Currently, my husband and I are renting an apartment in downtown Austin – part of a gradual transition from our New York City lifestyle. Every six months, we revisit the idea of buying a house and becoming real adults. Although the process is intimidating and the permanence terrifying, there are definitely some perks to owning a home. We could paint the walls without having to ask for permission (I’d paint my kitchen “Crimson” and “Citron” and immediately regret it). We could have grass (dead brown grass that we wouldn’t be allowed to water due to drought restrictions). We could keep our neighbors at a distance and wouldn’t have to listen to their kids playing tag in the hallway (someone get them some grass already!). And we could finally build that underground survival shelter that we’ve always dreamed of.
In an ongoing effort to convince my husband that owning a house can be fun and rewarding and isn’t just a big hassle, I tricked him into accompanying me on the Austin Cool House Tour. Held twice a year, the tour is open to the public and showcases “green” homes that are renewably powered and energy efficient, with solar panels and rainwater collection systems and roof overhangs and low-E windows. More importantly, I knew that the owners of the featured homes would be trying hard to show them off. They’ve spent years building their green dream homes – they want you to be impressed. Sure enough, every house we visited was spotless and beautifully decorated, with minimal clutter and fresh flowers in every room. It was a welcome change from the open houses I’ve attended, where the homes usually aren’t staged and often appear neglected, and the sale sign out front might as well read: “Someone please take this dilapidated property off my hands. I regret ever buying this stupid house. Sincerely, The Owner.” Personally, I’m more inclined to buy a house if I know that the owner would never dream of selling it to me.
It’s no surprise, then, that I fell in love with every house on the Cool House tour. My husband, not so much, but I did my best to sway him. At every house we visited, I would turn to him and say, “Isn’t this house breathtaking? I bet the people who live here are so happy and don’t regret buying this house at all.” My husband’s biggest fear about buying a house in Texas is the insects (for most of his life, he lived a bug-free existence in frigid Canada), so I made sure to draw his attention to the screened-in patios. “Look honey, you can be outside without really being outside! Look at these impenetrable screens! No bugs are getting in here, that’s for sure.”
His other big fear is home maintenance – right now, we don’t even change our own light bulbs – so I threw in a lot of reassuring remarks like “These walls sure look sturdy” and “This metal roofing practically takes care of itself.” A lot of men take pride in fixing things around the house, but not my husband. He would literally throw out the television before he would assume the task of mounting it on the wall. It’s not like he can’t do it. He once spent an entire summer scouring the aisles at Home Depot for wooden dowels, which he then used to build a functioning computer made entirely out of wood! (Sorry ladies, he’s taken.) He’s just not interested in home repair. He’s more than happy to fix my computer, but if the faucet springs a leak, forget it. We barely own any tools. Just a hammer and a drill that we used once to hang a decorative candleholder. And that didn’t exactly work out. We were left with a gaping hole in our wall that we eventually covered up with a picture frame.
Anyway, I understand his hesitation. I have my own fears about buying a house. What if we get bored and want to move somewhere else? Having lived in Austin for only a year and a half, it seems like an awfully big commitment to make. Can I really see myself living here for the long-term? I guess it’s a good sign that when I’m procrastinating, I often find myself browsing the Austin real estate listings and fantasizing about living in a big, lovely house in West Austin, throwing dinner parties for non-existent friends, welcoming guests into my foyer and saying, “Please have a seat in my formal sitting room.” As opposed to now, when I say, “Well, you’re in my apartment. This is pretty much it.”
Just to be clear, I have absolutely no desire to build a house from the ground up, spending a year or more agonizing over every little decision, picking tiles and sorting through carpet samples. No thank you! I want a house that comes already built and already perfect, with a note on the door that says, “Welcome, Jami, to your ready-to-go dream house! We’ve taken the liberty of decorating and furnishing it for you.”
Recently, I thought I had found just such a home. It had been built by an architect for his own family using green building techniques and the finest materials. It was a house with character, and by that, I don’t mean old and run-down; I mean warm and rustic. I convinced my husband to go see it with me. Apparently, a few days too late. When we arrived at the showing, the real estate agent informed us that the owner had just accepted another offer. She showed us the house anyway, and knowing that it was off the market, I wanted it even more. I couldn’t believe someone had stolen my dream house right out from under me! I trudged around that big, beautiful house, mumbling under my breath the entire time. “I’m sure that bastard will really enjoy all of this countertop space.”
A week later, I received a phone call from the real estate agent. The bastard had defaulted on his payment and the contract had been severed. My dream home was officially back on the market! Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure about the house. Maybe we were getting ahead of ourselves. We couldn’t possibly make use of all that space. It’s kind of awkward when a thirty-something couple buys an enormous house; you might as well label the empty bedrooms: “Reserved for possible future child.” (Better get on that!)
Around the same time, I spoke to my friend and her husband who had just purchased their first home. On their third (yes, third!) day as homeowners, they showed up to move some of their stuff in and found the basement flooded with two feet of raw sewage. My friend’s husband, whose first instinct was to shut off the water, made the mistake of wading through it and ended up in the hospital. Meanwhile, men in hazmat suits ripped apart their basement, tearing out walls and carpeting and making an awful mess. They found out later that it was the city’s fault and are now in a legal battle over the damages.
After having several nightmares in the vein of The Money Pit starring Tom Hanks, I told the real estate agent that we were passing on the house. “Maybe in six months,” I said. After that, my husband and I started toying around with the idea of buying a condo downtown. No sooner had we decided to go check out the condos for sale in the newly opened W hotel across the street, when the glass panels on the exterior of the building started falling off at random. Several people were injured by the falling glass, and the entire hotel had to be shut down “until further notice.”
... Um, yeah, that about settles it. I think we’ll just stay in our rental apartment and pray that the walls don’t come crumbling down around us.