Thursday, July 17, 2014

House-Hunting Drags On

Our house-hunting continues relentlessly, although I haven't been boring you with details.

But I feel like boring you with them now.

We've made offers on a few places in recent months, but there were always higher offers, with fewer contingencies, that we weren't either able or willing to beat. We're not exactly in mourning for any of them. But it's getting tiresome since we've been at this now for four years.

One recent near-miss was a lovely High Victorian duplex on Tremont Street. It had beautiful detail, lots of space, and a tiny deck overlooking the Villa Victoria low-income housing community. The main drawback was that almost every wall was covered in Venetian plaster in strong, strange colors (green marbled walls with a red ceiling, purply-pink marbled walls with a metallic copper ceiling...). At first we thought that the place just needed a good paint job. Simple, right? 

I'd love to live in a Venetian palazzo... but it would have to be in Venice.

I guess it's Christmas every day in this bedroom.

Interesting furniture... but those colors are just too weird to wake up to.

But I did a little research on Venetian plaster and learned that you can't just paint over that stuff. The top layer has to be removed with chemicals and sanding before you can paint. I spoke to an experienced painter, and he told me that, conservatively, it would cost between $35,000 and $50,000 to repaint the condo with four to six painters working for a solid month. The condo also had a kind of creepy kitchen (black fridge, black counters, mostly black cabinets) tucked under the stairs, reminiscent of Harry Potter's bedroom. So we made a correspondingly low offer and someone else (who probably doesn't know about Venetian plaster) made a better offer, and that was that.

Then, last week, we thought long and hard about a Victorian house in Newton. It was on a busy street, but it initially seemed to have everything we wanted: old-fashioned charm, lots of space inside and out, William Morris wallpapers in the dining room, a porch, and so on. But somehow nothing quite worked. Much of the outdoor space consisted of a sloping front lawn bordering the busy street. The porch was too narrow to hold furniture. The living room was oddly configured with a corner fireplace, and would barely fit our beloved sofa. The dining room was much bigger (although the sofa didn't fit there, either), but the two rooms couldn't be "swapped" because it had a lovely, glass-doored butler's pantry. There were more space problems in the bedrooms upstairs. 

Lovely and so normal after that condo. Yet it was strangely not "us."

After a long session with our tape measure, we surrendered. We didn't make an offer. We expect that it will sell for $300,000 over the asking price — just like another house, two doors away, that we considered in the spring. That was another reason we balked; some families will pay a premium to be in a good school district, whereas we are home-schooling our cats.

The only good news is that there is more inventory, finally, after a dry spell of about two years. I check online for new listings many times a day; I took a break for a few hours one afternoon last week to do some writing, and missed out on a Marlborough Street penthouse. Those are still rare; there still isn't a lot of inventory in Back Bay or Beacon Hill, although we no longer go for weeks without a single listing in our price range. Anyway, that penthouse (which needed a lot of work) was snapped up in a couple of hours by the first buyer to see it.

I won't let that happen again.

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