|The one that got away...|
Yet on the scale of not looking, I wasn't really looking when I fell in love. It happened in the way that all great and monumental events in life occur: by seeming happenstance, one event unfolding organically upon another—naturally. I knew immediately, without hesitation. I had the feeling that I hoped I would have when It was right: I felt I was home.
It all started when I bought a newspaper on Saturday. I haven't purchased a newspaper in years since I get my news online or via NPR, but a headline about the 2011 federal budget resolution caught my eye, and on a whim, I exchanged seventy-five cents for a thin volume of newsprint. After reading the news, I hunted to find the classified section to look at home listings, both rentals and those for sale. Since the Sunday paper boasts a separate real estate section, there weren't many offerings on Saturday, but it only takes one, and it was there: A house for sale my neighborhood with two bedrooms, one bath on a wonderful, quiet street within walking distance to Jack's school. My heart did a little flip.
For the record, I'm a veteran homebuyer. This will be the fourth home I've bought in the past 18 years. And I always gravitate to old homes with hardwood floors, plaster walls and high ceilings. Of course, old homes also come with their share of baggage: scary, outdated electrical wiring, tiny closets and kitchens with counter space fit only for dicing grapes. I don't discount a property for these flaws. Here's where the metaphor departs, because unlike in a romantic relationship, "fixer upper" in real estate parlance is equity in the bank. A fixer-upper in boyfriend parlance is tantamount to heartbreak. Ripping up old linoleum and laying ceramic tile is a pain, but relatively easy. Ripping up a man's less-than-healthy relationship with his father, well, there is no contractor on earth who can guarantee that work (save for an exceptionally skilled shrink.) And fixing a man is not going to be my next DIY project, let me assure you. But I am game for renovating another home—if and only if, my instincts (and the tax assessment) tell me that it's gonna be worth the effort.
I drove over the see the house that afternoon, walked around the exterior and called the Realtor to let him know I wanted to place an offer. He was holding an open house the next day and I planned to be there ready to pounce. But I knew after seeing the exterior of the house and the sweet, shady backyard with its iris beds and fig trees that this was a home I could love. It was indeed, love at first sight, rusted window units and all.
When I did introduce myself to the interior of the home, I felt immediately comfortable. Sure there were some improvements to be made, but there was nothing that me put me off. The house was very open and forthcoming with its faults. It knew it had been neglected over the years and just needs some TLC to restore it to it's true self. I didn't have to remodel or remake into some image of a home that I've seen on the pages of Southern Living or Dwell. The old house had, as They say in the realty world, good bones. The old oak floors, though stained from years of wear, felt substantial and solid and level under foot. The walls, with paint-faded patterns—the ghosts of family photos—needed fresh color, but there were very few cracks in the plaster, which was a testament to the home's solid foundation. Even the bathroom, with it's black and white tie floor, iron tub and spartan sink, seemed to be waiting for the next owner to move right in and give it a good scrub. Sure, some buyers would want to go wild with the place, blow out walls, modernize the fixtures, recess the lights, but I saw the house for what it was: a solid structure that had stood the test of time and was ready to take on a happy rebirth. The home, I discovered, was owned by an old man who had passed away a few years ago, and his son was just getting around to selling it. The house stood empty for years, and longer still since it carried the sounds of childhood laughter and joy.
I brought Jack back to see the place and he fell for it too (of course, he's fickle about such things, and falls in love with every home he sees.) I wanted to involve him in the process, just as, when/if I ever become romantically entangled with a man, Jack will have sign off. I wrote up an offer that afternoon and felt the euphoria of dreams realized. I knew it would be a lot of work to get the house up to code, and I had to get my financial ducks in a row, but I also had confidence I could make all those things happen. Electricians and HVAC guys are in my Rolodex. I had already picked up loan papers from my credit union. I was in love and ready to make a commitment.
Within 24-hours, I negotiated price and terms, and the contract was edging toward agreement. The one sticking point? Timing. The Seller wanted to close right away, and I needed a couple weeks to get my financing in order. Yes, it all came down to timing. Like so many things in life—meeting the right person, getting the job, having a child—timing was the essential element. Depending upon timing, the house and I were destined to be together— and not. I honestly thought it was meant to be, but there are always two sides to any relationship, and often the other person's perspective and motivations are quite different than your own.
The Seller's perspective was this: He wanted to sell the home as soon as possible. He didn't want to wait. He wanted a sure thing. He decided he could not extend the closing for me. In the meantime, another suitor stepped in and made an offer, with a quicker closing. When the realtor called to deliver the bad news, I got that same awful, sinking feeling that I had in seventh grade when I didn't make cheerleader—the same feeling I had when a boyfriend called to say he "thought we should see other people." Yes, I had done the one thing you should never, ever do when buying real estate: I had become prematurely, emotionally attached.
Of course, for a woman who becomes emotionally involved with her DSL service, that's a tall order to ask me to separate feelings from the home-buying process. Buying a home (a home, not a house) is an emotionally-charged prospect, especially now when so much of my life is in flux. Homes represent so much: stability, maturity, safety, comfort. In fact, research shows that "homeowners are more satisfied with their lives and are happier. Homeownership is positively associated with physical, mental and emotional health."
Of course we know that home-owning can bring about a lot of stress and anxiety, too. Just ask the millions of people who lost their houses to foreclosure over the past couple years. Homeownership is a tremendous responsibility. Just as in romantic relationships, commitment alone is not tantamount to happiness. Happiness, like a home, can only be owned if we take responsibility for our wellbeing.
I was disappointed, but just as when a relationship doesn't pan out, I now can step back and realize that maybe this was just a dress rehearsal for something better. I learned a lot by extending my heart and throwing myself into the house buying arena. Certainly, when the next "perfect" house comes on the market, I'll be ready with loan pre-approval in hand. I know more about what I want and what I need, and I will not settle. I can wait for the right house to come along. Most important, after going through what can be an intimidating process (signing a 30-year mortgage!), I know I do want to buy a home, I do want to make that commitment again. A place I can call my own is a central piece of the puzzle as I'm putting my life back together in my great Do-Over. Yes, the first step should be finding home.