I should preface this with a bit of background. Most girls dream of planning a storybook wedding. I spent my childhood dreaming about owning a house. Most girls have a hair stylist and a manicurist. I have an upholsterer and a framer. Buying, owning and personalizing a house has always been something that I considered absolutely central to my adult life. Even though this journey has just begun, the vision has been developing forever!
Immediately upon returning from our honeymoon in Mexico I ‘unofficially’ began the hunt for a house. Although we did not have enough money saved up for a down payment, I figured that I couldn’t know too much about the market and I spent the next five months educating myself. I researched at least twenty different areas of the city, new construction vs. resale, major renovations vs. cosmetic updates, various loan programs, commute times, urban settings, rural settings, subdivisions, foreclosure and short-sale processes, even vacant land prices. I became an expert with our county assessment website, Trulia, and the MLS system. And I loved every minute of it.
The Friday after Thanksgiving we looked at our first house. It was a $300,000 upscale new-build condominium in a brand new development. I loved everything about it. The hardwood floors, the multiple levels (all of my apartments had been one story), the 10′ ceilings, the 4 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms…most of all, I loved that I could customize everything! I was immediately sold. I was one phone call to a bank away from signing on the dotted line. But I didn’t. My husband was not as smitten, my parents warned of hidden costs, the commute was far, the neighborhood was going to be a construction zone for at least 4 years, and the HOA fees were extraordinary. In one night, I learned the true value of ‘sleeping on it.’
“We can always come back to it” I told myself, and grudgingly moved on. The next few months were a blur of open houses, late night drives, Trulia searches, meeting with agents, and a million dead ends. I grew to hate the word ‘Contingent’.
A few houses in particular emerge from this mess. First, the Franklin House. This was the house that changed everything. Franklin Estates was absolutely perfect. All of the yards had been beautifully manicured, the mailboxes charmingly matched, and each brick house was more stately than the next. Simply driving through the subdivision made me feel good. To make a long story a bit shorter, we found a house (any house!) and immediately got a pre-approval. Although we qualified, the numbers were shocking. I got nervous about the true cost of owning a house. Just because a bank was willing to lend us money did not mean that we could technically afford it. Another night of frustration set it, and I began to panic.
The Franklin house prompted me to change my course. Instead of a new house, what if we bought an older house in a more trendy up-and-coming area? That always seems like a good investment! Enter: The Sherman House. The Sherman House was located on Sherman Avenue in the Central Northside, a very trendy neighborhood just across the river from downtown Pittsburgh. The area was enjoying a revival that included an influx of business professionals, the restoration of beautiful and historically significant homes and, as we came to find, a massive spike in home and land prices. Nonetheless, we managed to find a very affordable house on Sherman Avenue that was not only full of character, but also the right size, location, etc. The downfall of this house was that it needed more work that we initially noticed. It needed so much work, in fact, that we had to go through an entirely separate loan process for it. Our nerves about doing the work coupled with the frustration of a complex loan process killed the deal midway through. Again – frustration and panic.
There were other homes in the mix too. The 5,000 square foot Victorian Brownstone (AKA – the Manchester House) was a contender even though it had no working plumbing, electricity or heat. No one had lived in it for at least 5 years and a fireplace had recently been stolen. (A fireplace?!) But the 12 foot ceilings, enormous pocket doors, marble tiles and counters, huge windows, and eight (yes, eight!) bedrooms were hard to ignore. A mix of the bad neighborhood and the overwhelming amount of work turned us off.
Then there was the 65 House – a beautiful stone and wood Craftsman built in 1910 on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Ohio River. The house needed the right amount of work and the price was negotiable (it hadn’t had an offer in a year), so we were interested. We didn’t follow through, however, because of the street. Sixty-five is, essentially, a highway and we would be forced to sell the house before starting a family which may or may not work with our lives, but we didn’t want to take the risk.
I was beginning to realize how complicated it is to buy a house. We looked north of the city, south of the city, in the city, far away from the city… Almost every night we met with a different real estate agent and walked through a different house, none of which were moving us to buy.
Then, one night in late April I got a call from a listing agent saying that she had gotten my message (the one I’d left four days ago!) and she could, finally, show us her house in Sewickley. I was at once annoyed for her ignoring my inquiry and excited that I was going to see a house in an area of the city I’d always enjoyed. Initially dubbed “The Sewickley House” – our love affair with the structure began before we even saw it. Somehow, we just knew. The Sewickley House is a 2,000 square foot, 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom Dutch Colonial with no garage, a tiny yard, an outdated kitchen, and a thousand other necessary projects. But that is what we wanted. This was the perfect marriage of my initial love of a place I could customize myself and my other (formerly unknown) love of old houses.
So here we are. A week before closing and it’s all I can do not to obsess about it constantly – every project, every room, every piece of furniture that I still have to buy (I see us ‘camping’ more or less for the first few weeks)! And when I think about it, I imagine people will ask me, “so what is the most difficult project in your house?” And I will have to be honest and say, “simply finding it was the hardest part.” Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking…!