Home fits needs, budget

While preparing her 2008 taxes, Sarah Smith’s accountant suggested that she buy a home after renting in Atlanta’s Candler Park and Poncey-Highland neighborhoods, to receive the first-time homebuyer tax credit and future tax benefits.

“I just felt like I was spending a lot of money on renting a home when, actually, I wanted to have something I was working toward, and my money going toward something I could call my own,” she said.

Assisted by Bradford Smith (no relation), an agent with Coldwell Banker Atlanta, and her boyfriend, Chad Gray, they searched in areas such as Inman Park and Morningside while keeping an eye out on properties in Virginia-Highland, her favorite neighborhood.

“We saw many homes that I could afford, but they would more than likely need to be renovated, especially the bathrooms, so that was putting me over my price point,” said Smith, 25, who works in medical sales for Johnson & Johnson.

House No. 1: Prime location, bathroom lacking

The renovated brick bungalow on North Highland Avenue was walking distance to Virginia-Highland and her favorite restaurants, Caramba Cafe, Rosebud and Harry & Sons. The three-bedroom home, built in 1920, had a screened porch and fenced yard, which Smith wanted for her dog, Oliver, a pekingese maltese yorkie. The carport was an added bonus, she said. The home had a basement and an attic, which gave her room to add a second level. But it only had one bathroom, and Smith wanted two.

House No. 2: Sleek renovation in trendy neighborhood

A Virginia Avenue 1920s bungalow, also in Virginia-Highland, caught Smith’s eye because of the upgrades. “It had an unbelievable master bedroom with a great master bath,” she said. Modern touches included concrete countertops in the kitchen, which had a built-in wine chiller. The master bedroom, however, offered the only doorway to the fenced backyard, which Smith worried would make it difficult for entertaining.

House No. 3: Spacious inside and out

A brick bungalow built in 1932 on Cumberland Road was in another desirable neighborhood, Morningside, where Smith liked seeing families out during the day and was close to Virginia-Highland’s shops and restaurants. It had four bedrooms and four baths, including a claw-foot tub in the master bath, plus a big backyard with a deck, Smith said. The renovated home was on the high end of her price range, though.

The choice: No. 1

No. 1. Smith, who closed on the house in October, was able to negotiate 5 percent off the list price, which already was about $29,000 lower than the original asking price. As a first-time homebuyer she appreciated being able to work with an agent who listened to her and offered advice throughout the negotiating process. “Once you find a home, the real work begins,” she said. “Having someone you trust who could walk you through everything was so key. It was kind of so simple that it was scary that it was that simple and easy.” Russell Blake and Joe Prochaska with Blake Builders are renovating the existing bathroom and adding a half bath.