Musings + Essays

Weekend Vibes, Edition No. 216: Lessons in House Hunting.

By: Jen Shoop

My Latest Snag: Picture Day Dress for Mini.

Mini’s school is doing something really cute this year — a “Parents’ Day.” As a part of the celebration, they will have a backdrop set up at drop-off so that we can pose as a family for a photo. I am SO excited because it’s been a minute since we had our photo taken altogether! We’re going to bring micro down for it, too, and he’s not been in the subway since the start of the pandemic — it will blow his mind! Anyhow, we have that portrait to look forward to in addition to mini’s picture day a few days later. I spent way too much time thinking about what I wanted her to wear for these photos — ha. She’s had this Sal & Pimenta dress in her closet waiting for a special occasion for awhile, so I’ll probably go with that for one, and for the other, I couldn’t resist this Smockingbird x India Amory dress. I also have this cherry print dress (this similar one is 40% off!) as an option. I guess I’m in a blue-and-white mood for her, which is convenient since blue is her favorite color.

You’re Soooo Popular: The Tiered Tolima Dress.

The most popular items on le blog this week:

+You all are LOVING this tiered statement dress for special occasions this summer! More wedding guest picks here.

+Adorable blockprint sarongs at a great price.

+So many of you have loved my new favorite floral dress! I wore it with an Hermes scarf in a similar color palette and these Loeffler Randall sandals (if you are a size 5, you are in luck — these are only $39!!) the other day and felt SO spring-like and happy. Because I’ve gotten a lot of questions on sizing: I would say this runs a little big. I took a 0 in the regular run (they do have petites, but I tend to find petite sizing is cut sort of matronly?) and it is a bit big in the chest and waist, but because of the self-tie belt, I just cinched it all in. I love it. Hits at just north of midi on me. (For reference, I am 5’0 and usually take a 0 or 00 if they have it.)

+These rainbow espadrilles. All the heart eyes.

+Personalized name ring. (Sweet gift!)

+The best tea brewing basket — read the 5,000+ five star reviews!

+A great bath rug/mat at an incredible price.

+Pretty floral tiered dress. (I think we are into tiers!)

+Our kitchen could not run without this OXO scale.

+Gorgeous intaglios.

+Darling puff-sleeved blouse for under $25.

+CHIC soap dispenser for a powder room.

+Easy striped midi shirtdress at a great price. Pair with navy Supergas and go!

Weekend Musings: Lessons from House Hunting.

Unexpected side effect of house-hunting: pressure to dial in on what we value in our day-to-day life, and a commensurate pressure to sift out the noise that occasionally deafens our instincts along these lines. Mr. Magpie and I have had countless heart-to-hearts over what we really want out of a new home over the past few weeks. Anyone looking for a house out there will commiserate around the astounding lack of inventory out there right now (nationally, 50% fewer homes on the market than average) and the attendant, spiking sense of urgency that has accompanied each and every viewing. The other day, we were looking at a home with an inspector in tow (current insane trend in this hot market: waive inspection contingencies to present a cleaner offer, which means that when we view a property that we find intriguing, we pay an inspector to come with us to give the house a once-over so we can feel a little more assured should we make an offer without inspection contingencies) and we danced around several other prospective buyers touring the home at the same time. It was supremely awkward: all of us speaking in hushed voices, our inspector ceasing conversation the minute another buyer walked by, etc. I was bowled over by the sensation of competitiveness. And so, as Mr. Magpie and I decompressed and talked it all out on the train ride home, we had to work assiduously to separate the hype from the heart: did that house really speak to us, or were we responding to the crazy shortage of options and the fact that there were other serious-looking buyers circling around that same property?

It has been an interesting process, not without self-discovery. With every week that passes and every home that we tour, we have been peeling back layers of the onion to divine what we truly prioritize in our lives at this stage, with both of us working from home for the foreseeable future and two little children tumbling around. As an example, I had originally gravitated towards older homes. I love their charm, their eccentricity, their sturdiness. I grew up in a great stone house built in 1920 or so and I loved the old-fashioned, individually-paned windows; the flagstone terrace; the eccentrically long corridor down the center of the house; the hectagonally-shaped sunroom off my father’s study; the hand-painted tile around the fireplace. Character, all of it. But also: insane upkeep, all of it. My father was never free on the weekends. There was always something to fix, oversee, install, upgrade. Further, many of the older homes we’ve seen boast floor plans with clearly demarcated rooms (i.e., fewer open spaces), smaller closets, smaller bedrooms. All of which I personally rather like as a general proposition, but — in touring homes these past few weeks, I have been surprised by how much I have been attracted to either newer construction or homes that have been thoroughly remodeled to have more of an open flow between kitchen and family room, one (or two!) rooms clearly designated for office space, and a larger owner’s suite with more closet space (and often double vanities in the primary bath — all things that are newer-age contrivances!). I frankly am shocked with myself. But in really thinking about our lives right now, and how much time we spend at home both because we now permanently WFH and because of the ages of our children (and also, of course, the pandemic), I find myself drawn to the amenities of more modern construction. I also find myself averse to the idea of Mr. Magpie working on an upkeep project every weekend — I want him hanging out with us! There is appeal in moving into a home whose roof needs minimal attention for a good forty years, and whose refrigerator is newly-installed, and whose HVAC does not leak. (Do HVAC systems leak? Haha.)

Is anyone else house hunting at the moment? Or recently finished with the process? What did you learn?

Post-Scripts: Le Perfect Cover Up.

+The perfect cover-up.

+Adorable embroidered footie at a great price. I was just telling a close friend who is expecting her first: if there’s one category to over-buy in for newborns, it’s footies. Hill basically wore footies 24 hours a day for the first three months. When they are tiny, you just want them in cozy soft cotton!

+OK, this under-$10 pearl mask chain arrived and…I am astounded at the price? It is so good! I love having this on hand while taking the kids out to the park, when I don’t always need to have my mask on while seated/far from other people. I might also use for my sunglasses. Majorly impressed!

+I’ll be needing this top for summer, pls and thank you.

+OMG this portable patio cooler is SO amazing for a party!

+This dress was SO me-in-my-20s. I would have bought it in the blue in a heart beat.

+This jacket is so cool. I just added it to my cart for next winter.

+What grown-ups wear to the pool. While on the subject of swim: this nails the Agua Bendita look for $106.

+Cute $118 sundress. Makes me feel like I’m on the beach just looking at it.

+Someone recently asked for tennis gear — I just came across this $23 tennis skirt that has great reviews and comes in tons of cute colors.

+Cutest seersucker shortalls for a little man. Would look perfect with Hill’s new red sneaks!

+Chic personalized throw blanket discovered via Le Catch. Would be really cute decor in a nursery.

+Fun statement top for $29.

+This tee dress looks like a dream to wear.

+Remember when I wrote “say yes to hot pink Louboutin mules on sale at the Outnet“? These glittery Choos runs in those same tracks. Love.

+Fantastic outdoor rug at a great price.

+Cute gift for a mom friend / new mom in honor of Mother’s Day especially — just a little fun surprise. More Mother’s Day gifts here.


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23 thoughts on “Weekend Vibes, Edition No. 216: Lessons in House Hunting.

  1. I love hearing updates about your house hunt — and I’m sending you strength and good vibes to get through it (though I’m reading a few weeks behind, so maybe you have made progress in this arena!) Having grown up in a 1928 home and currently living (but renting) in an 1895 one, I definitely appreciate the charm of old homes! Time shall tell what we decide to do … the market is also insane here in the Boston area and we’re hesitating the jump into home ownership for another couple of years. We shall see what happens!

    You’ve totally sold me on that pearl eyeglass/mask chain … I like how minimal it is!


    1. The mask chain — YES. I can’t tell you how many compliments I get on it! I have been stopped on the street! It’s a fun way to make mask-wearing a bit more pleasant 🙂


    2. Love!! I actually ended up snagging the pink chain-link one you posted from Shopbop recently, but I’m adding the pearl one to my next Amazon order! Haha!

  2. So much to consider in your house hunting, Jen! What an exciting time — though I can understand how daunting the process can be. We’re currently still renting — which honestly I’m ok with for the convenience right now in this season of our lives with a little one. But we’re starting to think about buying and what school district we want to be in, etc. The Bay Area/Silicon Valley market is INSANE and I start sweating just thinking about it, haha. Best of luck to you — sending positive vibes that you’ll find “the one”, and even if it’s not perfect I know you will make it “the one” with your thoughtful approach to decorating! I’m looking forward to following along as you write about the process.

    I recently ordered that floral Brooks Brothers dress — it looks so good and I am eagerly awaiting its arrival! I generally don’t wear red (come to think of it, I don’t own anything in red!) but I love the use of red in this one. I love how you styled it with that silk scarf in your IG — it was a stunning look! I don’t know why I’m hesitant to mix prints, but your scarf matched the dress perfectly! Thank you for the fit notes too, that is so helpful. I bought a few days before this post and decided according to the size chart, so it will be interesting to see how it fits. The petite was somehow marked down to $49 (!!!), so I bought one in petite (I think I got the very last one!) and one size down in the regular length to compare. That is an interesting observation (the “matronly” look/feel) about how some petite clothes are cut, though! It’s definitely hit or miss. I’m crossing my fingers that the petite one I bought fits well, because of the price — though I do love a midi length, which will be how the regular one will fit on me as I’m the same height as you.

    Amazon is a gold mine for heavily marked down Loeffler Randall sandals! Every winter for the past few years I look through their selection. I always score past-season $50 or under LR sandals from there, and occasionally their ballet flats for around $100. The ones you posted with the red trim are hard to resist at that price… I might copycat your entire look, haha!

    1. Hi! I’d be so flattered if we twin in our outfits 🙂 I totally agree on Amazon and past-season LR. I’ve gotten some GREAT BOOTS for around $120 that way. I have several pairs of LR boots that have just withstood year after year of intensive use and they are so worth the investment anyway, but what a treat to find them on such great markdown!

      Wahh I can’t imagine Silicon Valley any worse than it usually is. I think it typically ties or exceeds NYC in terms of cost/competitiveness of real estate!


  3. The DMV market is insane. We bought an old home a couple years ago and waived all contingencies but the market is even more competitive now. We are in the midst of extensive renovations to open up the layout, add on to the house, and upgrade the bathrooms, kitchen, HVAC, etc. With the cost of these renos (especially due to exponential increase in lumber prices) and the timeline to finish, we might as well have bought a new construction LOL. But we’d give up character and I’m too much of a romantic for that. There’s also the old (ha) adage that they don’t build them like they used to as our architect and contractor reminds us. Best of luck on your search! Be sure to research the builder if you decide on new construction. They vary in quality. If you decide on an older home that you know will require work, consider touring with an architect and contractor too. I’m looking forward to you moving here and posts about DC.

    1. To clarify builders varying in quality, I mean the elements of the house that are not visible: using 2×4 framing instead of 2×6, subfloor and tile installation, insulation quality, etc.

      1. Thank you SO much for weighing in on all of this – WOW. I totally (!) admire (!!) you ladies who have managed to oversee extensive upgrades/remodeling/additions/etc. I mean, I am truly astounded by you. A good friend of mine did a lot of work on her NYC apartment before she moved in and it seemed like a full-time job on top of her actual job, and that was for a small apartment! Looking over her shoulder, I was dizzied by the number of options and choices she had to make, and then all the meticulous details of having materials delivered, inspecting them, being present for the various contractors, etc, etc. Wow. Not for the faint of heart. I guess there’s a reason why people pay extra for “move in ready.” BUT. You will have the most gorgeous home customized to ALL your tastes and preferences and lifestyle choices and WOW. You will not regret that. But yikes! It sounds like a huge project.


  4. Love the update on the home search! I wish you luck! We wanted to live in a very specific tiny neighborhood in the Chicago suburbs where homes rarely turn over – got lucky last year and bought basically an old dump on a huge lot that we are currently renovating and adding on to. I too love older homes but if you have the space and budget for modern amenities, why not?
    If you aren’t already following murpheybeckerart on Instagram, she has incredible taste and a beautiful newer home that they built to look old – great inspiration there.

    1. Oo thanks for the tip! I love that you waited for a spot in your preferred neighborhood and then pounced. That’s the way to do it! I think one thing we have struggled with is — what IS the priority? We have flipped and flopped over which neighborhoods, the size of house, the style of house, etc. On the one hand, I think that means we are receptive to possibility when a good opportunity arises but it also means we are constantly having the same conversation, weighing the various inputs: “ooh, great neighborhood, a little smaller than we wanted, would need more work…” or “ok, a bit further out, bigger, move-in ready…”

      We will see where we land! Thanks for the encouragement!!


  5. Wow, I do not envy anyone home shopping in this way overheated market right now! That sounds supremely stressful. Granted, I went into contract on my NY apartment in early April 2020 (!) but that was a very different kind of stress. In line with some of the commenters, I have heard that newer construction doesn’t necessarily need less maintenance than older places, it just needs different kinds of maintenance, and on different schedules. Good luck as you continue your hunt! I am a real estate obsessive and love hearing about the process.

    1. Thank you so much!! Will definitely keep you posted! I am so surprised by how many comments this elicited — will have to share more on this front.


  6. I’m excited for mini’s picture/family days! So fun. Pro tip: have her say “sprinkles!” Or “stinky feet!” to get a real smile. Our school photos this year are…entertaining (telling her to smile just gets us squinty eyes and a weird closed-lips situation). But we went to Penney’s for photos a few months ago and their photographer taught us this trick.

    That sounds like a challenging environment in which to buy a house! Finding the right one is hard enough without competition and time pressure. I agree with Claire that newer doesn’t necessarily mean less maintenance. But I get the reluctance! Our house was built in 1958 and I would LOVE a historic home (we have many here in my hometown) but my only restoration skill is painting and I don’t really enjoy it! So I’ll just admire the old homes from the outside as I push a stroller past 🙂

    1. GREAT tips – Mr. Magpie must have read this comment over the weekend because he encouraged Emory to say sprinkles and stinky feet during family photos this morning 🙂 Thank you!


  7. Love hearing about your home search (especially as a DC resident) – thank you for sharing! We bought in 2018 at another market peak & your image of touring houses with inspectors in tow and the theme of competition rings all too familiar. We, too, waived all contingencies (after paying for an inspection on our own), offered free(!) rent back to the previous owners for two months, and escalated $50k over asking, and somehow – somehow! – ended up beating off 11 other offers. We’ve been settled in our circa 1800s row home on Capitol Hill for a few years now and I couldn’t feel more content.

    To that end however, I’ll spare you the details on the once-in-a-lifetime surprise, horrific … um… renovation that was foisted upon us shortly after moving in. Historic homes have their charms, through and through, ha! There was a fabulous sarcastic writeup in the WSJ Off Duty section a few months back that we actually had framed, called “the historic home horror show”, and now hangs, tongue-in-cheek, on our second floor landing. In defiance of logic, however, I don’t think I’d ever NOT live in a historic home now. The charm, the quirks, the personality of the house itself is a friend to us. When we walked into our house originally, to tour, I had this “good juju” feeling that I hadn’t had elsewhere.

    All this to say – trust your gut! I have no doubt you and your family will end up exactly where you belong. Can’t wait to follow along 🙂

    1. Hi!! Wow – that purchasing process sounds a little too familiar for comfort. That seems to be the name of the game at the moment, and the current tack is this crazy “escalation clause” business, where you put in your offer but include a clause saying you will escalate x thousand dollars over higher offers, up to a max ceiling price of y. It’s nuts and I feel ripe for strange gaming of the system…

      Anyway – LOVE the sound of your historic home, and all of the other Magpies with older homes, too! SO much character, so much charm, so much lived-in-ness. I really like the feeling of a storied home, with unique nooks and crannies, etc.


  8. I’m finally under contract after what felt like an agonizing search! We really wanted to stay in the city, but also wanted a formal dining room, because we would love to take over some of the holiday entertaining for our extended family. To get that near public transit, we had to move just outside the city! We’re buying a 1920s house that seems like the best of both worlds—old, with lots of projects available for us to make it our own, but the current owner recently replaced the roof, central air, etc. I’ve been thinking of you through our tough search—I can’t even imagine hunting in this wild market when you’re not hunting locally!

    1. Hi Martha! I’m so glad for you — mazel tov! What a happy result. Sounds like you got the best of all worlds! Thanks for the well wishes 🙂 Will keep you posted!!


  9. Just love hearing about the house hunt!

    We went with the old house (1920 for ours) mostly because we wanted a specific leafy neighborhood in our city – old houses are the only option! I also grew up in an even older house and couldn’t imagine differently. Nearly eight years in and I would say we have started to hit our stride with home ownership. We aren’t as shocked and appalled when things break anymore (because they will, and too often!). We try to plan for it and get out in front of issues…we have a five year plan for what the big maintenance projects will be, knowing full well that things will change on the fly when a need becomes more immediately pressing (case in point: this week we unexpectedly have to deal with a repair on our original slate tile roof, to the tune of $5800…sigh…but that roof will last us another 100 years if we take care of it!). You have to account and budget for the boring maintenance jobs, and mix them in with the fun projects (wallpaper! new kitchen!). The real headache reducer is having a list of trusted contractors and specialists who know you. If you just “have a guy” you can call (preferably text!!) it makes everything SO much easier. It’s also wonderful to automate some of the upkeep tasks when you can (our landscapers, pest guy, gutter/window cleaner, HVAC service, and cleaners just come on a set schedule and they send ME the appointment time…set it and forget it!).

    You really have to know yourself when making these decisions – we are not handy and have very busy jobs and tiny children and there is just no way we are DIY-ing anything really. We have actually avoided upgrading to a bigger older house even though we could since I far prefer the devil I know, haha!

    1. Hi Kate! Such great tips here — my mom was actually just advising me to ask the owner of the home we buy for a list of their vendors, at least to interview/get quotes from, as they will likely have a history with the house. So smart! And nice to set up those contracts immediately so we have them on our “trusted list” when the inevitable happens.

      Your home sounds beautiful!


  10. We went with a very old house (the oldest part was built in 1690, with an addition a century later), in part because of the charm you mention (individually-paned windows, brass bell pulls, a china closet), and because we did want less of an open floor plan, given the likelihood of both of us continuing to work from home. At my husband’s insistence, we toured a few newer homes too — and I did like aspects of them (in general, kitchens have gotten nicer and brighter over the past decade plus), but nothing really sang to me the way the very old house did. Which is a very roundabout way of saying: go with what your instinct responds to! Although: new construction is often not less maintenance, especially over time. A good inspector should be able to spot out potential future issues, though! (And beware tricky rooflines — they are a real boon to the roofing industry, but hell on homeowners.)

    1. WOW — 1690!!! That is epic! I think you’ve mentioned this in the past, and I LOVE the sound of your home. So stylish, with so much character!

      Thanks for the input here and especially the encouragement to trust my gut 🙂 Has not yet led me astray!


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