Dear Lily June,
If I’ve seem a little preoccupied with our house-hunt this summer, it could be because your mother is such a homebody.
My idea of a vacation is opening a window to cricket song and firefly trail; my dream of meditation is sliding into a tub to soothe my sore bones at day’s end. I can travel by way of book and mind rather than passport and foot, but to have a house to craft into our home? That, to me, sounds like the greatest adventure my heart has yet to take.
In your father, I have found the love of my life. Because of you, I fell even deeper in love with him than I knew I could do, watching him turn fatherhood into an exquisite art of affection, encouragement and patience.
And when you (unimaginable miracle YOU!) joined us, it was as if the cast of characters was nearly complete, extending from a two-syllable couple into a three-syllable family. But we were left with a one syllable room, that felt alternately like a hovel, a closet, a cage. We were missing a setting worthy of our story.
We have changed your diapers in our apartment’s living room, eaten most of our meals there because our dining room can’t fit our table, our chairs and our bodies all at the same time. Our bedroom has felt like the walk-in closet we slept in, and our actual closets are packed to the gills with lamps and other household items we have no other space for. Our bathroom has sometimes envied the restrooms on airplanes.
We never felt claustrophobic or cramped before there was you, and at 20-some pounds, it’s not as if you’re taking us much space. But how could we possibly fit the larger-than-life dreams we have for you–deeper than sea and wider than sky as Dickinson might say–in our box of an apartment?
At thirteen months, you only just started taking your first real steps, not because you weren’t itching to toddle sooner, but because, if there were any toys on the ground, you literally had no room to do so. It feels like we’ve been stunting you by staying where we do, an apartment we couldn’t have imagined growing out of until you deserved an entire world to grow into.
So it is with both anxious trepidation and exquisite pleasure that I announce, Lily June, that our third offer on (yet-another!) home has finally been accepted. There are many hills ahead of us before we can enter: namely securing repairs on all of the many (discouraging! expensive!) repairs our inspection turned up to ensure the safety of the place, and finalizing the (10,000! confusing!) legalese documents that will secure our financial shackles for a lifetime to come!
Just in case you yourself ever decide to purchase a home, here are the things I’ve learned after what felt like walking through an endless stream of them this summer:
Remember that buying a home costs more than the down-payment. Like, a LOT more. I feel like the world cheated us by not hanging neon signs all over town that read “Closing Costs.” Look into those–early and often. Also, appraisal fees. Also, earnest money. Pretty much be prepared to turn your pockets inside out like a 1930’s train-hopping hobo. That is, until the bank collects your pockets back from you.
Plan for the endgame. All of the expenses above will come before all the costs of actually moving: buying boxes/packing materials if need be, paying the movers, putting down utility deposits and service activation fees, enduring the charges we’ll undoubtedly be subjected to by our landlord to replace the apartment’s carpet because of your
obnoxiously adorable need to create coffee puddles to splash in.
Don’t Google. Inspect. If you’re an overly cautious, anxious freak like your mother, you’ll also end up paying for a bevy of inspections. By the end of this process, we will have had a standard home inspection, a pest inspection, a radon inspection, a plumbing inspection (with a camera snaking the pipes), an electrical estimate, a roofing estimate, and a foundation estimate. The estimates are free. The inspections are decidedly not. I should really have my head examined, but that’s another charge entirely.
Plan out the ways you intend to USE a home when you get there, and then test out whether you’ll actually be able to do those things. In following the home inspector around the house the other night, I saw there were a number of things we could have (and probably should have) done when we first walked through the home before we made an offer. Like, turning on the ovens/stove, air conditioning, heater, ceiling fans, lights, etc. to be sure they work. Like running the faucets and looking under the sink while the water flowed. Like flushing the toilets. Like tasting the water. (From the sinks, not the toilets.) Like trying to open the (all painted-shut, thank you!) windows.
Know your deal-breakers. Things your parents insisted on being able to do in any home they would buy? Run city water without fatal chemicals. Have a tub not flowing with haunted pink goo (it’s a thing). Prepare food in an appliance that wasn’t previously used to store body parts. Incidentally, not freeze to death in winter, or melt like human snow cones in summer. Breathe without inhaling toxic particles all year round. But then, we’re real picky that way.
Here’s a test we REALLY should have tried out for free on our own in the initial home walkthrough, but I only came up with while the inspector was busy in the attic, and I was bored: put a ball on the floor to see if it rolls toward the center of the house. FYI, with our new house? It does. Eerily quickly, in fact. Yeah, that’s why we’re getting that foundation estimate. That, and the fact that our inspector found masonry blocks that like look like miniature leaning Towers of Pisa under the home. Hello, terror! Here’s hoping we don’t have a hell mouth in the crawl space. If we do? We’re charging tourists admission.
A house has no flaws. Only built-in character. Where our inspector saw holes in the roof? I saw free skylights! Where our inspector saw clogged downspouts? Potential planters! Holes in the siding? Future habitats for furry friends! Deteriorating driveway? A return to nature! Old tree limbs over the roof? We’ll get our money’s worth with homeowner’s insurance! Possible mold? We’ll send our family doctor on a vacation! Cracks in the drywall and scratches on the hardwood? A lived-in feel! Ungrounded outlets? An excuse to go appliance shopping! Frequently.
Your sense of humor is your home’s most important fine furnishing. When we were told we’d have resort to mudjacking to pull the home’s concrete porches back out of the earth that’s eating them alive? I couldn’t help thinking: Oh, so I guess our home’s not that jacked up. After all, laughing about the things we can’t
afford to change is better than just rereading this Maggie Smith poem about how the world itself is like a bad real estate investment and crying into our Top Ramen (brought to you by: Homeownership Poverty!)
Ultimately, though I’m dripping more sarcasm than our pipes are water, there is hope that we all may have ended our longing with a place to belong. And you can’t put a price on that. Unless it’s a part of the Closing Costs we haven’t encountered yet.
- By backkratze – originally posted to Flickr as http://www.weltstehtkopf.de, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7362535