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Friday, April 15, 2011

What buying a house teaches you about yourself.

Source: The Selby

In an extremely grown-up move that nobody saw coming, my husband and I decided to buy a house this year.

We currently live in an old, rambling duplex in Hyde Park.  It is populated by me, my husband Ross, our roommate Caleb, our cat Claudia, roughly 10 guitars (Ross's), a steady supply of coffee and nut butters (mine), wall decals in varying shapes and sizes (usually bird-shaped), hand-me-down furniture from our parents, meals Ross has made, books I have read, high heels, flip-flops, beer, wine, expensive cheese (when we're feeling rich), canned beans (when we're not), photographs from parties in our 20s, echoes from fights we have had, old wrapping tissue from gifts we have given each other, pink carpet, yellow bathroom tile, and -- occasionally -- terrified birds and lizards Claudia carries in from outside.

We try to keep that last feature to a minimum.

What I'm saying is: This is a fully-imprinted house.  I knocked on its front door for my first date with Ross.  Nine months later, he proposed to me upstairs.  There's a creek outside our bedroom window that I listen to at night, and there used to be a pair of hard-of-hearing vets who walked by every morning.  They wore matching sombreros, and their preferred communication method was shouting.  One of them was so loud, he was banned from the grocery store.


Ross is a school teacher, and primarily teaches music.  Which is, in fact, how we met: I taught at his same school seven years ago, and almost as soon as I met him, thought: "Now that's going to make one hell of a husband someday."

I didn't think it'd be me, but whoever that lucky girl was, I envied her.  Greatly.

Reader, I married him.  We now live down the street from it, this small, private school in the middle of Austin.  Ross still teaches there, and walks up the two blocks every day with his lesson plans strapped to his back, kissing me goodbye on the way out.

But now, the school is closing.

The property was sold a few weeks ago.


For Ross and me, it's ok: He's had a dream of opening up his own music school for kids, School of Rock-style.  It's a dream I am 100% behind.  And admittedly, it's a bit self-serving: I feel like a badass whenever I tell people my husband teaches kid rock bands.

So sometime back in January, we got this crazy idea to start looking for a house, a house that would allow us to build Ross' dream music studio.  Now, people told me a lot of things about the house-hunting process, but one thing no one ever told me was that it's a really good indicator of the state of your marriage.

Here is a conversation Ross and I once while looking at a potential home:

ROSS:  Wow!  Look at all this space on the lot!

ME: The neighborhood's ugly.

ROSS:  Really?  I don't think it's that bad.

ME: Well, I don't like it.

ROSS: Can you be more specific?

ME:  Uh -- I don't like that someone has a chain link fence in their yard.

ROSS:  Seriously?

ME:  Yeah.  What's up with that.  They should get a cuter fence. 

ROSS: (Silently gathering reserves of patience)

ME: Also, our whole yard would be taken up by a driveway.

ROSS: Where do you propose we park our car?

ME:  I don't know but not on a humongous slab of stained concrete.  That driveway just doesn't "feel" right.

ROSS: You're honestly getting bad vibes from a driveway?

And on and on and on it went.  If you can't tell, I can be both shockingly snobby and highly vague in my property tastes.

That conversation was about a house that Ross really wanted and I didn't, and we had an argument about it that lasted for days.  It sucked, and it scared me to think that we could be on such opposite pages when it came to the biggest purchase of our entire adult lives.  He wanted space; I wanted an adorable neighborhood.  Preferably a centrally-located neighborhood, because at this particular life juncture, I have a deep need to live close to the city.  Maybe I always will.


There was one house we saw online, and after looking at its pictures, felt flatly unimpressed.  The lighting was all wrong and, rather than take a picture of his backyard, the seller decided to show us a single picture of an Everlast punching bag.  Presumably in the back yard.  Presumably his favorite part about the back yard.

Still.  It was in our budget, and I noticed it was located only five miles away from our beloved Hyde Park abode.  We decided to give it a shot.

When we walked inside with our realtor, we heard what sounded like an animal waking up in the back of the house.

"HMMUPHHHRRrrrr," it said.

I thought it might be a big, sleepy dog.  Or a wolf.

"Ok, ah, hello!" called my realtor, ever chipper in the face of confusion.  "Realtor with prospectives!  Just going to take a quick look around!"  We heard the source of the sound get up out of the bed, stumble to his bedroom door, and shut it.

But we didn't need to look.  We were already in love.


There's a certain cliched, cheesy magic that has been portrayed by Remax commercials, of couples gazing expectantly at each other, eyes wide, thrilled that they've found THE HOUSE and that they can now embark confidently on The American Dream.  And the thing is, they're actually not joking.  Just like when I found out that the best part of waking up really is Folger's (or any coffee) in my cup, I discovered this was a time when commercials weren't lying to me.

Because the moment you realize that you and your mate both love a house is nothing short of momentous, causing you to react like you've just discovered King Tut's Tomb.  Or maybe the Baby Jesus.

"The stained concrete floors!" I cried.

"The huge backyard!" Ross wept.

"Oh, oh my God, Ross, there's a PECAN TREE," I whispered.

"I know, Tolly, and there's even a small driveway," he said.

We were completely giddy.  We practically skipped out the front door, and into our realtors' arms.

And you know the best part?  All those crappy pictures that the seller took of his own house worked in our favor.  When we made our offer, we had zero competition.


We close on this house in six days, and are so nervous it's all going to evaporate somehow.  I've never saved up this much money before, and it's just sitting in our savings account, staring out at me from the bank website.  "Hello?"  It seems to be calling.  "Hellooo, Tolly!  Let's go play and have fun.  You need new shoes."

No, I don't need new shoes!  I want to tell it.  STOP TAUNTING ME savings account.  What I need is groceries, but we're saving every single cent we have right now to make our down payment.  I bought fancy coconut milk coffee creamer the other day, and immediately felt guilty about it.  So there, savings account.

Ross has already started boxing up our belongings, and I keep asking the cat if she's ready for a grand adventure!  She swats at my face, and then runs off to kill something. 

As for me?

I am honestly so excited I can hardly stand it.  We're doing it!  We're buying a freaking house!  I never thought I would do something this adult until I was at least 45.  Look out world, I want to say.  Ross and Tolly are making decisions!  Big, responsible decisions.  Next thing you know, we'll join a home owners association and write off tax deductible charity donations! 

But.  I'm terrified it will fall through.

You hit snags buying a house.  It's just the nature of it.  For various reasons, it really could all go away.

I'm also keenly aware that leaving my neighborhood might present a weird, surprising pain of its own.  I've identified with its haunts -- like Quacks -- for so long, that I'm maybe not quite ready to leave.  I've taken so many walks through this neighborhood that I've memorized the best corners.  I know the characters of Hyde Park, the loud veterans, the bright-eyed, 19-year-old checkers at Fresh Plus Grocery, the attendant at Pronto Mart who looks like Jerry Garcia, the Iranian couple who own a gas station as well as a hundred flags, decorating the building exterior and even the very gas pumps, so, so many flags that we've nicknamed this gas station "The UN."  There's a church in Hyde Park where they do Ouija board seances.  There's a peacock in somebody's back yard.

Still though, I think I'm ready for this change.

I just can't believe that words like "escrow" and "HOA" are now part of my vocabulary.  Part of me wants to spit them out, saying, "Ew!  Too much adult around here!"

But the other part of me savors these words, these official-sounding pieces of home buyer terminology.  It's like the time I finally realized I like olives.  A slow, contemplative bite, and then ... a contented turn of the lips.

These grown-up words don't feel so bad in my mouth after all.


adrienne breaux said...

Damn this post was good. And CONGRATS!!! I can't believe it happening but I am so darn proud that it is. A million good lucks to everything working out!

Hipstercrite said...

Wow! Congrats! What a great story too. Can't wait to hear more about it. :D

Nicole Mlakar-Livingston said...

We couldn't afford a home anywhere near Austin so major kudos to you! You will love every minute of it... even when your A/C goes out or the roof needs to be prepared. Yay home ownership!

Unknown said...

I'm happy for you, T! Can't wait for the housewarming party! I'll bring booze. And fancy cheese. Even though, technically, *I* should be saving for a wedding, which are some other adult words I never thought I'd say.

Unknown said...

Great post Tolly. This made me think of all the anxiety I had when I bought my first home. In the end you just have to accept that what will be, will be. Congratulations to you and Ross.

Unknown said...

I love this. Thanks for sharing and congrats to both, you and Ross!

Kristen said...

ooh girl, so happy for you! hope everything goes well. As usual, you are a master with words.... great story :)

Krista said...

amazing post! I recently moved back to Austin after being away for almost five years. Once I've secured something full time (currently freelancing) the next step is home ownership. So excited for you and so many questions! did you begin your search online? how did you decide on a home budget/asking price? how long did it take you to save? did you have to put a huge percentage down? anyway, don't want to bombard you, could ask tons more. I too am so fearful of that adult part of me, but I'm in my 30s now, so I guess it's time? WEIRD. Totally relate to you. Enjoy your new home and all the promise it holds for you and your family. It will be an amazing adventure, I'm certain of that. Congratulations!

Cory said...

So, so, so exciting! You will make new awesome memories in the new house..

marcus said...

haha high five Tolly-bear! Sounds fabulous. Good luck to yew guys.

bsimms8907 said...

I'm so excited for you while being immensely jealous at the same time. I've been pushing Thomas to decide whether he wants to stay in Austin after graduation so we can go ahead and start planning to buy a house. I hate thinking about how much money we've thrown away on rent... about $12,000 this year not including any utilities.

Pang said...

This is so awesome. Congratulations, Toll-house cookie!
When's the house warming party??

That Chelsea Girl™ said...

Oh, that's so exciting! Good luck to the both of you. I love house buying.

Sara KG said...

I feel your house hunting woes and am absolutely THRILLED for y'all! We're still trying to find a house that makes us cry and weep with joy :) CONGRATS and have a safe move!!

Lila said...

Advice from your ever chipper Realtor about getting through the next week or so till closing: Breathe. Then breathe some more. It will all come out fine in the end. And, by the way, you two have been dream clients!

Aquila said...

Um wow. You're writing was inspired in this one! Totally gonna go write something amazing now...or at least try. :)


Lela said...

Gosh, I hope this can be us in a few years! Kudos to you and Ross for pulling this off. Congrats! I'm so ready to buy a house but until we seriously get better jobs and change some of our spending habits, it won't be for a while...

amy said...

Couldn't be more happy for you two! Would you believe that Nathan and I are exactly at the same point in our life right now? Looking at buying our first home and becoming grown-ups and after some time to let the concept grow on me, it ain't so bad. JUST blogged about where we are in the process too!

Joe Manausa, MBA said...

Good luck to you Tolly. "You're honestly getting bad vibes from a driveway?" Too funny!

Unknown said...

I inheretied a mortgage from my husband and his ex-wife, so I have never gotten to experience this. But the concerns of losing our house (not that we are, but it could happen) are eased. Because then I get to be fussy and find the perfect home that we both love. Thanks for making me less worried.

René Fabre said...

Great post Tolly. I've been in the title & escrow business for many years and I can relate so very well to what you and your husband are going through. My first home buying experience was very much like yours. (I'm also a musician and it was a dream come true to have a basement for my studio.) You are a great story teller, thanks for sharing this very personal experience. Best of luck and congratulations on your new home!

Pam/Digging said...

Congrats, Tolly! Now just wait till you have a baby to feel all grown-up. And then when your baby turns 15, as mine has today. That surprising feeling of doing something grown-up just never stops, no matter how old you get. I guess that's a good sign. It means you're young on the inside, which is where it really counts.

Jess ( said...

Congrats on the big change! I love how, when you both find a space you love, shouting obvious things at each other is the go-to: "OH my GAWD — Brett, Brett! They have SINKS." True story. Congrats again, this is so exciting! I can't wait to take the plunge myself.

Anonymous said...

I love how you guys are following your dreams. You and your husband are inspiring people. Thanks for shining your light at the WLT YA conference this weekend. Glad to know about your blog now! -Elizabeth White

Unknown said...

Thank you, dear readers for your positive comments regarding our new house. I am stoked. FYI - we will have chickens. Probably 3 of 'em.

Pink Sun Drops said...

I'm so excited you found THE ONE on your first purchase. We've owned two now (and still own one) and are still looking for our ONE. So excited for you about having a home to call your own!

Anonymous said...

YAY!!! I am so excited for you, CONGRATS! I can't wait to hear more tales and see pics of the new home!

Austin Eavesdropper said...

Hi everyone!!

Thank you guys for your incredibly kind and congratulatory comments. Buying a house is EMOTIONAL! But really fun at the same time. I'm no expert on the topic, but I do feel like I've learned some very valuable tips. For anyone reading, here are my top 3 pieces of advice:

1. DO YOUR TAXES CORRECTLY. EVERY SINGLE YEAR. Most of you probably do already. But these days, to get a mortgage loan, you have to provide your last 3 years' tax returns, W2's, 1099's, etc. And they all have to be perfect, basically, for the government to know you're not going to muck up your loan payments. So do your taxes on time!! And keep records.

2. FIND A KICKASS REALTOR. Again, obvious. But ours just so happened to be very familiar with central Austin, which is where we wanted to live. People have different location preferences so find one who specializes in your area. Also, our realtor is a master negotiator, which gave us a really sweet closing deal.

3. DITTO ON A KICKASS LENDER. I can send you the name of ours. He is *amazing* and, to answer your question Krista, was the one who helped us determine a budget, asking price, and down payment amount.

Ok, one last tip:

4. BE PATIENT. Sometimes Ross and I would look at each other like, "I DON'T EVEN KNOW YOU!" because our house desires were admittedly different. It took us about 2 mos. to find a house that we both fell in love with. I am so, so glad we didn't rush it. It takes some people a year or more. So look in a bunch of different neighborhoods, and don't let the online photos scare you. This one that we ADORE and are buying had -- per the story above -- hilarious photos. Good thing we didn't judge it by that alone.

amy said...

I so agree with your advice, Tolly. Our house just passed inspection today with flying colors! Yay! The irony for us is that it was the first house we looked at. Not the first house I looked at, but the first house Nathan and I looked at together. (I had randomly walked in to a couple of open houses I drove by before that.) Ditto to having a kickass realtor and a kickass lender! Our realtor was like, yes, you love this one, but let's go through the process. We went on to others, came back to the first house. Went on to more, came back a third time and decided to make an offer. Can't wait to blog the before and after photos! :)

Peter Tsai said...

Hey Tolly,

First, congrats! I wish nothing but the best for you two and I'm happy you found the perfect place. Looking forward to posts about the new place.

Also, I can totally identify with that feeling of "this is the one" upon seeing a house. I've had it 2 times in my life, and the last time, I when had to make a split second decision at an auction to get the place, I could feel my heart beating in my chest as I won.

Hope you are experiencing that same homebuying rush and have fun fixing the place up just like you want it.

Mai said...

Congrats! It's almost approaching the one year anniversary of when I bought my condo. It definitely changes you and makes you re-evaluate the things you *think* you need in life! I NEVER thought I'd buy a house, but for me it made sense (even though I'm never home :( ). My old rent cost more than my mortgage and HOA fee now.

I looked at 109 places until I found the right place, it was CRAAZZYY and intense. I was really sad when I left East but being on SoCo ain't too bad.

xoxo, may you have FABULOUS memories in your new home!

Bob Drawson said...

Awesome, amazing story. I'm gonna share with all my customers if ya don't mind @bobdrawson

Unknown said...

i'm just curious what duplex you are vacating and when? we are on the hunt and of course, like millions of others, we'd like to live in hyde park (aka "austin's heavenly dwelling place"). so let us know when there's an open and well-loved duplex available!

best of luck.