We are a family in search of a home.
The evening routine in our one bedroom apartment goes something like this: clean up the living room while The Bean wanders around without a diaper – this helps clear up diaper rash, and adds an element of terror to the nightly toy round up – and then clean up whatever diaper-less tinkling has happened during clean up, and then diaper The Tinkler, and then eventually he goes to sleep in his half-closet half-living-room half-room. If I forget to retrieve any clothes from Bean’s room/my closet, I’m out of luck for the evening, so lately I have been changing into my pajamas when he does. It’s 10 degrees and snowing outside, so that doesn’t bother me one bit.
Once the glass paned door to the actual living room/half bedroom is shut, The Hubs and I have the full run of the bathroom, tiny kitchen, and our bedroom. Our choices for seated positions are the stiff high-backed Amish chair I got at a yard sale on the South Side, the paint spattered wooden folding chair I got at a yard sale in Lawrenceville, and our bed which takes up 96% of our bedroom’s square footage. I suppose the toilet should technically be considered a place to sit too.
The Hubs and I enjoy one another’s company, but it’s a small house after 8 pm. The basement is an option, and we’re slowly getting it ready for a month of songwriting in February, but it’s brutally cold down there and hard to walk around amidst the piles of synthesizers and strange objects I bring home, like the giant top half of a tree that I’m hoping to spray paint Minimalist White so I can dangle 3-dimensional papercraft objects from it, which I’ll make after 8 pm while sitting on the bed, the toilet, or one of the aforementioned uncomfortable wooden chairs.
So it’s time for a house. Not too much larger, but a little larger. We’ve approached the house hunt from many angles including:
– A decade of not buying when there were tons of affordable fixer uppers in our not-yet-gentrified neighborhood. Financial guru and abject suburbanite Dave Ramsey, while motivating us to get out of debt early in our marriage, unfortunately led us to believe that a 20% down payment was The Only Way. In our naïveté we missed out on $80K homes that are now worth $300K. Live and learn, and at least we’re doing it debt free.
– Using the CARL rehab loan program for a house that was structurally questionable BUT it had a berry tree in the double back yard! I designed an intricate bathroom that would allow me to wash diapers and clothes a few feet from the bedroom (first world problem: I detest the inefficiency of commuting to the washer and dryer in the basement) and also pump the greywater out of the house and into the backyard rain garden which would provide food for our family and slugs for the chickens to eat. The renovation costs – basics like “how do we get the floor from a 16 degree angle to flat?” and “we should ensure that no one can fall through the second story into the living room” – were nearly four times the purchase price, so we had to let that one go. Also The Hubs would like to weigh in here and say that he does all the laundry, so I really can’t complain.
– Searching for the perfect duplex to share with friends. This is where we currently stand, looking for a space that will let us share some lesser used amenities like a highly efficient washer and dryer (The Friends are cloth diapering their child too) and perhaps even a car (The Friends are avid cyclists too AND their car runs all the time while our car runs only most of the time) and maybe have those chickens and a huge garden and the whole gamut of more sustainable city living.
We started, as many people do, with Zillow.com, where you can see a glorious array of dots that represent every possible home for purchase in the area. It’s a good emotional boost: “Somewhere on this Warhol-esque map is a dot for meeeeeeeeeee!” sings the house-hunting heart. But it’s a little too broad. Zillow has other distracting features that might not help you find a home but can certainly make you feel better about the process, like its user feedback portal.
For example, from user Wetdawgs, an avowed amateur who has posted 70,613 answers to consumer questions, I get this sage advice: “Home purchase is not an emergency and shouldn’t control one’s life. It can be tempting to extend too far too soon to buy too quickly.” If Wetdawgs had been in our life several months ago, we might have cut bait much earlier on the fixer upper and I could have put that greywater system planning energy to work trying to find better seating options for our apartment.
Zillow also has a feature called a Zestimate, which I’m pretty sure is also the name of the commercial peeler my bar manager uses in his cocktail program. Zestimate rhymes with “estimate” but is probably pronounced “ZESTY-mate” for that friendly little device that peels citrus fruit. I digress again. The Zestimate helps you feel self-righteously knowledgeable about how much the home you desire is worth, since the Zestimate is often much less than asking price. Below the Zestimate you can find other features like “Facts”, “Tax History”, advice from Wetdawgz, and then the dreaded “Popularity on Zillow” that essentially shouts “OMG THE HOUSE YOUR HEART DESIRES IS TRENDING RIGHT NOW AND 78 PEOPLE HAVE HEARTED IT SINCE YESTERDAY!!” forcing you to breathe in and breathe out the Wetdawgs wisdom that will get you through the day without a panic attack: “Home purchase IS NOT an emergency!”
If we could put Dave Ramsey in charge of our wealth accumulation, Wetdawgs in charge of our house hunt, and The Tinkler in charge of demolition and/or quality control, I think we’d have a killer team. Instead, we’ve settled on a lovely realtor who sends us pages of graphs that are fascinating and a bit comforting. The right house is out there, we just have to be patient enough to find it. Until then, I’ll be knitting in the bathroom.
Megan Lindsey is an owner and founder of Franktuary restaurants in Pittsburgh, PA, a new mother, and, whenever possible, a writer, homemaker, and musician. Follow her adventures as #RestaurantMom at franktuary.com/blog.
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