Monday, April 30, 2007

Adventures in Real Estate, part one

When we sold our old house and bought our new one last year, we did almost everything wrong. Or at least backwards. We got some things right at least, but the whole experience left us feeling a little fragile. I bring this up now for a reason. Spring has sprung, and like a lot of the world we’re in home improvement mode. It isn’t going as smoothly for us as it could, and there’s a good explanation for that. Let me take you back in time, back to the first week in February 2006. Actually, scratch that. Let’s go back even further, to Fall 2005.

I wanted a new house. The Film Geek was not so sure. I was finally working and all in all we were in a position to pull it off. We called in our trusted realtor just to walk through and tell us what we’d need to do to sell. We figured that it would help us at least decide if we wanted to pursue it. It was discouraging, to say the least. The entire front porch had to be repoured or rebuilt, and the plumbing had to be completely redone. These were the big things, but there were plenty of small ones. We ended up with two entire pages of single spaced things to do. Now we all know I like lists, but this one was just plain intimidating.

Winter was coming and we were trying to decide what to do. In the Midwest, and especially in a college town, the Spring market is huge, and if you miss that window you can have some real problems if you’re selling. April 1st is the magic cutoff date. We went back and forth as only we can do, and finally one day the light bulb went on. For the first time in years we were comfortable and relaxed. I wasn’t stressed out by school. I loved my job. Finances were being kind. My husband wasn’t in the middle of any projects that were killing him. The kids were all doing well with everything. Why rock the boat? We decided to stay put. There was nothing wrong with our house really, just a bunch of stupid stuff we could now fix at our leisure or ignore. When we finally made this decision there was the huge feeling of relief for both of us. A huge cloud of potential anxiety went away.

Fast forward to February. I was taking the kids to school and saw a really cute house with a For Sale By Owner sign in front. More out of idle curiosity than anything else, I wrote the number down. I have a real estate clock the way some people have a biological clock. I just love houses for sale. Really, I just love houses in general. This real estate lust was particularly bad in LA where we couldn’t have even afforded a small carport in Watts. It’s never gone away, especially now that so many of these cute houses were actually possible for us. I went to open houses regularly, but I was fixated on one particular neighborhood, a sixteen square block area smack in the middle of the elementary and middle schools my kids go to. The area is one of two historic neighborhoods in town and is full of older, funky houses and huge old trees. It had, of course, also become quite trendy, and anything that went on the market tended to get snapped up fast, and often with several people bidding against each other. Part of the reason I was okay with waiting a year to sell was that I was so discouraged by how fast these houses were going. We had pretty much decided to wait it out for as long as it took. The FSBO house wasn’t in this area. Like I said, it was just curiosity that made me write down the number. I stuck it in my purse and promptly forgot about it.

Later that afternoon I drove by the house again and remembered. I called the number from my car while I sat in front of school waiting for the bell. The woman who answered the phone turned out to be someone I knew, and when she found out it was us, she said she was sure this house was way too small for us, but there was this weird hesitation in her voice. Then she slowly said that she and her husband had another house that they were thinking about selling that summer, but they weren’t totally sure when. She said if I wanted to take a look at it to let her know and then she gave me an address solidly in my dream neighborhood, on the very street I drove down at least once a day just to covet. In a trancelike state I picked up the kids and drove straight to the house. I parked in front, took one look at the house and knew immediately that the Film Geek and I were in very bad trouble.

We saw the interior of the house the next day, and our troubles intensified. I was hooked the instant we walked in the front door. My husband is made of stronger stuff when it comes to real estate, but when we got to the separate studio he actually pressed his nose against the glass like the proverbial kid in a candy shop. Our eyes met, and it was one of those marriage moments where the stars align and two brains really are as one. And those two brains were screaming the same word. Sold. Without ever really even going on the market. I was terrified someone was going to hear about it and outbid us. We had a contract on the house the next morning and were in escrow by lunch.

We had seven weeks to get our house ready to put on the market.

to be continued…

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