Posts Tagged ‘house hunting

12
Apr
19

Mill Street Blues: Hunting & Blathering

Fans of HGTV are familiar with the House Hunters series and its progeny, House Hunters International and House Hunters Renovation.

For the uninitiated (and those for whom the title is a bit too cryptic to decipher) House Hunters involves one or more people—usually, but not always, a couple; and usually, but not always, attractive—looking for a home in a specific geographic area aided by a local real estate professional. Over the course of thirty minutes (minus 8 or 9 for commercials) the parties view and assess three properties, each one ticking off some—but never all—of the boxes on the parties’ wish list.

Yep. Three. No more. No less.

As if choosing a place to live were like The Dating Game.

“So, house number one: What is your idea of a nice romantic evening?”

“Great question. I think my idea of a romantic evening would be lying down beside you on my deep orange textured shag carpeting, where I’d gaze with you winsomely upon my velvet avocado wallpaper and show you what seven thousand dollars below budget feels like.”

“That sounds, uh, interesting. House number two: same question.”

“My idea of a romantic evening is sitting with you before a roaring fire under my vaulted ceiling with exposed beams, surrounded by real linen blend wall paper and sustainable bamboo hardwoods, eating ramen soup and hot dogs.”

“Wow. You must really like ramen soup and hot dogs.”

“No. That’s just all you’d be able to afford after paying the mortgage and utilities.”

“I see. And house number three?”

“Well, I can’t offer either velvet or linen wallpaper, but I am in a good neighborhood and right on budget. That being said, a romantic evening to me means taking you to my kitchen, showing you my huge peninsula…”

You get the idea.

And if only it were that easy.

We could make it even easier, I suppose, by posing it like that age-old philosophical question: If you were marooned on a deserted island, what is the one thing you absolutely would have to have with you?

Only in this case, it would be, if you could live in one place and only that one place for the rest of your life, which place would it be?

It would be a tough choice—especially for me and the Jarhead, who have moved so often our friends and family probably think we’re in witness protection. Or on the lam.

In case you’re about to check Google or the FBI website for our names and photos, let me save you the trouble: The only thing we’re guilty of is criminal indecision.

And in case you were going to check Google or the American Psychiatric Psociety website for a list of psymptoms of psychological disorders, let me save you that trouble, too: What we have is a type of addiction where you can’t live in a house without modifying it in some way, and also a form of hoarding where you are unable to sell a house you’ve fixed up without first living there—if only for 385 days, like our last one.

And if you believe that, I have a lovely bottle of windmill noise cancer pills to sell you at a good price.

Seriously, though. If we had to choose a home from a pool of just three, it would be like having to choose only one cat from the shelter (as in, next to impossible) or asking my friend Von to select a piece of chocolate from a Belgian sampler (meaning, delightful or deadly, depending on the odds of finding a piece that contains cashews, almonds, or coconut.)

Fortunately, we aren’t forced to choose a project from just three pitiable properties. UN-fortunately, that means we can end up touring five, ten, sometimes fifteen houses before finding one that can be saved without spending more money fixing it up than can be made when it’s time to sell it. And if we’re outbid by another buyer or can’t put together an offer that’s acceptable to the seller, then we’re right back at square one. I’m not suggesting what we’re doing would make for a bingeworthy TV series, but there is plenty of drama.

And just for the record, we’re not going through these homes whining about laminate countertops, popcorn ceilings, or carpeted floors like many folks do on House Hunters.

Some of these people truly could use a lesson in perspective, come to think of it. Perhaps HGTV should develop another program called Get Over Yourself, where the participants from House Hunters tour three properties whose occupants are barely keeping a roof over their head so these jerks can understand just how effing good they have it, and maybe learn not to be so glib and condescending when talking about their own tastes and preferences.

Just sayin’.

Nor am I walking through our prospective projects in four-inch heels, false eyelashes, and a Brazilian blowout, and screaming at the mouse droppings in the kitchen, the chickens roosting in the garage, or the dude sleeping on the pile of clothes in the back bedroom. To be fair, the mouse droppings are the only item from that list that I, personally, have run across while touring a home, so it’s probably not fair to judge Christina until I’ve walked a mile in her designer platforms. But I like to think I’d know enough to shut my mouth and slip back out the front door so as not to get us shot or shanked.

Even without the chickens and the squatters, some of what we’ve run across during a tour or a remodel would still give you pause. A cistern filled with rotting clothing and garbage may not shank you, but it will make you stop and think about the date of your last tetanus shot. As will the carpets covered in cat, dog and human waste; the rusted-out razor blades you pull out of the furnace vents, and the long, thin lines of sticky yellow-brown liquid that adorn the walls with bits of fuzz trapped in and around it like bees suspended in fossilized tree resin.

And let’s not forget about the graffiti, the freezers filled with rotten food, the cat litter clogged toilets, and the wobbly outline of a child’s hand drawn repeatedly in colored marker next to the scribbled words “Natalie’s time out hand” that you hope was written by a living, breathing child named Natalie, and not by a vengeful spirit come to haunt her.

Wow. That sure took a turn toward the dark and surreal.

If you’re not afraid to find out what’s around the next corner, be sure to tune in next time for Mill Street Blues III: Love It or List It.

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03
Feb
16

Wisconsin: What’s not to like? (Okay, so there is ONE thing.)

In case you’re new to my corner of the Internet and/or haven’t been following this column for the past three years, the Jarhead and I are relative newcomers to Wisconsin. We moved here in 2009 after relocating about every two or three years for the past twenty-four.

That’s not hyperbole. Take a look at my resume if you don’t believe me. Based on how many jobs I’ve had and in how many states, it would not be unreasonable to wonder if I have a problem with authority or commitment. Or if we’re on the run from the law. Or in the Witness Protection Program.

It’s tempting to think I’m exaggerating. Especially, it seems, for folks who have lived in the same town their entire lives. To them (or you, if you’re among them) the idea of having lived in more than ten dwellings in eight states is daunting if not unfathomable. In fact, the very thought of moving to another HOUSE makes many of them weak in the knees—never mind moving to another city, state or country. So when they find out just how many times we’ve packed and unpacked our stuff and how many homes we’ve had to buy and sell, they tend to get short of breath and start having heart palpitations.

It only gets worse when they find out that we’ve never spent more than one day touring homes before buying one of them, and have always bought one of the first six we’ve seen. Because most of these folks will have looked at between 30 and 60 homes before deciding to buy their first, and those we’ve met who would like to find a different one will already have spent years looking before finally pulling the trigger or giving up the hunt.

Talk about a waste of time. I mean, as much as I love looking at houses on HGTV, I do NOT want to spend days, much less years looking for a place to live. Find me five to ten options, and I am happy to look, compare, and then choose from among them the one that suits me best. Just as I don’t need to see every head of broccoli in the grocery store in order to choose one to cook for dinner, neither do I need to see every house on the market—today, tomorrow, and next week, month or year—in order pick one to live in for the next few years or so.

In fact, never the type to do things half-way (or the easy way, for that matter) we bought our current home—a Midcentury Eyesore, to be exact—before the old one even sold, and started contributing to the local economy by purchasing the tools and materials we would need to fix it up way before we understood everything that needed fixing. In short, we went all in. And we’ve never regretted it.

And why would we? Wisconsin is wonderful. The people here are the most personable in the country.

By that I don’t mean Wisconsinites are nice. Minnesotans are nice. We’ll smile at you and open doors for you, and insist that you take the last of whatever’s available at the sample stand at Cub Foods (which counts as nice EVEN if we know there’s something fresh coming out of the toaster oven in 90 seconds, by the way.) But as many have observed, our niceness seems rather deliberate—as if we want you to like us, if only in passing, or we’re hoping it will stop you from killing or maiming us.

But Wisconsinites aren’t just nice. They’re not necessarily even all that polite. They’re actually very direct and honest which is refreshing—if somewhat disconcerting—to someone who is accustomed to indirect speech and habitual courtesy. More importantly, they’re warm and personable—as if they are really glad to see you.

But it isn’t just the people and their warmth that makes Wisconsin great. Or the cheese. There is also the scenery, the parks, the pace—which is perfectly situated right around brisk but never reaches frantic—and the fresh, clean air. And it probably doesn’t hurt that Milwaukee, Madison, and most of our relatives are close enough to visit but not close enough to see every day.

In fact, about the only downside to living in Wisconsin is having to deal with some really lousy drivers. I say this because among these warm and personable people dwell some of the most confounding operators of motorized vehicles I have encountered in my life. Chief among my complaints in this regard are those who underutilize their directional signals; those who turn right or left or go straight from the wrong lane; and those who can’t seem to fully grasp the purpose of a passing lane.

Of these, the underuse of turning signals is the least infuriating. Sure, it’s frustrating when the driver in front of you starts to brake for apparently no reason when you’re going 55 on an open road—especially in broad daylight—and continues braking past four or five possible turns before simultaneously putting on his or her signal and executing a left. But it’s not as bad as getting into the left lane behind a sedan whose driver decides only after the light has turned green that he/she would like to turn right, forcing you to sit idle as he/she waits for traffic to clear so he or she can switch lanes while kicking yourself for taking that route in the first flipping place. And while it can be annoying to sit at a stop sign waiting for a vehicle coming from the left to pass only to have it suddenly, and—again—without signaling—turn onto the very same street you are on; this pales in comparison to almost being fatally injured because a driver chose to come straight through an intersection from an oncoming lane that is designated for left turns only.

Most confounding of all, however, are the drivers who view passing lanes—those rare and beautiful features of the rural landscape that were designed, I’m sure, to preserve the collective sanity by making it possible for one to overtake slower drivers on single lane roads without risking life and limb—as their own personal race tracks. On virtually every trip I’ve made between southeastern Minnesota and the Fox River Valley I have become an unwitting competitor in a drag race against someone who had been driving sub-50mph for the better part of the previous hour.

Maybe that’s why they’re so friendly in person; they’re making up for that fact that, behind the wheel, they’re dangerous.

It bears mention here that not all Wisconsinites are bad drivers, and even those who are don’t count among the world’s worst. Having lived on both coasts and in Italy, I can attest that this distinction belongs to suburban Philadelphians. Technically, suburban Neapolitans are just as bad, but they’re sexier with it. Like leather and miniature cars, vehicular incompetence just looks better on Italians.

A significant difference—besides the languages—between bad drivers in here and those near Philly and Naples is that you expect Neapolitans and Philadelphians to be bad drivers. Around Philly—where some have raised rudeness to an art form—bad driving is but one aspect of a general lack of courtesy. I won’t pretend to understand this since Philly is supposed to be the City of Brotherly Love, but it goes a long way toward explaining why someone will cut you off and flip you the bird for being in the way in the first place.

In the case of Naples, bad driving is also an aspect of the general approach to life. Although they are not a rude people, Neapolitans are impatient and intensely competitive, and this translates into what looks like rudeness to Americans (especially Minnesotan-Americans.) Not wanting to wait their turn, they will cut in front of you not only on the road but also in line at the store—and attack you verbally if you attempt to stop them or return the favor.

It is with this in mind that I am so profoundly confounded by some of the drivers in Wisconsin. Given how genuinely warm and friendly they are in person, I’m at a loss to explain the utter lack of sense, awareness and courtesy they show behind the wheel. It’s positively fascinating—in a circus side show, or Unsolved Mysteries kind of way.

Still, if being surrounded by bad drivers is the price you pay to live here, I can accept that—although apparently not quietly.




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