Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I love-hate my house

Our big, empty house still has not sold. We listed it last July at a price that would allow us to break even; it's now listed almost $50,000 below what we paid for it in 2006. And it will likely sell for even lower than that. I feel physically ill when I think about how much money we have thrown away on this place.

This house has in fact been a major source of stress and anxiety since the moment we signed the papers. When I think about our first winter there -- when I look at photos of my sweet Happy, just 18 months old opening Christmas gifts on the bare tile floor because we couldn't yet afford an area rug -- I taste the sour fear that we wouldn't be able to maintain the place, let alone pay the mortgage every month. It's ironic that now that we're in a better job situation and not even living in the house, we still face major financial hardship because of this building.

The annual first-day-of-school pic
in front of Bachmania
We've been house-poor for almost a decade, never really able to make the improvements we wanted in the 8 years we lived there. We bought the house at the peak of the market, just before the big real estate crash and recession, and the monthly mortgage payment has always been too high, more than we could really afford. I held my breath every time we turned on the heat or a/c: Old house, old systems, and I've been constantly worried something huge would give out and we wouldn't be able to replace or fix it. Miraculously, we've eked it out, even through job loss, an expanding family, and significant changes in income. Just before we moved, we sunk more than $10,000 into the place, replacing the master bathroom the week before and the entire roof the day after we moved out. I haven't even seen what that new roof looks like. Surely it's spectacular, as far are roofs go.

It wasn't really the right house for us from the start, an ugly split-level like all the others around it, lacking character except for the large semi-private yard. It didn't have the right space for large people with growing kids either. The kitchen was too small; the garage served as our pantry. The bathroom had a Jacuzzi tub that was too short for my long legs. The ceiling in the family room is low enough that if I wore heels, I had to bend my neck slightly at the bottom of the stairs. The master bedroom was just big enough for our bed and dressers, barely room enough for two 6-foot adults. There were cave crickets in the laundry room, for heaven's sake!
I spent many hours reading and
drinking wine on this deck.

Ironically, despite the ill-proportioned rooms, it was too much house for a busy young family. Cleaning inside took hours, and maintaining the yard took entire afternoons in the spring, summer, and fall. Most weekends, by the time the yard work was done, we were too tired to enjoy the yard. And now I'm actually paying someone to do the yard work, which I hate even more because I'm still not enjoying the yard!

Here's the punchline: I miss that poorly laid-out, time-sucking, money-draining house. I miss sitting on the beautiful deck shaded by 60-foot trees in the late afternoon. I miss eating tomatoes from my garden. I miss sending the kids out back to play together on the swing set. I miss working in my little desk in the back corner of the sunroom, watching the family of cardinals in the weeping cherry tree. I miss hearing the high school marching band in the fall; in fact, that was the sound that made us want to buy the house in the first place. I miss each of us having our own space to spread out, Happy drawing in the sunroom, Honey watching football in the family room, Zippy playing by me in the dining room while I cooked on a Sunday afternoon. I miss a fire crackling on Christmas morning or the entire family gathered around the table singing happy birthday. I miss sprawling on the sectional sofa with bowls of popcorn on a Friday night in front of a dumb kids' movie. I miss waking to the hum of the neighbors' lawn mower, or watching the fireflies twinkle in the trees outside our window.

I miss our neighbors, who were always friendly and happy to see us. I miss having a bunch of children for Happy and Zippy to play with whenever they stepped out the front door. I miss walking to the park or library whenever we wanted. I miss the moms at the bus stop each morning and the way my heart would swell when I saw all our kids bound off the bus together in the afternoons. I miss catching up with friends at the swim club on our street or seeing familiar faces in the coffee shop on a Friday morning.

We could cram a lot of people in
for birthday parties.
Stupid house! I'm so mad that I miss you! I never liked your structure, your small rooms, your upkeep, your expense. But you were our home for a long time. In fact, I lived with you longer than any other house in my life. Your belly was where our older son learned how to walk and where I rocked my younger son as a newborn, staring out the front window at the small Japanese maple and basketball hoop in the front yard. Your backyard held countless family cookouts, hosted neighborhood friends for campfire marshmallow roasts, grew delicious vegetables, and served as final resting place for our beloved cat. In your rooms we rode out two hurricanes and two extreme winters. And you always provided space and warmth for our family and friends. You really sucked at being a house, but you were really good as a home.

Being responsible for a big empty house 500 miles away from where I live is wearing me down considerably. I have missed out on a lot of sleep worrying about the house and wondering why it's not been purchased yet. I feel every person who walks through and doesn't make an offer hates it, and I do take that personally. But I understand because I, too, hate this house! I would like nothing more than for an asteroid to land on it.

I know, however, that when the day comes that we actually sign it over to a new family, I will weep.

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