We were armed, of course—with a very rational checklist, like all house-hunters are.
It looked something like this:
– Four bedrooms (we have three daughters and lots of house guests)
– At least two full bathrooms, including one of the main floor (did I mention three daughters?)
– A spacious kitchen with lots of counter space (Jason and I usually cook together—there’s often a daughter and a dog in the mix, too)
– A dedicated space for me to work (I work from home, which had always meant carving out a cramped corner of the living room)
– Closets! (Closets, closets, closets! Our current house had not a single closet or pantry on the entire first floor—and did I mention three daughters? And backpacks, soccer shin guards, volleyballs, a cello, and more pairs of shoes, boots, and muddy cleats than I could count?)
– A hang-out space of some sort (as our daughters grew into teenagers, we wanted to be sure they regularly invited friends)
– A fireplace (for those cozy, picturesque evenings together as a family)
– A front porch (I have always considered this a must for a house)
– A location in our current neighborhood (walking distance to the girls’ schools, cafes, the library, the farmers’ market, etc.)
Oh, and there was one must-not-have: NO black walnut tree. We’d had enough of the squirrel colony that congregated in the backyard of our current house, and enough of the curses we uttered each time our current tree dropped its ample harvest on our roof, cars, and patio furniture.
In general, we thought our checklist was perfectly reasonable. And we weren’t in a huge hurry to find something—we had already survived two years as a newly-formed family of five in the house I had purchased for three (as a single mom, just months before I met Jason). We were just “keeping our eyes out.”
Each year, for about three years, we went to see a handful of houses. Some met the requirements on our checklist, but were just too expensive. Others had a significant flaw (or two)—a visible bulging in the foundation; a tiny, unworkable living room (but lots of space everywhere else); terrible kitchens (without any hope for feasible remodel plans); a shared driveway or no garage.
There were also a couple of houses that could have worked, but were somehow just “off.” I began to differentiate “house-hunting,” which requires being armed with a list and a realtor, from “home-hunting,” which calls for a fully-loaded gut (and a refusal to buy into the optimism gushing from the realtor’s mouth).
With each visit to a new listing, the hope that buoyed us as the realtor unlocked the front door, quickly deflated. And with each disappointment, we returned to our cozy home determined to find ways to make it work. Trips to IKEA resulted in more storage, and a remodel of the basement added a second bathroom and a fourth bedroom, so two of our girls no longer had to share. After three years of “keeping an eye out” for houses, we simply stopped.
As it turns out, it was The One—even though it didn’t meet all of the requirements on our ever-so-rational checklist. There were two full bathrooms, but no bathroom of any sort of the first floor (this is apparently a cost of loving 100-year-old houses). There was a beautiful sunroom with built-in bookshelves and three walls of windows, which has become my dream office, but no front porch. The kitchen was workable, but not nearly as spacious as we had hoped for during our house hunting. And there was a wood-burning fireplace, as advertised in the listing, but during the inspection we discovered that it wasn’t a working fireplace and couldn’t actually be fixed to become one, short of completely rebuilding the chimney.
Yes, there are four bedrooms and plenty of beautiful closets, and the location is perfect. Even more importantly, much of what we envisioned for our new home has become a reality—less clutter, more space for family and friends to be together, the ability to host big meals (that first fall we did a Homecoming dinner for our daughter and 22 of her friends and a chili cook-off for 50+). And as a family, we’ve enjoyed two cozy winters of together time, gathered by the fire—the people we bought the house from installed a gas fireplace (not our original ideal, but it sure has made it easy to light a fire every evening rather than just every-so-often).
In short, this is our home and it has been just right from the beginning, regardless what our list said. Even that first summer, when we realized that big tree in the backyard was—you guessed it—a black walnut (this is a danger of buying a house in February and not being an expert in tree bark identification), we had to laugh as we grumbled. After all, we had been home-hunting, not house-hunting.