We have been house-shopping since the end of April, shortly after I returned from my China trip. We knew that we would purchase our first house in Denver, but the market is intimidating and we initially planned to rent for 6 months first.

Well, as you can guess, we changed our minds within a month. The main reason is, ironically, how intimidating the market is. Denver is one of the most sought-after locations for the young generation, and the low employment rate in the Greater Denver Area makes sure that no one wants to move away. More than 70% of the houses are occupied by owner, and the other 20% or so are rented. It is absolutely a seller’s market.

After watching ReColorado for a while, we quickly found that our original plan of taking our time to search for a “diamond in the rough” was not realistic for the following reasons:

  1. We can only afford the low-end (we want single-family homes), and there is not a lot of them.
  2. These houses are all “in the rough”, regardless if they are real diamond.
  3. Still, they are overpriced, and even worse, their price continues to increase 1% per month.

So we had to act, and act fast. We talked to a broker to make sure that we could afford what we wanted. Then we talked to a couple realtors who showed us a bunch of houses. All the effort confirmed our hypothesis – we should buy immediately. Renting in Denver for 6~12 months, plus the increases in housing price (again, 1% per month), will only put us into further disadvantages. So there we were, one month later, totally shifted our focus from pretty-up our little rental, to madly driving around to open houses in our still-NC-plate cars.

Despite the Hunger Game, we still want to get what we like. We sat down one evening around our newly DIY-ed kitchen island, pretended that price was not a concern (very important), and honestly asked ourselves – what do we wish for our first home together? What does the house have to offer? And what can’t we tolerate even it were a killer deal?

1. Small.

An ideal small house

Yes, you read it right. Small. We lived in a 5000 sqft house in California vs a 1000 sqft apartment in North Carolina. Even with two dogs and more furniture, we loved the smaller apartment a lot more. It fells homey. More importantly, we used all the space we had, and did not feel the need for more.

Our 5000 mansion in Cali

08_backyard from west to east

which has its own parking lot!

04_basketball yard

Our bedroom in the Cali mansion – it is so big that it felt empty even with a full AND a queen mattress, and a wall of closet on the left

bedroom_ (2)

Our 1000 sqft NC apartment


Our NC apartment has one bedroom. We have a much smaller closet here so we used a dresser.


Within the 1000 sqft, we still each had our own desk/work zone, but we enjoyed being able to see each other at any given time. If Slav and I stay in the same room, either on the sofa, or around the dining table, you bet the dogs would join us immediately. So, what do we need more rooms for? At the end, we would like to pay for the space we use, not the space we own.

We also want to keep the maintenance down. I am talking about both utility and the chores. We used to pay as much as our rent for utilities in that 5000 sqft California mansion. To keep the cost down, we avoided using central air and heating, and kept all the lights off at night. Certainly not doing THAT again! Our NC apartment costs only 1/5 to heat and cool, and with good windows and doors, we barely needed central air in summer.

Another advantage for a small house is easy maintenance. Slav and I are both clean folks. His mom is a professional housekeeper in NYC working for big name clients, so his family has very, very, very high standards for cleanness – like dust-free window sill, hair-free bathrooms, and squeaky white bedding. It is hard to keep up with dogs especially this one:


Charlie’s hair is EVERYWHERE, even we vacuum everyday. Slav expressed firmly that he does not want any place bigger than our NC apartment, because he did not want to “have to unplug and replug the vacuum cleaner to clean the whole place“.

The only upgrade we could use, is a space that can be close off as an office. Our old NC apartment is a 1b/1b with open floor plan. When we need a quiet space for a conference call, the dogs could be a distraction. If possible, we would like to a second bedroom or a small office.

But overall, we adore small houses. We love a cozy bedroom, and a small bath that steams quickly.

A bedroom that is part of the living space and can be closed off easily.

2. Openness.

Openness may sound contradictory to being small. But I think the picture below marries them pretty well. We do not want to live in a prison cell, but we want the space to be cozy and functionally distinct. We want an easy flow among rooms, with the ability to see each other (among four of us) all the time. In another words, we want a big window in a small room, opposed to a closed-off football stadium.

3. A big yard (because of these two).

4. A two-car garage (at the least).

Because this guy deserves a leveled floor to work on.

5. A place to get us move


We want a place that is close enough to bank, pharmacy, groceries, and restaurants, that we can walk or bike for our daily chores. One of the reason we moved to Colorado is to seek a healthier life style. We both rode bikes growing up, and lived in smaller towns where we can walk/bike to local mom-and-pop stores.  Drive 10 minutes to a Walmart for a head of garlic while cooking dinner is just not our style. Being closer to a grocery store also allowed us to shopping fresh produce everyday.

An important reason we moved to Denver is the access to the mountains. We would like to be reasonably close to I-70, the highway leading west, and preferably live on the west side of the Denver.

6. Room for upgrades.

We are not actively looking for fixer-uppers. But based on the house we toured, we might have to. It is not just the price – we are simply not comfortable with some of the cheap fixes we’ve seen. As stated before, this is a very hot market. Investors come in with cash offers, flip old houses by installing new window, new carpet, an IKEA kitchen, and spray paint everything white. These houses are back on market in three months, looking new-ish, but it does not take a pair of experienced eyes to tell the hidden structure problems. The subpar work makes us question the overall quality of the renovation – is there foundation crack under the new basement carpet, or is there mold growing behind the new drywall in the garage? Compared to paying for cheap upgrades, we’d rather do it ourselves right, or watch it being done by professionals.

We quickly agreed on getting a solid house with few structure issues but old fixtures, rather than a house that has just been flipped. Make no mistake, we do not under-estimate the time, money and physical work involved in home renovation. Slav’s dad worked in construction for his entire life. And Slav did lots of demo work in NYC during college summers. But we do want to put our marks on the house and truly make it ours. Call us picky, but we happened to dislike some popular trends and fixtures, including craw tub, farm sink, all white kitchen, and subway tiles (Sorry!). We hope that making the house unique.

Here you have it, our must-haves list for our home, a small house with a big yard. She should be solid, shy, and hidden in the neighborhood. This list may look a bit differently from others’ you’ve read. We do not care one bit the style of the house, either being a two story, a split level, or a ranch. We also do not care about the layout of the house, because we believe that any house can be made cool. All we want are things that make my loved ones happy. Speaking of myself, I am mostly looking forward to a half bath with a strong fan that Slav can call his own; That will be a godsend. 😉