our time in that old house, I ranted and raved, yearning for the day we would trade up to a bigger and nicer abode. Even Nate will attest, much of my sulking was warranted. As renters in the very affluent suburban Washington D.C. housing market (the second most expensive county to live in the country!), we felt “stuck” in our living conditions. We were fortunate to have a fixed monthly rent in a unique small town, but it was far from cheap. Our mid-century ranch was just that – MID CENTURY! Tiny blue and pink tiled bathrooms, a square room divider in the living room, and an outdated kitchen – complete with a 1960’s General Electric oven and range! For a while, I embraced these vintage features and the retro-cool look. However, as time went on, I grew tired of the Mad Men vibe and frustrated that we couldn’t make changes to the rented living space for our growing family.

It was frustrating living in a house without being able to make any updates, but moving across town wasn’t really an option. The Northern VA/MD/DC area is known as the “beltway bubble.” Our options were very limited – unless, of course, we wanted to take on a half-million dollars in debt for a fairly small, old house (usually referred to as “tear downs” in NoVA). Or perhaps we could have doubled our monthly rent for a newer, but more cramped, townhouse. We had to be patient with our vintage rambler until we decided where we wanted to live and understood our goals and priorities for raising a family.

Over the course of our first five years together, we learned a lot about ourselves and the type of lifestyle we wanted. We realized:

1. DC traffic is a disaster! Spending two hours a day commuting/sitting in traffic to go to work, run errands, etc., is really unproductive and a common cause for serious fits!

2.We wanted something more than an old, two-bedroom condo and hoped to avoid going broke on a fixer-upper. (Seriously, this is about as good as it gets for around $500,000 in our town).

3.We love the outdoors and love to spend our free time enjoying nature and outdoor activities together and with our son. (With little time left over from point #1 and little money left over from point #2, this wasn’t really an option for us in NoVa).

The birth of our son was even more motivation to seriously think about making a major lifestyle change. We thoughtfully considered many different scenarios, including our prospects for buying a home somewhere else and the impact that a long-distance move would have on our careers. We talked about moving back to PA, closer to our families. Unfortunately, the economy and job market in PA seems to lag behind many other areas of the country. And places with decent job prospects – such as near Philly – are just not appealing to us from a lifestyle perspective. Ultimately, neither of us were sold on moving to the Northeast, even though it would have been familiar and easier in some respects. We also contemplated completely new and more “exotic” locales – areas very different than the mid-Atlantic – like Dallas, San Diego, and even Salt Lake City!

However, we kept coming back to Charlotte, NC. I have family in the area, lived there for a brief stint in 2007, and have been intrigued with the idea of moving back there ever since. Nate was also familiar with the region and felt like it deserved to be kept near the top of our list. The greater Charlotte area seems like a good bet for economic growth – and has received a lot of publicity lately for expanding jobs in manufacturing, technology, and energy. The towns to the north of the city – while not nearly as large as those surrounding Washington – offer plenty of choices for shopping, food, local culture. And Lake Norman, which stretches some 30 miles north of Charlotte, helps create a fun and active vibe in the nearby towns of Huntersville, Davidson, and Mooresville. Not to mention the potential fishing and hunting spots for Nate (that he sorely missed near D.C.!). Finally, the cost of living was so much more favorable across much of the Charlotte area – but then again, that would be true almost everywhere beyond the beltway bubble! The very thought of sorting through the home-buying process for the first time (and trying to do it over a long distance!) was daunting and scary. But so was the reality that our expensive rent, month after month and year after year, was never going to help us financially.

As anyone who has ever moved to a new home knows, the whole process is pretty exhausting. Moving almost 400 miles into a different state was a challenge. Setting clear goals and expectations – and then working to stay on the same page with each other – was essential and lessened the stress on our family to a manageable degree (though we might not recommend moving less than a week before Christmas!).

It may seem obvious, but the first step we took after deciding to focus on Charlotte was to define our price range. Be honest, and perhaps a bit conservative, when setting your expectations for a price – it will only help to avoid stress and anxiety when trying to make a good offer or obtain pre-approval on a loan. We also did a ton of homework on local real estate – following the market even before we were serious about moving. We hired an experienced local agent to guide us along and provide advice. But we originally planned to look at only 3 homes during a house-hunting visit – mainly because we were able to narrow our search so effectively online – and ended up falling in love and purchasing #1 on the tour!

What was not so obvious, especially to family and friends, was the unconventional way in which we decided to move. Most people move to a different locale because a new job takes them there. After broaching the idea of working from home with our employers, we were able to keep our jobs but move somewhere that was a better fit for our family. I had been working primarily from home since our son was born anyway, and thankfully, Nate’s employer also embraced the idea, allowing him to accomplish most of his work from home too! Yes, it was risky (and definitely not a choice we know everyone can take) approaching employers and letting them know we were looking at different options, but in the end, we felt our family’s happiness was worth this risk.

Now that the dust has settled – and most of the boxes have been unpacked – it’s fairly easy to reflect on our current situation and see how much our life has changed. Our daily routines during the work-week are dramatically different. Skipping those evening commutes in beltway traffic has already paid off in many ways – not the least of which is no longer having to wake up before 5:00AM to beat the morning rush. We’ve been able to use some of that “extra” time after work spending more time with our son, and designing and decorating our new house, making it truly a home.

I have no doubt that our first real move together as a family will always remain one of the most memorable days of my life. Even as we so looked forward to starting a new chapter, one of the most striking moments in my mind was the door rolling down on that yellow Penske rental (as the tears rolled down my cheeks) and climbing in the truck to leave for the last time. Seldom do we go more than a day or two without mentioning that little brick rambler. It’s often our son that reminds us, with a question like “Remember we did this or that at the old house?” It’s true, our hearts may now be in Carolina, but a little piece will forever remain in that old ranch in Vienna, VA. 

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