Friday, April 17, 2015

Still Maybe

We had the home inspection for the house in Newton yesterday. Whoa. While friends who own old houses have told us that they always have a long list of repairs and improvements, we had no idea of what that actually meant. This house happens to belong to a home inspector; even so, the list of problems that we received yesterday includes many items that need to be done soon, and some that will be very expensive. If we add up the crucial ones, and then add in the improvements and changes we hoped to make, it's mind-boggling.

Yesterday's session with the home inspector also helped us to realize how much time, energy and money it will take to simply care for the house and yard. And then there's the heating cost. We like to be very warm in the winter, and our gas heat is included in our condo fee, so we never think about it. This Newton house is large and expensive to heat even to 60 degrees in the winter (and 50 at night). I've seen the monthly bills for that piddly amount of warmth and they are high. So do we learn to freeze, or figure out how to handle a huge heating bill on top of our new mortgages and taxes and other expenses? We realize that we bundle up and huddle under throws in our apartment now, even with the thermostat set to 76 (at the behest of a neighbor who wants to feel even warmer than we do). How we'd manage in this house is an interesting question.

We also learned that installing central air conditioning would be out of the question for us, given the expense and amount of work. (I had this idea, from the Intertubes, that it wouldn't be so difficult. Ha.) The house is on a busy street, so it's best to keep the front and side windows closed to traffic noise and dirt. But window air conditioners just keep getting noisier, and New England summers seem to keep getting hotter and more unbearable without air conditioning. But I can't sleep with one in the bedroom, so we need to figure that out.

I'm trying to keep in mind that it's just another old house with the usual set of old-house issues. It all seems reasonable, in theory. But if we want a well-kept, clean, sound, and comfortable big old house, it's going to be much more work and expense than we realized.

Then there's the issue of the neighborhood. I'm not sure how easily I'd be able to get to know people there since we aren't churchgoers and have neither kids nor dogs, which are what bring most people together in the suburbs. We've been out there walking around, and it's a far cry from the city neighborhoods I know and love. There's a Whole Foods, a pharmacy, a bakery, and a few other shops snd restaurant within a half mile or so, but we're admittedly spoiled with a multitude of options here in the heart of Boston. (There's also a lake and a park, to stand in for the Charles River Esplanade and Public Garden.)

On the other hand, we'd have privacy and independence, and a measure of peace and quiet that is rare to find in a condominium. And we'd have a secluded patio of our own, something we've dreamed of for a very long time.

We need to decide soon, so we're weighing the costs and list of repairs, examining the floor plans and trying to decide whether we truly want to try suburban living. My lifelong dream of owning an old house and having a garden may finally come to pass, or I may decide that I'm a little told old for this sort of adventure. (The people who own this house are about our age, and they are downsizing.)

The cats are all very wisely keeping their opinions about all this private, although I'm sure they are desperate to speak up since we accidentally mentioned that there are mice in the attic.

I will keep you posted.


  1. So many things to consider, but change is inevitable, whether it is a move to this house or any other. Some things always need to be done. If there are things that need to be done for safety reasons, they may be points of negotiation in the price. We had splits ( air conditioning) installed in our cape last year. Nearly silent and they don't block your windows. Are they invisible? No, but they make a huge difference.
    Regarding heating... minimal heat on the 3rd floor unless you have company keeps some cost down. By the way, the splits have an economy setting and also heat rooms when you need it...also on economy settings...The cost has been minimal, and we even got a nice rebate from the state of NH for installing them. Not sure what MA does.

    Just a few things to consider as you think about housing - this house or any other. Quirks are interesting - problems? - not so much.
    Good luck...

  2. No matter what home you get, there will always be something to fix or something going wrong. It's just the way it is.... I finally (after 5 years of waiting) got into my dream neighborhood last fall and 3 days after we closed, the main line of the sewer backed up into the house. As the emergency plumber (it was a Saturday night, 9 pm of course) went on hour 4 of trying to clear the line, I sat on the stairs crying - a 100% meltdown. "WHY didn't we just stay in our other house This isn't worth it!" I wailed to my husband. But it is totally worth it - despite the ongoing repairs and surprises, we now have our dream lifestyle and are much happier over all (if not monetary poorer...). Just take the dive. If you love it, do it.

  3. it is important to weigh all of these options. Old houses come with their own sets of issues and challenges..

    My parents put in a larger wall unit air conditioner and it does a pretty good job of cooling down a majority of the floor in the house that it is on..

  4. I moved 400 miles away when I retired. My old house sold in 1 day. I had 4 days up here to find something. I knew what I wanted - looked at 40 houses in 4 days. Ended up buying a house that was none of those things built in 1957 that needed a TON of work (and somethings not found by the home inspector). It has been a money pit. But I chose it for the screen porch with the big Hunter overhead fan hanging from a beam in the cathedral ceiling - FOR MY TWO CATS. Lord, it has been a lot of work - but I do not regret it.

  5. Don't do it. We bought a house 27 years ago that needed some work. It needed a LOT more than we expected, over the years. Even totally unexpected things like a tree that grew so big it knocked our stone wall into the neighbor's yard and it all had to be rebuilt; sewer line connection broke ($12,000), etc. Yes, all houses need things. But reading your post from a stranger's viewpoint, you don't sound sure. Be sure. If you absolutely love a house you will live through the problems. You sound like you don't really love it. You can find another house. But it might be hard to get out of this one if you decide next year that you don't like it.

  6. There's no perfect house, whether it's here in the city or in Newton. There's an equal number of pros and cons, and no magical way to ever be sure. I have known people your age who downsize and move to the city, and some who have lived in the city for years and are tired of giving up space and privacy.
    It all comes down to what you truly want - that cherished patio, room for books, an office - vs. heating costs and leaving a beautiful neighborhood in the Back Bay. Despite your hesitancy, it sounds like you're ready for the suburbs. I would be wary of buying on a busy street, however - many people move to the suburbs for peace and quiet and it can be hard to resell. You're not noticing now because you're used to traffic noise in the city. But traffic noise in the suburbs becomes very annoying very quickly. If you do decide to buy this house, the owner has to agree to deduct the estimated cost of those repairs from the sales price. He may decide not to negotiate and sell "as is." If so, I would personally walk away. If you're going to leave Boston for the suburbs, that house better be "it" despite needed repairs. *Don't forget the lesson you learned with little Lion! He was wonderful but you weren't sure. So many cons to adding a fifth cat. But love won out in the end. So....go with your gut, as they say! Just be sure you're moving to a house that you can love.
    Joyce :)


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