After a long silence, I’ve barfed up a long blog post for you. There are two sections to this one. I’m telling you this now so you can maximize your reading pleasure by only reading those sections that you feel like reading. I’m nice like that.
Here’s what I’ll cover in each section:
- HolymotherofGod, we’re moving again
- We are moving to a dump
Section 1: So long, lovely house
Not because we want to, but because have to. People who love us say things like “Are you excited about the big move? Is your new house nice?”
The answers to those questions would be no and no.
But life, for some reason, has been pushing us in some very specific directions the past few years. I sort of feel like a little toy boat that has no choice but to go with the currents and see where we end up …
Is it possible to give a fast back story on this? There are so many variables, but I’ll try.
When Joe and I got engaged, it made sense for me to move out where he was. We had been living an hour apart, and I worked from home, so I was the portable one. Also, my family lived right down the road from him, and I hadn’t lived near them since I was 26.
The problem was schools. This massive school district Joe lived in has some very weird dividing lines between its many, many elementary schools. We were trying to get my kids into the same school where Joe’s kids were already going, but it was impossible.
When I say impossible, I’m not saying there wasn’t a good inventory of houses or that we couldn’t find a house that we liked. There were literally zero houses for rent that would’ve fit all six of us. I’m talkin’, there wasn’t even a tiny house or an ugly house. There were NONE.
The other problem, which is crucial to story, is that we were not in a position to buy a house at the time. We’d both lost a boatload of money in our divorces, and mine in particular was a divorce of the TFD variety (that’s “Totally Financially Devastating.”) It takes a little time to recover after something like that.
So we had to try to find something to rent, in an area that is generally not a rental market. I’ll skim over the weeks of extreme stress and not sleeping and deadlines to vacate our various properties and just get to the part where this lovely home that I’m sitting in right now landed in our laps.
For you new-agey types, get a load of this: if manifesting really works, I pulled this house right out of the ether. The more stressed we got, the worse the house options seemed to get. Finally, I put the brakes on all of it. I told Joe he was not allowed to think about it at all anymore, that I was going to fix it. So I started a mantra. “A house we love, in a location we love, at a price we love.” Every time I felt the slightest worry, I’d say that. Days later, BOOM.
When I spoke to the homeowner, the planets all sort of aligned. She had also been a single mom for many years. She had just remarried. She was going to live with her new husband until his kids graduated high school, and then they weren’t sure what they were going to do. They might move back here, but they also might pick up and move to Florida.
She told me about the house. It had a creek in the front yard. It had one really large bedroom upstairs that was not the master, and yes, it would probably fit all three of the girls (who actually WANTED to share a room, believe it or not). There were three fireplaces. (Dudes. Three fireplaces. And they are so delightful because they exist here not in an obnoxious, show-offy way, but rather,in an understated, cozy way … you’re just walking through the place and it’s like “Oh! There’s another one? And another? How many are there?”) And oh yeah, she was interior designer.
The only bummer was that the kids wouldn’t be in the same schools. If we stayed in the house, all the kids would eventually wind up in the same high school in a few years. But since this house was literally the only option we had, we decided we’d just have to deal with that. (So that means this year we have four kids in four different schools. It is, thankfully, not as bad as it sounds.)
The homeowner agreed to a two-year lease and said we could talk after that.
Since this house had just sort of fallen out of the sky for us, I pretty much decided that we were destined to be together. I think we all did. Joe and I took it for granted that we’d be buying this place.
The homeowner wants to move back in. The nerve!
I kid. It’s her house. She can do whatever she wants with it, including, you know, live in it. But it felt like a devastating blow. We felt like we being evicted. We were terrified to tell the kids who liked to ask questions like “If we buy this place, would we turn the screened-in porch into a real room?”
Section 2: Shabby chic or dumpy chic?
So not only did we have to move again, we had to move in THIS TOWN. Real estate in this town is hard. It’s an awesome place to live and because of that, home prices are off the chain. For example, we looked at a total dump that smelled like cat pee that was selling for the same amount that Joe’s old house, which was beautiful and totally finished, sold for. If you go out of town 10 minutes in any direction, houses become magically more reasonable.
And because fate dumped us into this particular neighborhood, my kids ended up going to the smallest elementary school in the district. It’s the smallest, because it pulls from about four neighborhoods. So if we wanted to avoid moving schools AGAIN, we had to find something within a really, really tight area.
The whole thing made me want to vomit.
After another few weeks of looking, another house fell out of the sky. I was on Zillow about every 10 minutes so I saw the listing right away. The address, one I recognized because I walk past it all the time, stopped me in my tracks.
It was a rental, but a big rental in what might be one of the best neighborhoods in the entire town. Gears began turning. What if we rented it for a year and then tried again next year … or what if we rented it for a couple of years and then just tried again after Benjamin was out of elementary school? Or, what if we just waited until the two oldest are off to college in a few years? Buying a house for six people vs. buying a house for four people and two college kids looks very different.
We decided to take it.
Did I mention it’s in a great neighborhood? When I tell people in town where we’re moving, their eyes get big. They say stuff like “Really? Wow. You’re so lucky.” Plus, the place is owned by one of the big-deal cultural institutions in the area. When people find out who owns it, they get all impressed because certainly a home owned by that institution is bound to be fucking cool.
And then I want to cry. Because, as The Dude would say, “New information has come to light, man.”
Guys, the place is a dump.
We knew that it was outdated. We knew that FOUR of the many rooms, including the kitchen, were painted pink or purple. We knew that one number was missing off the address plate but we were pretty sure they were going to fix that before we moved in.
I was ready to employ all kinds of DIY decorating to distract from the crappy elements and play up the charming elements. I was actually looking forward to the challenge. Besides, I love, love, love old quirky houses.
We had an overlap between when we got the keys there and when we had to be out of here. We figured we’d take those few weeks and paint and get the place nice and cozy for when we actually moved in.
The day after we got the keys, Joe and I loaded up the car to drop some things off at the house. We dropped our boxes in the big, empty space and then we started looking around.
Once we got under the hood of the joint, we were pretty horrified. Only about 1/3 of the many, many windows actually had a full set of screens and storm windows. Several of them, in place of storm windows, had plexiglass taped into the window frames. The window locks didn’t work on a bunch of windows. That is, they were there, but the screws that held them in no longer grabbed the wood. There were some pretty big holes in the wood flooring in the room that we were going to put Benjamin in.
And then, the kicker: no heat and hot water.
Joe and I declared a giant “FUUUUUUUUUUUCK THIS SHIT,” put our stuff back in the car, and got the hell outta there.
We went home and started looking for other housing options. When we cooled down a bit I wrote a giant email listing all the problems with the place. We realized that getting out the lease was probably going to be complicated and that we probably couldn’t legally get out of it without giving them an opportunity to fix some things.
That was about a month ago. The management company has fixed most of the things on our original list. But the problem is, every time we walked into the house for those first few weeks, we found more.
For example, one of the tiles on the kitchen floor was dented in. I wanted to pretend it was fine, because there were so many other repairs that we were asking about. But I couldn’t deny that right there the floor seemed … soft. Part of the corner of the tile was coming away from the floor so I lifted it up a bit and the wood under the tile looked like dried out mulch.
So now that’s on the list, too.
Finally, last week Joe and I both freaked the fuck out on the management company. We were like, “WHAT IS THE PLAN FOR THIS HOUSE? DO YOU INTEND TO JUST LET IT SIT HERE ON ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL STREETS IN TOWN AND LET IT DECOMPOSE? We’re paying a lot of money for this place. We know it’s old. We know it’s quirky and outdated, but we really expected that it would meet minimum requirements for livability. We’ve spent the last few weeks being home inspectors for this joint. Does no one care about this place?”
Did it help? I think, yes, to a certain extent. The address plate now includes all the numbers it’s supposed to. Some trash that was left in the yard (seriously) was taken out to the curb … although the trash in the basement remains. A bunch more things have gotten fixed.
I want to love this house. I also don’t want to move again in another year because moving sucks so bad. But I also don’t want to live in a dump.
What now? Today, we continue packing and painting. The movers come Thursday. After that, who knows …
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