old house, love???

I haven’t talked much about the house-buying thing we have going on here, mainly because I figured I might as well save your eyeballs the strain of rolling backwards into your head. Oh god, here’s yet another detail-laden narrative about a pile of lumber and glass.

But now I can’t not talk about this thing anymore, because my house-thoughts are occupying every square centimeter of my brain. There is no room for anything else, people. It’s a constant, annoying hum; making me question my sanity, doubt my motives, pace the floors, and strip down to my skivvies to sing Freddie’s Mercury’s part of “Under Pressure” in my best falsetto. I mean, you know, just for kicks.

A large part of why we chose to relocate to Denver was the affordable housing market. The two times we were here, in summer of 2011 and autumn of 2012, the prices looked great. Especially coming from California, where the average housing prices made me feel like hugging a cold porcelain toilet for the better part of an afternoon. During our visits we would scroll through Denver’s real estate listings on our phones, chortle, and flag the bartender down for another drink. What clever people we were, moving to Colorado and saving a bunch of money! 

And then we finally moved here, and the realty world got flip-turned upside down. House prices seemed to escalate weekly, and they were disappearing like buttered hotcakes. Sometimes they wouldn’t even last a full 24 hours on the market, and if they lasted from one weekend to the next, well, you knew something was wrong, like maybe it was located next door to a stinking, flaming pit of garbage. Even our seasoned realtor looked stunned. “If you’d have gotten here four to six months ago, this would have been a different story,” she said.

THANKS FOR LETTING US KNOW ABOUT THAT.

Then, of course, was the fact that we put in an offer on a cream-and-red Victorian and came in second, then we put an offer in on a brick bungalow and came in second again — behind someone who put in an offer $40,000 over asking price. I have to admit, this was when I wanted to throw my hands in the air and give up. “If this is what we’re up against, we’re just not going to be able to afford a house, period,” I ranted to the beau.

Haunted by the ghosts of houses past.

And then the weekend before last, we went to look at another batch of houses. Some had already gone under contract before we could even make an appointment for a showing, and I just shrugged and sighed like the hardened, cynical househunter I’ve become.

One of the ones left was a little blue Victorian in the northeast corner of the city. We went in and had a look around. It had many of the features we wanted. It needed some work, but the price reflected that (read: cheaper). It had charm. We decided to put in an offer for a little under asking.

I guessed the offer wouldn’t be accepted.

The next night, our realtor called and told us the seller had accepted our offer.

And I started to panic, and I haven’t figured out how to stop.

Turns out that when I start to panic, I do research. So does the beau. While I engaged in a frantic online hunt for information about local businesses and development plans for the area, the beau went back to walk around and found some neighbors to talk to about the ‘hood. From our own observations and from what the neighbors said, I cobbled together a list of pros and cons about this house.

Pros:

  • It’s cute as balls.
  • It’s from 1896, and it’s got the old character and charm and quirks we like.
  • It’s got 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and decent closet space, which is unusual for a house that age.
  • It has a large kitchen.
  • Tall ceilings.
  • The upstairs doors have transom lights.
  • Very close to downtown.
  • Walking distance of Coors Field (where the Rockies play), independent breweries, distilleries, coffee shops, music venues.
  • Three blocks from light rail, which can now take us out to Golden and will eventually be able to take us to the airport.
  • Easy to get to City Park and myriad bike paths.
  • Fairly safe neighborhood overall.
  • Billed as the next up-and-coming, desirable area of Denver (good investment in terms property value?).
  • House needs updating (yay for making it ours!).

Cons:

  • House needs some updating (moar $$$).
  • Billed as the next up-and-coming, desirable area of Denver (bad in terms of gentrification?).
  • No master bathroom, but at least there is a bathroom on the same floor as the bedrooms.
  • Living room/dining room layout is narrow and strange.
  • Low ceiling in partially-finished basement makes it difficult to put it to use.
  • No garage, but room to build one off the alley in the back (dolla dolla billz y’all).
  • Mortuary across the street (potential strike against property value on resell?).
  • Scummy apartments at the end of the block.
  • Evangelical church one house down from ours means that our lazy weekend breakfasts will be scored with the strains of Sunday morning sermons.
  • Playground at end of street attracts negative elements at night.
  • Occasional gunfire.

Over the last week I have been turning and turning and turning this list over in my mind. My good friend asked me to put the list aside and listen to my my gut instinct about it, and I couldn’t because I… don’t have one. What I keep grappling with is: how do you really know which is the right house for you? Is there ever really a “right” house? Like anything else in life, don’t you just pick one that hits a lot of good marks and cross your fingers for the best?

The good people I’ve talked to so far assure me that fear and anxiety are normal when it comes to buying a house. This is reassuring, but it doesn’t help me sort my feelings into the proper bins. Am I generally anxious? Or specifically anxious?

I am not in love with this house — quite honestly, I wasn’t in love with the beau after we first met, either (sorry, dude) — but I see the potential for a relationship to grow. Is that bad that I’m not all moony-eyed? Is there some bad omen juju witchery here that my senses have picked up on but the message hasn’t quite gotten to my brain? Or am I doing myself a disservice to entertain the notion that house-buying should be anything but a rational, intellectual decision? How much should “love” even factor into the equation, here?

We’re marching forward with this contract at least until the inspections later today. In the meantime, I am desperately wondering: HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN TO DO WHAT YOU DO??? This burning question can also be applied to choosing a career, picking a partner, deciding whether or not to reproduce, selecting which songs to be played at your funeral, etc.

Any insight or guidance is appreciated. You could just tell me I’m being a giant insensitive dick and turn around and go after that house! Or you could just tell me I’m nuts for even going out with this house at all, I mean, I could do so much better for myself! Or you could just tell me to set a suitcase of money on fire and continue renting because that’s basically the same as buying a house except without the headaches of maintaining one!

Tell me anything as long as it’s something!

32 Responses to “old house, love???”

  1. Having never bought a house, I’m no use at all. But I will say that that house is CUTE AS BALLS and I would be very happy to live in it, gunfire and evangelicals and all.

  2. Ugh. I feel you. We are also having some issues in our housebuying process – the houses we want are going too fast, and how do you know if a house is really the right house for you? AM I GOING TO KNOW IT’S THE ONE?

    But then I think – is house hunting really that different from apartment hunting? Both of our last apartment hunts were for a place that we would stay in for 2+ years, and during both of them, we looked at some laughable places and some that were overpriced but awesome. The first apartment we walked into and fell in love with the old floors and the fireplaces and exposed brick and giant kitchen. We found ourselves frustrated by the old floors in the end, and the two fireplaces that leaked heat. For the one we currently occupy, we went for the oodles of storage space and the basement for bike storage. We didn’t immediately love our current apartment – it was just a good deal for the space we were getting and a location we loved. We came to love it over time, once we settled in and it became ours and it was full of our stuff.

    Resale value is a tough one for us, because I’m seeing houses without parking sit on the market for weeks and ones with parking go immediately, which convinces me even more that it is worth it to hold out for a house with parking, but it frustrates the process because wanting parking makes things so much more complicated.

    All the things on your cons list are workable. You can have lazy Saturday breakfasts and go out for Sunday brunch if the church is too much. You can find different interesting furniture that works for your living room/dining room layout (we’ve been looking at a lot of 11′ wide rowhomes – anything can be done!), you can bill the mortuary as a quiet neighbor when you re-sell, you can join a neighborhood association that is committed to improving the community and start working on some of the problems like the playground, etc. It’s normal to have second thoughts and it’s okay to not be in love with the house yet.

    • Whooo, did I ever need to read this. Thanks for talking some sense into me, Ellie. I think I often get too caught up in the idea of how something “should” feel or be, and I worry when I’m not aligned with that.

      Ugh, the market is rough right now. Good luck!

    • The “quiet neighbor” cracked me up.

      And we also fell in love with our current apartment, in part, because of an exposed brick wall and old, rustic floors. We still love the brick wall (though pieces of stuff in the cracks- mortar, dust, ?- fall down regularly from the upstairs neighbors walking overhead and we get splinters in the winter from our rustic floor. We were no longer in love wit the rustic floor. But we still love the little apartment, though it’s not perfect. It’s nice to think it’s probably the same when buying a house….less pressure for it to be 110% perfect.

  3. Lindsey Raker June 11, 2013 at 8:21 am

    Walking distance to coffee shops and breweries. Id say go for it. If its an up and coming neighborhood, wouldn’t the authorities start to pay more attention to it, solving the park problem?

  4. After my completely bullshit advice earlier in the week, I should shut up. But I won’t.

    You’ve talked before about never really being moony eyed in a relationship either, so when you freak about your marriage and whether that love will last I usually say the same thing – it’s not like you fall head over heels in love*. That’s just not you (at least but your own admission). I seem to recall you saying your marriage was friends with benefits plus commitment. Which is great!

    *Your car might be the only exception.

    So maybe the same applies to the house. Your pros list is full of things I know you really love and look for, and you’re a creative person who, along with the Beau, will make it yours in your inimitable way. Of course you can’t sex a house, but with some TLC and commitment I can absolutely see this being your place. (Please know that a bunch of times when I’m using you/your I’m speaking about you guys, not just you, Lyn.)

    And for what it’s worth? The first thing I thought when I saw the picture on twitter was that it looks a little like your place in California. Except blue!

    (Do you *really* think you’ll be hearing sermons and church music all the way down the street? I’m freaked out by how thin the walls are in Denver and how noisy this happy clappy evangelical congregation might be!)

    • Yes, we will be hearing the church. Only one house separates us, and when we first looked at it on a Sunday we could hear the music.

      I think you have great points about my history with these things. I should really just learn that it’s okay to go my own way, you know?

      • I just realized! I have a friend here in Quebec whose house looks almost like that from the front. Except the door is on the other side of the street. When my husband and I saw it for the first time, we were both thinking that this sort of house is exactly the sort of house we would “click” with. We LOVE the old “ancestral” houses (as they are called here).

    • I agree about something about the house feeling familiar. When I saw the picture I wasn’t at all surprised. It is completely adorable. I would be thrilled to have a house like that someday….(except in Quebec).

  5. I knew ours was the one but it did not help the panic one bit. My first house I was just so naive, it was cute as balls and that was it. It worked out.

    I agree with Ellie that all of the problems are workable.

  6. Complete panic is a totally normal reaction to having an offer accepted. I liked our house a lot when we bought it, but I can honestly say that the things that have made me love it weren’t even factors when we were looking (front porch, awesome neighbors, not open concept – I am perhaps the only home buyer in America who has decided she doesn’t like open concept). You’ll find those things about your house too. (And the things that annoy you that you didn’t realize… you can change those!)

    Plus the house is freaking adorable.

    • Not technically a home buyer, but I fall less in love with open concept the more of them I see. I do like having a kitchen that’s open to a non-kitchen area for entertaining, but I hate main floors that have absolutely no walls. They just feel too industrial and cold to me.

  7. I have to admit that when I read “walking distance from Coors Field” I thought “BUY! BUY! BUY!” What can I say, I love LoDo and all of the fun near Coors Field!

    I agree with others that the problems are workable and that the house is adorable. How much work are we talking about to make the house something you’d be happy with? What are the things you would absolutely have to update in order to feel comfortable in the house? Are we talking paint and new flooring, or bigger renovations?

    • Paint, new trim, scraping three ceilings of popcorn (fortunately not all ceilings have it), probably taking out a wall, totally rearranging and updating the kitchen. Also repairing/refinishing wood floors. Some bathroom updates are needed but they could wait. Ideally like to build a garage, too. It’s just a game of budget numbers.

      Accessibility to downtown is a huge huge selling point for me.

  8. Real estate transactions never go as they “should.” (Incidentally, I think we’ve had about 4 or 5 more than *I* thought we would since we bought our house.)

    If you *like* the house, it becomes home. Bottom line. There’s always fears about what renovations will involve (and cost), about how you’ll resell, about blah blah blah. Unfortunately.

  9. I want that house!

    It is pointless to feel guilty over gentrification. It’s going to happen with or without you. It’s like trying to stop the tide coming in, which is unfortunate, but in ten years that neighbourhood will be all gentrified and no one will be talking about it anymore. At least that’s what happened in Austin.

    That is a fucking cute house too. I want it.

  10. Just like there is no perfect partner, there is no perfect house. You just have to weed out the ones that you know will make you miserable – and with the rest, all you can do is give it a go.

    I know for me, none of the things on that cons list would be deal-breakers (except maybe the en-suite bath – but that’s only after having one and getting used to it), and possibly the layout if it was REALLY awkward, but that doesn’t sound like the case.

    It’s totally fine not to fall in love. Like Moz said, some people are not fall-head-over-heels-in-love people. I come to most of my decisions racked with anxiety. If I listened to the vague and unhelpful advice to “go with your gut instint” I would probably be living alone in a dark box somewhere, because frankly, everything seems risky to my gut. Sometimes you just have to take feelings out of it and make a rational decision based on the evidence at hand.

  11. PS. Just read your title again – very nice.

  12. I am surprised that “gunfire” is not getting more attention on the cons list!

    • Yes. Gunfire is definitely a pretty big con. :/

    • I missed it the first time I read through the con list. That con and the negative elements at night in the park would be my biggest concerns.

      Is the park something you guys would have to walk by on your way to/from the places you would go or could it be avoided? Is the park close by?

      Gunfire…. How dangerous is Denver (or the parts where you want to live)? Is this worse than average or par for the course? And I was also thinking that if the area was the next hottest neighborhood, it would gentrify pretty quickly and the gunfire should no longer be a concern in the near future. Also, is it the sound of gunfire in the distance or is it close? Have you lived in areas like this before?

      My best friend lived in a dangerous neighborhood for 2 years or so when she was single, and she definitely had some times she was scared. But after someone was shot in the street very near her house, that was the last straw and she moved shortly thereafter. She got tired of worrying about her safety, especially as a single woman.

  13. As a person who just moved OUT of a gunfire-riddled supposed-up-and-coming-neighborhood and ALSO as a person who worked downtown-ish (Royal Crest) but lived in Broomfield/Arvada/Boulder, I want to say that cuteness and hipness is overrated. But as a person who looked longingly at all those hip condos right by the river and a person with good sense, it seems obvious that near Coors Field is a GREAT area in which to buy. I mean, if nothing else, maybe you can rob people’s pockets and let them park on/near your property for vast amounts of cash?

    • Welllllll it’s not THAT close to Coors Field, sadly. It’s still a little over a mile walk!

      I’m dying to know which neighborhood you just moved out of! I’m a little leery of the crime, to be honest, but the neighborhood I used to live in wasn’t super safe, either (two daylight home robberies in January just a couple blocks from us). I think it’s just clear to us that we want to live close to downtown but we’re priced out of the west side unless we live wayyyyyy to the west, and that kind of defeats the purpose of downtown accessibility. Ehhhh? Totally not sure what to do.

  14. a) blue house is incredible. I have visited in that same neighborhood and enjoyed it, but I feel no guilt about city movements.
    b) I’m the same about the “there is potential” instead of “this is IT”. I think that’s a great way to be, and you’ve totally got this.

  15. We accidentally found a house we really liked while helping my sister look for a house, and in the matter of 5 days we made an offer, offer accepted, remolded our bathroom in our current house, listed the current house, got an offer (1st day on the market), accepted the offer and sold our house. It wasn’t enough time for me to process it all, but it was enough time for me to panic that we hadn’t really thought it through. The month of paperwork and waiting to close was HORRIBLE, your brain just goes wild with everything that could go wrong.
    We moved into the new house this past weekend and I’ve fallen in love, hard. Just go with it, just do. When the market is really aggressive like it is now you just gotta hit it hard.

  16. That house is super cute. Also, this might be helpful:
    http://apracticalwedding.com/2010/08/wedding-undergraduate-on-choosing/

    “I think dating/deciding to marry is something like deciding to buy a house and make it your home.” Of course, she’s making the point in the opposite direction but… still might be helpful! And a great read either way.

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