12 March, 2008

A Shift in Perspective, A Change in Priorities

I've been taking Maggie out for walks in the evenings. Each time, we pick a different direction and explore all the new and exciting sights and smells of the neighborhood. A few nights ago, I was absolutely stunned to come across The Two Yellow Houses less than three blocks from home.

We were crazy enough to begin the house hunt during the dog days of last summer. Most days were 90-95 degrees. It was sweaty, brutal work made more difficult by the fact that we weren't all-that-familiar with the layout of the area yet. Our first buyer broker, Jeff, was not very helpful, either, and knew no more about the area than we did. (We ended up parting ways a few weeks later.)

One of the places we looked at and loved were The Two Yellow Houses. They were on the same lot, and the city would not divide them into two parcels on some technicality--the lot was an inch or two too short, or something like that. So the owner was selling both the main house and a two flat. Both were built in the 1880s, if I recall.

The main house.

The two-flat. It was nearly 100 degrees that day.
Sounds heavenly now as I sit freezing in my new basement office.

We liked them well enough that we actually went back a few times to check things out, hoping to make it work because buying two houses at once would be so cool. The main house was somewhat updated, with central air and everything. The two-flat was extremely dated, and would take a lot of work. Everything was coated in thick, white paint and both Ted and I thought it looked like student housing.

We had all fallen in love with this front porch, which was why we were trying to make this property work. Supposedly, it once belonged to the first Black doctor in town.

In the end, there were a number of reasons we rejected the property, some structural, some because of the odd layouts and difficult-to-access basements, some because of the amount of work we would have to take on overall. But mostly, it was the price and the fact that we all thought it was too far from downtown. Well, Mom was okay with the distance and liked the family-friendly neighborhood. But Ted and I were used to living in Uptown Chicago, where everything was walkable and where our condo was half a block away from the Red Line train. So we continued our search.

Fast forward four months, and we find ourselves closing on The Box House. By this point, we had seen so many properties all across the city--stucco homes, stone homes, brick homes, frame homes. It was hard to remember back to when we first started the quest for our home. But we were delighted with what we ended up with. It wasn't too far out from downtown and we felt we got a fair price.

"Bloody hell," I said to Maggie when we stumbled across the Two Yellow Houses this week. She cocked her head at me, unsure of what I was laughing at, but soon lost interest and continued to sniff along the sidewalk. After all, how could she possibly know that the neighborhood we picked was the neighborhood where we first began looking at houses? How could she know that the Two Yellow Houses had a list price close to what The Box House bidding began at, and that it was really no further out from downtown than where we ended up? Or that The Box House will require a lot of sweat equity and TLC in the next few years, just as these two charming Victorian farmhouses would?

Are there any regrets? Of course not. I love our new house. As we went through the process of shopping for a vintage home, we were able to form a better picture of what we were all looking for in an older house. While we had all lived in old buildings in the past, none of us had ever owned anything quite as old as our Jazz Age era two-flat. By the end of the house-hunting process, we knew we wanted a brick building with a solid cement foundation. And when we finally came across The Box House, the quirkly little shoebox-shaped building spoke to us, and somehow won us over, despite the distance and the price and the amount of work it would take to fix it up.

I just have to laugh because most of the reasons we rejected The Two Yellow Houses didn't seem to matter at all when we finally found the one that was to be ours.


Amalie said...

When we started our house hunt, I said "NO FIXER-UPPERS!" Nothing without central heat and air, nothing that needed roof work, nothing that needed anything beyond the cosmetic (ie, paint.). Period.

Yeah, well, ours spoke to us, too. We look back on some of the houses we visited (especially the ones that are still on the market), and now we can see the potential. Apparently, they just didn't have that special something that showed itself to us as being worth the work. Seems silly to anthropomorphize the houses, but there's almost no getting around it.

(BTW, have you seen the "Flip This House" episode where the kooky woman lets the house "make" all the decisions? Phenomenal and priceless. Letting the house speak to you: good when it's yours, bad when it's a flip, great for the TeeVee.)

Jennifer said...

How funny! We have a similar story... our house was on the market FSBO when we started looking... we drove by and said "NO! It's UGLY, and the siding is broken"

A month later, said "Come look at this really cute house that just went up on the MLS"...

we went over and it was the same house!

We actually went in it this time....

(They had had an offer FSBO that fell through and needed to sell quickly so got a realtor to do the work for them).

Jennifer said...

Amalie~ I saw that episode in a hotel room... my husband and I died laughing!

Amalie said...

I think I've seen it 4 times-- and every time she sees the new paint color on the house, I die.

Joanne said...

Amalie--It's not silly to anthropomorphize houses. I do it all the time! Some places just have a vibe that clicks with me, others don't.

I haven't seen that Flip This House episode. I'll have to look for it. :-)

Jennifer--We had eliminated The Box House from our search early on. I had seen the photos, and wasn't terribly impressed. I'm amazed at how different something looks just seeing it in person.