Sunday, April 19, 2015

House-Hunting: The Learning Experience, Part 1

We decided against buying the house in Newton, which probably comes as no surprise to those of you who have figured out how to read between the lines here. I hope it was a wise decision, not a cowardly one. I do know we feel relieved since we made our choice.

Thank you to everyone who left comments with advice and wisdom, and emailed or talked to me. You helped! I have a lot of kind, wise friends, including some who comment here, whose names I don't know.

Some friends tell me that backing out of an accepted offer is a traditional step along the way to buying the right place. If so, we've gotten our feet wet and learned a few things, not only about old houses but about ourselves.

I think we were just so exhausted from searching that we were on auto-pilot when we saw that house. I didn't notice that there was no refrigerator in the kitchen (or a single closet on the whole first floor) until after our offer was accepted. We never dreamed anyone would actually accept an offer from us. House-hunting had become surreal, a neverending bad dream, because we've had nothing but failure for five years as we've watched home prices rise and rise. We are so desperate to have it be over.

* * *
You ought to be madly in love with an old house before you buy it. You'll begin with an idea that maybe it's a good place from the listing, but then you'll know if it is Your House as soon as you walk in the door — sometimes when you're still on the porch. It's a purely emotional or instinctive decision, not a reasoned one. It's not a rational or business-like approach, but sometimes our instincts can serve and protect us better than our brains, doing complex emotional and psychological calculations along with picking up the key practical considerations. Our brain can't handle all that very quickly if it can manage it at all.

No thinking is required. You just know. Friends have recently told me that this is always how it happens for them. I remembered that we'd felt the same way when we discovered our first apartment and then this condo. We knew they were right for us and that was that.

Love is an irrational state, and you need to be sort of crazy to agree to spend a small fortune to buy a strange and complicated new place in spite of its issues. But the house you love will seem ideal to you because love makes its problems tolerable. Fixing them will become your labor of love. Love makes a new house filled with unknowns into a home.

The Newton house was merely an infatuation. Our rose-colored glasses fell off with shocking speed after our offer was accepted. We weren't in love, although we had felt attraction. And we were very tired of showings, open houses, and constantly checking for new listings.

We realized that we have fallen in love four or five times during our search, but it never worked out. The house or condo was already under agreement by the time we saw it, or we were outbid, etc. Every time it was painful. In this tough market one needs to act fast and make an offer without time to sleep on it or even think very much. It had been a long time since anything even vaguely suitable had appeared, so we jumped. But it was just a fling.

* * *
When I'm thinking clearly, I know I don't want to acquire a lot of furniture and other possessions at this point in my life. I want to live with less, not more. I also know I don't want to clean or care for much more house than we already have. But we don't always think clearly, do we?

There's another reason why we made that offer last Sunday: fantasy. I've dreamed all my life of owning a lovely old house with lots of big, elegant rooms with 19th-century detail. But this week's discovery is that I have not dreamed all my life of cleaning it — dusting and polishing all that detail, vacuuming all those old Persian carpets, and mopping all those floors. (And forget mowing, shoveling, and raking.) Since I'm a slow and lazy housekeeper, I'd be spending too much of my life doing all that. Resentfully. Or I'd be living in a dirty house with an unkempt yard and feeling intense guilt. Who needs it? 

Get an affordable lovely-big-old house and you could hire a cleaning service, you say. This was not that house. And I've never wanted a service; I may be lazy but I'm also cheap and I don't want strangers cleaning up my mess.

Until this week, I never dreamed that my imaginary house would be stressful to own. But after the home inspection and a talk about financing with our banker, we had a better picture of what home ownership truly costs and all the work it entails. I may have finally stopped longing so intensely for every beautiful old house I see in Newport, Swampscott, and Northeast Harbor. From now on, I might feel a bit sorry for whoever has to vacuum, weed, and pay the taxes. My Big Old House Dream began to seem more like a nightmare this week. 

We are glad we are finally awake. And more informed. Back to the Redfin listings.... and Part 2.


  1. any chance there is a larger condo in your building... or a smaller one next door you could annex?
    good luck with your continued search. you WILL find something.

  2. When I buy my next house, I'm taking my Want list with me to every house I see.
    That helps eith the infatuation thing,

  3. It’s alright to take your time. Houses are an important investment, since they are something you’ll have to live with everyday. So you might as well get a house that fits your needs, and one that you will not resent. A purchase shouldn't be purely driven by impulse, either; it should be done through careful consideration of location, overall condition, and price. That way, you’ll end up with a house that suits you the most, and you won’t have any regrets later on. Cheers!

    Emily Cassolato

  4. I so appreciate you writing this for us. I remember when we went house hunting for the first time. We had no clue what we were doing. It is always a good idea to come with a list of what you want and what you do not want so you do not waste your time or the realtor's precious time.

    Jacqueline @ Buyer's Option Realty Services


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