Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ever notice “what the hell” is always the right decision?

They brag about liquid make-up concealing flaws. Not so much.

In my search for a home, I started out with two things: a depressingly tight budget in a town not known for cheap real estate, and a sort of dreamy idealism. This is not a good combination. It is in fact grounds for a head smack. I couldn’t do anything about the budget, but the idealism I could rein in with large doses of practicality, obsessive worry, and blunt assessments of my prospects. And when all else failed, I resorted to bouts of hysteria and stubbornness.

I’d done this before. There was the first house, the Arts and Crafts bungalow in Michigan that had a fabulous telescoping back yard where I grew buckets of tomatoes and armloads of peonies and lady’s mantle. There had been the 4 bedroom 2.5 car attached garage Beige-O-Matic in Subdivision-Land, where I made great friends and drank great (and much) wine but loathed the generic-looking rooms, the white vinyl floors and builder’s grade everything. Then there was the dark and depressing 1970s colonial, chosen for lack of better options in a tight market, which turned out to be the harvest gold stage upon which my marriage failed.

This time, I wanted to get it exactly right. This time, I wanted and needed a recipe made up of one part memory, one part new beginning.

I took my friend Kristy along. She’s got the right combination of house hunting skills. She has an eye for that which can be cleaned, spray painted, patched or put back together, and that which will require a credit-busting home improvement loan or an exorcism. That, and she’s not afraid to deal out a head smack if necessary (see above).

I also brought along my Mom, who wants me to succeed and wants me to be happy, but also wants me to iron t-shirts and clean my bathroom thoroughly twice a week. It's a combination of high expectations and familial love, and who doesn't want that when they're shopping for a house? 

Also along for the ride was a real estate agent who knew my limits and my wish list, and did her level best to steer me to the front doorsteps + for sale signs that met those two demands; and Sarah, my loan officer, who did much to calm the unexpected twists and turns of mortgage lending (my ex did WHAT to my credit score??)

By March 2011 the search was on. I looked at some depressing things which featured too little charm and too much cat pee odor. I looked at a once-lovely 1890 foreclosure home that I had to sign a waiver to even look at, the black mold and asbestos problems were so bad (run away! run away!) I looked at one little Cape Cod a block from where I ended up that should have won an HGTV award for being truly "designed to sell." I was tempted. The hardwood floors were already refinished and there was a Gothic style phone nook in the hallway. But there were only three small bedrooms and one tiny shoebox bathroom. I kept looking.

In the end, there were surprisingly few houses I looked at. Perhaps ten, total. And the house I bought, I almost overlooked. The yard looked awful. The paint, the very liquid make-up pinky beige that is the. worst. color. ever. Still, it was four bedrooms and in budget. Inside was tired and soiled 1980s ivory carpet and a stale smell.

And yet, when I walked through the door, the first thing out of my mouth was, "Oh. Yes." Like my mind had already been made up for me. It was if the little house was one of those elderly ladies with carefully coiffed hair and a "nice" sweater who, looking a little tired, tugged at my sleeve and said, "as you can see dear, I could use a little help."

True, but she still had class. A dining room with corner china cabinets. Linen cabinet built-ins in the upstairs and downstairs hallway. A solid look about it. A screen porch. The house made me smile. So I closed my eyes to certain big things (the roof is god-knows how old) and certain little things (holy overcooked broccoli, what was that smell?). And I said "Oh, yes."

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