Saturday, March 09, 2013

The House Equivalent of Duck Face

On my 41st birthday, I announced here that I, for the very first time ever, was buying a house.

And then I subsequently, quietly disappeared from recording my infinite wisdoms.

And if you're a person given to powers of deduction, you might have drawn the conclusion that I wasn't writing because I was busy house hunting and frantically pinning decorating and DIY home improvement-type stuff to Pinterest. 

But you would be wrong.

In fact, until this week, I hadn't stepped foot into one available property for a look see. 

Mostly this is because our lease isn't up until June 30 and I was terrified I would find and fall in love with a house too soon and either have to let it slip through my fingers or get stuck with months of rent+mortgage payments. But now we've entered that sweet spot - that period of time during which I have time to browse the inventory, make an offer, counter-offer, and close without fear of double payments.

Except...inventory is pretty low in my price range. Inventory is pretty low in every price range. People are still underwater on their mortgages and unwilling to list for less than they owe unless they have to. And what little inventory is out there is getting snapped up almost as fast as it gets listed by investors who are back to quick flipping for profit. Fuckers.

So, on Thursday morning when I received the auto-email for new property listings meeting my criteria that my Realtor, Courtney (yes, she's blond and also full of win), set up for me and saw a house meeting all my must and love to haves except one - it was just a tad outside the physical locations I wanted but still manageable - and the price was an unbelievably reasonable price, I pounced. The pictures showed a lovely, two-story, 1970s-era vision of my kind of perfect.

Nice, right? Photo shamelessly taken from the property listing

Formal living room of "the perfect house" - photo shamelessly taken from the property listing

The family room of "the perfect house"

I immediately e-mailed Courtney and told her "I must see this house. TODAY." Fearing an investor would snatch it out from under me before I even had a chance to shower and shampoo.

And then I immediately e-mailed everyone I know. Well...OK...I e-mailed Acr0nym and Lex. Still...I was excited. THIS WAS MY HOUSE! I knew it! Even the address told me so (long story)! 


Never mind that I'd not looked at any other houses. Never mind that I have no idea what I'm doing. Never mind that, in the back of my head, I was thinking it is absurd to put an offer in on the first house I see. It's not that simple. Very few things in life are ever that simple.

Regardless, I got caught up in house hunting hysteria, crazed by the knowledge that it's a seller's market with sharks circling every property out there just waiting to drive up prices. I could barely concentrate on getting myself ready for work. I couldn't concentrate on my actual work once I got there. I coerced my boss into going with me at noon, knowing full well I needed a steady head to talk me down from offering up way more than I could afford just to secure this piece of homey heaven for me and the boys.


The moment my boss and I pulled up in front of the house, I knew it was all wrong. While the rest of the houses on the street seemed peppy and smart, this house seemed tired in a way I couldn't really identify. There wasn't anything exactly wrong with the outside - other than the extremely worn out wooden platform acting as a front stoop to the door - it just...there wasn't any life to it.

I attributed that to the fact that it was empty and had been vacant for who knows how long. It was a foreclosure after all. It could have been vacant for months...years. We'll breathe life into it! That's how it works...right?

And then we - Courtney, my boss, and I - stepped inside.

The moment Courtney closed the door, she said, "OK. Before we really look, here's what we're up against."

My heart sank.

Nothing good ever starts with a sentence like that. And, for the next five minutes, I got schooled on the delightful dealings of HUD foreclosures, bidding processes, preliminary inspections, repair escrows for things like plumbing and septic system damage of which there were several repairs required. 


Why did it have to be plumbing?!*

And then, with that information gurgling around in my guts, we looked around.

I'll start with the good.

The house was perfectly laid out. I loved the light, the windows, the way the formal living room flowed into the dining room, the size of the kitchen, the bay window over the kitchen sink with shelves for an herb garden, the gorgeous fireplace and hearth in the family room. The basement was great for Lex - a bedroom, an office, a 3/4 bath, and a large room for working out and/or gaming. The upstairs, which could have used another bathroom aside from the master bath, was also laid out well for my purposes...a bedroom, an office, and a guest room.


Every single room - EVERY ONE - had glaringly obvious cosmetic needs. The previous owners had painted nearly every room in bold colors - not awful ones but bold...mahogany, purple, blue, red - but they were lazy painters and hadn't bothered to tape off AT ALL and then used a paint sprayer. So nearly every single ceiling had 3-4" of bold-colored paint bleeding into its 70's-style popcorn texturing. Nearly every wall had a punch through the drywall. Every wall had a number of nail holes and masonry plugs. There had obviously been a plumbing problem in the basement bathroom because there was a huge cut through the drywall that hadn't been replaced and exposed the pipes. The ceiling in the master bedroom was stained from an obvious leak in the ceiling. The carpet was disgusting throughout the upstairs and, in one place, had suffered extreme damage but, instead of replacing it, the previous owners had cut a stripe - about a foot wide and 8 feet deep - of a different carpet, color and texture - and nailed it down to cover the damage. The humongous backyard, a yard that, at one time, had been a gardener's delight, had been so neglected, it had become a snarl of weeds that had choked out every other living thing.

The backyard, more than anything else, surprised me the most. The front yard was beautifully groomed and landscaped. It was one of the things I liked best! But the backyard - hidden from the prying eyes of the neighbors by an 8-foot privacy fence - had been so horribly neglected it would require a backhoe in order to dig it all up and start over.

I was quiet on the way back to the office. Disappointed obviously but also lost in thought.

This house...this "perfect house" one time, had truly been perfect. It was a lovely, traditional, colonial-style house and, when it was brand new, must have been quite nice. The selling agent knew just how to capture duck face pictures of this house in its best light to convince everyone looking at it online that this was something truly special. A must see! A must have! 

But just like the duck face pictures we see of our friends, that we post of ourselves, online - those allegedly candid selfies in which we portray ourselves in the very best light, hiding the wrinkles, the double chins, the hard facts of life - the house, in real life, had a decidedly different story to tell. The house, like people, hides behind a facade. Behind the walls, it's another story. The pictures show us the shell of what it once was - what it should be. But the only true story it could tell was a story that included neglect, abuse, indifference, laziness, and bad decisions. 

And, just like a person who has been neglected and abused, this house was, at times, overwhelmed with its sadness.

I felt it.

It gave me new meaning to the phrase "domestic abuse" and, in some ways, I felt horrible when I made the decision to pass it by. That house needs love! And I have lots of love! I just don't have a whole lot of energy to put into patching up that kind of damage done.

So...I hope some energetic, caring person grasps onto that house and gives it the love it so desperately needs. I hope it gets the chance it deserves. 

But then I hope those same things for all of us.

* The day before, I'd had to leave work early, ONCE AGAIN, to meet the plumber because The Grotto had yet another random explosion out of the bathroom sink which spewed sludge all over the ceiling, walls, mirror, vanity, our TOOTHBRUSHES, and destroyed literally everything not encased in plastic that we'd stored in the medicine chest (how it got in there, we do not know). The joys of 100+ year old properties.


alienbody said...

Oy...the process of buying a house is excruciating. When the fit is right though, you DO feel it. Wishing you oodles of inventory in the coming months!!!

Ernie Hendrix said...

I'm so sorry the "perfect" house was so much less than perfect. But you are a wise, wise woman not to think, "Oh, I can do this. It's all just cosmetic." Rehab on a house is hard work. It's hard enough to keep up with one that is in good condition, much less starting from already behind. You'll find the right one. Maybe not the "perfect" one (not sure they exist), but the right one is out there.

Gaelyn said...

Smart move and looking at the problems and needs. The right house Will come your way.

Unknown said...

The first one is always the hardest. We dream and expect to find a perfect home. Such a beast does not exist. Think of what you apartment will look like once you move everything out and get ready to clean it.
Paint and nail holes are easy. It's just paint. Nail holes (and even screw holes) are easily filled with putty before you re-paint. Honestly, any home you look at is going to need nail holes filled and the walls painted. You have to start looking past that kind of minot cosmetic stuff ASAP.
If you ever look at non-forclosure/short sale homes, you can negotiate on price for things like carpet replacement, scraping and sodding a weed-filled yard, water damage, and anything else the inspector (get a _very_ thorough inspection) finds wrong - and there will be stuff wrong in any house you look at.
Your house is out there. It takes time. [hug]

Anonymous said...

Carpet and paint are doable. In my view, the need for them can actually be a plus because choosing your own colors is one of the ways to make a house really yours, and if what's there is acceptable, you're likely going to live with it while other things get tended. The rest, though, especially since there's a lot of "the rest," are deal breakers. The worst thing, I think, was the sense of sadness the house conveyed to you.

You're smart to take a pass. The right one will come along and when you meet, your heart will know.

Graciewilde said...

Ugh - the buying and selling of houses. Such rich soil for grief. The thing that slays me is how the decision often has to be made quickly lest someone else get it. You are making this huge decision with very little time to consider the options. And then the stress from deals closing at the right time. In my experence though, once you find or make the best house, at least you shouldn't have to do it again for a long tim1.

Unknown said...

This is why one does not buy houses sight unseen over the internet, I guess.

Fortunately for me, EVERY picture I've ever taken of myself is fantastic.

No plumbing problems here!

That sounded wrong. I am looking forward to your house-hunting adventures anyway!

Masked Mom said...

I'm horrible at house hunting in part for the reason you touch on here. I get overly attached--especially to the "inappropriate" ones. I'm sure the right one is right around the corner. ;)

Unknown said...

I can't believe how much of this I just wasn't aware of. Thank you for bringing more information to this topic for me. I'm truly grateful and really impressed.
Plumber Homewood, Al

Renegade Diet said...

Oy...the process of buying a house is excruciating.

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