Home Sweet Seattle Home

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A year and a half ago I turned 30 and made a list of 40 things I would like to do before I turned 40. There was one item on that list that I wanted so badly that I hesitated to include it because it seemed so far-fetched.

I wanted a home, a place where I can paint the walls and throw dinner parties for friends and no landlord can come and kick me out or raise the rent or remind me that the place I live is not truly mine.

But I was a journalist. Living in California—specifically San Luis Obispo, which is one of the most unaffordable housing situations in California. It took me 10 years, but I finally recognized that working hard and waiting wasn’t enough, not in SLO.

So I left. It wasn’t easy but it was a necessary leap of faith, a proclamation to the universe that I wanted a home badly enough to leave my home state to achieve it. In April, I moved to Seattle and started working for a tech company called Rightside. In May Colin moved up and started working for a tech company called Carpool. And the house hunt began.

We attended a first-time homebuyer’s class, we read articles and asked for advice. I obsessed over Redfin listings, Colin fretted over budgets and the enormity of what we were trying to get ourselves into. And slowly we realized that we entered Seattle’s real estate market at an odd time.

Seattle’s booming and all you hear are stories of people making nine offers before finally having one accepted and bidding wars in which relatively ordinary houses sell for $75,000 above asking price. Sellers list their homes and have a handful of offers the very next day, many of them waiving financing and even passing on an inspection (which Colin and I agreed was absolutely ludicrous and something we would never do, no matter how much we liked the house).

Of course, it’s still nowhere near as bad as California where we could never afford anything, at least not anywhere we’d actually want to live.

We got pre-approved for our loan and found a real estate agent—John Blacksmith of Lake and Company Real Estate in Green Lake. It sounds simple, but the amount of space these moves took up in my head was enormous. I could mentally juggle work and house hunting and very little else. “How do people do this?” I kept asking myself. And every so often Colin would assure me, and himself I believe, “Most of the people we know have been through this.” Stated in a tone of disbelief because while we took it for granted that home ownership was a natural side effect of adulthood it had always seemed so unlikely that we didn’t put much thought into what goes into achieving it.

For three weeks that somehow felt like ten years, we looked at houses. Maybe twenty in all. I predictably fell in love with the first house we saw. We were both willing to make sacrifices given the ferocity of the competition for houses, but we couldn’t agree on what those sacrifices would be. For me, the proximity to central neighborhoods like Ballard, Fremont, and Capitol Hill were less significant than the quality of the house. Colin didn’t want to budge on location.

Then, on a Saturday when we were grumpy and difficult with each other (and probably the world at large) we drove up to a house we knew we couldn’t afford. We probably saw five houses that day and didn’t intend to visit this one though we wanted it very badly because it was just too nice and we’d seen houses we liked less go for significantly more. Our agent warned us, days before when we sent him the listing already doubting our ability to achieve such an exceptional match, that the bidding war was likely to be beyond our means.

But this house smelled like lavender and reminded me of my grandmother’s house with its meandering, old-fashioned 11891159_10104789839450166_382993800200395490_nquality and lavender walls to match the smell. It felt like it should be mine even if I knew it couldn’t. Upstairs we discovered the thing that really did us in—a secret room hidden off of the bedroom. I was sufficiently bemused that I tried to block the secret room with my body to prevent the other couples wandering through the house from noticing it.

The house is oddly located, near a residential neighborhood but at the end of the street with a Chinese restaurant called Chiang’s Gourmet behind it. (We haven’t yet been but the parking lot’s hopping on evenings and weekends so that bodes well.) We started calling it the Up house because it’s so unlikely and charmingly out of place.

On paper, this house was not at all the house I wanted. There’s no fireplace, which, when we first set out on this journey, was a deal-breaker for me. It’s on a relatively busy street. There’s no offstreet parking. The backyard is small. But we fell in love anyway, both of us. I’ll buy a fireplace. We’ll keep our future dog on a leash near the house. There’s always available parking space across the street, and though the yard is small, we’ll make the most of it. And there is a large park a block away.

We saw the house on a Saturday, along with several others, and the owners were taking offers on Tuesday. We decided to be practical and make an offer on a different house we saw that today, a house we liked quite well but couldn’t quite love after seeing this house. We figured we stood a better chance of getting the other house. But when the time came, we couldn’t do it. I was so nervous the night before that I didn’t sleep and though I’d never made an offer on a house before and had no measure of how I should respond emotionally, this just didn’t feel right.

So we didn’t put in the offer. On Wednesday I received a notification from Redfin that the house we’d intended to offer for was pending but no similar offer for the house we really wanted. I emailed our agent and he agreed to look into it. Within half an hour we had our answer: the house did not receive any offers. The real estate agent suspected that everyone followed the same line of thought that we had, that the house would go into a bidding war we couldn’t afford.

An hour later we’d made an offer, and an hour after that we’d done our inspection. Then we had a one-hour break for the sewer scope, and just before our appointment we got the message that they’d accepted our offer. On our way to the house it was raining, pouring the way I’m told it does in Seattle but that I hadn’t yet really experienced. I hoped it would keep up and that we would buy our first house in the rain which is way better than a first kiss in the rain. But it didn’t. The air smelled burnt from the wildfires ravaging Washington.

We knew, of course, that there were still hurdles that could prevent us from getting this house. Despite the fact that we 11998886_10104871968542806_2517780414043441894_nwere pre-approved for our loan, we knew that things can and do go wrong during that phase and we obsessed over each and every single one of them in the 30 days that followed. All I wanted to talk about was the house. All I wanted to write about was the house. Instead, we tiptoed around it, fearful of jinxing ourselves. We didn’t set foot in the neighborhood, didn’t even drive by. We didn’t schedule a moving truck or buy furniture or look at paint samples. We just sat and waited.

Then the appraisal passed and it was good. Very good, in fact. The loan was approved. Still, until we signed the paperwork on Tuesday we just couldn’t wrap our minds around what was happening. It wasn’t until we picked up the keys on Thursday evening, and were finally allowed in to the house at 9 p.m. that I let myself begin to believe.

I had liked the house before it was mine, felt comfortable in it. As Anne Shirley would say, I believe it is a kindred spirit. But walking through that house when it was mine was an entirely different feeling—the headiness of believing I could fly right into the atmosphere against the weight of this incredibly adult responsibility.

I can’t stop thinking about the responsibility. Growing up, I always loved my home, viewed it as a place of sanctuary and comfort and ease. But I never considered a house’s needs. Growing up, my house protected me. Now, I guess it’s my responsibility to protect the house. And that simultaneously terrifies and thrills me.

No one believes that it took just three weeks and a single offer to get our house. Not in Seattle. Not right now. I’m more 11224685_10153346120703355_1080969401037849589_nlikely to believe that I’m dreaming than that I am a homeowner less than five months after leaving California.

The cats are thrilled. They’ve two sets of stairs to climb and more than twice as many windows as they’ve ever had. The smells in the basement are everything a contemporary housecat could ask for, and more. We’re going to put up a birdfeeder to ensure their continued entertainment. They don’t know what’s coming—a dog from the shelter to utterly disrupt their tranquility. We’ll give them some time, give ourselves some time to adjust to these unlikely new circumstances.

But I’d be surprised if we held out too long.

birdfeeder to ensure their continued entertainment. They don’t know what’s coming—a dog from the shelter to utterly disrupt their tranquility. We’ll give them some time, give ourselves some time to adjust to these unlikely new circumstances.

But I’d be surprised if we held out too long.

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Comments

  1. Congratulations!

  2. Welcome to the neighborhood!!

  3. I am so happy for you, Ashley.

  4. Congrats to a fellow ex-pat SLO resident! We also took 10 years to leave SLO and have been house-, well, LAND and house-hunting ever since in Sonoma County. Yes, that’s now over 3 years, 1.5 of which we were loosely engaged and the other 1.5 of which we’ve been dead-set seriously looking. I enjoyed reading this because I could relate to so much! It’s like having a baby somehow, the mode you go into is crazy in how it pulls you through some seriously ancient archaic instincts. My husband and I are still on the ride! We’re in contract now, but things are not quite certain… we’re in the “don’t jinx it” phase, combined with the “obsess about doing everything humanly possible to get through this moment” phase! Send prayers from one incredibly successful homebuyer to hopefully another! ~ Laurie

  5. Welcome to Seattle! We live in Roosevelt not far from chiang’s! It’s a sweet little place to call home. I so love these “meant to be” real estate stories.

Trackbacks

  1. […] I bought a house. I should say “we bought a house” because it was definitely a team effort and technically Colin’s name is also on the title. As it turned out, buying a house was only the beginning. […]

  2. […] year ago today I picked up the keys to our first house from the real estate agent’s office. It was around 9 p.m. when we finally entered the house, […]

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