Finding a house to buy is exhausting and emotionally-draining work but, really, it ought to be dead easy for us. Coming from the UK, we should be bowled over by the sheer size of the houses and gardens here, delighted by the amenities (closets! garbage disposals! air-conditioning!), and ecstatic at the prices. It should be easy as pie.
But we’ve discovered that it’s really quite difficult, more difficult than I suspect it is for the natives, precisely because our mindset — and more the the point, our expectations — are so very British. Our eyes are not acclimatised to American house styles. After a lifetime (for M) and years ( for me) of living in a place where almost all the buildings are constructed of stone or brick, the little clapboard houses that look so sweet and appealing to Americans appear alarmingly flimsy to us. Seeing something akin to fabric on the roof, instead of slate or tile, seems very odd. M is repeatedly surprised by closely-built neighbourhoods with no fences, so the gardens run into each other. He deeply distrusts septic tanks and well-water. We both instinctively look for Main Streets, not strip malls. And I just don’t like bungalows (ranch-styles) which, unfortunately, appears to rule out 75% of the houses on offer. After seeing nearly 20 houses with no real winners, we are slowly driving the poor estate agent (realtor) round the twist.
And we switch back and forth between wanting to be out in the country and wanting to be in the city. In truth, we are trying to find what we had in the UK — a small town, complete with functioning Main Street, which is located out in the countryside — but that does not exist here as far as we can tell. Though neither of us want to be in the city, certain areas of the inner suburbs do offer real functioning Main Streets, complete with independent shops, coffee houses, post offices, and green grocers — and that really appeals to both of us — but, at the same time, it comes with that claustrophobic, houses-backing-onto-houses layout that we both recoil from. And yet, every time we venture out in the countryside — suddenly relieved to see open spaces and feeling so much more at home — we find no towns to speak of, only collections of houses and the occasional gas station, and the reality that we would need to use the car for everything. We find the surroundings we like out in the country, but the amenities we want much closer into the city and, unable to decide which is more important to us, we each flip back and forth between the two daily.
I thought we’d found it on Thursday. The realtor and I viewed a house that was so far out in the sticks, he was muttering at the GPS — he is actually based in the city, catering to a city-clientèle, and is perplexed by our attraction to houses in the back of beyond. I liked the house. I really liked the house. I liked the shape of it, I like the layout, I like the potential for expansion, I liked the floors. The kitchen needed work, but it was do-able — almost exciting — not overwhelming. And the location was absolutely perfect — out in the countryside, on a huge lot that ran down to a forest on one side, and on a quiet dead-end road with views across sweeping green countryside, and yet within walking distance of a… well, not a Main Street as such, but small gathering of buildings encompassing a pizza parlour, diner, bar, post office, corner shop, hair dressers, and antique shop, all strung out along a state-route and yet all walkable from the house. I felt waves of relief roll over me as I realised that it was possible for me to find a house I liked here in this foreign land (I had begun to wonder), and I rang M and asked him to come straight over as soon as he finished work. “I think we’ve found it! I think we’ve found THE house!” I stood in the living room and waited, mentally arranging the furniture and starting to feel quite giddy. I wanted to live here. I wanted this house.
When he arrived, he was tired after a particularly hard day, dirty in his work clothes and hot in the pre-storm humidity. He was instantly hesitant about the siding (“Mmmm… I’d rather it were brick…”), though he was quite taken with the garage and, upon inspection, liked the layout of the house itself well enough. But he was not happy with its having well-water and a septic tank, and even less impressed when he found the water had left the sinks and loos with a heavy iron-brown stain. He went outside to inspect the septic tank. “But listen,” I said, marching along behind him, “Listen to the stillness… look at the view! There are cows… We’d have deer!” He looked at the surveyor’s report instead, and found that basement needed dampproofing, and its walls needed stabalising, and the radon count was off the scale. The estimates were $20,000 just for that essential work alone, even before I’d started treating myself to a new kitchen and building the extension I’d been conjuring in my mind. The asking price was not low enough to compensate for that, and the owners, apparently, are in no rush to sell. Even the realtor agreed it was not the house for us. I began to feel like a balloon deflating slowly.
So, it is back to the hunt: put our criteria into the computer and see what possibilities it spits out, schedule a day with the realtor, and go and have a look. It should be fine. It should be easy. There are so many houses for sale…
But it’s been four days now, the computer has produced nothing else that piques my fancy, and I cannot stop thinking about that house.