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The Difficulty of Buying a House with an Academic Job Offer

Here’s your academic minutiae for the week. I accepted a tenure-track job offer in February. Here are the roadblocks my wife and I encountered on the path to home ownership in our new city:

Roadblock #1. We contacted a real estate agent in March about house hunting in Cincinnati. She suggested we get pre-approved for a mortgage. We contacted multiple traditional and online lenders. No one can approve a mortgage more than 3 months out from the start date of a new job. Many won’t approve more than 2 months out. As my start date is August 15th, searching in March didn’t work.

Roadblock #2. Our real estate agent, who we had only talked with over the phone, wanted us to sign a buyer’s agreement that said we would use her on any housing purchase over the next 12 months. We hadn’t met her yet and didn’t know if we would get along with her or if she would do a good job. Such an agreement is non-standard and not necessary. We “fired” her. Later, we would find an agent without any buyer’s contract or agreement.

Roadblock #3. If you are moving to a different city, you won’t necessarily know the area or which communities to consider. Members of your new department can provide suggestions, but you’ll have to find a good fit for yourself. This may entail one or more house hunting trips. Luckily for us, Cincinnati is only ~3 hours from Bloomington, so it was a relatively short trip. However, once we started looking again in late May, it took 3 multi-day trips to finally find a house we were interested in. We had an accepted offer on June 1st, with a closing date of July 13th. If your new city is further away, you probably won’t have the luxury of multiple trips. Many people rent for the first year to give themselves time to learn the area and to house-hunt while in town.

Roadblock #4. The first lender we contacted in June would not approve any loan based on a job offer, so that was a non-starter.

Roadblock #5. The second lender we contacted (who had great rates online), was willing to approve based on a job offer. However, after multiple days, the lender came back and said that it could only approve if the job offer does not have any contingencies. My offer is contingent on a background check, a review of my academic transcripts, and a drug test. None of those will be issues, but I will not clear the contingencies until late July. As such, this lender wasn’t going to work for a July 13th closing date. We had to find a local lender who was familiar with job offers from my new university and was willing to ignore the contingencies.

Roadblock #6. We recommend putting an inspection contingency on any house offer you submit, so that you can back out of the deal if major issues show up during inspection. It’s highly recommended that buyers attend the inspections of the house they are buying. It is difficult to schedule inspections to align with your schedule, and this will often entail an extra trip to the new city. We were able to get a home inspector and chimney inspector to arrive at the same time on June 8th, one week after our accepted offer. Unfortunately for us, the inspection revealed several flaws in the house that we were unwilling to deal with. We asked for a release from the contract based on the inspection contingency.

Roadblock #7. After our contract release, it would be nearly impossible to find a new house with a closing date in July. Our lease in Bloomington ends at the end of July and there is no way to extend it. I don’t want to move our stuff into storage for any length of time. As such, we were out of options for buying a house. We will be renting next year in a single-family house that meets all the criteria of the house we were going to purchase (3+ beds, 2+ baths, garage, flat yard).

Good luck house hunting! Know that it is difficult with an academic job offer.

Book Review – Dollars and Sense

Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter
by Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler, 2017

I just feel like this book could have written “tongue pressed firmly in cheek” at the end of each paragraph. The tone is meant to be light and jokey, but it comes off as demeaning and annoying. The topic is how to spend and think about money more wisely. With the number of behavioral economics and personal finance books that I’ve read, I don’t think I learned anything. I listened to the book on tape, and the reader’s voice elevated the book’s annoyance.

Weakest Links 20180613

Sports:
The Rockies Believe They Have an Unbreakable Code. So did the Nazis.

Energy:
PG&E Found at Fault for Starting 3 of Last Year’s California Wildfires. So we should bury power lines. Except maybe not.
The trouble with a lot of green energy economics is that a little bit is great, but each additional unit brings less marginal surplus. One example in batteries. Another estimate in renewable generation.
Don’t Call It a Comeback: Demand Response Rebounds in Latest PJM Capacity Auction.

Book Review – Grit

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
by Angela Duckworth, 2016

Duckworth’s research studies the effect of “grit” on personal and professional success. One can be gritty by refusing to give up on goals and by overcoming obstacles. People who are gritty tend to be more successful, even controlling for skill and intelligence. This book lays out suggestions for improving your grit, including having immutable top-level goals, having a growth mindset, and using deliberate practice. You can instill grit in your children by being both demanding and supporting. Maria and I listened to the book on tape, read capably by the author.

Monday AM (Academic Minutiae): Regalia

During commencement, graduating students, faculty, and administrators dress up in academic regalia. Here is what I’ve learned about the regalia for those whose top degree is a Ph.D.:

1. The velvet robes are specific to the university from which you graduate. If you are graduating and staying in academia, it can be useful to purchase your outfit instead of renting it, as you will probably use it for future graduation ceremonies. Purchasing will allow you to have the correct regalia in those ceremonies. However….

2. Many professors/administrators never purchased their regalia. They rent them every time they need them. While your university may make a token effort to rent you robes similar to the ones in which you graduated, they are rarely perfect.

3. When you are graduating, you wear your robe and hat (called a doctoral tam) to start the ceremony. After your name is called and you walk across the stage, there is a hooding ceremony in which someone (typically your advisor) attaches your hood over your robes.

4. The color of the hood is specific to your discipline, with the caveat that everyone that receives a “Doctorate of Philosophy” gets blue. As such, most people get blue. If you are getting a doctorate of pharmacy/education/nursing/medicine/etc., your hood will be a different color.

Here is a picture of me on stage, shaking hands with Dr. McRobbie, president of IU. Note that I am carrying my hood still at this point and that Dr. McRobbie’s robes are different because he did not graduate from IU:

Here is a picture of my advisor hooding me after I walked across the stage:

Book Review – Ballplayer

Ballplayer
by Chipper Jones, with Carroll Rogers Walton

Recap of Chipper Jones’ life and career, which I listened to while exercising. This book is a mix of batting tips, gossip on Chipper’s contemporaries, and apology for personal transgressions. He spends much more time discussing the great Braves teams of the ’90’s than the less-than-great Braves teams of the 2000’s. Certainly not a “must read”, but enjoyable nonetheless.

IU Graduation and Dissertation Defense

I graduated from Indiana University on May 4th at the Graduate Commencement Ceremony. All students who are graduating between February and August are allowed to attend, so I walked across the stage and received my Ph.D. hood despite not graduating formally until the month of June. Here are a couple pictures:

With my advisor, Owen Wu, before the ceremony:

The stage at the ceremony:

I also defended my dissertation in front of my committee on May 10th. Thanks to my committee, Owen Wu, Kyle Cattani, Gil Souza, and Kurt Bretthauer, for their help and support.

Post-defense:

Later, at The Tap, with friends from Kelley:

Book Review – Never Split the Difference

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It
by Chris Voss, with Tahl Raz

Quite possibly the best book on tape I’ve listened to. Gives a how-to guide to negotiating on things big and small. Going far deeper than discussing opening offers, it details voice inflection, tactical empathy, mirroring, and how to handle deadlines. Maria also thought it was incredibly useful, and we’ll buy a hard copy for reference.