A very, very, very fine house.

4 years ago




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The house we’re now under contract to own, pending inspection and appraisal by the VA, is not the house I thought we would end up buying. When we started looking, even when looking meant going on Zillow and checking out what was for sale around our zip code, even when it became walking into the first home with an experienced Realtor leading the way, I was thinking of a certain number, a certain amount past which I was not willing to go. I was thinking of a certain type of house – namely, a fixer-upper.  I was thinking of reality as I’ve come to know it. Think small, think practical, don’t risk, don’t aspire and don’t assume. I was thinking exactly the way my parents had unintentionally trained me to think.
After they sold our house when I was four, my parents became and remained “renters”, moving from a farmhouse by the highway that badly needed paint and some weed control (which the kids on the school bus deemed “The Great American Junkyard” – I assume now they heard this from their parents, and I’m hurt all over again by the title, as an adult) to the Runaway Rental in Inman, where we stayed for less than a year after my brother David died, to the mobile home on the outskirts of town where I was considered one of the “rich girls” in school, a laughable idea, to the mobile home on 96th, where I came of age reading and writing romances and sneaking chocolate frosting in my bedroom, to the mobile home on 66th, which was apparently a movin’ on up kind of thing, as it was a doublewide.

(I’m reminded, here, of how my mother and I shopped for jeans. I would try on a pair of floral or pinstriped jeans (the 80s, baby!) and my mother would say, “They’re very nice, I can tell they’re in style. Now, are these jeans something you would feel comfortable wearing three or maybe even four times a week? Do you think people would notice if you wore these often?” Of course they would. They were denim jeans with mint green and pink three-inch wide flowers all over them. Inevitably, I would put the in-style jeans back and grab a practical, classic pair of jeans – jeans that would not stand out in any way, jeans that would disappear in a crowd.)

So then there were the houses of my own choosing – the college houses, some of which had great character, but most of which were all rundown rentals shared with potheads and, once, a gigantic snake that gave me nightmares. My mother died when I lived in one of those houses. After my roommates graduated and we all moved on (I, rather unwillingly), I took whatever I could get, my outlook was so dim, my view of the future so blackened by pain. There was a slimy wet basement under the people for whom I nannied, a gorgeous basement apartment in the house of a man who liked me more than I deserved, who thought I was more interesting than I was. Nights spent crashing at friends. One day, I took a friend’s offer to fly me to L.A. I went over the rainbow. And I never came back.

Sad to say, my housing situation didn’t improve as much as the scenery and the weather did once I landed in LA. There was a scary nanny position in a coke dealer’s mansion (a place I snuck out of with friends’ help, fearing for my life), another nanny position and then another, taking care of rich people’s children, children I didn’t really like, parents I despised and of whom I was jealous. All so I could float along, have a place to rest my head while I lived like a 20 something in LA.  Once I found a job that stuck, I moved into a single apartment. It was rent control, allowed no pets and, truth be told, was crappy to begin with.

And there I stayed for fifteen years. I was scared of getting kicked out because I owned a cat, scared to ask for repairs, scared of the cat peeking out the window, scared to shivers every time I got a notice on the door saying someone needed entrance to the apartment. Fifteen years in a single, while the paint peeled and the carpet wore down and the disposal broke so I just stopped using and the paint they’d used to paint the porcelain tub cracked and peeled off in strips. I just lived there in quiet despair while the apartment crumbled around me and the ungrateful bastard of a cat I was trying to protect attacked and mauled me daily.  God, I loved that cat. How did I stand it? I made work my home. Work, where it was bright and the refrigerator was stocked and people smelled good and the electricity and internet were free. And, a whole nuther story – I made a bar my second home. God, I loved that bar.

Then I met Brad. He seemed to want to accept me for everything that I was. So I brought him home, the better to have sex with him. I cleaned a little. Then we got married. We brought in new married people junk to liven up the place. Our kitchen-aid mixer looked like stolen goods sitting in my broke-down kitchen. Then we had a baby. In a single. It was cute and cozy for a while. I vacuumed constantly and comforted myself with the thought of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Ma and Pa and Mary and Rose all in one little open concept cabin. If they did it, we can do it, I thought. And then we had another baby. This, combined with the fact that my son would soon start to need room to run (he learned to walk on our bed – the largest flat space in the whole apartment – excellent balance), convinced us we needed to make a change. So…to my heartbreak, after 18 years in LA, the town I’d grown to love like no other, ever, we moved to Arizona.

Into my mother-in-law’s house.

And 22 months later, we’re still there.  She’s been patient, she’s been gracious, she’s been supportive. But let’s face it, we’re two queens in one castle and sometimes it just ain’t pretty.

One day in December I said to the mother-in-law, “There’s a house down the street that’s for sale” and I told her where, “for $---.----“ And my mother-in-law scoffed and said, “They’ll never get that amount, there’s no way it’s worth that, it’s maybe worth thirty thousand less than that. Ridiculous.” The house itself was lovely, if too big and too masculine for me. It had a kickass backyard, with a built-in barbecue and a built-in chiminea in the corner of the patio. I shrugged and wrote it off as way out of my league, even at thirty thousand less than they were asking.

A few weeks later, they lowered their price by ten grand. Interesting, I’d keep an eye on them, but still way out of my league.

When it came time to start looking at houses, my husband focused on work and let me choose what we would ask the realtor to see.  I started with houses that were listed at that low number I had in my head, thinking, the market hasn’t recovered to THAT degree, really, these houses will still be lovely. The first house we saw was covered, front room to back room, bathroom to bedroom, in oil-based Navajo white. The carpet looked as though someone had been fixing their motorcycle in the living room. The refrigerator came with the house, and why not, it looked as though someone had kicked in the shelves and drawers. It wasn’t just a fixer-upper, it was a pit. I actually felt bad for the house, because not even I would sink to live in it.

The second house was pretty cute, for ten grand over the first, with great fixer-upper potential. Brad was not impressed, though I felt perfectly at home in its kind of trashy potential. The third house, for another ten grand more, was quite cute, with four bedrooms, hardwood floors and a redone kitchen. We both really liked it. I got my heart set on that one for a couple of days, even though it was a tad more than I had wanted to pay and according to Brad, the A/C looked as though it wouldn’t make it through another summer.  I was glad we ended the day on a high note, as I’d begun to think my husband was doubting my abilities to house hunt.

The next day I was on my way to indulge myself in a deluxe manicure and pedicure, a Christmas gift from my husband, when I noticed the overpriced house down the street had an “Open House” sign in front. I thought, “Well, well, well. Maybe this sign is a sign. I don’t have the kids, why not??” So I parked, hopped out and marched up to the door, thinking, I might as well see it, I’ve never been to an open house. Squeeee.

The agent met me at the door, where I removed my black croc flip flops because I know they leave black smudges. He was very nice. Too nice. He admitted right away that the house was overpriced compared to its comps “but it SHOWS so much nicer…” and he told me that the sellers had made a mistake, that they thought he could handle a commute to and from Mesa while she attended school here, but he couldn’t, and after only one year, they wanted out.

There was light-colored carpet everywhere, even under the dining room table. The furnishings were gigantic and masculine – the brown leather couch could seat probably twenty if everybody touched thighs. The focal wall was Hershey’s brown. The kitchen had linoleum and oak cabinets. I kept thinking about all my hours of watching HGTV – I kept saying, It’s the bones of a house that matter, think about the bones! And the bones were there. Three bedrooms, three car garage, that gorgeous patio, grass in the yard instead of the dreaded “Desert landscaping” (rocks that will bruise and cut your feet if you try to use the yard for any purpose other than rock storage). Large master, walk-in closet, garden bath and separate shower.

Somewhere along the way, I thought, Brad’s got to see this. So I got into the car and called him and got him to leave the kids with Grandma and walk down. Then I got impatient and drove back to pick him up. We went in and he toured the place while I walked around and just felt the place. I liked it. I felt good. I wanted to walk around in my sock feet in this house and bring my kids a bowl of popcorn in that living room. I wanted to build a fire in that chiminea and have a drink with my husband after tucking said kids into their beds in separate bedrooms. Brad told me later that night he was ready to put an offer in on that house.

My heart sped up a bit. I felt the same. But surely it was too big. Too nice. Too much for me, I’d spoil it. I’d keep it dirty and ruin the paint job, I’d break things and not repair them, I’d make sure I lived in squalor.  That house surely didn’t deserve me and what I’d do to it. OH well, that’s just Brad dreaming big the way he does. I’ll schedule some more houses.

But it wouldn’t leave me, that house. So, along with two other houses, we arranged for our agent to come see the roundthecorner house, as I’d named it, with us the next night. The first house we saw was quaint and cozy with an updated kitchen. As much as I loved its character, it was just too small. The second house was really cute and really nice. It was a contender. In what would be my daughter’s bedroom, they’d painted a big tree with pink flowers and green leaves. I saw myself painting in detail where they just had blocks of color. I could see us making a home there. It was perfectly priced, somewhere in the middle of a grease-stained carpet, oil-based paint heap of junk and the house that had been on my mind all day.

Last, we all met at the roundthecorner house. Our agent was very impressed. We talked money, we talked possibilities. We talked Formica and cabinet pantries versus closet pantries. I promised her I would send her three more addresses to look at the next night.

When I got home, the kids were kids and time passed and I just didn’t want to get on MLS and look at more houses.  And there was some feeling nagging me, something I couldn’t quite figure out. The next morning I woke up knowing I didn’t want to look at more houses. And I finally admitted to myself why.  I talked with Brad and he agreed. I texted our agent saying we were torn between the two last houses we’d seen. I told her we thought we wanted to offer on the roundthecorner house and if that didn’t work out, hope the SecondBest house would still be available.

So that night we went to her house and prepared and offer. As I sat in her lovely home and listened to her read to us every detail of the purchase contract Brad was signing, my stomach twisting, my face burning, I thought…

Why not me? Why shouldn’t I have this house? Why should I continue to be jealous and insecure over what all my peers just took for granted – their ability to obtain, retain and maintain lovely homes. Why couldn’t we manage to pay a mortgage? Why did I automatically assume we’d screw it up somehow and have to short sell or foreclose? I’d paid rent for fifteen years with only one accidental bounced check (damn you Netflix auto withdrawal). Why couldn’t it be me, taking some of the things I’d learned from living in my MIL’s house and using them to keep a house clean and lovely? Why couldn’t I have something nice? Why can’t I have the prettiest house on the block instead of the one no one will notice? Why the hell not? I’m not a bad person. I’m not unworthy. If Brad thinks we can afford this mortgage, then I think this is not too much house for me.

I think I am woman enough for this house.

I deserve this house. I damn well deserve that garden bath and that chiminea. 

So we offered. We pretty much gave them an offer they would be foolish to refuse. And for some reason our realtor asked for their refrigerator, which made me feel kind of bad. They accepted our offer, except for two things – we had to pony up for our own home warranty and they were keeping their refrigerator. “Good for them!” a little part of me cheered. We’ve paid earnest money. An inspection will be scheduled for next week. If the VA approves the amount we paid and everything goes well with the inspection and with financing, we will have the roundthecorner house. It will be OURS, to love and care for and get dirty and get clean again. That house and I are going to be very good friends.

What a lucky house it is.

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