The Commitmentphobe Buys a House

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

At first, T.J. didn't appreciate it too much when I told him buying a house was the biggest commitment I'd ever made. Sure, marriage is a big commitment, but a marriage doesn't necessarily tie you physically and financially to one spot on the planet. Some marriages might, if you marry someone averse to travel or being away from his family or who is tied to a career in a specific location, but thankfully my husband isn't like that. (And, honestly, I wouldn't have married anyone who was.)

It isn't that I never thought we'd buy a house. Owning a home is part of the American dream. But when our realtor Lisa called to say our offer on our near-dream home was accepted, I suddenly realized what a BFD home-buying is, and I turned a little green. 

After T.J. moved from Tennessee to Pennsylvania, his house sat on the market for nearly three years before finally selling at a loss. That's 36 months of mortgage payments, utility bills, hired lawn care, all gone. So what that experience taught me, perhaps erroneously, is that buying a house means you are stuck in a place or, if you try to leave when the market is unfavorable, you're going to be financially drained by it. My wanderlust kicked into overdrive at the very thought of homeownership. 

Still, the rental market in the Huntsville area was pathetic, so we didn't have many options. We'd outgrown apartment living and could find no reasonably priced houses or duplexes for rent in decent condition. Buying looked like the only good option. 

On our very first full day back in Alabama (February 1), we spent the day with realtor Lisa, a friend of T.J.'s family, touring 10+ houses in southeast Huntsville. I'd combed Trulia, Zillow, and, looked through hundreds of listings and countless pictures, to narrow our list down to houses of a certain size, in a certain area, in a certain price range. We saw some contenders, but nothing we were in love with, nothing that said this is our home. I grew up in the country and didn't realize how much that had affected me until I started looking at houses with tiny backyards, or with five sets of neighbors staring into the backyard. We quickly learned how much superficial things like chain-link fences and above-ground utilities bothered us. And although we wanted a house in a more established neighborhood (with trees!), we wanted one that didn't require a ton of updating and remodeling. But the only two houses with private backyards (backing a green belt) needed at least $50,000-$100,000 worth of work just to be livable. We toured only one house we could honestly see ourselves in (and even it had a tiny backyard surrounded by neighbors), and when we decided to drive by it the very next day, found a "SOLD ANOTHER ONE" sign in the front yard! We couldn't believe our (rotten) luck. Just the previous weekend, we'd found a house that we thought was the one (with a lovely backyard of willow trees, a stone's throw from T.J.'s parents), and it sold before we could tour it--after sitting on the market for 6+ months.

While Lisa worked with some visiting out-of-town clients that weekend, we drove neighborhoods looking for "for sale" signs. We drove all over the northeast side of town, over the mountain in Hampton Cove, in Owens Cross Roads. We looked at older, established areas on the south side of town and brand-new developments of cookie-cutter houses, like something out of the Truman Show (so said T.J.). We were feeling more and more down about the loss of the other two houses that had sold just after we discovered them. We drove past the rest of the houses on the list we'd given to Lisa and ruled them out because of the neighborhoods, the neighbors, the steepness of the driveways, the school districts. After three days of full-time house searching, we were tired and dejected. We decided to take the night off to go to a movie, but we ended up house searching on our computers anyway.

Finally, we decided to look at houses in Madison, the neighboring city to Huntsville. T.J.'s commute would be about the same either way and some of the school districts were just as good as those in SE Huntsville, so we decided to give it a shot. We narrowed our list down to five or six houses and went out around dusk just to drive by them. One in particular we loved practically on first sight. We loved the neighborhood. We loved the curb appeal. We loved that the house had a huge backyard and backed up to a relatively quiet road, so the yard felt private. 

We sent our list of Madison contenders to Lisa, and the next day we drove out to see them. We ruled out several almost immediately. And then we toured the house we'd loved on sight. And we loved the inside even more. It just felt like home. So sunny, warm, with a good flow and lots of functional space. It had almost everything on our wishlist: four bedrooms, a study for me, a playroom for future kids, 2.5 baths, plenty of garage/storage space. We took T.J.'s parents and sister back the next day to see it, and that night we wrote up our offer. Less than 24 hours later, the homeowners had countered and we had accepted. We were going to be homeowners.

We are going to be homeowners. At 4:00 today, we will sign the papers that will officially make this house ours:

I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm more than a little overwhelmed and intimidated. But I'm so ready to call this house our home. 


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