Wednesday, February 2, 2011
A Scary House
We put our house on the market in September, for-sale-by-owner, and sold it in December. This is the fifth house we sold ourselves and I expected this one to take a little longer, due to the economy, but it went about as fast as the last one did. In fact, we were planning to hunker down for the winter because fall is not a good time to start marketing a property, but it flew off the shelf.
Now we had to find something to move to. This was going to be the hard part. We wanted something old; it had to have acreage for the horses; it had to be close to family, work, and barrel racing, which are in all different directions; it couldn’t be on a busy road or near power lines; and it had to be around $200,000. In Jersey. And we only had two days to do it. We had to get back home because of the animals. The animals is one reason why I want to move back to Jersey. It’s too hard leaving them every time we have to go up there for the holidays or a wedding, or like the last time, my mother’s funeral.
This time we went up there for Christmas. And to find a house. In a blizzard. We weren’t expecting a blizzard. We didn’t even know there was going to be snow and I didn’t bring any of my functional farm-wear because I wanted to look good; I didn’t want my family to say, “What the hell happened to Debi down there? She’s a mess!” So I brought clothes that looked good but weren’t good for trudging around in the snow. Jersey clothes. Form over function.
And I can hear my sister’s words if she’s reading this: “What do you mean you’re not a mess? You most certainly are a mess!” See, I told you. You’ll know what a northerner is thinking because she’ll tell you. And somehow I feel comforted by this, even if it’s not what I’d like to hear.
The first house that we looked at was a turn-of-the-century Victorian that had once been a winery. Our hearts started thumping as soon as we saw it. We parked in the street with our flashers on because the house was vacant so no one was there to shovel and we couldn’t see where the driveway was. If there was a driveway. We climbed through knee-deep snow in sneakers to get to the front door, surrounded by yellow clapboards with peeling paint and wires dangling from the ceiling where a porch light once hung.
The cops arrived to investigate why an out-of-state truck was parked out in the street. Someone called. They thought we were casing the joint. Hey, this is Jersey!
We loved the house but it was scary. It wasn’t because of the ghosts. Supposedly there are ghosts in the house. A woman and a girl. But it wasn’t that. It was the work. Talk about a mess. There was no electric, heat, or plumbing. It was colder inside the house than it was outside. We were so cold and it was so dark, we couldn’t really examine anything and when I had to pee, I had to go outside in the snow. My fingers were frozen, my toes were frozen and my butt was frozen. We looked at each other. Heartbroken. It was too much for us. Then we looked at other houses.
But we couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was crazy if we got that house! It was risky! It was reckless! It didn’t even have enough acres. We could squeeze those horses in. The taxes were high. We’ll be making a lot more money in Jersey. It’ll cost an arm and a leg to heat. We’ll get a woodstove. What if the septic is broke? Septic shmeptic. Oh, what we could do if we had a house like that! The possibilities were endless. And so we went back to see it again with the only pair of boots we could find since all the shelves in all the stores in New Jersey were wiped clean and luckily I have big feet because no one wanted the size eleven.
We brought my father back the second time. I could tell he loved it as much as we did. He asked, “Did you see that movie The Money Pit?” But he didn’t actually say, “Don’t buy it.”
In truth, if you really look at the situation, it’s not as bad as it appears.
The worst was over. All the demolition. All the messy and expensive stuff. The owners had gutted it down to the studs and put in all new wiring, plumbing and insulation. They put in new windows and two hundred-and-forty-something sheets of drywall, curving it where it had been originally curved, saving all the molding and salvaging all the architectural details.
They put in new heat. They stripped all the hardwood floors. Then it looked like someone just put his tools down, went out to lunch and never came back. Nothing was done. Wires were hanging out of holes in the walls and ceilings waiting to be hooked up to outlets and switches and lights; the toilets were in the bathrooms with the labels still on the bowls connected to nothing; the cabinets were in boxes on the floor in the kitchen and the sewer pipe went to nowhere.
But, when scrutinizing it and rationalizing why we should have this house, we realized that any house we bought in our price range would need new cabinets and new floors and new electric. They always do. We know that from experience. It can be the cutest house, the most adorable, well-kept thing on the block and we’ll think we lucked out and we don’t have to do anything but paint and move in. Then when we get in there we discover, even though we got an inspection (like the Ferrum house) and even though it’s brand new (like the Oklahoma house), the roof is leaking or it needs a new well or the heat doesn’t work or the septic is on its last legs, usually all of the above. The only thing is, it wouldn’t be scary. You could go in and turn on the lights and it would be deceptively warm and nice because everything would be up and running. But we’d have to fix all the same things we’d have to fix in the winery house. Sooner or later. Besides, we didn’t like any of the other houses. They were 1980’s tract houses, houses on highways, modulars with popcorn ceilings, cracker boxes and shit boxes and houses that didn’t melt my butter.
So we bought the winery house.