Thursday, April 26, 2012

Exploring Phoenix: Gilbert

Finally, here's a bit about the place we're actually moving! Yep, our very own new hometown of Gilbert. When we first talked about our move, this was the place that came up. It was named as Arizona's best place to live in Business Week in 2009 and kept coming up as a great place to raise a family, safe, affordable, and having good schools. It was also named as the 36th best place to live in the nation by CNN in 2010! Last stat? It's ranked as one of the 25 safest cities in the country. So, lots of good things are being said about this up and coming town. 

It's location is what knocked it out of the running at first. As the most eastern part of the East Valley, commute times definitely started to grow, and most of Gilbert remains way to far to even consider. Our original home searches didn't include this area. However, with a slow down in the market, our realtor put it in the running. On the plus side, this community is also more affordable then it's neighbors (since it's a little further out). 

Like Chandler, It's had explosive growth, from just over 5,000 in 1980 to over 200,000 in 2010. Of those numbers, about 81% are white, 15% are latino, 3% black 4% Asian, and less than one percent in other categories. So, mostly white, and mostly pretty conservative as well. This has been a pretty popular place for the Mormon community as well (apparently Mormons who fled Pancho Villa in Mexico settled in Gilbert). A new temple is being constructed for them in town as we speak. It's also mostly families with kids from what we've seen. So, definitely some pluses and minuses.

Speaking to that family friendly nature, I totally fell for the cuteness of Gilbert's downtown. 

The shops on both side gave it much more of a small town feel than Chandler's and it just felt very homey. 

It helped that it was in the high 70s around 7:00, so lots of the town was out and about, in couples, with kids, enjoying the street. 

Ed and I went to put our names in the popular pizza chain, Oreganos, and then headed down the block for a pre-dinner drink. We sat out on the patio and got sparking rose, to celebrate finding a house we really loved (this was on Tuesday, before we knew if it would be ours). 

Across the street was another popular restaurant, Joe's BBQ (side note: BBQ seems to be pretty popular here). 

I could just imagine us coming here 5 years from now, with kids in toe, and really liked what I was picturing. Ed? We'll he's still more picturing the independent couples scene in Chandler (and for right now, I do think Chandler is more our speed. Still, hopefully in a few years...)

In any event, we spent our 45 minute wait very relaxed as we watched twilight begin to fall on town. As we got back to the restaurant, we found our timing to be perfect and were immediately called to our table. 

We went with recommendations and ordered the Grandma pizza, topped with 4 kinds of cheese, potatoes, rosemary, and fennel sausage. So, so delicious!

And for dessert? The pizookie. I'd only had these at BJs, but out here, Oregano's claims to have created them. We had the half and half (half chocolate chip and half macadamia nut) topped with, of course, lots and lots of ice cream. We were incredibly full afterwards, but very, very content. 

After dinner, we headed back to "our house" as we were thinking of it, hoping that would come true. We parked and just walked the neighborhood, appreciating the calm and quiet and the discovery, to Ed's excitement, of the little league games being played just down the block (far enough luckily that the lights from the field don't reach our home).

 I pictured future kids on main street, Ed pictured them out on the field. We both had such a good feeling about Gilbert after that evening, so it's very fitting it will become our new home. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Exploring Phoenix: Chandler

Can you tell life has been a little hectic lately? Lots of emailing has been going on with job searching, home buying stuff, and school work in general, so it's been hard to find time to finish these posts. I'm just waiting for May 11th, when testing is over, our home will *hopefully* legally be ours, it'll be just me in the classroom again, and my work on the ELLISA project will be finished. Then, just one more month of teaching! In any event, I'm going to try to finish this series when I can :). 

So, onward to Chandler! 

Chandler was another place we were seriously considering living. In terms of community, we were told it would be the most similar to the Bay Area, thanks to the company Intel having their headquarters there. It's a little more diverse, a little more liberal, than neighboring cities. You can see from the map that  its southeast of Ahwatukee and much more spread out. All the area south of 202 is pretty new. 

According to Wikipedia, the population was 236,123 according to the Census Bureau 2010. The population was only 30,000 in 1980, so this area has seen explosive growth in the last 30 years. It also has satellite locations for many technology companies, including Intel and Orbital Sciences Corporation.

In 2010, the city was 73.3% White, 4.8% Black or African American, 1.5% Native American, 8.2% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 21.9% Hispanic or Latino, and 8.3% other. This area has one of the larger Asian communities in the area and is slightly more diverse than others. 

Interesting fact? 
Chandler is noted for its annual Ostrich Festival. Initially, agriculture was the primary business in Chandler, based on cotton, corn, and alfalfa. During the 1910s, there were ostrich farms in the area, catering to the demand for plumes used in women's hats of the era. This demand ebbed with the increasing popularity of the automobile, but the legacy of the ostrich farms would be commemorated by the Ostrich Festival. 

Visiting this area, Ed and and I really enjoyed the feel of the town, especially it's historic district. We headed there for lunch right after our first day of house hunting. 

On our last visit, I'd enjoyed a beer from the San Tan Brewing Company, so we decided we should check out the actual brewery, and we weren't disappointed. 

I ordered the Amber Ale, while Ed ordered the Golden Ale, and both were great. I think I had a slight preference from the Amber. We also discovered that you could get "growlers" (large jugs) of the beer to be enjoyed at home. 

The food was also excellent! I had this awesome burger that had bacon ground into the patty! Topped with gouda and caramelized onions, it was the perfect meal after a very long morning. Ed also thoroughly enjoyed his pulled pork sandwich. 

This seems like a very fun and happening place to come and be with other people close to our age. They have lots of fun events (like movie nights!) and performances. Though, of course, we aren't exactly the going out all the time people, but, who knows? Maybe we'll be different in Arizona :). 

The downtown, as I mentioned, was very cute, with its historical buildings. 

After lunch, we walked around, checking out some of the shops in the areas. 

Later in the week we went back again, this time for dinner! We went to a wine bar, Vintage 95, that was located just down the block from the Brewery. 

(from website)

The inside was very dark and romantic, complete with a live musician playing guitar! It seemed like, again, a place where a younger crowd hung out, and seemed great to come just for a drink, with all the comfy leather chairs and couches. There was also an outdoor patio, which we did not visit (because it was *gasp* a little cold in the evening), but it would be fun to visit another time. 

Instead of ordering regular meals, we went for a serious of "small" plates. Small is in quotations because even though these weren't full entrees, it was a lot of food. In celebration of finding and getting the home we wanted, we also got a bottle of wine. 

We started with the bruschetta, and choose four from a list of six. We went with Brie, pear and onion jam; fig chutney, house made ricotta and proscuitto, marscapone, pistachios and dates; and artichoke and mushroom. Our favorites were the ones with proscuitto and the artichokes, but all were good.   

Next, we had a plate that was recommended online. Porkbelly, roasted, with apricot mustard BBQ sauce, collard greens, and jalapeno cheddar cheese grits. We'd definitely get that again!

After that, we were starting to get full, and decided to look at dessert. However, after looking at the choices, none of them were really speaking to us. So, we went with the cheeseboard instead. We're so glad we did - it was massive! And, the perfect end to our evening. 

While we'll be living in Gilbert, we'll definitely be visiting Chandler as well. For this phase of our lives, Chandler's downtown fits us well and will be the perfect place for date nights. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Exploring Phoenix: Awatukee

 Since Ed and I have just started getting to know all the different neighborhoods of the "East Valley," our new home area, I thought it might be fun to give you all an introduction as well! These are all areas we considered living, and are all very nice.

Ahwatukee is called the area's "biggest' cul-de-sac" and is bordered by the South Mountain to the side, the 10 freeway to the east, and that red line to the south. It's the most southern of the main Phoenix suburbs and in 2010 had a population of 77,249 (info courtesy of wikipedia). For some perspective, Ed'll be working where it says "Tempe" on the map and downtown Phoenix is where it says, well, Phoenix. We'll be living East (and a little north) from Ahwatukee. 

We were drawn to Ahwatukee initially because it's close to nature and trails (South Mountain is a popular hiking spot), 

is supposed to have a good community feel, and a bit smaller and quieter than neighboring cities (plus lots of nice south mountain views). 
East Ahwatukee wouldn't be too bad of a commute for Ed, either, and it has a great school district, Kyrene. 

Our hotel was in this area, so we probably got to know it the best! We were both struck with, especially at night, how quiet it was! The sidewalks and hillsides were also beautifully landscaped and, especially with it being spring.

Spending the past week in Ahwatukee, our feelings about it didn't change that much. It lived up to our expectation as a quiet, pretty place near trails. Ed checked out these trails and felt pretty "meh" about them, but it's hard to compare desert to redwoods. While we won't be calling this area home, a little part of us is sad to not be living in this nice area.

Food in Awatukee:
Awatukee had a few good places listed, though we ended up at pretty casual restaurants that hadn't be preplanned. 

We ate out twice in this area, the first night to "The Pita Jungle."

This was a chain, but an excellent one at that. It was in a shopping center, not unlike one you'd find just about anywhere. It had a theater, and lots of restaurants surrounding it. Since we'd eaten a heavy lunch, this place was perfect!

The best part? Sitting outside at eight o'clock at night in a tank top and skirt. The plus side of the 95 degree day was the perfect evening for dining outside. We can't wait to do more of that once we move!

We both got really good salads! Mine was broiled chicken with a great citrus dressing, and Ed's was seared ahi tuna with a tropical sesame dressing. I wish we had more places like this in the Bay Area.  

Afterwards, we made a quick stop at the local Fresh and Easy (a popular chain here!) to pick up lunch stuff for the week and then went back to the complex for some self serve frozen yogurt. It was so pleasant spending time in the quiet outdoors and it made for the perfect relaxing first night. 

For our second meal, we went with the recommendation of one of our realtors, to head to Macayo's, a popular mexican restaurant. We definitely went towards the end of dinner hour, but again, it wasn't too crowded (more elderly people equals an earlier dinner?). 

The inside was decorated very cutely with giant plastic birds hanging from the ceiling, and let us try out Arizona mexican food. 

I went with "traditional" and got the Sonoran enchilada sampler. Verdict? Very cheesy and mild (I preferred mine with about a cup of salsa dumped on it. However, the servers were excellent and very friendly. 

So, based on our first experiences, the food over here (and the atmosphere) was pretty quiet and subdued. We hear rumors of Pita Jungles closer to our new home, and the Mexican wasn't something I'd return and get. However, I'm sure there are lots of other great restaurants to explore!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Our New House!

We chose.....


House #2!!!

That's right - against all the odds, we ended up with this spectacular home in the town of Gilbert. It fits us to a T, from the koi pond, the outdoor grill, the amazing kitchen, and the fireplace in the master bedroom. We love, love, love it!

There were multiple offers on the home, so we ended up bidding $1,000 over the asking price, and kept our fingers crossed that it was enough. The wait was pretty unbearable since we put it in on Tuesday, but the owner wouldn't be back in town to look at the bids until Thursday morning. Needless to say, I woke up around 5am feeling like a kid on Christmas morning, with that nervous anticipation at a level I hadn't felt in a very long time. We expected to hear by 11am or so, and finally by 1pm, we called our realtor to get an update. She had just gotten off the phone with the seller, and it seemed there was interest in our offer. We went out to Scottsdale to explore and get our minds off the wait and, at 3:40, got the very happy call that the house was ours!

To add icing to the cake, the woman who is selling us the house is going to rent it back from us until our moving date. That means we'll actually be earning money over the next two months and have someone taking care of the house until we move. We'll also be spending 2 extra weeks in the bay area now, which means more time to soak in the excellent weather before we move into the oven that is Arizona in the summer. 

Finding our dream home, plus and overall very relaxing trip our here has made our impending move a much more happy prospect. We can actually see ourselves living here. And, with that house? Maybe we can live here for a good long while. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

House Hunters: "So, Which One Did They Choose?"

We've reached that point in the episode where it's time to wrap up. If you've watched the show before, you know they always give three choices. Here are the top three from our hunt. We liked them all (funnily enough each day had one stand out house), and would have been happy in all three. But one really stood out for us and we're thankful we got it!

In the words of the show, "So, which one did they choose?"

House #1: Bighorn Home for $250,000
The cozy, least expensive 4 bedroom, 2 bath home with the beautiful fireplace and magnificent tree in the backyard?

House #2: Mondel Home for $310,000
The spacious airy 4 bedroom, 3 bath home with the spectacular backyard, but the biggest price tag?

House #3: Saguaro Home for $296,200
Or, the lovely 5 bedroom, 4 bath home with citrus trees galore and beautiful shade?

Find out after our home inspection tomorrow which new place we will be calling home in Arizona! 

Which home would you choose?

House Hunters: Arizona Edition (Day 3)

This is it! Hopefully this was our last day of house hunting, and one of these homes we've shown will be where we're living soon :). 

Wednesday: House #1

 This was a home that we'd been excited to see from the beginning, but it took a while for us to get to see; the seller kept putting off visitors (it seems like she wasn't feeling well and needed to straighten the house before people came over. We were worried she was having second thoughts about selling, but it ends up she's moving to Idaho, so the sale seems good).

 There are beautiful trees outside of the home provide great shade for the house and keep it cooler.

It has a great living room design, with beautiful big windows.

The dining room is on the other side and has great windows as well.

The kitchen is a bit older, in terms of appliances and cabinets, but is a great size and is still nice. The silver lining is we could always remodel the kitchen, and not feel badly about redoing the kitchen with upgrades(versus moving into a place that already has upgrades that we don't like). The appliances are also all pretty old and would need to be redone. 

Blurry picture, but you can see the nice fireplace and very nicely sized room. It seems like the perfect place to be cozy with the family.

A great added feature of the home is the downstairs bed/bath (perfect for guests) in addition to the other downstairs back. This house has 4 baths in all!

The master bath is a bit outdated, but with newly remodeled floor!

The master is a great size, but in the front of the house, which I don't like as well (not as great of views out the windows). 

Beautiful room with vaulted ceiling just down the hall, plus two more besides.

On the side of the house, they have a lemon, grapefruit, and orange trees.

Also, there's a nice deck outside for meals al fresco.

More big trees out here means a cooler home.

Great size, with 5 bedrooms, 4 baths 
Very homey feeling
Not updated, so we could put our own spin on everything and add value to the home
Great neighborhood (seems friendly)
Near a nice greenbelt and bike trail that can take you to an awesome city pool (the city pools here have lazy rivers, water slides, the works)
Lots of shade trees
Mature fruit trees 
Nice layout, overall

Small backyard
Lots of updates we would want to do
Master bedroom is in the front of the house
Some of the trees are a little too close to the property
Kitchen appliances are old and would need to be replaced
Older home (1989) so it might have some issues due to its age (roof, etc.)
Priced higher than it seems valued

Wednesday: House #2
Decent outside, but has the unliked by me  palm trees (a bit of a problem here in the desert).

This one has a pond, too! In the front instead of the back. 

Nice plantation shutters, but does unfortunately have blue carpet. This house felt like it was stuck in the 80s a bit. 

Master bedroom is an okay size, with a deck overlooking the pool. 

Decent sized master bath, with a huge shower!

View from the deck gives you a peak of the nice South Mountains, plus lots of nice trees.

It has a nice sized pool, but the rest is just paved and the gate around the pool, while good for kids, is a bit of an eyesore and probably could have been done in a better way. 

The fireplace is...interesting...but the plus is, it has one! This could be remodeled into something beautiful.

decent location for Ed (one of the closest to campus we've seen)
Nice size with plenty of bedrooms
Jack and Jill bathroom upstairs
Nice deck with view
Fairly large sized backyard
Kitchen is very large
Plantation shutters in the front

Lots to redo, and the home has a high price (the highest we've seen) with no room for negotiation
A bit of street noise
Backyard not very pleasant
Blue carpet
Not a good general feel to the place
Lots of palm trees

Wednesday: House #3

This house was one of the few one story homes we looked at (I have a huge preference for 2 stories, despite their lack of practicality in the desert). We really liked the outside and the landscaping. 

Right when you walk in, the living room/dining room is off to the right. It's separated from the rest of the house by a short hallways and is a little off in terms of layout, but is painted a very nice color. 

The kitchen isn't anything fancy, but is all relatively new, clean, and a nice size with a ton of storage. 

Out back is a little fire pit, which would be perfect for those evenings outside. 

The backyard itself was small, but nicely landscaped and fairly easy to maintain. 

There was a nice side to the house as well, with beautiful trees!

Going back in from the outside, you are in the family room, with the kitchen beyond. It's a good amount of room. 

Going through a short hallway, you reach the master, which has nice windows and looks out onto the backyard. 

There are three more small bedrooms along the side of the house, with another bathroom and a laundry room on the other side. 

The view out the master is very nice, though you do get the feeling those two story homes are looking in at you. 

The street itself is gorgeous. Lined with beautiful trees and a block from a park. It seems like a great place for a family. 

Very cute curb appeal
Good sized kitchen and island
Easy maintenance backyard
Newer home so fewer needed updates
Great neighborhood
Pretty windows in master and nice master bath

smaller one story with somewhat odd layout
no fireplace
small backyard
high HOA fee
not a lot of personality inside

Wednesday: House #4 (The last house! Hopefully...)

This home was on a beautiful cul-de-sac and had a great olive tree in the front.

The living room was a great size (though with patterned carpet that would be replaced).

There is a dining room space (currently housing a foose ball table) that has pretty windows.

The kitchen, while not our style, is undeniably nice, with a huge island and cabinets galore. Plus, there's a great space to eat in the kitchen. 

The backyard was spectacular! Just massive, with lots of space and plants. It would be a wonderful place to be outside. 

There was a great outdoor patio for eating and lots of nice trees everywhere.

The yard extended to the whole side of the house as well - it felt like yards for 3 homes instead of one! You could do so much with it. 

Inside the family room was a nice fireplace with lots of space..  

Ed loved the hardwood in the office and could definitely picture working down here. 

The master was lovely, with that beautiful garden view. 

And a great master bath!

The other bathroom? Not so nice. There was a ton of water damage and rust, which made us really worried about the upkeep of the house in general. Also, the daughter had just showered, and the whole upstairs felt really moist and humid. 

The rest of the bedrooms were really small, with one divided in two, but no exit out the back room. Definitely an unusual layout. 

Beautiful staircase, though - we loved the hardwood.

Great location on a cul-de-sac
Great size and downstairs layout
Huge beautiful backyard
Large fireplace
Hardwood floors in some of the house
Beautiful view from the master
Huge kitchen

Water damage upstairs
Very small bedrooms with odd layout
Upkeep concerns within house and in backyard
Updated, but not with our style, so we'd be paying to redo already nice work

So, that's it! From all the homes we've shown, we really liked 3 of them. Can you guess which ones? Of those, We put a back up offer on one (that probably won't go through), a regular offer on another (which we should hear about any minute), and have been torn between that one and a third house that will will definitely offer on if the 2nd one falls through. 

Ed and I both feel like kids on Christmas morning - so, so antsy (I had trouble sleeping from 5 onward), and we're so nervous to hear what happens. If our offer is accepted, I think we'll go with that house, but we're still not 100% sure. As Ed (and many, many others) said, this is the biggest purchase we'll ever make. I sure hope we make the right one.