We have now gone house-hunting with our real estate agent three times. Wait. I have. Unfortunately, James had to sit the most recent one out.
Last week I emailed our agent with four addresses and said “Hey can we look at these houses?” I chose them because they were a) sitting in our Favorites list and had been for some time and b) all clustered in a relatively small space on my map. So she took us to each of these house last Tuesday. We were excited. I had chosen them all by myself, and maybe soon we would be living in them! James was equally excited, because what if we found The House today?
She pulled up to a house that I will call the Tall House. It was a three-story house in a quiet neighborhood. We walked out of the car, and she immediately began pointing things out that were wrong with the house:
-the driveway sloped downwards without any obvious place for the water to drain to, and so the water would just flood the driveway
-the giant crack in the driveway, likely from the roots of the large, lovely tree in the yard
-the exterior of the house was made from wood, which meant that water would seep into the structure of the house, as indicated by the nail-holes peeping out of the wood
-the brick around the front stoop was uneven, indicating a patch job as the stoop had sunk, rather than a proper replacement of the stoop
-the front door faced South, towards the sun most of the day, so the front door was very hot
-the floors were uneven. There was an obvious peak around the central beam of the house, and the hardwood floors hadn’t been maintained at all since the 90s
-the studs of the walls were starting to lean into the drywall (or, “the walls were buckling”)
-The trim of the windows were wood and had some indications of rot
-There was some obvious patching around the central beam of the house, indicating that something had happened to the house and it didn’t look like it was properly done
As it turns out, she was actually there to take us on an educational tour of what to look for when shopping for a house. Those houses had been sitting on my Favorites list for two weeks? Well, why hadn’t they sold in two weeks?
James and I were left stunned. The next house had okay floors, but the layout was much weirder than what we expected from online; the laundry room had been moved around, all the entertaining space was in the basement, and no updates had been made to the house ever. It was for sale by a real estate broker.
“Want to see what a real estate agent’s office looks like?” our agent asked me.
I peeked into the office. It looked like a generic messy office.
The next house? Well, the next house had an awesome loft, which James and I raved over. It sat a half-flight above the kitchen, away from the formal areas downstairs but still close to the kitchen and the front door. Another half-flight up the stairs took you to the bedrooms. The floors were in terrible shape, sloping, and the windows were starting to go, and there was a weird crack in the basement, but worst of all was the terrible noise.
“If only this house sat two or three blocks away from the highway,” said James. “That loft is amazing.”
I also pointed out that having the dining room right next to the breakfast nook was really cool. If you hosted a whole bunch of people, they could still be near each other even if they were at different tables.
The next house had the worst situation of all. It sat on a slab, and had carpet and vinyl everywhere. It was a former rental property, and the tenants had torn up the carpet, or at least their animal had. There were holes and burns in the carpet, and obvious signs of either throw-up or poop. The paint job had been hastily done. There was moisture damage to the front door and the front window. They had added doors to the attic to make more room for storage, which may or may not be legal. The kitchen still had appliances from the mid 90s. The house was listed at $379,000.
But the layout was everything we had hoped for, the location was great, and there was a great backyard. Would we be willing to spend, say, $300,000 on it? Buy it as a fixer-upper? Our real estate agent said she could look into it but wasn’t sure.
She took us to another few houses a few days later. The first one was right down the road from our current rental. We liked the updated kitchen and it had a very nice loft, since we had clearly reacted so strongly to the loft earlier. It also had a screened-in porch, although that may or may not be legal, and an awesome backyard. And a fake deer, with bullet holes in it. And a hunting rifle, sitting out in the open.
We liked it pretty darn okay, although we wanted to be a little farther south.
Turns out she was still just testing the waters to see what we liked. She took us a little further into the neighborhood and showed us a house $50,000 cheaper. It was still a detached home, but all the levels were stacked like a townhouse. There was no entry area. You could either walk into the living room, or go up the stairs. No lingering, you were blocking the door. The kitchen sat partially into the dining room. The bedrooms were small. There was hardly any yard, and the space between houses was barely wide enough to fit your car into. James and I couldn’t get out of the house fast enough.
So she took us to a house that was a lot like our favorite house from earlier. It had a nice foyer that lead either into the formal dining room or off into the living room. The kitchen overlooked the living room. And halfway up the stairs was that same awesome loft. And then up the rest of the stairs? A little office area right off of the master bedroom.
The rest of the rooms were decently sized, but I was enchanted by that office right off of the master bedroom. “I stay up later than you, so I can get some work done in the office and then crawl right into bed!”
But the house backed up to a creeks, so it had a severe slope. There was basically no yard.
So the last place she took us was to some new construction. I was surprised by how into the idea of new construction I was. “I like these cabinets with this countertop and backsplash, but I’m not a fan of this hardware.” “Well if a crawlspace and a morning room both cost $10,000 then I would rather have a crawlspace than a morning room.” “Having the living room be carpeted actually looks more elegant than if it were hardwood all throughout and it would save us some money in the long run.”
But the location was terrible and so James and I decided not to consider that location at least. Perhaps if the location was right, we would do new construction.
So we continued the hunt, and we found a few more houses to like.
She emailed us early this morning to say that one of the houses we liked was doing an open house this evening. James is closing his work, but I could definitely make it to the showing.
“This house is going to sell fast,” she told us. “If you decide to jump on it you have to be absolutely ready.”
She called me as I drove over. “Are you ready?”
Since I had spent part of my lunch hour arranging for some pre-mortgage stuff, I said that yes, and hadn’t she gotten the email?
“I don’t mean that,” she said. “I mean that there’s a lot of people here with their agents. Are you ready to deal with that?”
I honestly hadn’t even been thinking about it, but now that she said it I felt rather nervous about the whole thing.
I finally arrived. She told me, “This house is in great condition and if you decide to get this house we have to move fast. We’re going to be dealing with a multiple-offer situation.”
And so we entered. I hadn’t realized how nice it had been walking into a house just the agent, James, and I. There were three other families wandering around, with their agents. It was hard to get a sense of how to use the space because you felt embarrassed to bump into other people. But when there weren’t other people in the room, I felt okay to wander around and think about things.
The kitchen was gorgeous. “This is exactly James’ style,” said our agent, and I had to agree.
The downstairs looked fabulous, but rather plain. The screened-in porch, you know, existed, but also it had slate tile, which was a nice surprise (I really want slate tile in my future screened-in porch). The bedrooms upstairs all made sense in terms of layout. The master bathroom needed to be re-caulked and updated, and the carpet all needed to be replaced (it wasn’t stained or holey, but it was stretched out.)
The backyard was smaller than I thought it would be, although it was surrounded by trees. And I could hear the road. I went back upstairs to the master bedroom and decided that no, we couldn’t hear the road from inside, but still, standing outside, you could hear the road. It wasn’t a highway, but it was still a main road.
It hit all the things we wanted. A nice, working kitchen. Recent updates. A bonus room. A screened-in porch. A good location.
And yet I couldn’t get excited about it. Logically, I should feel excited, right? That was a very nice kitchen and an awesome screened-in porch.
James texted me to ask if I had seen the house. I replied yes. He said he was going to take a lunch and would call me ASAP. I met our agent outside. She started to ask me what I thought, when my phone interrupted. We took the conversation to the car, since there were people around.
So? What did I think of the house?
I described the kitchen and how nice the dining room was and the windows of the breakfast nook and the screened-in porch and a bonus room and don’t worry, the master bedroom faces West, and there was a side-entry garage, which is all the things we want.
“So you liked it?” said James.
I couldn’t say yes. And I couldn’t say no. The question hung in the air. The real estate was watching me. She prodded us along, trying to get us to talk about this.
“What questions do you have, James?” she asked.
James wanted to know why, if the house was so great, it was being put on the market at $300,000. Probably because the seller wanted multiple offers, to get as much cash as possible and to sell the house quickly. We would have to put forth a strong bid if we wanted it — something more like $350,000.
“Three hundred and fifty?” James echoed.
But we could do it…if we liked it.
That was the $64,000 question. It all fell on me. There was no time to see if James liked the house. He trusted my judgement completely. If I liked the house, we would go all in.
“I feel a little nervous,” I said. “There’s a lot of pressure on me right now.”
James and the agent agreed, but it was no time for laughing. It was dead serious. Did I or did I not like the house? It was a great kitchen and I really did like that side-entry garage. But did I like the house?
I stared at the house.
Finally, I said, “You can’t play croquet in that yard.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean the driveway breaks up the backyard and the front yard. They’re both too small and slopey to play. And they’re not fenced-in and they’re too small really to fence, so if we wanted to have a kid or a dog running around we’d have to be there, watching them, constantly. You can’t have a kid here. The road noise isn’t that bad but it is there.”
“So you don’t want it,” said James.
“No,” I said. My voice was firm but for some reason I felt a little misty. “No, I do not want the house.”
And that was that. Saying it out loud was hard, but once it was out, I felt confident. It was completely, 100% true. I did not want that house. It was not our house. It was not the yard I wanted. It was not the living room I wanted.
Saying no to that house was probably the most grown-up thing I have ever done in my entire life. I felt like a ghost for a while afterwards. I didn’t feel like me. Everything felt different. Even when I drove home. Even when I played games on my phone. Even when I fed the cat. It was different. Because I did the right thing.