Tempe Travels

Since it is summertime, I typically get to the Tempe campus shortly before 7 a.m.  Honestly, I am a morning person, but not this early.  I am up by 5:15a.m. most mornings right now and I require some sort of “pick me up” to ensure I am ready to work at 8 a.m.  Usually, I work out or read before my work day begins although recently, I’ve begun to go on walks around the campus to photograph my favorite buildings; this is much easier to accomplish now that the campus is fairly empty in the morning.

I must enjoy the quietness before it erodes with the arrival of the fall semester and doesn’t return again until the winter break arrives.

Earlier this week, I decided to step off campus to photograph some buildings that interested me.

The Twin Palms Hotel is under deconstruction right now; I am not sure if it will remain intact or if it will be demolished to make room for something else.  The IHOP upfront is also no longer in business.

The Twin Palms Hotel is under deconstruction right now; I am not sure if it will remain intact or if it will be demolished to make room for something else. The IHOP upfront is also no longer in business.

Whenever I see a Seventh Day Adventist Church, I think of Lane from "Gilmore Girls."

Whenever I see a Seventh Day Adventist Church, I think of Lane from “Gilmore Girls.”

And because I am a sucker for houses, I photographed those, too.

I love the clerestory windows.

I love the clerestory windows.

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I would love to go inside and see how nice it looks.  The outside is so impressive!

I would love to go inside and see how nice it looks. The outside is so impressive!

And let’s talk about location, location, location….the next house is for sale!

Home for sale!!! 1212 S. Mill Ave available for $359,999; it's located right across from the Gammage auditorium.

Home for sale!!! 1212 S. Mill Ave available for $359,999; it’s located right across from the Gammage auditorium.

And because I find the Tempe campus to be so beautiful, I photographed some of the sites there as well.  There is also some construction going on the Tempe campus, so I’ll have new things to photograph come the fall semester once the construction fencing is taken down and the final products are revealed!

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I Love Simple Saturdays!

I am a sucker for love stories, let’s just put that out there.  I don’t mind that most love stories are based on completely unrealistic pairings of people (insanely polar opposite pairings, rich guy/poor girl, poor guy/rich girl, etc.) or the story lines are far from plausible.  I just love the idea of two people meeting, them sharing great chemistry, and having a humorous adventure along the way.  Seriously, I am the kind of girl for whom the big movie studies make movies like “Failure to Launch”, “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”, and “Pretty Woman.”  Clearly, I am barely scratching the surface of all the romantic comedies out there, but I love the movies I just mentioned.  I also really, really, really enjoy “The Family Stone.”

It makes me think of my own wonderfully dysfunctional family and all our eccentric behaviors.  I still laugh each time I watch it and I am not bothered that it’s incredibly unrealistic.

Tonight, however, we ended our day watching my favorite episode of “Gilmore Girls.”  While I absolutely love this show and have watched it beginning to end countless times already, the episode “You Jump, I Jump Jack” brings the biggest smile to my face.  I love the sense of adventure that the character Logan Huntzberger brings into Rory’s life.

I'm deathly scared of heights, but this scene is my favorite of the ones of Rory and Logan together.

I’m deathly scared of heights, but this scene is my favorite of the ones of Rory and Logan together.

I wouldn’t call myself an adventurous person, so there are some risks that I really admire of people, like this scene of everyone jumping off the scaffolding.  I enjoy it even more because everyone is dressed up in their finest attire for this big event.

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And random trivia about me-I love the word “parasol”; I love how classy it sounds and I also love the French word for umbrella, “parapluie.”

Royal Coffee Bar

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Yesterday morning I had an errand to run before work and I stopped into Royal Coffee Bar as the place I needed to visit didn’t open up until 7:30a.m. and I arrived there at 7:11a.m. Let me just say I don’t dawdle very well; I don’t enjoy just sitting around and waiting, so I went back around the corner to stop into Royal Coffee Bar. My husband and I came across this place during our walk after our dinner adventure to House of Tricks.

I was very impressed with how gorgeous this small coffee shop is; I found out from Scott, the employee who helped me yesterday, that the owner is also an architect and has other locations. I was advised to check out the Heritage Square District location in Phoenix to scoop out that one as well.

I didn’t become a coffee drinker until earlier this year so I am still taking baby steps into the world of coffee. I ordered the Iced Toddy and was very happy that the prices here are more reasonable than at Starbucks.
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Iced Toddy

Iced Toddy

I forgot to take a photo of the sawed off car meter on the floor, which is a shame because it was such an interesting touch, but the rest of the place was tastefully designed. I also think the proximity to ASU will serve this place well.

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Simplicity at its finest.

Simplicity at its finest.

Maybe next time I’ll have a chance to meet the owner and ask him about his designing tastes; he was out picking up more coffee when I dropped in, but I am eager to meet him. The coffee was great so I’m definitely going to go back another time for another cup!

Remembering Bart:1983 to 2002

The Fourth of July is, and always will be, a day of remembrance for me. In 2002, an ex-boyfriend and sweet friend of mine was murdered. He was my first serious crush, enough so that shortly into our fledging romance a bunch of my friends wished us good luck in my high school yearbook. His note was short and sweet and something that I read periodically when I feel I need his encouragement:

2000 yearbook message from Bart

2000 yearbook message from Bart


Like many girls at sixteen, I didn’t know what true love was, but I enjoyed the heart palpitations I felt when he looked my way and was incredibly nervous when I sauntered (yes, sauntered) clear across the high school cafeteria to give him a note. I don’t often keep mementos from an ex, but I have a few things from our time together and time spent as friends. He taught me that it’s possible for a guy and girl to be friends even when they aren’t a romantic match and each year, on the anniversary of his death, I fondly remember the adventures we had together and how much his presence changed my life.
We went to the Quonset Air Show in 2000 and I picked up a Blue Angels keychain that I laid down as tribute on his coffin in 2002.

We went to the Quonset Air Show in 2000 and I picked up a Blue Angels keychain that I laid down as tribute on his coffin in 2002.


I still miss the way people would gravitate to him. He had a wonderful personality and was incredibly easy to be friends with. He graciously accepted my invitation to be my date for my junior prom; he came to my rescue when I needed it most. I think that’s sufficient enough to explain the situation to outsiders. My life had some high school drama, like many other teens, but he was a very happy chapter to my story.
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Originally, he had wanted to be a Navy Seal, but his eyesight wasn’t good enough so he set his sights on becoming a United States Marine. At 6’5″, he is, and will forever be, my epitome of Marine.
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He forged a great brotherhood with those around him, many of his closest Marine friends came to his funeral. When a group of us got together to celebrate his life, the good stories got shared along with some card games, alcohol, and soda. Earlier that day, many of us laid down sentimental or strategic items on his coffin to be buried with him. Giving back to him the Blue Angels key chain I picked up on our “first date” felt appropriate; he would always have this reminder that I had loved him back then and loved him enough to let it go with him.
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In the time that has since passed, I have tried to find ways to honor him. Initially, it was simply to emblazon my car with his name:
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Later when I struggled to be responsible in college, my thoughts drifted back to him and the idea set in that I could become a Marine. He was not the only influence in this decision, but I would say 80-90% of the decision was cemented with the pride I felt when his fellow Marines honored him at his funeral.

A lot has changed since then and I left photos at his family’s door to show them I accomplished my goal of finishing his legacy. Staying in wasn’t the right decision for me, but going in has redirected my life in such a positive manner. I cannot give that credit to anyone but Bart. He set the example, I merely followed it.

The fireworks are now always for you, Bart. Semper Fidelis.

Drinks & Dessert Part 2: Walking Around Agritopia

I bombarded you all with so many photos in my last blog post about having iced chai tea and a coconut whoopie pie that I didn’t think it was fair to have you endure so many more photos in that one post; here is part 2 to the story.

Agritopia is just as much about the homes as it is about Joe’s Farm Grill, the Coffee Shop, and the farm. It’s about enjoying front porches and community spaces. I really do enjoy it although we have parted ways with the idea of living there; not many homes in our planned square footage range have a full length drive way and the consistent access to on-street parking and visitor spots. There are some streets in Agritopia that meet those needs but the homes on those streets are too big for our taste; they are beautiful to look at, so do enjoy. I know I love taking a stroll to look at the houses every chance I get.

And there’s something about cats here, too. We saw three of them lounging outside on just one street.
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Drinks & Dessert @ Agritopia

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Welcome to one of my favorite places on Earth (in Gilbert, Arizona)!!!

I heart Agritopia more than I honestly should. I know it’s just a neighborhood, but I love this little spot of heaven because the farm area is very quaint, the coffee shop is wonderful, and the food at Joe’s Farm Grill is always a pretty good gourmet experience without blowing our budget. Yes, it gets crowded come feeding time, but these spots are worth the wait.

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Tonight we each enjoyed an iced chai tea and split a coconut whoopie pie. How gorgeous is this awesome treat?!
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We’ve had an incredibly hot week so we kept our walk around Agritopia shorter than originally planned. Not too long ago, the community built their Generations at Agritopia Independent Living Center with a Spanish style architecture. Look how fantastic this place looks from the outside.
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Our walk was filled with beautiful views and we even found some livestock on site!
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And usually when we go to Agritopia, the outside fridge is empty but we finally got to see it well stocked.
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And I love this neat sun sculpture attached to the pillars.
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Funny story, too..so everyone here talks about how serious the dust storms are in Arizona and my husband and I think they have no idea. After two years of living in Arizona, I haven’t seen a dust storm anywhere near comparison to the dust storms in Iraq; they might exist, but so far, nothing dust storm related has impressed me.

I took some photos tonight’s light dust storm. Nothing ominous and I even got to see a tiny bit of a rainbow. So far, it’s been a pretty good start to my holiday weekend.
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Saturday Night in Tempe

Thomas and I don’t spend much time out in the Tempe area since we live in Mesa, but we ventured out that way this evening for a belated anniversary dinner celebration. My in-laws took Little Bit on vacation with them to Wyoming; this vacation is the first time she will have been away from me for about two weeks time. She handled our goodbyes much better than I did; I was bawling this morning on the road to my in-laws and cried again while Avery and I were enjoying some alone time at their house. Our kid gave me a pep talk both times telling me not to be sad and that she was coming back. She’s only four but sometimes, she really impresses me with her conversational skills.

She provides counseling advice from the backseat.

She provides counseling advice from the backseat.

Our small family

Our small family

I was also a little more emotional having Avery leave on such a significant day; today is my late mother’s birthday. She would have turned 49. Even though I don’t talk about her much, I think of how much she didn’t get to experience. She never saw any of her children graduate from high school; she never saw me get married, graduate college or see Avery after she was born or celebrate her birthdays; and she won’t see any future grandchildren my siblings have.

I think my mom would have been impressed that Thomas and I just recently celebrated our 8th anniversary. On our actual anniversary, I gave Thomas a handwritten note and he picked up our favorite menu items from Blue Wasabi: pizza egg rolls, tempura battered soft shell crab, dam jumper sushi rolls, and their summer lovin’ sushi rolls. He kept the items warm in the oven until I got home from work so the bed of lettuce under the plated dinner items was wilted and looked so silly. Oh, and we all split a Chick-Fil-A chocolate chunk cookie for dessert. It was a perfectly simple anniversary dinner at home.

I am like a high school girl when it comes to handwritten notes; even at 30 years old, I still love to write notes.

I am like a high school girl when it comes to handwritten notes; even at 30 years old, I still love to write notes.


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Tonight we went out to Tempe to have a true couple anniversary dinner at House of Tricks. After our pretty awesome meal, great service, and an entire bottle of Moscato, we walked three or four miles around the area. I have never walked around Mill Avenue before, but I have been missing out. Tempe is just beautiful.
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And we found some doses of humors on our walk.

I never knew that urban camping was a thing.

I never knew that urban camping was a thing.

Bathroom sign in Jimmy John's

Bathroom sign in Jimmy John’s

I only take photos in bathrooms from time to time, but this signage on the floor of the ladies' room was too good not to share.

I only take photos in bathrooms from time to time, but this signage on the floor of the ladies’ room was too good not to share.

And I also got in a photo of my love and I in front of the Governor Benjamin B. Moeur House to cap off our evening.
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Shea 3D Homes: Marbella Vineyards

Welcome to Marbella Vineyards in Gilbert, Arizona.

Welcome to Marbella Vineyards in Gilbert, Arizona.

Shea Homes 3D Homes in the Marbella Vineyards neighborhood in Gilbert gave us an interesting opportunity to see new home construction that designed the living spaces based off of three lifestyle options: kitchen centric, outdoor living, and entertaining.
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Being a foodie myself, I preferred the layouts set up with a kitchen centric floor plan.
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The home community is a bit out of our desired price range (the smallest home at 1,895 sq. feet sells for $269,990), and too far south of the 202 loop for our liking but is a lovely community to walk through. The sales staff here are among the nicest that we’ve encountered; we freely walked through the homes without feeling pressured regarding our home purchase timeframe.

I know not everyone would agree but I think walking through model homes is perhaps the best way to get home design inspiration. Books and magazines are great, but the 3-dimensional environment offered by model homes shows off how well different materials compliment or contrast with each other for your eyes’ attention.

Changes to ASU Polytechnic

Love the new signs going up by ASU Polytechnic.

Love the new signs going up by ASU Polytechnic.

There is a significant amount of construction going on in southeast Gilbert and the area around ASU Polytechnic. Sometimes, it’s annoying and chaotic and at other times, I love the opportunity to see new buildings and other improvements develop before my eyes. On ASU Poly, there is a new building under construction. We have had the chance to see this area of campus develop from a small cluster of homes that were demolished to a dusty construction site and now, to its current state, being enveloped by its Tyvex covering.

Down go the houses....

Down go the houses….

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ASU Poly has excellent potential to grow and develop as a campus and it is rather exciting to have an up close and personal experience of seeing the new building come together.

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As silly as it sounds, I love the wood scent that perfumes the air when a building is being framed.
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The building is still inching closer towards construction.
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And the Tyvex is finally going up.
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I am looking forward to seeing what the building will look like in its finished state. Given the fact that I love the architecture of many of ASU’s buildings, I have high expectations that this building will be impressive and maybe, finished in time for the start of the 2014-2015 academic year.

Going Broke: Seeing Is Believing

I am almost done reading Going Broke by Stuart Vyse and it just so happens, I had the interesting opportunity to do some shopping this weekend. Our daughter needed some clothes to round out her summer wardrobe and more importantly, we needed a new blender. We had an inexpensive full size blender back in California and honestly, I don’t remember when it stopped working. After Avery was born, my in-laws bought us a single serve blender to help us make baby food at home. We got more use out of it than just for making baby food, but after several months of use, I broke it. I purchased a second blender by the same brand and that one also broke late last year and we decided to buy one this weekend at Kohl’s. We decided that buying a full size blender meant for constant use was the best option for us; Kohl’s had it on sale and we had a 20% off coupon (that also applied to Avery’s new clothes) to further reduce the price.

I don’t mean to get distracted, but what was a little more important for me to share was the use of advertising that I noticed at Kohl’s. It’s been a couple of years since I shopped in Kohl’s and this time, I noticed the clever use of electronic sales “tags”. Look at these things:

Electronic sales tags...when did these start getting used in stores?!

Electronic sales tags…when did these start getting used in stores?!

Trying to be mindful of what I’ve learned in reading Going Broke, I didn’t want to mindlessly buy a lot of things at Kohl’s. Instead, I took this shopping trip as an opportunity to look at how our culture encourages spending. The kitchen goods section of Kohl’s was a great place to look at the power of branding. I’ve seen before how different Food Network stars like Bobby Flay, Giada DeLaurentis, and Rachel Ray launched their own product lines; yesterday, I was absolutely surprised to see that Food Network itself now has its own line of products.

Look at some of their offerings:
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We live in a culture where our homes are likely to always be full of branded products, name brand or generic. It’s not necessarily a bad thing because we gravitate towards products that suit our personal tastes and functional needs, but we should be careful to keep our spending in mind. There are constant temptations like how one of my favorite tv channels, Food Network, came out with a whole line of products. Do I need those things? Most of them, not really. Would it be fun down the road to get a couple things I really like, sure. But I don’t need those items to be happy. Those small splurges aren’t necessary, at least not now until something in my kitchen breaks like our blender that warranted our shopping trip to Kohl’s this weekend.

Why Does Your Money “Disappear”?

Excerpt from Going Broke by Stuart Vyse

Excerpt from Going Broke by Stuart Vyse

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Perhaps one of the best perks of working for a university (aside from an employee tuition waiver) is that I, as a great lover of books, have a wealth of stimulating reading material readily available to me; while we used to once shop at Barnes & Noble every weekend in California, working for ASU has allowed me to indulge in a steady supply of great non-fiction books for free! Not that I don’t still love Barnes & Noble, but our book buying budget is greatly reduced while my husband is a college student and I prepare for my return to school in the fall.

Right now I am reading Going Broke by Stuart Vyse and am loving his insights as to why Americans have problems keeping money in their pockets. He explores our cultural expectations, the influence of bankruptcy and credit cards, our “keeping up with the Jones” attitudes, and other behaviors and habits that separate us from our money. As well, I am a bit enamored with the fact that he references the book, Two Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are Going Broke by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi (her daughter), which I finished reading not too long ago.

My husband and I first started “understanding” our money mistakes when we took a Financial Peace University class offered at a friend’s church back in 2010. Since then, we’ve paid off a personal loan, one of our cars, and a credit card; at the same time, we’ve been working to rebuild our savings and our emergency fund (repeatedly) as a result of my two bouts of unemployment. Honestly, I never would have imagined that with two Bachelor’s degrees, I would have ever found myself unemployed.

However, these financial setbacks have forced us to once again recognize flaws in our spending. We now spend less leisure time shopping out of boredom like we did in the earlier years of our marriage and during our time in Wyoming; we still engage in retail therapy from time to time, but nothing as bad as when we lived in Wyoming and it was a significant drive anywhere (other than Walmart) to do some real shopping.

Our debt situation is something that we work on constantly reducing and we do work on finding unique opportunities to improve our financial situation. My husband will be participating in work study so we can have extra tax-free income to pay down our debts this summer and pay for our daughter’s daycare in the fall and spring. He can also continue work study until he finishes his undergraduate degree. I will also start using the remainder of my GI Bill benefits, also tax-free, in combination with my employee tuition waiver in the fall to start my graduate degree. My waiver will pay for my education and is not taxed until over $5,250 worth of tuition has been used in the year. I have a small portion of my Chapter 30 Montgomery GI bill leftover and then 12 months of the Post 9/11 GI bill, which I can utilize. For people who aren’t familiar with the Post 9/11 GI bill, it’s pretty handy to students in that it provides a book stipend, housing allowance (as applicable), and tuition and fees paid to the student’s college. We will have a lot on our plates, but no pain, no gain, right?

But getting back to the book, Going Broke, I picked it up after reading Two Income Trap and wanted further financial motivation to explore how to reign in our spending and get ideas on how to improve our saving strategies so we can one day be homeowners. I have loved the book enough that I took some photos with my iPhone of passages that I really enjoyed; I know I am such a nerd in seeing how my culture impacts and influences my financial views and behaviors.

Excerpt from Going Broke by Stuart Vyse

Excerpt from Going Broke by Stuart Vyse

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“If you will live like no one else, so one day you can live like no one else.”-Dave Ramsey

You can tell the people that own this Agritopia love their home; we will be like them some day!

You can tell the people that own this Agritopia love their home; we will be like them some day!

How Far Will Your Home Buying Dollars Go?

East Valley Versus West Valley

East Valley Versus West Valley


Perhaps the best thing about two bouts of unemployment is that it’s given my husband and I time to truly access the local area. We’ve known during our many trips through new home build communities that we were unable to purchase but wanted to scout the area to see what we could buy somewhere down the road. While we have limited that search to the East Valley, which initially included Queen Creek and Chandler, our search quickly honed in on southeast Gilbert and southeast/northeast Mesa where new build communities have more space to develop. It is disheartening to see that home prices for these new communities are drastically inflated; initially, we thought about $190,000 in the Bella Via in southeast Mesa was overpriced, but Pulte Homes is still selling strong over there from $239,990 to $380,990.

And as we’ve accumulated new construction community paperwork left and right, we’ve found out just how expensive the East Valley is to live in:

-Blandford Homes “The Lofts” at Power Ranch-were $159,990 when we looked at them and are now selling in the $170,000′s to $180,000′s for roughly 1,400 sq. foot condos with a hefty $300 HOA

-Fulton Homes “Southern Pacific at Cooley Station”‘s Coastline floor plan (1,978 sq. ft-our favorite) was $241,900 late last year and only jumped modestly to $248,900. I do think the fact that these homes already come equipped with many upgrades has prevented the builder from drastically hiking up prices because it would deter buyers from this already small neighborhood.

-We were so underwhelmed/overwhelmed by Eastmark on its opening day and it not living up to the promise of being “urban style neighborhood” that we never picked up price sheets on the smaller homes we were interested in. Part of the problem was also the miserable heat the day Eastmark opened and the lack of efficient means to get to models by our own transportation. However, Mattamy Homes, which builds some smaller homes, has a 1,511 sq. ft home that sells for $225,990 currently.

And today, we decided to check out Desert Place at Morrison Ranch (the Mesa side of the development) and Elliot Groves at Morrison Ranch for fun as it’s too overpriced for what we’d spend on a home. Lennar Homes’ cheapest home in Desert Place is $214,990 for the 1,640 sq. ft home that wasn’t modeled at their development, but their prices rise up steeply with square footage.

Lennar Homes (Desert Place at Morrison Ranch) price sheets

Lennar Homes (Desert Place at Morrison Ranch) price sheets

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Thankfully, the trip was worth the decor inspiration; the rooms were tastefully decorated.

Lennar Homes bedrooms

Lennar Homes bedrooms

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And we always have fun checking out Pulte Homes so we stopped in to check out their model homes as well. Look at how beautifully these homes were decorated. I felt a little like I was walking through a Restoration Hardware showroom.IMG_3216

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Pulte puts out some great quality homes and you pay for them! Even without the beautiful decor, the prices are steep:

Pulte Homes Price Sheet

Pulte Homes Price Sheet

I must admit that the realization that the East Valley is dangerously overpriced (we were already leery of paying mid $200,000′s) came from a visit to a friend who lives in the Buckeye neighborhood of Verrado. We were invited to enjoy their Open House event not too long ago as my friend understands how much we love looking at model homes. Now, that being said, Buckeye is way too far out there for our family, but it was shocking how much cheaper homes are on that side of the valley. The Mattamy Concord floor plan that sells in Eastmark for $228,990 is $218,990 in Buckeye; the only difference is the location and the way that Verrado has been developing that neighborhood already has the stores and local businesses that Eastmark might have when it is developed further; I am waiting to see if they deliver on their promises. So far, that neighborhood hasn’t impressed me.

Our trip through Verrado was great (and I promise I’ll post photos later), but it was an eye opener that making a home purchase on the west side of the valley might be the thing to do to not be stuck with an overpriced house. No decisions have been made yet because we have some investigating to do and then sitting down with our real estate agent later this year to discuss the more minute details of what home buying means for our family, but I am now more critical of the home prices here in the Gilbert-Mesa area.