As I start out this blog, I thought it might be helpful to take stock of what P and I done so far to lay the groundwork for our eventual move to the Methow. Here is a quick summary:
We’ve been to the valley four times, in different times of the year: twice in the fall, once in the winter, and once in mid-spring. We’ve visited each of the three “bigger” towns, Mazama, Winthrop, and Twisp, staying in both hotels and campgrounds and doing a bit of exploring of both the towns and their surroundings (with the exception of Twisp, where we’ve only been to the town and didn’t really hang out outside of town). We’ve driven both the “short route” from Seattle to the valley (via Highway 20) and the “long route” (via Highway 97 and Highway 153).
I recently completed a basic online financial education program offered jointly by the Seattle-King County Financial Empowerment Network and Technology Access Foundation. The program included a “Buying a Home” module, which, while brief, and, again, quite basic, nevertheless felt useful for refreshing my knowledge of real estate-related terminology and my understanding of the home-buying process. Actually, it was more than a just a refresher – I did learn something new, although some of the new information was quite confusing. For example, one bit of advice given in the course is that the most you should spend on a buying a home is 2.5 times your annual income. If we applied this formula while looking for a place to live in Seattle, only be a small handful of condos and vacant lots in the city would fall within our price range (as per Zillow). Yet, I know that people with our income and even lower incomes are buying homes here in the city (actual houses, not just condos, and certainly not vacant lots) and don’t seem to be struggling too much with making their mortgage payments. Clearly this is some sort of a very generalized rule of thumb that will require further research…
Speaking of home-buying, we’ve spent some time browsing online real estate listings to get an idea about the prices of houses and land. What we’ve come to realize from this process is that it’s tricky to figure out from the description and photos exactly what you’re getting. This is especially true when it comes to land: two similarly-sized lots, both looking great in the photos, can differ vastly in price – think 50 to 100% difference. So, we’ve decided that we will need to start checking out some lots for sale in person on upcoming visits. Even if we won’t be ready to buy for a year or two, it will help to get a sense of what’s out there. This sounds kind of scary, and it also feels a little weird to be asking real estate agents to spend time with us when we are in such early stages of the whole process, but hopefully if we are upfront with them and tell them we won’t be ready to buy for a while and are just exploring for now, they will still be willing to show us around?
As much as possible, we tried to meet and talk to locals on our trips to the valley and learn what it’s like to the live in the Methow – and, in those cases where the people we met were originally from somewhere else, we asked about their experience of moving. For example, we chatted with the owner and staff of one of the hotels where we stayed and a couple of the sellers at the Methow Valley Farmers Market in Twisp (hello, Joanne!).
We have done, and continue to do, periodic online research on local news, cultural events and opportunities, jobs, schools, etc.
We also found some favorite places in the valley! So far it’s just a small handful: Mazama Country Inn, Cinnamon Twisp, Methow Valley Farmers Market, Mazama Store, and Rocking Horse Bakery. (No, we are not being paid to promote any of them! We simply visited/shopped/stayed/ate at these places and liked them!)