A tale of two houses

Fast-breaking events on the housing front. Two days ago, just after I wrote a post about why we are selling our house in the country, we accepted an offer on it. There is always a possibility that the deal will fall apart but if so, we trust another buyer will show up. Our house had been on the market only five days.

We didn’t believe the realtor when she told us it would sell quickly. We are semi-relieved to have that part of this transition set in motion, if not decisively concluded. I can set out my laundry drying racks in the living room because I don’t have to keep the house spiffed up for showings.

Then last evening we made an offer ourselves on a house in South Bend. We are waiting now to see if it is accepted. The seller has until six this evening to get back to us and it is just before noon as I write. I am trying not to be on pins and needles. One can so easily get attached to certain outcomes. But if this deal falls through, there will be other possibilities. We hope. We have nearly two months to find a place, though I’d like to get it settled much sooner.

But there’s not much on the market right now that suits our requirements: an attractive, senior-friendly home in a city neighborhood close to a cluster of our church friends and downtown. We looked at two places a few days ago and have put the offer on one of them.

We liked both places. They were both beautiful but they were opposites.

One was small and cozy, perfect for senior living but with enough bedrooms for family visits. All on one floor with a finished basement perfect for grandkids’ toys. The little blue house was prettier than most ranch-styles and in move-in condition. It was in a beautiful hilly neighborhood with lots of trees. This was not, however, the neighborhood we’d had our eyes on.

The other was a big “painted lady” 1898 home with 4 or 5 bedrooms, depending on how you count them, and 4 full baths. Totally renovated and also in move-in condition, this house offered the possibility of eventual one-floor living but it was 3,000 square feet and three floors high. It was in the neighborhood where we’d decided we wanted to live.

We were taking a second look at the painted lady and a first look at the ranch style. The big house was actually the first one we’d seen when we started looking but we dismissed it–too much house. Lately, however, I’d begun to daydream about what I would do with “too much house,” especially in that neighborhood. Entertaining, sheltering, hosting gatherings, whatever might come out of our interactions with the neighborhood and our friends nearby.

There was a big difference in price. While we expected to clear enough from our own sale to buy either place, the margin would have been slimmer for the big house. We could buy the little house and have enough left over to buy all new furniture, a new car (which we need), and then some. If we needed more income we could even rent it out at an outrageous price for Notre Dame football weekends, since it was near the campus.

The little house was obviously more practical for a 72-year-old couple–low maintenance and utilities, compact space. The big house was a stretch in both size and price and, of course, eventual upkeep. It seemed to address some hopes and dreams, our deep longings for “neighborhood,” but with no guarantees that it would work out that way unless we  took deliberate steps to make that happen. Would we have the energy and commitment to be good neighbors and more socially and politically active, or would we find ourselves rattling around in our big pink house, overwhelmed, tired, and lonely?

I am used to putting practicality and economic considerations very high on the priority list. I am not used to just setting aside those considerations and following my dreams.

Nevertheless, last night we placed our bid on the painted lady. I could tell that our realtor thought we were a little crazy, even though he’d talked up the painted lady neighborhood, where he lives himself with his wife and baby. I’m sure he wondered, why do these retired people need so much space?

The neighborhood around the little house was lovely but more suburban than urban in feel, houses surrounded by yards and trees, focus on individual homes and individual family living. Quiet streets and no sidewalks. It seemed like a more compact urban version of where we live now, emphasis on privacy and individuality. A place to settle, contract, downsize, conserve our energy.

Instead, we chose expansion. The painted lady was in a designated historical district, with big old houses shoved up against each other close enough that you might even talk to your neighbors from your big old porches. There was obviously a lot of pride evident in the restoration and preservation of these homes, many with beautifully landscaped gardens. It felt like a real neighborhood. It was also within walking distance of many of our friends as well as downtown.

Both my husband and I have had moments of panic since we made this decision. He worried about utility and maintenance costs but was somewhat reassured by looking at actual numbers. I lay awake last night mulling over window treatments for big old windows and a rather quirky configuration of rooms. But we love the house and the neighborhood.

In some ways this feels similar to the way we bought our current home 22 years ago as a second home 100 miles away from the city where we lived and worked. It seemed like a huge extravagance at the time, on our modest incomes. But we have never regretted it. So much has unfolded from that decision and we leave a part of our souls here. We are ready to move on to a new chapter.

I am publishing this before we hear whether our offer has been accepted. Join me on the real estate rollercoaster. I’ll let you know.

Which house would you choose? And what should we do if we don’t get the pink painted lady? Hold out for the right neighborhood or go for the little blue house?

6 thoughts on “A tale of two houses

  1. I hate roller coasters. They make me sick. Literally. So I will just stand by and watch. Hope you whoop it up on both the ups and the downs. Staying tuned.

  2. Being in community … if that is possible because of a home site, I’d choose that way! Having to drive everywhere is the way we live now but we did change churches so that our drive is only 15 minutes instead of 35. But even so I think twice about ‘going into town” for this or that. I love to hear how you play out the decisions in your lives. It will be interesting to read how the house becomes your home and how it becomes a blessing for you to inhabit.

  3. Best of luck!! This is very exciting. I hope your pink lady
    works out. Especially nice that you could use first floor
    solely for living if necessity demanded it. And, it’s close
    to town. Perhaps sometime in the future you could rent
    an upstairs room(s) to a student.

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