House Tricks

The hunt is on.

The house hunt, that is, just one piece of the impending part of the ongoing Crisis.  I guess the hunt has actually been on for awhile, since we first started thinking about some towns and met with a realtor last month. And we’ve both been perusing the online sites to see what’s out there. But now, with Samantha’s departure just 6 or so weeks away (holy shit…) I feel like there is an added urgency. I mean, if we know about something we’re interested in as soon as she gets there, best be ready to act, yes?

Well, some might disagree. Today’s figures on house sales could mean we are not anywhere near the bottom, so patience becomes a virtue. But I want to know where I’m going to be living as soon as possible once the apple trees bloom on Matson Hill (an arbitrary deadline, I know; that’s about the first week of May for those of you who don’t know the fruit-bearing regions of South Glastonbury). And my sense is, from what we’ve seen so far, some CT folks don’t get that there is a housing bust going on around them.

250k for that?

250k for that?

I see these dumpy Capes, some without garages, for what seems to me like ridiculous prices. Granted, my frame of reference may be warped. We are not looking at anything over 250k, and I still wonder, with the price freefall, why can’t we find something decent for what we sold our old house for – 184k in 2004. It was in great condition, nice neighborhood in a well-run town with low taxes (though perhaps too “urban” for some CT buyers). There’s gotta be something like that out there, right?

We are definitely going in on the low end of things. We don’t need fancy or large, we don’t need a good school system, we want to keep our monthly payments as low as possible and not be mortgaged to the hilt. Even in these credit-squeezed times, I’m sure we could qualify for a lot more house/loan than what we want. But less debt means more flexibility down the road, and that is our motivation.

So, where we stand so far: of the original 3 or 4 towns the realtor said met the criteria we gave her, I’m having my doubts about all them. Taxes are too high in several; decent houses near the center of town are too high in another. The last seems too far away from our focal point, being close to the train line to NYC. So, on our own, we’ve extended the parameters out a bit. This town has easy train access, but again prices might be too high. That town has good prices and low taxes, but is even farther from the train (and too close to my mother).

Now, in any of these towns, there are homes within or even below our budget. But what do you get for your dollar? Houses sold “as is” or in need of “TLC.” Houses in dicey parts of town. Houses that feel even more wedged together on small lots than the two-flats that line our Chicago street.

There is a dilemma here, in my mind, that fuels a little habitat angst (how surprising). We really want a house before we move; no move first, rent, then buy. The logistics of that would drive me nuts. And getting something before the end of the year, so we get the tax credit, is a strong incentive. But on the other hand, there are so many variables and fragilities already built into this move,  we can’t just settle. This baby had better feel right to both of us, or we are in some serious shit as a couple. But can we meet my needs – close to a town center, gas stove, garage, among others – with our price and geographic constraints? Samantha, I think, is more adaptable, other than wanting a separate space for herself in a basement or attic or barn or bomb shelter or something. And maybe she is willing to spend more than I would like to, I don’t know. Yeah, if we had all the money in the world, we could satisfy these diverse requirements pretty easily, even as CT sellers still seem to think it’s 2007 and everything’s rosy.

Pretty sweet - but it is Winsted...

Pretty sweet - but it is Winsted...

In wilder moments, I scan around in areas we never considered. Like Winsted. If you do not know CT, you have probably never heard of Winsted, unless you are a Ralph Nader geek; it’s his hometown. Small place, up in the northwest corner of the state. Now, the cultural and economic centers of CT are located along water, mostly the CT River and Long Island Sound. Winsted is upland country, with hills and rocks and farms and not much else. Unless you are a farmer or wealthy New Yorker escaping the city, there is not much appealing about the area. Winsted is nowhere near the train line, and its town center is minute. Getting from there to almost any decent  job in the state (but there is a Wal-Mart just down the road in Torrington!) would be a haul for Samantha. Yet, I know she would enjoy its rural isolation. And I’ve seen two houses there this week that were pretty enticing. Taxes are low, you get a lot of house for the buck. It’s tempting…but could I be happy amidst the physical isolation? No chance of having just one car there. No easy trips by train to NYC. Probably not a vegan restaurant within 25 miles. And if I convinced myself I could adapt to something so far from my ideal situation, would the satisfaction fade once we were settled? Would either of us want to risk it?

Then there’s this little nugget: I don’t really, deep down,  want to own a home. Other than being able to grow my own herbs and vegetables, there is nothing that compels me to own. No, tax writeoffs and building equity just don’t cut it. Yet the practical side of me says, “Deal with the shoveling and the repairs; this is the time to buy, if I’m ever going to do it.” And the  practical side does understand the allure of a tax write off and equity.

I try not to think about that sweet Winsted bungalow. Or the other good homes that somehow don’t seem just right. I try to remember Samantha’s guiding principle through this process: “We only have to find one.” Only one, but one that meets lots of requirements. The uber-house. I will try to have faith. And besides, like we said when we sold our much-loved Windsor house, “It’s just a house.” That makes it easier.

Right.

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~ by mburgan on February 27, 2009.

One Response to “House Tricks”

  1. Middletown.

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