There’s a line in the movie Money Pit that illustrates my feelings on homeownership:
“Here lies Walter Fielding. He bought a house, and it killed him.”
In early 2006 we scrounged up our dollars and began searching for a place to buy. We’d been living in a rental house and Janie was tired of my habit of spending money on fixing up a place that didn’t belong to us. We spent months searching every night after work, pouring over online profiles of houses we could afford. It didn’t take long before our visions of a large home with a yard in a safe neighborhood faded away and we realized that we’d likely be living in a meth lab and manufacturing drugs to supplement our income in order to make the mortgage payments.
Our real estate agent had a long talk with us about expectations and the reality of what we could afford. With each passing week our expectations of a house were lowered. First we agreed look at ramblers in addition to two-story homes. Later we agreed to look at two-bedroom homes instead of three and four bedroom homes. Next we agreed that we didn’t necessarily need granite counters or stainless steel appliances. Finally we decided that as long as a house had indoor plumbing and a dishwasher, we’d survive. We broadened our search area and managed to find several places that were inhabitable and not next door to someone who looked suspiciously like someone Janie had seen on COPS. We quickly realized that our best option would be to look at condominiums because we’d have a better chance of affording something relatively updated and close to the areas we loved, but far enough from either of our parents that they’d need to call before bothering to drop by.
After several failed and heartbreaking attempts of procuring a home, we’d all but given up. We were looking online at homes and condos that were old and ugly or that were beautiful but we couldn’t afford and like a light from the good Lord, our condo appeared. We quickly called our agent and insisted she get us an appointment right away, “Yes, I know it’s 3am but maybe you could give them a call real quick…?” Not more than a month later we were spending our first night sleeping on a futon mattress in the living room, looking across at one another and thinking, How are we going to pay for this?
In the year and half that have passed since that night, we’ve managed to discover some very significant things, the largest of which is that the two young guys we bought this place from were probably retarded. They bought this place as an investment and in the two years they owned it, had remodeled nearly every last inch. It was a large part of what drew us to the space – it was modern, somewhat industrial and not like anything else we’d seen. It was sort of like Paris Hilton – all that pretty was hiding a whole lot of stupid.
We quickly discovered that they’d done a lot of rewiring during the construction and had no idea what they were doing. They neglected to mention this when they were extolling the virtues of their improvements. We inquired about some light fixtures that were not working after we moved in, and they insisted that all of them were working when they left and sent us pictures of lights on all throughout the house. They had actually taken photos of every light in the place except for the two that didn’t work. They lied and lied and defrauded a little and quickly disappeared off the face of the earth. According to our neighbor, when asked how they knew so much about rewiring and plumbing and remodeling they simply said, “Oh, we buy books.” Oh! Books! Great! Who needs an electrician’s license or permits when you can just go buy a book? That’s fantastic! Why didn’t I think about that? And here I have been spending all my time thinking I needed an electrician to fix the heat and I could just go to Borders and buy a book on how to leave illegally bare wires in a walls and install the completely wrong kind of thermostat and make smoke shoot out of the walls and ruin the radiant heat panels in the ceiling of one of the bedrooms. That’s genius! While I am at it, I’ll also get a book on how to perform neurosurgery on the weekends for a little extra cash.
We had an electrician at our house tearing open walls, covering the bare wiring with conduit, screaming, “What the hell were these assholes thinking!” and once accidentally causing an arc of electricity shoot out from the wall and start a small fire. All was forgiven, however, when the lights were working properly, the heat was functioning and the seven holes scattered about our kitchen were patched with care.
We’re now planning several remodeling projects of our own. We’ve talked about replacing some floors, doing some more painting, getting new light fixtures to replace the Ikea ones, and if the homeowners association will let us, we will install some french doors leading to the patio. All will be documented here, for you to understand just how Janie’s and my relationship unraveled and turned so ugly just before we both ended up dead atop a pile of paint chips, bamboo flooring and tile grout.