It's the same thing every time.
Is this the one? The one I'm going to spend my life with? Okay, fine, so it's not that I'm not realistic. I'd settle for a couple solid years, a few good laughs, happy parties here and there -- but civilized parties, where we use coasters and drink wine while listening to Neko Case and someone leaves their Pyrex dish behind. We are, after all, adults now. If we do part, it will be with a handshake and a smile, knowing we both gained worth and meaning after all that time spent together.
It looks so good on paper. So is this Mr. Right?
I am talking, of course, about buying a house, a privilege and a rite of passage made even sweeter by the $8000 tax credit that Mr. Obama has dangled in front of young folks like me. Over the last two months, I've spent most of my evening hours pouring over the MLS listing like I'm looking for Matt Damon on Match.com, hoping against hope that something will be "right."
It's supposed to be fun, and I suppose it is, if you like walking into houses with gaping holes in the ceiling ("Water damage in roof could stand to be fixed"), finding random pieces of trim and tile cemented and stapled where they shouldn't be ("Upgrades show owner's pride in property!") and seeing a black and white cat squished to the size of my bank account in front of a potential property ("Happening street offers lots of urban action!").
Looking for a house--at least, your first house--is like going on several hundred really bad, oftentimes smelly, first dates.
My realtor--the co-conspirator, the friend you can call to shake off the nerves before you walk through the door of that bar or restaurant or email twenty five links to their pictures online when obsessing about the pool in the evenings--must be wanting to dump me by now. My demands are simple: I want a palace, but not a palace that looks like the palace everyone else has. I want a bungalow, but it has to have running water. I want a hip pad, but I don't want a modern wreckage.
Oh and, hey, can you make sure all that doesn't cost too much?
It's easy to start wavering on your parameters when you're working against the clock and looking for something to seal the deal. I recently was telling someone about my house hunt and actually found myself saying, "I'd at least like to be able to live in it, you know?" He stared at me for a moment and then said, without a hint of irony, "Yeah, I'd say that's a pretty basic requirement for when you're looking for a house."
So I continue my search, bound and determined not to settle for Mr. Right Now--the house that, like most men who go by the same name, looks good but comes with a disclaimer:
Walk or run to downtown - but don't forget your .22! No cookie cutters here - it just happens to look like every other house on the block! Great place to build a home - no, literally: bring your hammer!
What's surprising about the process, though, is how quickly hope springs eternal. One nice photograph with beaming late afternoon sunlight on a span of hardwood floors is like staring at a blank slate of possibility. Yeah, it's kind of further away than I initially intended. Maybe I could get that saggy roofline fixed, or simply learn to love it. The ordinary becomes new again: those four walls really are amazing; I can't believe they put a window in front! Those little shutters are endearing, aren't they? And there's a chair under that tree over there. I'm planting flowers -- geraniums, I think.
Looking for Mr. Right in the real estate market isn't always fun. But, like most things in life, if it was always easy, it would probably mean it has foundation problems.