We’ve been casually looking at real estate for years, but around October of last year we started looking much more seriously, wondering what might be out there for us. I don’t remember many of the properties we clicked through with the exception of one: a brick ranch in our ideal neighborhood. If you’d told either of us years ago that we would be looking for a ranch-style home, we would have sworn you were mistaken. Neither of us has ever thought much of them; we both grew up in two-story homes and much prefer the curb appeal of craftsmans or bungalows, but somehow we both fell in love with this house from afar. When we went back to Michigan in December we drove past it, and were both bummed to learn that it has been sold. It wasn’t as if we were in a position to buy a house at that point, with seven more months in our lease and six months in Kristin’s school year, but somehow we’d gotten attached. I started to get really antsy about finding the right place and not letting it slip away, and I began looking at homes daily and sending links to Kristin. We connected with my parents’ realtor, Chris, and she set up an MLS portal for us.
We talked to my sister for advice, since my brother-in-law is a realtor in Charleston. He told us that making a distance offer on a house without physically seeing it was a reasonable thing to do, but advised us to walk through a bunch of homes together first so that we could get a better sense of what we really wanted. We made plans to go to Kalamazoo in late April, on Kristin’s spring break, to focus on finding a house. We believed that the closer we got to spring the more houses would appear on the market and we would have plenty of options. Everyone assured us that would be the case.
The months between January and April were agonizing for me; so many houses appeared online, I would get excited, and Kristin would point out some seemingly tiny detail that she couldn’t stand. Windows that meet in a corner, for example. On one evening we got into an argument about whether or not lots-of-natural-light and big trees could be a single item on a wish list (hers) or if they ought to be two items (mine). I argued that since big trees had the distinct possibility of eliminating natural light in a home, and because they could exist independently of one another, they ought to be two items. She was frustrated that I was micromanaging her list, and the conversation stalled. It was maddening to me and for awhile there I thought that we would absolutely never agree on a house, despite the fact that on the surface what we wanted was mostly the same.
As our week in Kalamazoo approached, we were disappointed that there were actually very few homes on the market that met our criteria. Chris was optimistic, however, and lined up about ten homes for us to check out in person. That first day was honestly a blast; we felt like kids pretending to be adults on an episode of House Hunters, if that mixed metaphor makes any sense at all. We came away potentially excited about two of the houses, and decided to take my parents back to see them the next day. That’s where the week went downhill. After seeing one of the houses again we decided that it just wasn’t quite right for us. And after bringing a contractor through the second one we learned that it needed far too much work for the price to be worth it. I was gutted over that house, as I really saw us there despite all of its problems. For some reason, we tended to fall in love with houses that were a bit more on the “lived in” side, nothing newly renovated or pristine. There was something about them that gave them soul.
Throughout the week we’d been hearing about another home that was set to hit the market the day we were leaving town. We’d driven past it but hadn’t seen any photos, and I was so heartbroken over the first house I’d loved that I didn’t much care about seeing it. We prepared to head home without much to show for our journey. At the last minute though, Kristin accidentally called the number of the homeowner (I can’t even remember quite how that happened or why Kristin had her number) while trying to call Chris, and the homeowner called Chris and said that if she wanted to bring us by the house on Friday night (the day before she was letting anyone else tour it) that was fine. We decided we didn’t have anything to lose, so we went around 8:00 p.m. It really was a lovely house, plenty of character with a huge wooded yard. It took a few hours of convincing for me to come around, as I was still hung up on the other place we’d walked away from, but ultimately I decided that we ought to put an offer in. First thing the next morning, around 7:00 a.m. our realtor put in a full price offer, and we waited and waited, and were crushed to learn that we’d been outbid by the second family to tour the home. We could have gone higher, but we were already at the top of our budget, so we backed down.
An hour or so later we got in the car for the long drive back to New York. I was in tears and anticipated the most miserable road trip ever. We were both so disappointed. Kristin was amazing though, somehow she knew that I needed to process everything that I was feeling and have those thoughts validated in order to get back on track. She asked lots of questions as we drove and we processed aloud what had happened, what specifically we’d loved about each of the houses and what we hadn’t cared for about the others. I aired all of my fears that we wouldn’t be able to find a place before our move at the end of July, and that I didn’t trust my instincts for distance buying since houses I’d loved in photos turned out to be all wrong in person. By some miracle it actually turned out to be the perfect drive. We had so much to talk about that I don’t think we turned on music even once. We wrote up a brand new list of our top criteria and sent it to Chris:
- Location: two specific elementary schools only
- Bedrooms that can accommodate our family of five without bunk beds (I really don’t want to change the sheets on a top bunk)
- A functional communal living space. For Kristin that includes a kitchen/den combo, but she knows that’s probably not realistic as a have-to-have. For me, it just means a large enough living space with good flow to the rest of the house
- A great yard, ideally with trees. Two of the yards we looked at during our week in Kzoo were wonderful because they had this imaginative, fort-building, forest feel to them
- A dining room (not just an eat-in-kitchen)
- A spacious, functional kitchen. It does NOT have to be updated or glamorous. The space and flow is way more important than the finishes.
Once we returned to New York the search became a new beast because our reliance on my parents and Chris became that much greater. It complicated things that, for some reason, we didn’t seem to align with my parents on any of the houses we’d seen. Chris took my parents to see a few places, and we sent her to a place or two and in all instances there would either be Skype or Facetime or video to work with. But often the connection was poor and we were left with a lot of gaps as we tried to make a decision.
On May 21st we came home from a day out with the kids and Kristin told me that there was a new listing in our target neighborhood. The listing only had a few photos, none of the bedrooms, bathrooms, or yard, it had some pretty garish colors and was lacking the hardwood floors we would have preferred, but it had a lot of potential. I was familiar enough with the street to know that we had family friends who lived nearby, so we got in touch and they ran across the street to grab a flyer from the box in the front yard, and scanned it for us. I called the homeowner the next morning, and learned that she wasn’t willing to work with a realtor (she didn’t want to pay a fee) but would be happy to let my parents come tour the house that afternoon. We kept Chris in the loop, and my parents gave us a video tour of the house. We were ridiculously excited about it. It was a 1954 brick ranch, exactly the style we were looking for. It had a cute fenced yard with a patio and just enough space for the kids to play. The bedrooms were very small, but we thought that we could make them work, and it only had 1.5 baths, but since we aren’t yet competing with the kids for shower time in the mornings we figured we could live with it. In addition to a formal living room, it also had a finished basement and a great room that opened to the kitchen with skylights and big sliding doors to the backyard. Just the kind of communal living space we were looking for. The first house I’d fallen for had a big den that opened to the kitchen, and I’d loved the idea of being able to entertain or just have the kids play in that space while I prepare food. This house just might allow for the same thing, something we really didn’t believe we’d find in another 1950s ranch. Did I mention that it had lots of light AND big trees? Check.
We called Chris and asked to put in another full price offer and she made plans with the homeowners to deliver it that evening. Despite our past heartbreak, we felt optimistic about this one and decided to take the kids out to dinner to celebrate even without having any official good news yet. As we pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant, Chris called us. Did we realize that the house didn’t have a dishwasher, and probably needed a roof right away? Um, nope. And did we know that the owners couldn’t move out until October? Definitely not.
Now we were the ones with a decision to make. We knew that we needed to move at the end of July, and hated the thought of moving twice. We also knew that a dishwasher was pretty much a deal breaker with three kids. We called my parents for advice, and they assured us that none of this was insurmountable. Despite their confidence that this was the place, we woke up the next morning feeling grouchy and sad, almost certain that we would end up walking away from the deal. Somehow though, over the course of that Monday, Kristin and I went back and forth with one another and we got to a place where we decided that we could make this work. All of the compromises just might be worth it. Despite our frustration that we held very few of the cards in this circumstance, we knew that our home options were limited and that time was ticking, and this one just checked too many of the boxes on our “top six” list for us to walk away.
Naturally there have been some smaller bumps since then: the inspection wasn’t perfect but we worked it out, the appraisal is done, our mortgage paperwork is lined up, so now we’re just waiting to close in early October. We’re moving into my parents’ basement at the end of this month and we’ll be there until some small renovations are complete on the house (have I mentioned that it needs a lot of cosmetic work? I’ll leave that for another post) but we’re taking the long view and at this point we know that this is right. Everyone we know who fell in love with homes and lost them before eventually finding the right one seems to marvel at the wisdom that none of those houses were right in retrospect; the one they ended up buying was SO much better than the others. We’ve chatted about this and we can’t yet say that it’s true. We probably could have made our home in any one of the other houses we considered, but if we want evidence that this one is superior there’s plenty to be found. Nope, we haven’t yet set foot in it or seen it in person. We can hardly believe that we’ve made such a huge life decision with such a gigantic information gap, but thank God for my parents and for Chris, without whom none of this would be happening. It’s a lot of pressure on them to be our proxy, and we’re incredibly grateful that they were up to the challenge. There’s lots of faith involved in this leap, and we know that no house is perfect, but this one is our home-to-be and we can’t wait to make it ours.