By Keysha Drexel
Even though they are minutes away from great restaurants, plenty of shopping spots, a multitude of arts and recreation venues and the hustle and bustle of downtown Birmingham, Jenny and Will Sneed said being new Over the Mountain residents feels thousands of miles away from their previous existence as Manhattanites.
Next month the Sneeds will mark their one-year anniversary as the proud owners of a 1950s rancher on Wicksford Road in Vestavia Hills. The Sneeds moved to the area from New York City, where they lived for two years in a cramped apartment alongside about eight million other New Yorkers.
“We were dreaming of green grass and a place to have a dog and raise a family. We were ready to nest,” Jenny said.
The couple was also ready to have more room and more affordable living expenses, Will said.
“In Manhattan, it was like we were living in a place the size of a cardboard box, and the cost of living there was astronomical. We were definitely ready for a change,” he said.
Jenny’s job as an accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers brought the couple to the Birmingham area. They initially settled into a one-bedroom apartment in the U.S. 280 area for about a year and a half.
While it was good to be back in the South, Jenny said she and her husband longed for a home of their own and were ready to give up apartment life.
“When we first moved here from New York, the traffic on (U.S.) 280 was no big deal to us, but the longer we lived there, the more it got to us,” she said. “We knew that the next step was to look for something long-term, somewhere we could put down roots.”
Jenny and Will said they decided to settle in the Over the Mountain area after doing some research to see which neighborhood would be a good fit for them now and in the future.
“We both grew up in Starkville, Mississippi, and we didn’t know a lot about the Birmingham area. One of my friends connected us with (real estate agent) Shelley Watkins, and we started working with her to try and find a house,” Jenny said.
At first, Jenny said, the couple was “all over the map” when it came at looking at homes to buy.
“But with Shelley’s help, we set a price range and started doing research,” she said.
Jenny said she recommends other homebuyers get a real estate agent to help them determine what area and what house will suit their needs best.
“If you’re buying a house, especially if you’re new to the area, you definitely need an agent. Shelley told us where the nearest grocery stores were, where the schools were and all about the area. She was really helpful,” Jenny said.
The couple told Shelley they were interested in a house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and an open floor plan.
“When we were in the apartment, we couldn’t really have our people from our church group over, and having space for that was really important to us when we starting looking at houses,” Will said.
While the couple wasn’t in the market for a new home, they didn’t want an older home that needed a lot of work, he said.
“It was important that the house be move-in ready. We’re at a stage in our lives where we are both very busy with work and we don’t have time to take on a lot of home improvement projects,” Will said.
While they have no children right now, Jenny said the couple plans to start a family and that in her research, she heard a lot about the quality of schools in the Over the Mountain area.
“That was important to me. We want to be in a good school system and everything we read, everyone we talked to told us about how good Vestavia schools are,” she said.
Proximity to downtown Birmingham was also an important factor the Sneeds considered when investigating where to buy their home, Jenny said.
“I work downtown, so the location went into our decision to buy in Vestavia. We wanted to not only be close to work but we also wanted to be close to the schools, so that helped us narrow where in Vestavia we were interested in buying,” she said.
Another important factor in their home search was potential resale value, Will said.
“While we want to put down roots, we also had to think about the fact that we might one day outgrow the house, and we wanted to make sure that if we had to sell it because we outgrew it or had to move for our jobs that the house would hold its value,” Will said.
Jenny said she and Will took their time in looking at houses and deciding which one was just the right fit for their lifestyle. They started their home search in November 2011 and fell in love with the house on Wicksford Road the first time they saw it in January of last year.
“We felt at home in this house as soon as we walked in the door,” Will said.
The couple bought the house in April 2012.
“This house spoke to us because it’s just a great house, and it has these beautiful cherry blossom trees in the backyard. There’s a bridge that runs over a creek out back, and you can always hear the trickling of the water. It gives you a peaceful feeling,” she said.
The property also gives the couple’s chocolate Lab, Riggins, a place to play.
“Adding Riggins to the family is one of the first things we did when we moved here from New York, and it’s great to have a backyard for him to enjoy,” Jenny said.
The couple also spends a lot of time in the backyard where they feel like they can truly escape the daily grind, they said.
“My parents gave us a pair of rocking chairs, and now that we have a place to use them, we’re out there all the time. When we’re sitting out there, we definitely don’t feel like we’re as close to everything as we really are,” Jenny said.
The couple said their neighborhood is a good mix of older residents, young families and professionals.
“It’s a very friendly neighborhood. Our neighbors brought us water bottles when we were moving in and were so welcoming to us,” she said.
Jenny said she knew she was back home in the South when, on the day the couple moved in, they found a gift from the home’s former owner waiting on them.
“The previous owner had left a bottle of wine and some Gatorade and water with a nice note wishing us many happy memories in the house. It was a great gesture of Southern hospitality,” she said.
That hospitality inspired Jenny and Will to hit the street to learn about their new community.
“We really wanted to spread our wings and went out into the community to meet as many people as we could. We are active in our church and have gotten to know so many people through church and through our neighbors. It has been an easy place to get to know people,” she said.
Jenny said she and her husband are taking to the suburban life and enjoying being Over the Mountain residents.
“My husband grew up in the country and I’m a little bit of a country girl, but we knew we wanted to be in more of a city environment to raise a family. Here, we get the best of both worlds. We love where we are,” she said.