So we saw one more house today and will see two tomorrow. For your amusement (and as an exercise in working out my own feelings about them) I’ll describe our strongest options.
The Bad Karma House
The bad karma house is practically right around the corner from our current home. It’s a very attractive home on a pretty street. I like the way there is a good play space for the kids right next to a good sewing space for me. It’s a totally respectable and nicely maintained home that is probably the “smartest” purchase on our list. Your mother would approve. But why the bad karma? I don’t know if you’d call it karma or “vibes” or what, but even though I’m not a superstitious person I still feel like I need to have a positive feeling about the home I buy. If I am going to lay my head down in it every night, I want to feel some positive association with the space itself. When we walked up to this home and Rob was inspecting the exterior he found (this is no joke) a butcher knife in the immaculately well-kept front bushes. A butcher knife in the landscaping. Was it left over from Halloween? Was it being used as a hedge-trimming tool? I have no idea. Strange, but we went inside anyway, toured the upstairs and the main floor, noted the acceptable floorplan, etc., then headed down to the basement where there was a small neighborhood lizard writhing miserably in the middle of the floor. In our very path through the basement, there was a lizard dying. I think it actually died while we were down there. So on a tour of this otherwise totally respectable home we a) found a butcher knife in the hedges and b) witnessed the death of a small reptile. I don’t need to be a voodoo practitioner to feel like maybe that is just not the house for us, right? Plus, in such a respectable home, could I ever feel comfortable rocking out to classic outlaw country with my family while we cooked and I drank gin? It just didn’t have any grit to it at all.
The “Good Memories” House
This is a house we’ve had our eye on since we put our own on the market. A young couple built it in 1940, raised their family in it, and lived in it until their own deaths, the most recent of which was five years ago. It was well-maintained and has a sunny, cheerful feeling. It’s also got the worst 1970s wallpaper you’ve ever seen. In every single room. Crazy floral patterns in every room, all in shades of yellow and gold except the kitchen where there is (drum roll please) a wallpaper mural of a wharf scene. Still, you know me, I like vintage things and I really love the floorplan of this house. I can totally picture the happy hum of home life my family would have under this roof. I also love the idea of taking up the banner of life in a house that grew old with one loving family. So the problem (besides the damage to my fingernails that a full year of peeling off wallpaper would cause) is that the daughter who grew up in this home and now owns it is completely delusional about what the home is “worth.” She loved it, she grew up in it, she watched her parents take good care of it, and now she’s asking a completely nutty amount of money for it. So it has sat empty, lonely, cold and unkempt for three years while no one buys it. Someone has cut the grass but not much else. A shutter has come loose, and who knows what has happened to the pipes. I guess we could make a low offer on the house, one that is more in keeping with what the actual real estate market says the home is worth, but we don’t have much confidence she’d take it. Then we’d have wasted precious time making an offer that has almost no hope of being accepted. That would leave us in an even bigger hurry to find a house and kind of sad, too, because when you actually make an offer you can’t help but to get a little emotionally involved.
Last but never least, there is a very beautiful home on a very lovely street. We toured it at an open house last winter. We were amazed at how pretty it could be, and our jaws dropped at the amount of work it needed. The kitchen is horrifying, the basement leaks, the roof looks shoddy, the home needs new windows. “What a labor of love,” we thought, “for someone who doesn’t mind living though all that work.” “What a beautiful and charming home for someone who can give it the love it needs.” And we walked back out. But the house is on the route of our daily family walk, so each day for approximately eight months we’ve walked by it. “That house needs someone to love it,” we’d say. Then, gradually, a funny thing happened. We hardly wanted to say it out loud, but it became increasingly clear that maybe we were falling in love with it, just a little bit. “We could rent the upstairs apartment,” one of us would suggest, “to help with the cost of the renovations.” Or “I guess buying a house that needs a lot of work would mean that the people doing the work would get to choose how it turns out, which is much nicer than buying a nice house that is imprinted with someone else’s taste.” And slowly we realized we were trying to talk ourselves into it, that we did love the house, and that it was at the top of our list of places to move. Then, a few months ago, the real estate sign disappeared from the yard. We were shocked and sad, like the house cheated on us somehow. We asked around; it appeared the house had found a buyer. “At least someone will give it the love it needs,” we said, and told ourselves it was for the best. Every day we took our walk, and every day we watched for there to be lights on in the house, or some sign that work had begun, but nothing happened. Then, two weeks ago, right about the time we were deciding to take our home off the market the for sale sign went back up. I swear I’m not superstitious, but just as much as knives and lizards make me feel uncomfortable with the respectable little stone house around the corner, there was a funny flow to the set of events that brought us from “should we take ours off?” to “oh look! The sign is back up in the yard of that beautiful fixer-upper,” to “OMG! We’ve finally got an offer!”
So the knives and lizards house would be a smart buy, the dilapidated charmer would be stupid. Who buys a house they know will be a money pit? Shouldn’t transactions like real estate be made with the head more than the heart? So we’ll take our final looks at our options tomorrow and then figure something out. A home inspection might shed light on our charmer, and maybe a serious offer would sway our Happy Memories owner more than we think. It might be a nice middle ground? In the meantime, I’m off to pour myself another margarita.