Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Finding Home Sweet Home

Now that we had made the decision to purchase a home in Celebration, and to do it sooner rather than later due to rising prices, we faced a new challenge. We had to find the perfect place while being stuck 1500 miles away. As a further complication, we wouldn't have any more vacation days for the next three months.

I am a "yard person" who loves to plant and tend flowers and create a nice little outdoor environment. I also love a porch or backyard swing, and maybe even a fountain and bird bath to round out my relaxation space.

Unfortunately, because we couldn't make an immediate, permanent move, we needed a place where the exterior ofthe buildings and the landscaping would be taken care of for us. On the surface, it would seem like a townhouse would be the perfect answer. I'd have my little patch of land, but a landscaping service would take care of the major chores and our association dues would pay for painting, roofing, and the like.

But although the townhomes in Celebration are lovely and huge (some with three full stories of living space, as well as a separate apartment over the garage), they have an enormous price tag, too. Since we had done no pre-planning, financial or otherwise, we were somewhat limited on funds, and the townhomes were out of our price range. There were some condos on which construction had just started, but when we were in town, there was no model yet. All that existed was bare land and and a few newly laid foundations.

Still, from the information we could glean via the internet, the condos seemed to be within our price range. I wouldn't have my garden or swing, but at least I'd have a little balcony where I could still put some type of fountain, some plants, and perhaps a couple of rockers. It might not be my dream home, but at least we'd have a place in Celebration.

The next step was to locate a Realtor. Being an internet person who does nearly everything online, I rapidly began looking up real estate agencies in Celebration and shooting out a barrage of emails. I was hoping to make a knowledgeable contact who could either confirm my choice of a condo or let me know if there was something else available that would be more appropriate.

At that point, my only knowledge of the different types of homes came from a brief visit to the Preview Center, and I was hazy on the concept of the different villages. I had no idea that there was so much informaton to absorb, and there was precious little available online. Thre are websites with lots of generalities, but nothing specifically aimed at newbies, and often the information is glaringly out of date.

Oddly enough, none of the real estate agencies answered my messages. I did eventually get one response, but unfortunately it was after we had already gone forward with a condo purchase on our own...but that's getting ahead of the story. I was really surprised to get only one answer, since we were a Realtor's dream: A couple who was already committed to moving to Celebration. The only thing remaining was to the select a home and sign on the dotted line. I doubt that commissions come much easier than that!

I was sorry that the Realtor who responded did so after we had already initiated the condo purchase on our own. We had really hoped to deal with someone local to represent our interests. It made me a little nervous to be so far away and handling everything via computer and the phone.

I did as much research as I could before proceeding with the condo purchase. Although I would have preferred to look at a model in person, it wasn't an absolute necessity. We knew we were moving to Celebration and we'd pretty much figured that we would have to go with a condo due to financial restraints. My husband and I prefer new contruction, so we were pleased that we'd be able to buy something brand new. All that remained was to choose a floor plan and location.

We contacted the builder directly, reviewed several floor plans via the internet and snail mail, and selected the type of builing we preferred. We liked the four unit buildings and knew that we wanted to be upstairs. Now it was only a matter of choosing the particular building location.

We weren't locked into a particular timeframe for moving in, and we knew that we didn't want to live right on Celebration Avenue because I hate high-traffic locations. Over the phone, we selected a building across from Spring Park, a few blocks off the main thoroughfare. Only one of the two upstairs units was available, so the choice was already made for us. We executed the contract, sent off the down payment, and our Celebration was one step closer to reality.

There remained only one slight glitch. I was really itching to see the famous "Rules and Covenants" that had achieved so much notariety in almost everything written about Celebration. I was told they would be sent to me along with our contract, and soon two thick binders showed up in the mail. One was full of condo restrictions, and the other...well, it contained the same thing! Instead of the covenants, we had received two identical copies of the condo documents.

How could I be denied?! Would I never see the list of rules and restrictions by which we were committing ourselves to abide? Perhaps the conspiracy theory people were right and the town really was patrolled by a gestapo. They didn't want me to know until it was too late and we'd already moved in. Then I'd wake up one morning to find my porch rockers gone because there weren't the right shade of white.

I made a few calls to the condo office, but I was put off each time. It's hard to make too much of a nusience of yourself when you are over one thousand miles away, so no covenants were forthcoming. I had to content myself with pouring over the property diagrams and trying to picture where our future home would be located based on my sketchy memory of the Spring Park area. I also wiled away the hours making photocopies of the floor plan and sketching in various arrangements of furniture.

Meanwhile, the New Year 2003 dawned bright (and cold, at least where we were), bringing with it a new round of vacation days. My husband and I planned a dual purpose trip to Celebration: visit our new condo, or at least the foundation and the sand lot where it would one day stand, and to finally get those precious and ultra-secret rules and covenants. It was hard to believe that on our last trip, less than three months earlier, we hadn't even been thinking about buying a home as the plane touched down in Florida. Now here we were with a new place under contract!

When we arrived in town, we were amazed at how much progress had been made on the condo buildings. Ours was still in its initial stages, but we were able to see some identical buildings that already had second floors in place. We poked through the contruction site, ignoring the warning signs, and snapped photo after photo like pround parents documenting the birth of their child. Then we picked up the missing binder...finally! The condo office was closed, but they had left it at a real estate office next door, so I still didn't get to meet the sales representative in person.

Alas, I was rather disappointed at the covenants, which turned out to be quite mundane. I was expecting strictness to the point of insanity, but they were pretty much what I would expect to find in any planned community. I know of trailer parks in the Midwest that have stricter regulations (one turned down a friend of ours because he owns a Harley and they didn't want "his kind" moving in).

We spent most of our time getting to know the greater Orlando/Kissimmee area, since it would soon be our home. At the end of our trip, we returned to Celebration a couple of hours before our flight to take one last look around. We had never managed to find the bungalow models on our first visit, so this time we were determined to locate them. Since bungalows are the least expensive single family homes, I was curious to see what a little more money would have gotten for us.

We had the vague knowledge that the bungalow models were on a street called Nash, but that could have been the moon as far as our directional sense was concerned. At that point, we were only vaguely aware of the fact that Celebration is made up of "villages" and that our condo would be in South Village. We wandered in the general direction of East Village, and although we didn't find the models, we did stumble across a bungalow Open House.

Since we didn't have much time to spare before leaving for the airport, we decided that the Open House would have to suffice. I went poking around the property while my husband, who is not nearly as enthralled with models as I am, starting chatting with the real estate agents. By the time I had made my way through the cute little home, he had told them what we were looking for. They were a husband and wife team, and the husband said, "I have just what you're looking for! Do you have time to take a ride?"

We're adventurous, and we still had a bit of time, so we figured, "What the heck!" We hopped into his vehicle and headed over to Nash, where he showed us an attached bungalow model. It was something I would have called a townhome, but that's not the proper term in Celebration-speak. Although we hadn't seen any information in the Preview Center on those particular models, we learned that there are triplexes and duplexes in addition to the free-standing bungalows. The model was an end unit in a cute little Craftsman-style triplex building.

As it turned out, this was just what we had been looking for. It was a nice little place with a back yard, as well as a tiny bit of land out front, outside maintenance was included in the monthly fee. The Craftsman model had a porch that was large enough for a swing, and I could fit in a couple of rockers too. Best of all, unlike the regular townhomes, the attached bungalow actually fit into our budget. It was a little more than the condo, but if we struggled a bit, we could swing it.

Next, we were shuttled into East Village and shown a large vacant patch of land where one of the last new-construction triplexes was scheduled to be built that summer. It was an absolutely super location, on a cul de sac across the street from a little park-like area. It was much quieter and less trafficked than the spot where our condo would soon be standing. The large wouldn't be large enough for a pool, but we were within walking distance of the newly constructed East Village pool, and Spring Park and Lakeside Park were only a short bike ride away.

We knew that the triplex would fit our needs almost to the letter. As I had suspected when I initially looked for a Realtor, the experience of a professional really came in handy. Unfortunately, it had come a bit too late. We were locked into the condo contract, which we had signed over a month earlier. The cancellation period was over, and we couldn't afford to lose the hefty down payment.

Were we doomed to live in the condo and to bike wistfully to East Village to gaze at the home that should have been ours for the rest of our days? Would I have to continually mourn just how close I had come to getting my back yard, flowers, and porch swing? Or would a bit of the pixie dust from nearby Disney World somehow float over and save the day?

Next time...a happy ending.

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