Newmans Own

Our House, in the Middle of Our Street

Nora: I think we need to lay down some rules here. First: Our house must have at least four standing walls. Second: Renovations on said house must not cost more than $50,000, depending on the asking price, and be minor enough that we can live in the house while they’re being done. (Read: no asbestos-removal projects.) We can’t afford to pay rent and a mortgage while we wait for that central air to be installed or for parts to be shipped in from wherever.

I prefer to think of these as goals, not rules. All other things being equal, yes, we should be biased in favor of four walls and what real estate agents call move-in-readiness. But we should also be mindful that some types of houses have historically been discriminated against.

Nora: OK, so with these “goals” in mind, I was drawn to this house , which is roughly a mile from a Metro station and in a good school district, I think. (Question: Why aren’t agents required to disclose which schools are connected with addresses in their listings?) And with a list price of $575,000, it’s within our budget, and interestingly, only $4,000 more than what the sellers paid for it.

Michael: The sales history is more interesting than that. Today’s price is seven times that is not a typo what this house sold for just 10 years ago. The current owners are going to lose money. (They put in that nice new granite-countertopped kitchen! How come you haven’t mentioned that yet?) But the previous two owners did pretty well for themselves. Wonder where they are now.

Nora: Michael and Denise expressed skepticism about this place even before we visited. As they both noted, its biggest flaw is that it’s on a main street. But Michael: We live on an even busier street now!

Michael: But Nora: Our apartment’s in the back! And at least now it’s a busy street with a lot of buses. Joe has requested that we stay on a bus line .
Nora: I admit, driving to the open house on Sunday, I nearly got into an accident trying to pull into the driveway. Backing out was even more hair-raising. But such obstacles can be overcome, especially when the house you’re pulling away from is as charming as this one.

I was won over by the quirkiness of this house’s layout. In an area glutted with brick colonials, townhouses, and Capes, it’s refreshing to walk into a cottage-style house with a little bit of personality. There was no center hall here, just rooms flowing into each other in a stream-of-conscious way (kind of like this blog!). And then there was that kitchen: new and spacious, with room for a table as well as a view of the yard. Granted, the countertops were granite, but I’ll take it if it means I’ll be in a kitchen open enough that I can feed and talk to Joe while I’m cooking.

Michael: I was wondering when you were going to mention that granite.

Nora: And how about that spacious master suite with the skylights?

Michael: Don’t try to change the subject! You campaigned against granite countertops, yet now you appear ready to accept them! Did the granite lobby get to you?

Nora: Love the pun link, Michael. But let’s get back to the matter at hand. I don’t want this to turn into a paean to décor, but it’s so hard not to fall for a house that feels so, well, homey: that wrought-iron bed, the beautiful dining table, the cool art. Of course, this is why we have stagers and TV shows about stagers (I can’t stand that show Michael) , and even an association of stagers . (Is there anyone without an association these days?) According to a recent study by that association, staged houses spend 89 percent less time on the market than nonstaged, occupied houses. Given the source, one should take this statistic with a grain of salt, but you can’t dismiss the power of good taste. The reasons aren’t purely psychological, either: Cosmetic changes are costly, too. Carpeting , paint, bathroom vanities , kitchen cabinets they add up. And given our limited do-it-yourself skills, there’s also the contractor, and the money we’d pay, say, eating out for a month while our kitchen’s being finished. As I said, it all adds up.

Michael: I had the opposite reaction. You’re right, the house was nice and homey, but it felt crowded to me. Of course, when I went to the open house, it was crowded at one point I had to wait for another guy to come down the stairs. I think I would have liked it better if it had been empty. Also because it would then have been easier to picture how we would fit into it. And by the way:  Who says our do-it-yourself skills are limited? I look forward to the opportunity to test my skills in an environment that doesn’t involve Allen wrenches and directions translated from Swedish .

Nora: I have a feeling Michael’s going to focus on the drawbacks: the street, the fact that there’s only one bedroom on each floor (Do we really want Joseph sleeping alone on the first floor, just steps away from the cookie jar and oven?), the lack of grass in the backyard. (Can we replace the hot tub with a swing set?)

Michael: That’s a good point about cookies and the oven. Though I’d be more worried about ice cream and the freezer.

Nora: It’s just that after months of house-hunting, I’m getting tired. I just want to curl up in that wrought-iron bed and call this place someplace home.

Michael: Don’t worry, Nora! Wherever you lay your head each night that’s home for us.