Monday, February 06, 2012

House Envy

Yesterday there was an open house in our neighborhood at a house I have been longing to see.  Originally the lot held a typical Belmont cottage of the 1920's.  I remember when it first was put on the market. The real estate listing made it sound dreadful.  I imagined something small, dark and smelly, with fifty years of cat pee soaked into the carpets and mouse turds in the backs of the cupboards.  Here's the original listing.

Someone bought it and tore it down and built a new house in its footprint and I've been watching the progress of this project for months.  It is for sale by owner, so there's no MLS, and no website but I scanned a couple of photos from the flyer.

 The price is a tad ambitious at $385,000 for an 1800 square foot cottage on a shabby block of a busy street.   It is lovely, though, with high ceilings, and built-ins, with an antique cupboard incorporated into the kitchen, a beautiful system of built-in drawers in the bedrooms.  The house is bright and light and has little thoughtful touches like the chalkboard paint on the side of a narrow cupboard--with a little tray for the chalk-- in the kitchen.

Grace, who came with me to the open house, wanted to buy it immediately.  It was so seductive, those clean neutral walls, and shining, smudge-free windows, the lot, innocent of weeds and covered with straw and baby grass.  I was half-ready to make an offer myself. It was like, if we moved into this house, our lives would become perfect.  I have since come to my senses and remembered that the minute we moved all our seedy, doggy, scratch-and-dent paraphernalia into this pristine little house, it would immediately become a wreck, and our lives wouldn't change at all, except that we'd have a much bigger mortgage payment and I'd have to back my car out onto a busy street, which would quickly drive me mad.

A fact about having kids and dogs:  they trash your house to shit.  The day our new couches were delivered, I told my kids in thunderous tones that they absolutely were not allowed to eat on them.  Within ten hours--TEN HOURS--someone had spilled chocolate pudding onto the arm of the new loveseat.  Do you have kids?  Do you have dogs? If so, share below something of yours that they've wrecked. 

But let's say a fairy gave me sparkling and perfect furniture to put into this new house.  There's still the problem of selling my current house, which is over 100 years old and has many, many things wrong with it.  For example, there's some sort of unspeakable leak between one of the chimneys and the wall.  Previous owners concealed under drywall the evidence of a fire in the closet under the stairs.  Last year when Jon and I exposed the charred underside of the floorboards that make up our landing, we tried to fortify it with wood putty.  Now chunks of the charred floor are breaking off.  An alarming crack has appeared between two of the boards.  Someone is going to end up putting their leg through the floor, or possibly even falling into the closet.  I shudder at the memory of the day when, oblivious to our disintegrating floor, we brought the new washing machine upstairs and it was stuck on the landing until we found a way to force it the rest of the way up the stairs.

I'm not really being fair to my house, here.  It has *loads* of potential and has housed us comfortably for nearly thirteen years and something in its construction must be right, because it has survived several earthquakes and countless hurricanes.  Once we get done with two kids in college, we'll start another project.


  1. Would it make you feel better if I told you that moving into a 100% brand spanking new house is not perfect either? Because your kids will still neglect to pick up their laundry or put their dishes in the dishwasher or sometimes even flush the toilet.

    On the other hand, I can say categorically that I don't have food stains on the furniture because every item in the living room is either wood, leather, or both. We got a leather sofa when the younger girl was a baby and it revolutionized our lives. Spilled sippy cup on the sofa? No problem. It blots right up. Vomit on the sofa? No problem. A little cleaner and a rag will take care of it. I'll never go back to a fabric sofa.

    Oh, plus my kids and their friends are never allowed to eat anywhere outside of the kitchen. I am not kidding. Any kid who has tried to wander outside of the approved perimeter with chips or cookies has quickly found out that Mrs. B. was dead serious when she said to keep the food in the kitchen.

  2. No kids, but yes, the doglets. Particularly my young doglet, who will turn 2 later this month. She has chewed the little fabric skirt on the bottom of my sofa, destroyed the corners of two different runners, destroyed a laptop charging cord, eaten 3 pairs of my shoes (at least 1 of which cost over $100 when I bought them)...the list goes on and on. And my older dog (who was a stray so we don't really know his age, but we estimate to be 9 or 10) is a terrier who usually remembers to pee outside...but if he's stressed out or mad at you, he marks in the house. Add that to housebreaking the girl dog when she was a pup, and our carpets are basically ruined throughout the whole house. And yet I'd never trade them away, and I'd never NOT have dogs. They're worth far more than all of that to me.

  3. You might enjoy this:

  4. Actually, this is a bit easier to read:

  5. As I am getting ready to put my house on the market, I have noticed many things about house envy, house management, and imagining the perfect life. House envy? When you start looking at houses in your target price range, you'll notice that the perfect house for you is at the very least $50K more than you are willing to spend. Management - the sedentary you does not see labrador retriever hair, piles of paper, and projects that never got put away. Perfection - my house looks amazing with the right color choices on the wall, clutter stashed away or given away, closets lined up like a magazine article. Nobody lives like this, unless you are getting it ready for someone else to buy your perfect life. The cycle will start again, in some unsuspecting house in Columbus, Ohio.... where the "good enough for now" life will settle in.

  6. My kids have ruined every bit of my house and they're not even particularly careless. Floors, walls, furniture, appliance, fixtures. You name it, they've damaged it. I refuse to get a pet because my delicate psyche can't handle any more destruction.

  7. This is why I advise my clients to not have kids. :)

    But to the house envy ... I also find that many of my clients who are doing the things necessary to get their houses on the market - fixing, cleaning, de-cluttering - often ask themselves why they're selling because with all of that stuff done, they like their house so much more. :)

  8. I always say that kids and houses sniff out any extra money you have and find ways to spend it. We have no dog, because, well, we need a fence and we just haven't gotten around to building it yet.

    Our back porch is literally, falling off the house. The tongue in groove floor is missing some teeth. And critters have borrowed under the front porch and that step, so that's sinking into the ground. We can only imagine what that's doing to the front of the foundation. My husband stands in the basement, staring at that wall, telling me he can see daylight in some of those cracks. Personally, I think he's imagining it, so I just dismiss it. I think he's just paranoid. Hopefully.

  9. That house does look lovely inside, compared to the photos in the previous listing.

    We have one child, and she's really pretty careful. I eat in the living room, so I've always allowed her to as well. My husband finally figured if he couldn't beat us, he'd just join us. I think really that I've spilled more things than my daughter has.

    We bought our current couches, with a fabric that camouflages dirt remarkably well, about 10 years ago. I figured they'd make it through the teen years, and then we'd replace them. A few more years . . .

    However, we had a dog for two years, and that's an experience I'll gladly never repeat. What a total mess.

  10. I think your house has bags more character than that new, but extremely plain wooden box.

    Kids and dogs? Don't forget cats, clawing at the most expensive thick velvet curtains we ever bought, AND sh*t all over our brand new pale blue carpet.

    At least you're allowed to shoot cats, aren't you?

  11. Oh yeah--I keep telling the kids that they'll have to turn their first year of salary after college over to ME so I can gut out and refurbish my house. Busted chunks of drywall. Destroyed wooden blinds. Stained carpets. Torn upholstery. My oldest single-handedly broke half of my great-grandma's wedding china.

    That's a really cute little house.

  12. I think sadly the future is renting.