Thoughts on buying a house

Last week, we closed on a house.

Like most things that are not Pete Campbell getting punched in the face, I have mixed feelings about it.

I do want to clarify that we’re not just buying a house because it’s what’s next.

OK, fine, sure, it looks that way. In the past five years I’ve finished grad school, got a job with a Fortune 500 company, bought a convertible, met my wife, moved in with my wife, got a dog, traded in my convertible for a hatchback, and married my wife.

On the become-a-grownup timeline, buying a house is next, right? Well, maybe. But we also have a really wood, err, good reason.

Liquor bottles in front of a wood-paneled wall
click to embiggen
I’ll explain why I need the booze

Meet the walls of the house we’ve been renting. All of them are made of wood paneling.

When we looked at the place, we thought, “Oooh, it’s like a log cabin! So charming!”

It is not charming.

First problem: it’s just dark as hell. No amount of lighting can make up for how dark it is. It is a soul-sucking dark. It’s like, how much more dark could this be? And the answer is none. None more dark.

Second problem: because it’s so woody and dark, you really can’t own furniture that’s woody or dark. It just disappears. Here is roughly the percentage of furniture that’s woody or dark: like, almost all of it.

Third problem: our landlord was kind of in love with this wood paneling. Our lease explicitly forbade us from painting the walls.

Or the ceilings, which are also wood paneling.

Wooden walls and ceiling of my house
click to embiggen
Looking up from my desk

Or the floor in the dining room which is also wood.

My dining room, with wood walls, floor, and ceiling
click to embiggen
’Sup dawg I herd you like wood…

For about two years (after the first, dark winter) we kept having the same conversation: “You know, we could paint the walls however we wanted if we owned a place!”

So now we own a place.

It has white walls and by Zeus I don’t care if reflecting sunlight torches my retinas they’re staying white for a while.

There’s also a bigger kitchen and a pretty garden that we’ll try not to kill. But the walls that we can paint are the biggest draw.

I guess I’m saying is that everyone has their reasons. Also, if you’re looking to buy a house, I don’t know if you should come to me for advice.

We didn’t look at the House Hunters-approved 3+ houses. We browsed online of course – Zillow is a godsend – but we bought the first and only house that we stepped foot in. This was in character for us: we rented the first house we looked at together, too.

We also bought way less house than we theoretically could. I thought that with the still recent housing bubble, banks would be wary about offering gigantic mortgages that people can’t afford.

I was wrong. Our bank pre-approved us for a reckless amount of money. (Pro tip: marry someone with nearly flawless credit.) But we knew about how much we wanted to spend per month. That’s the only number that mattered.

Well, there’s also property taxes and county taxes which are pretty high here but we have nice schools and our roads get repaired so fair deal. Homeowners insurance and mortgage insurance also add to the monthly bill. Also HOLY HELL THAT’S A LOT OF DEBT and we’re now responsible for every repair and roofs leak and air conditioners break down and toilets don’t always go the right way and ooooh what if we get struck by lightning or ahhhh termites could literally eat our investment so hey maybe keeping our basic mortgage payment on the low end is a reasonable decision.

While on the subject of money, I do think I’m able to offer this nugget of advice: Get a real estate agent. Get a lawyer.

I feel a tiny bit bad about this, but here goes. We had an agent and a lawyer. The seller didn’t.

Our agent was an kick-ass negotiation wizard. (She is also a former NYPD internal affairs detective. Those two facts might be related.)

Because we had professionals working for us and the seller didn’t, in the end the seller gave up so much more.

An agent and a lawyer cost us some money, yes, but they were worth every penny. Well… I say that in a theoretical sense because our agent convinced the seller to pay her entire commission. Yeah, she’s that good.

Plus we couldn’t put a value on how they shepherded us and made the whole process as simple as it could possibly be. Which is to say they did all the paperwork. There’s a lot of paperwork.

One of the many documents that we signed has a date on top: “July 1st, 2042”

Of all the scary numbers you manage when buying a house – prices, commissions, interest rates, fees, finance charges, closing costs, escrow accounts, points, lock-in dates – “July 1st, 2042” startled me the most.

That’s the pay-off date. That’s when we’ll own our house. Thirty years from now.

My friends and I only recently turned 30.

I don’t know what I’m eating for lunch in an hour. Scientists count 9,192,631,770 vibrations of a cesium atom in one second. But we will own our house in what is to me an entire additional lifetime.

That’s a little frightening.

On the other hand, you get to have fun conversations with your wife like, “How much do you think ‘possible total collapse of civilization’ should factor in to how much we can afford?” It’s nice to be doing this with your best friend.

When I started this essay, I was ready to torch this rental house. So long tiny kitchen! Sayonara wood paneling!

But a few hours later, I’m still sitting in the office and I wonder if I’ll miss it. If so, how much? This house that is the only house our dog has known. This house that for three years has been our home. This house that I moved in to with my girlfriend who became my wife.

Kristin put together a little countdown of the days until we move out – an Advent Calendar for our next adventure. On the back of the slips of paper, we wrote little memories about this house. At first, I thought it was kind of stupid.

I came around.

Time is slippery. Memory, too. Perhaps we do beat on, boats against the current. Maybe a little.

In a few days, boxes will go on trucks and we’ll say farewell. But the book doesn’t end. The next chapter begins.

What’s next?

Am I doing it wrong?

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