We turn the corner and my breath catches. Will this be the one? Will this street address be the one that I will scrawl on the upper left-hand corner of my correspondence? Will I tell friends and family that our house is the one directly across the street from the cemetery? And when they reply that that's creepy, will I gently remind them that our neighbors are the quietest bunch they'll ever run into?
But when we pull up in front of the yellow house with neatly trimmed yard, I hesitate. It's as cute as can be, but in this market "cute" is a euphemism for small -- small to the point where you want to bust out some walls to give yourself some elbow room. We walk through the door and note the hardwoods in the family room that continue through to the dining room, which has a bay window complete with seating and storage drawers. The kitchen, too, is lovely. Nice white countertops, Lazy Susan cabinets and a window that looks out onto a "cute" yard.
We leave with a resigned sigh and continue the hunt. It's left us frustrated, exhilarated, excited, devastated and humored. It's turned us into armchair Realtors as we tsk-tsk listings priced way too high for the neighborhood. We have conversations mixed with acronyms and Realtor-speak. "Oh, honey, that FSBO shows so well! Did you noticed the bump-outs? I wonder if the window treatments convey? Hey, it says here the owner has found HOC! Maybe we can talk them down." We know street names and house locations without consulting a map and can pick out a Yardley from a Parkdale with one eye closed. We take virtual tours and have saved searches from the Multiple Listings Service (MLS) database, allowing us to assess and dismiss a house without ever stepping foot inside.
By now, though, the houses are starting to blur. What was thought to be a new find turns out to be a house we saw three weeks ago -- much like when you stumble across an interesting book only to get it home and see the exact copy already sitting on your shelf. Pretty cover but weak plot. On this journey of cookie-cutter houses, there are a few standouts, ones that will always stay with us, not for their originality but for their . . . er . . . quirks.
Take the 1889 Victorian. The photos looked wonderful and I thought maybe this was the one. Until we got to the porch with the rusted-out tub. It went downhill from there with its sagging floors, uneven framing, cracked walls and windows. Upstairs, I wondered if the floor was sturdy enough to hold my weight. I felt as if I were leaning to the left and that I would somehow tumble over the railing and down to the first floor. The windows were nice but the sills were covered with hundreds of dead ladybugs. On the other side of the house was an addition that prompted more questions: Inside was a tanning bed. Just what every Victorian house needs.
Maybe the next -- a log cabin -- would work out in our favor. I imagined rooms bathed in a soft glow from the fireplace. Quilts neatly folded over the back of a couch and rocking chair. Picture books would be tastefully arranged on the coffee table. And there would be flowers on the dining room table welcoming visitors.
But the saloon facade on the garage gave me pause. Inside, there were no flowers or quilts. Instead, there was a bathroom with a half-finished tub squarely in the middle of the room. Depending on which door you came in, you'd have to step across the bathtub to get to the toilet. Yeah, that would really work in the middle of the night. As if to make up for the odd rooms, this home had a living room large enough to host a hoedown. Picture it: Fiddlers and guitar players would play in the loft (accessed by the spiraling staircase) while the dancers would pair off below. The wood floor would be a perfect surface for kicking up your boot heels.
We've seen other strange things, strangely situated around bathrooms. Such as those with the master bath facing the street. Sure the soaking tub and large windows are nice, but when you went for your nightly bath, you'd have to either turn off the lights and feel your way to the tub or you'd have to cover the windows with shades, which negates the whole big, pretty window thing. Other bathrooms were carpeted, which made me wonder if the owner had something against tile. In another bathroom, the tub was surrounded by mirrors. I'm trying to forget my problems when I take a bath, not be reminded of them.
On the other side, there have been lovely homes. The one with the Japanese garden and pond, large wrap-around deck complete with teak hot tub and interior filled with Brazilian hardwoods. (Too small.) The one with the faux-finished walls and other artistic touches (back yard small), the one with the bathroom that made me weep: jetted tub, skylights, two separate sinks, separate shower, beautiful tiles (tiny lot).
But the one that really spoke to us was a 1920 house I wasn't in the mood to see. I made the appointment and met the Realtor there. The outside was lovely. It was set back from the street with a front yard that was home to two large maples. The porch was wide and ready for a swing for those sultry summer nights. The inside was open with hardwood floors. On one side was the family room. On the other, the living room. Across from that and through the archway was the dining room. The more I looked, the more I knew that this was it.
We put a contract on it and spent the next three days worrying, especially when we learned there were other contracts, one higher than ours. We wanted the house, but we didn't want to escalate too high. Finally we got the call. The owner took the higher deal and we had lost. But we could always be the backup offer. You know, like the Miss America runner-up. Should anything happen to Miss America, her understudy takes over. Except once the pageant's over, you never hear anything about her again. That's us. Buyers No. 2. There's a slim chance that something could happen, but then again, aliens could land in the Reflecting Pool.
We went through all the emotions -- happiness, joy, fear, sadness, frustration, anger and, finally, acceptance. Now we're back to square one, once again searching the MLS. But now we're veterans and we've learned what we really want in a house. Me, a front porch for a swing, and him, at least a quarter-acre of land. I'm sure that before we find it, we'll have seen more ugly, more not-so-bad and more maybes. And one day, from our porch swing, we'll look back at these many months of searching and laugh about it. Then we'll look at our home and smile. We'll be grateful that we waited for the right one to come along.