An Englishwoman’s home is her castle

And today we went castle shopping. Neither of us has ever owned a house before, and the awareness that the bank blithely pre-approved us for a mortgage with no real questions asked is gobsmacking. Ideally, we would stay in Easton or Redding, but rather than waiting for property prices to fall the 50% or so it would take to put them within our means, we took the practical step of looking a bit further away. There is a nice little town that offers such unaccustomed thrills as an independent used/new bookstore, a good pizza restaurant, a yoga studio, two(!) diners and a direct train line to GCT . Dorothy, Hobgoblin and Muttboy live there too, so what could be more of an enticement?

We found a great realtor (we have a realtor! I’m suddenly living in a Richard Ford novel!) via Zoesmom’s mom and he proceeded to be very patient as we spent a long time in houses that we would not be buying. In every house, he and Mike grabbed torches and headed down to the basement where they traded comments about the wiring, the plumbing, the foundations, the I don’t know even know what. I have learned what French drains are, and that a garage floor can be pitched so that the melted snow just flows out of it. It’s exactly like being a grown up planning to spend more than quarter of a million dollars on something. OMFG.

House #1 – colonial, 1920, 3 bed, 2 bath, on just over 1 acre within walking distance of downtown. Admire the flower garden, the side porch, the beautifully maintained exterior. Could I see myself sipping a Pimms on that porch on long summer evenings? Would a puppy gambol at my heels as I walked happily into town on brisk spring mornings? Doesn’t that brick chimneystack promise warm winter evenings, toasting (vegetarian friendly) marshmallows over an open fire? Well, that fantasy life died hard and fast. Oh, the poor house. If the asking price came down by $100,000 and we had time enough and patience enough to gut the entire place back to a shell and rebuild it again, it could have been beautiful.

House #2 – another colonial, 3 bed, 2 bath, 1/2 acre lot. What’s that you said? Couldn’t hear you over the noise of the traffic. Let’s go inside and see if it’s any quieter… No, sorry, still can’t hear you. What’s that stuff in the corner of the basement? Oh, black mould, you say? Aand, moving on.

House #3 – yes, it’s another colonial, 1820. This one is set back and up from the road, on an acre of land. It’s surprisingly quiet. The downstairs rooms have been knocked through, so there are two fireplaces at right angles to each other in one, large, L-shaped room. The floor throughout is original wide planking, unpainted. Doors have latches rather than handles. The kitchen is more of a suggestion than a reality, although there’s a huge, lovely, wood stove against one wall. This too could be a beautiful house, with far less to undo than #1 but we know we can’t afford to give it the tlc it deserves. I can’t believe we are even having a casual conversation about taking up ALL THE FLOORING and relaying the planks so that they don’t squeak and moan.

House #4 – 60s expanded ranch with double garage, on 1 acre lot. From the listing information we had seen, this was our least favourite. And then we walked in and it was fine. No significant work needed. Ok, the kitchen wasn’t ideal, the water tank should be replaced, the dodgy wood panelling absolutely had to go, but basically, it was moveinable. But fine was all it was and all it could ever hope to be, and I want more than fine for something I’m about to invest in so significantly.

And that was day 1 of the househunting process (which I do not intend to document in faithful detail, fear not) and it was one hell of a learning curve. I think our dream of owning a 100 year old house died today, but that’s ok. We’re beginning to figure out what level of work we’re prepared to do on a house: not much. We’re beginning to weigh the respective merits of larger lot vs walking distance to town, and unpretty exterior vs large, light interior. There are more houses to see, and if none of them is right then we’ll wait.


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I've run out of books. Again.

9 thoughts on “An Englishwoman’s home is her castle”

  1. Oh, I feel for you. I really. really. do. I didn’t know it until fifteen or so years ago (because, up until then, naive little waif that i was, I just thought, “Oh, you see the house you love, and you buy it” — you know, kind of like shoe shopping, or something), but, as far as I’m concerned, house-hunting ranks right up there with dire toothaches and 3-hour-long exams for which I’ve barely studied. Good luck!

  2. Emily – Thank you, but I’m quite enjoying it! We’re in no hurry, so we’ll just keep looking until the right house comes along. It is as with all of my shopping – a lot of establishing criteria and then it can take months of patient hunting to find the right whatever it is.

  3. Oh dear. Don’t lose hope. Your castle is out there. My husband and I just bought our first home in January, and I thought after three months of serious looking that homeowners was just not in the cards for us. But then we found the house we love. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for us. Happy hunting.

  4. Happy hunting. I’m on my 3rd house and have been heard to say frequently: “My next house is a condo!” Looked casually at houses I couldn’t afford for my first when suddenly stumbled upon the house I loved. For my 2nd, I looked at over 150 houses (amazingly, my realtor was still speaking to me). My 3rd house I drove by daily for 7 years; the for sale sign went up at just the time we started looking for houses and we didn’t wait to catch our breaths until we moved in 6 weeks later. Good and bad points to each of them, and no matter if it’s old or new, there is always lots of maintenance work to do. Good luck to you. Figure out what you want and don’t compromise if you can wait to buy. You’ll find the right house for you.

  5. Oh it takes me back. Ten dives per one decent house was the ratio I always worked to. We’ve bought two houses in our marriage and I keep saying two’s enough. But it is fun and exciting at the same time that it’s time-consuming and frustrating. Hope you find your dream palace.

  6. Can’t wait to toast you in your new home, but until then I hope you continue to enjoy the looking.

    And if you need someone to consult on the mold, I just might know someone… 😉

  7. Welcome to future homeownership! I could tell you stories (we’re in house #2), but I might scare you. So let’s just say that no house is perfect; everything is a trade-off. Make your list of “must-haves” and then “like to haves” and hopefully most of those lists will overlap.

    And for the record, I am with you on low-maintenance and little restoration. Our first house (1927) was lovely, but I wouldn’t want the non-standardized rotted cellar doors, floody basement, and cloth electrical wires again any time soon. The 1980s house is from a much better decade (in so many ways). 🙂

  8. I love love love love love our house but if I had to do it over again I wouldn’t have purchased one that was so much god-almighty WORK. I would have carefully assessed who I am, thought about the things I was most excited about, like, say, painting the walls and shopping for decorations, and never purchased a house where we spent the whole first year winterizing. Definitely balance how you like to spend your free time…is it grouting brick? Is it going to the home depot? with the kind of house you want.
    Good luck!

  9. Everyone, thanks for the comments and for sharing your house highs and lows! I’m not disheartened so far and I’m sure the right house will announce itself one of these days, and maybe it’ll be perfect or maybe it’ll be half falling down. And then we’ll see what happens. The looking is fun!

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