Got it in writing

Our week long adventure searching for our forever home is complete. We started by driving to Galicia to view some homes along the Atlantic coast. Early last Saturday morning we headed out knowing that it was going to be at least an 8 hour drive. We had been really looking forward to this road trip and had everything prepared and ready to go. What I wasn’t prepared for were the differences between how each province was handling COVID-19. About an hour into the trip we were ready to stop for a coffee and a Coke but each service area we stopped only had fuel. No snacks, no coffee and most importantly (to me at least), no Coke. We had to travel another 2 hours before the service areas were allowed to sell more than just fuel. Another thing I learned is that our car gets amazing gas mileage compared to the cars we had in the US. We had only used about 1/2 a tank of fuel since we had bought it in February so I didn’t have a sense of how far we could drive on a tank. It turns out that we can go a very long way between fill-ups. So sure, fuel is more expensive in Europe, but it still costs about the same to travel the same distance in the US.

Eventually we made it to our hotel in Pontevedra. The surrounding area is stunning. The pictures I had seen of the area did not do it justice and I could easily see us living there with views of the sea and mountains. I am looking forward to a return trip in the future.

Our first house showing had cancelled on us so we had an extra day to explore and our next showing was down south in Portugal. Having never been to Portugal and only hearing stories about what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised when we crossed the border and the twisty highway turned into a wide, almost American-style, 3 lane freeway complete with a wide shoulder on each side. If it were not for the occasional road sign in Portuguese or the left most line marking the edge of the road being white instead of yellow, you could easily think you were driving down I-5 in northern California. It felt like home and I had room to breathe.

Another thing that I noticed right away was that the other cars on the road were now mostly German brands instead of French or Italian. BMW’s regularly zipped by us. Our Audi fit right in and for the first time since we purchased it, it didn’t feel like we were driving the largest car on the road.

The house we were here to see looked promising in the photographs. Maybe the realtor had read my previous blog post regarding how to take pictures that told a story? We arrived a day early, dipped our toes in the Atlantic and explored the town. It was a very hot day in town but just a couple kilometers away along the coast the temperature was a nice 75 degrees. I don’t think I mentioned that temperature was one of my requirements but it is one of the reasons we were looking to move from Valencia to a cooler climate. Summers here can be very hot and sticky.

I believe Kelli will do the big reveal once we have closed on the house so I don’t want to say too much here, but after a week of searching in both Spain and Portugal we found our perfect house. It ticked most of the boxes for me and we ended up not having to make as many tradeoffs as we thought we were going to have to. One of my requirements was a mountain chalet next to the sea, so that was not exactly going to happen, but I think we did pretty good. One requirement that I compromised on was that I think the house might be too close to sea level for clear skies at night for astronomy. But just about a 90 minute drive away there is a place that has been designated as a Dark Sky Reserve. I can’t wait to visit the site this winter when the air is especially clear.

The purchase contract was incredibly simple, and in Portuguese. After using Google translate I discovered the contract only contained 8 items that basically said that the seller agreed to sell the house, the buyer agreed to buy the house, the purchase price and when the closing date would be. It was too simple for me. I’ve bought and sold property before and my litigious American sensibilities needed more than just those 8 items. I needed remedies and contingency plans in case things go wrong. What happens if the inspector finds a major fault or a whole host of other possible conditions? After explaining this to the realtor, he and his boss went into the backroom for a conference. Ten minutes later they came back and said “OK, this is not normally how we do business but go ahead and put what you want into the contract.” They were afraid that we were going to walk away from the deal and besides, who else would be buying a house during a pandemic? The original contract was just a single page but my new version was 5 pages long. Had I known that I would need to be channeling my inner real estate/contract lawyer, I would have done a bit more research and probably could have come up with a dozen more pages of legalese. Only after adding the clauses I thought needed to be included did I realize that the sellers were sitting on the bench outside. They had witnessed the whole exchange and my last minute revisions. But after meeting everyone, I believe that all parties are interested in a fair and equitable deal. The sellers are a very nice couple and I believe they want to be sure that we will be happy in the house too. I’m chalking this one up to a difference in cultures. I think a handshake deal is definitely worth more in Portugal than the US.

Everyone we met in Portugal was friendly and seemed genuinely concerned for the well being of others. Even though it was warm, everyone was wearing masks. They had leapt into action even before Spain and Italy. The waiters in the restaurants were happy to chat with us and give impromptu language lessons. It was exactly like I have always said, “as long as you make an effort, people will try to help”.

I’m looking forward to closing on this house and starting a new chapter in our lives. We have lived in Valencia for more than 2 years and I think without that experience first, I would not have been able to appreciate some of the differences of each culture.

Want to buy a lighthouse?

In preparation for next week’s tour through Galicia on our search for our new home I have been scouring the internet listings for anything that holds promise.  In order to stand out among all the competing homes on the market, some listings have descriptions containing flowery prose detailing all the reasons a person would be delighted to own this home.  Each room perfectly staged for its photo. Then each picture is post-processed to ensure sharp focus and color correction.  It can be expensive, but when you are selling one of your most valuable assets, it is worth it to spend a little up front to ensure you are putting your best foot forward and attracting the most potential buyers.  While not always true, I believe that the effort that has gone into the presentation of the listing is probably indicative of the level of care and upkeep of the house too.  A well-manicured yard shows that the owner takes pride in their home and they have most likely taken care of it too.

Sometimes though it seems that the seller either did not get the memo regarding what should be in a real estate listing or that they just got distracted along the way.  I am certainly no real estate pro but I do know a thing or two about selling stuff. So if you find yourself in need of selling a home let me pass along a few pointers to ensure your ad gets the attention it deserves.

#1:  Show the house. Including some extra pictures of the surrounding area and views is nice but don’t forget to also include a picture of your house too.

This listing for a 4 bedroom house only included a single picture of the Tower of Hercules. Pretty sure the Spanish authorities would frown on us moving in.

#2 Show the right house. Make sure the picture of the house is the house that is for sale.  I cannot stress this enough. 

For one of the listings I was initially interested in, it seems the neighbor’s house was more photogenic than the one being offered for sale so the seller used it instead.  I discovered this when I did a Google Streets drive by and saw the address didn’t match the pictures.

#3 Show the freaking house! Once you have taken a picture of your house, make sure you can see enough of it to let potential buyers know what it looks like. Don’t leave it up to the buyers imagination of what the house might look like. If your yard is overgrown with trees and bushes it might be a good time to do a little landscaping and hack it back a bit. (or maybe take the picture from a different spot)

#4 Interior pictures are essential so you might want to clean up or put stuff away.  Try to tell a visual story and allow the buyer to imagine themselves living in this space. Nobody likes housework but…

#5 Avoid weird camera angles.  Sure, a fisheye lens can give the impression of a larger room and sometimes it even makes sense to use one.  But avoid resorting to strange perspectives that don’t add to the visual storytelling.

#6 Stay on topic!  I know you are really proud of your stuff but unless it is staying with the house, please do not include them in the listing.

#7 The money shot. The most important tip I have is to make the first picture of your listing the most appealing and descriptive one.  This is your chance to make a great first impression, don’t blow it with a picture of a corner of a closet door. I can not tell you how many times I have scrolled past pictures of homes that looked like this.  This house turned out to be pretty nice but I had skipped over it several times before I decided to take a closer look.

With a little careful planning and prep work, you can take real estate pictures yourself and avoid the cost of a professional photographer.  A picture is supposed to be worth a 1000 words, make them count.

I have learned that when it comes to searching for real estate in Spain, there are no shortcuts.  You need to be prepared to spend a lot of time sifting through nonsense before finding a gem.  Even when you think you have identified the perfect house, you still have to verify it is actually the one that is for sale and not just some stand-in model. We have a full week planned with several realtors and I’m sure we will see lots of nice houses. I’m hoping that it will be time well spent and not just time spent. With all the turmoil in the world right now it is a buyer’s market. Next week is going to be very interesting indeed.

Looking for a house is a project

Who am I?

As a software engineer defining requirements is fundamental to describing what the finished goal ought to look like.  The same applies to house hunting.  Sure, you could take a shotgun approach and just look at a bunch of properties and hope that something appeals to you.  I am guilty of that, and we have purchased a couple of houses that initially seemed perfect but after a few months lost their shine.  This next house buying experience is going to be different.  I am creating a list of everything that I want in a house.  Included are the usual list like number of bedrooms, square footage and location.  But I am also rating each potential property on how it complements my hobbies and interests.

I think the days of adrenaline-fueled sports are in my rearview mirror now so I have been thinking about what types of activities I can see myself doing in the next 10-20 years. Among the items on my list are building remote controlled sailboats and astrophotography.  Of course, having a shop where I can build stuff is high on my list and I am sure that I could put something together no matter where we end up. 

When taking pictures of the cosmos, darkness is right at the top of the list of import requirements.  That is where resources like comes in handy.  We live in the city and I do miss seeing the stars.  Sure, we can see the brighter stars, but it is nothing like when we lived in the mountains 25 miles east of Seattle.  Seeing the Milky Way or orbiting satellites by just looking up is something that I would like to be able to do again. I am sure there is a large telescope purchase in my future.

Access to a body of water is important too.  I love paddling and want to be able to take my kayak out a few times a week.  One thing I have found is that lakefront property is not a thing here in Spain.  I have searched high and low for a nice lakefront house and I am convinced that there are maybe 10-12 houses in the country that embrace the freshwater waterfront lifestyle.  It would be so nice to sit at the end of a dock and cast a line into the water.  Both Kelli and I love to fish.  Being on a lake would also be super convenient for sailing my remote-control sailboats.

Saltwater waterfront property is still rare, but it is easier to find.  I thought I wanted to be on the coast to be able to watch big storms roll in from the Atlantic or cargo ships heading off to destinations unknown.  I am trying to take a long-term view and think about climate change and rising sea levels.  Ice packs are melting at an alarming rate.  Siberia has had several consecutive days of 100+ degree temperatures this past week.  It is not hard to see that all this water has to go somewhere, and I would prefer that my house stays high and dry.  So, unless I find the perfect house that is 30-40 feet above sea level, I think an inland lake house will be our preference.  Coincidentally, the light pollution map shows that most Spanish inland areas are darker than along the coast so that is a nice bonus.

Some other considerations would be a property that is large enough to have a garden.  We have lived in this apartment for 2+ years and moving back to house would be nice.  I like our neighbors but having a little more distance between us and them would be great.

High speed internet used to be at the top of my list but these days you can get a good connection everywhere.  Fast internet is available even the areas that have not seen any infrastructure improvements in years.  Satellite Internet providers have upped their game in recent years.  When we lived in Snoqualmie, Washington our broadband internet was a 7MB/sec.  At the time I thought that was pretty good as we had been making do with a 2MB before that.  Satellite internet promises 40-50MB speeds and I think that should be more than enough for my needs.  I will be sure to check out exactly how good it really is when we drive up to Galicia in a few weeks.  I am a little bit concerned with latency issues, but we shall see.

Satellite Internet providers: