My lovely wife ‘Bix and I have been looking at houses. For her, it’s an obsessive hobby, for me it’s a game of what-ifs. First, a little background.
Way back in the mid ‘90s when we were only living together, ‘Bix and I had grown tired of our one bedroom 2nd floor apartment (flat, for you British types). Ever square inch of that place was taken up with our stuff and were were slowly becoming grown ups. We looked around at new apartments, thinking a two-bedroom place in a nice modern apartment. The prices were easily over twice what we were paying. My father, a man if infinite wisdom, suggested that we could own a home for the same monthly price and would subsequently not be only lining the pockets of a landlord.
At first, we scoffed at the idea. I was in my first professional job and while not doing badly I was far from making any real money. Bix was still in college and working part time. It seemed like a remote possibility. Still, the longer we thought about it, the more sense it made. The rental prices were equal to a possible mortgage or only a bit less. My parents loaned us a down payment and we sallied forth, looking at houses. At the end of the day we physically toured over 30 homes and seriously considered over sixty.
The trick was to find a house that didn’t need massive repairs, wasn’t in a shit neighborhood and still managed to have more square footage than a standard two-bedroom apartment. Eventually we settled on a little late-40s built bungalow with a two-car garage and four (!) bedrooms that had just come on the market. We bid on the home the day after it came on the market as an estate sale.
The rigmarole that went into securing the financing of this place stressed me out so badly that at one point I went into an out of the way bathroom at work and cried. I still had the sins of youth, stupidity and recklessness from my early 20s on my credit record and we could not count any of Bix’s income because we were not married. The mortgage company dithered and dithered, missing the first closing date and threatening the second. The sellers were considering pulling out. I was so angry that I shouted at the mortgage officer for 20 minutes. I no longer cared whether or not I got the loan, I only wanted a yes or a no. I must have intimidated him, because when they came back with a yes later that day, he contracted the title company to do the final paperwork so he wouldn’t have to see me in person again.
But the damage was done. The stress of securing the financing for the house robbed me of all the joy of the experience. I stood in my new home, the first home that truly was my own and felt nothing but stress and resentment. No pride, no excitement, no joy. The shame of the mortgage company’s questioning of my integrity, my trustworthiness, and it seemed worthiness as a human had left me with nothing but ashes. It took years before I felt anything but resentment about my own home.
This little post WWII home was supposed to be a stepping-stone for us. My career progressed; my wife graduated college, and eventually got her master’s degree. We figured that we would stay in this nice little house for maybe five years maximum. I purchased this house 17 years ago. Every time we approached the idea of a new house for the first 10 years, I shied away; I couldn’t go through what we went through the first time again.
A few years ago I found a house I loved. But I worried about financing. Despite a now excellent credit score and real professional job, I hesitated. I blamed it on the stability of the company I was working for at the time, but really I was just terrified. Someone else bought the home and I’ve been kicking myself ever since.
Bix, the wonderful woman that she is, has been ensuring our financial house is in order for years. We are in a position where we can afford a new house. It won’t even hurt that much. And that brings us to where my neurosis brought is close to making a mistake again.
We found a nice house, just listed on Friday. One of those places that wasn’t going to be on the market for long. We quickly scheduled a viewing for that very evening. I even took my parents with for a second set of eyes on the property. I liked a lot of things about the house. I really did. I also knew that it wouldn’t be out there long and there were at least three other parties that were going to look at it that very weekend. So we signed and offer right then and there. I was afraid to lose the home, much like the one I had lost a few years earlier. I jumped.
Over the course of the weekend the decision began to sink in with me and with Bix. We both liked the house, but the lot and location….well not so much. We talked about it a lot, these problems were not insurmountable and we could cope. Then with a shock we realized late Saturday afternoon, in a moment of total honesty that neither of us would be upset if the owners rejected our offer. As a matter of fact, we would feel relieved. This lead to a lot of honest soul searching and discussion, what did we really want?
Later that day, the owners counter-offered us. This was irritating; we had offered them their asking price. But most of all it gave us an out. We talked about it and slept on it. Sunday morning we rejected their counter-offer and withdrew our offer. The owners will still sell that house before the month is out, I have no doubt about that.
While I’m certainly relieved that we didn’t go through with it, it made me feel like a reactionary man-child, governed by his past wounds and irrational fear, not an adult governed by savvy reason and self-understanding.
I think that despite the frustration with myself that this weekend’s events gave to me, I like to think I’ve learned. I think it provided Bix and I some clarity that perhaps we were lacking before, to cut out the bullshit and get down to it. What do we REALLY want? We are talking about that now, really talking about it. I find myself planning more projects for this house, fixing things I had decided to let go for another house. I hope the feeling lasts and I hope that typing this monstrous polemic out here to my imaginary internet friends makes me feel less like an idiot ape. I think it will.
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