Thursday, September 13, 2018

A happier anniversary

Tuesday we commemorated 17 years since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I think a bit more was made of it this year because (a) the current winds blowing in the culture and also (b) the day of the week is the same as the day it happened.

Well, today I have a personal anniversary, one that is happier: 17 years ago today I became a homeowner for the first time.

I had become dissatisfied with my apartment; the biggest things being (a) monthly mandatory 'we will come in and spray for bugs' (which I think was as much a secret inspection as it was a spraying. At any rate, I never had bugs - I had a mouse once or twice - we were near a wooded area - but never bugs). and (b) the complaint levied that I had too many books and they posed 'a fire hazard.' (I should have left a copy of Fahrenheit 451 in the apartment, in some prominent place, when I moved out).

Anyway. In spring 2001, I began searching for a house to buy, because even though I'd not achieved tenure yet (my plan had been to wait for that and then decide if I wanted to buy). I was just tired of putting up with apartment life - the nosey new manager, the dudes who lived over me who played FPS games late into the night, and who threw their cigarette butts and sometimes their empty beer cans onto my patio.

I tried with an agent, but the agent was decidedly unhelpful. Either, like some people, he didn't like working and was doing only the barest minimum, or, more likely, he didn't think I was actually serious or wasn't worth the effort because I didn't have a large budget. I wound up looking around on my own. Didn't see anything I liked at all - many of the houses were small, with tiny 'energy efficient' windows that made the inside a depressing cave, and had rooms that were VERY small (when you try to cram four bedrooms into a small footprint, that happens).

I was kind of on the verge of just settling with a sort-of-crappy brick house that was across the street from a house that was half-finished, and something told me that would be trouble, but at that point, I was just sick of looking.

Until a woman at church (who has since moved away to live closer to grandkids) said one of her friends was looking to sell her house and might be able to work out a more private sale for less money than going through an agent would require (And I figured: heck, I'm doing all the work myself here it seems and the agent's doing nothing. So I went and looked at it. Immediately there were several pluses: in an established neighborhood (so no half-way construction across the street), older house so it had larger rooms and proper windows. Small house, only two real bedrooms, but I live alone and that's unlikely to change, so who cares? Needed some work but some of it was work I could do.

So I had the place inspected, it passed. Especially from the standpoint of termite proofing. (I later learned the inspector overlooked a couple things, and some day I might do well to have the place totally rewired, but...). So I started negotiations. I had to work through the woman's son; it turns out she was selling because she was in the early stages of Alzheimer's and (a) needed money for her care and (b) needed to move to be closer to where he was.

(As it turns out - I was friends with her son many years later; he is the "Steve" who died devastatingly and suddenly back in February).

Anyway. We worked out a price. I think I got an especially good deal because I fundamentally said "I have $xx,xxx in cash, I could pay that for the house and we wouldn't have to deal with a mortgage lender," and I think they figured that a quick sale with cash in hand and no risk of it falling through at the end might be the way to go. (The attorney drawing up the paperwork was a lot more dubious but I think he just wasn't used to the idea of a single woman buying her own house - he asked me some questions that made me think he thought I didn't know what I was doing, but I was able to answer all of them)

And then Sept. 11 happened.

I remember worrying about what might happen to the banks (One of the things I think back on about that day, and remember, and maybe people who weren't already grown-up adults then don't appreciate: we didn't know what might be coming next. I thought probably Chicago and LA were going to be attacked, there were rumors that maybe supply lines (for food and the like) would be interrupted, my dad counseled me to go get some bottled water and stuff like granola bars just in case...and I was afraid that maybe the banking system would be temporarily shut down. I was just patterning it on the vague knowledge I had of what happened in other emergencies - I think I was honestly thinking of the "bank panic" that was a plot point in "It's a Wonderful Life"). So I went down to the bank and withdrew the money to pay for my house in the form of a cashier's check. And locked it in the little file cabinet I had in my apartment, and carried the key around in my brassiere for two days. (And worried about what would happen in case of fire; would the bank just say "sorry honey, you're out of luck?")

I also remember Steve e-mailing me, either later on the 11th or on the 12th, to see if I was "okay." I think it was just genuine kind concern - he only knew I was from "back east" and didn't know for sure if I'd lost anyone. (I don't think he was afraid somehow the sale would fall through; having known him later I am all the more sure he was just concerned for my well-being given what a stressful time that was)

Finally the morning of Thursday the 13th rolled around, I drove down to the office of the attorney (the same one who thought I was not serious) with the check in my purse. We signed the papers, I handed over the check, Steve gave me the keys and the abstract (in my state, the person who owns the house has a big sheaf of documents that essentially cover everything dealing with the property - mine has paperwork going back to when the Choctaws sold the land to someone else, like around 1902, though the house itself was not built until the late 1940s.) His mother sort of tearfully told me she hoped I liked the house.

And then I went....well, I guess you could say I went home. I went to the house I now owned. I remember standing on the front porch going "This is what you will see every morning when you go out to work" (And yes, I still do see that very view). I went around and introduced myself to the neighbors, though only one of those families is still here now. And I called a locksmith - the front door was locked because apparently the key was lost; I had a skeleton key to the side door (the one the guy pounded on back in January of this year) and apparently Steve had just been leaving it unlocked to get in and out after his mom had moved out.

So I got a new front door lock put on, and then I started planning. Made arrangements for having the floors refinished (I had enough money left to do that, and that was important to me). Planned for painting (what I did myself). Hired a handyman for two or three small tasks.

And then, I remember, that fall - I didn't teach on Tuesdays back then, and only had an afternoon lab on Thursdays and wow does that kind of open time feel like a vanished world now, I wasn't even required to hold office hours 'every day of the week' like I am now - I worked on the house. I remember spending a lot of evenings over there painting or stripping the trim, after finding out someone had painted latex over oil on it, and the latex just peeled right off.

And I listened to Rangers Baseball on my little radio, because that was the only good choice - there are no local FM stations I like (we don't even pick up NPR from the nearest outlet, so it's country and western or pop or Christian of a stripe more theologically conservative than I am) and the AM stations were all scary talk of the world, or more theologically-conservative religious talk....or baseball.

So I went with baseball, because (as I remember from that time) it made the world feel more normal - when I was growing up, my dad listened to baseball games on the radio. My grandfather had enjoyed listening to baseball on the radio. It felt right.

And then, in mid October, after everything was done (and now I wonder at that - it was just over a month that it took for everything to come together), I moved in.

I got my security deposit back from the apartment; I probably SHOULD have left a copy of Fahrenheit 451 in the middle of the living room floor or some such. I transferred over my utilities, I got cable and internet started up (Dial-up internet, back in those days...). Arranged for the new and higher-cost home insurance (which I paid up for the year again a couple weeks ago - the bill comes a bit early but it's due today).

I had been moving stuff to the house as I could - my big tubs of fabric and yarn, boxes of books. Stuff I could bung in my own car and lift myself. Finally, when it was time to leave the apartment, a couple of (now-former) colleagues and spouses came with pickups and helped me move my bed and the shell of my dresser (I had taken the drawers over myself, earlier) and my futon and the big bookshelves and the table and chairs....and set them up. I paid them in barbecue and sodas (I should have bought beer, in retrospect, but it would have been 3.2 beer, so not much different from soda).

And I've lived there ever since.

Oh, there have been problems from time to time, the problems every homeowner faces - messed-up plumbing, and a leaky roof, and appliances breaking. Since I've been there, I've had the roof replaced, and the dishwasher, and the water heater (twice, in fact) and I had had to buy a new refrigerator when I moved in (and will probably have to replace that some time soon) and a new furnace and air conditioner. And I still need to replace a ceiling light fixture and ceiling fan, but those are low-priority because I don't NEED them and also they involved getting someone out who can work in my messy bedroom...

On balance, it's been good, owning my own house. Yes, when there's no hot water and you realize you probably have the big expense (and possibly added code-changes) of getting a new one, you do long a bit for a maintenance crew that can just "make it so" without you having to juggle the logistics or pay (though maybe your rent goes up the next time you sign a contract). But there are also no mandatory "insect sprayings" and I don't have to worry about the stacks of books that have built up, or the larger amounts of fabric and yarn I've acquired. And if it's not quite as secluded and quiet as I'd hoped (right now I have a neighbor who has The Loudest Motorcycle and he tends to go out late in the evening and apparently goes to work at 6:30 am), still, it's nice to have my own "castle," where I only let in people I WANT to let in.


Anj M said...

I don't think I was reading your blog then. Altho I remember you on KR back then. (I want to think it was you as it was the same screen name, but perhaps it wasn't) but I am glad to hear about this happen memory. Happy homeowner day to you!

Barn Owl said...

I was sure that I had the neighbor with the loudest motorcycle, and his friend who has the second loudest motorcycle. If you ever want a vehicle to run worse and make more noise, I have a couple of neighbors who can help with that.

I came around to buying a house pretty late (one of those adulting things I don't do well), and I was considering rural property because I had horses. Glad I didn't do that. I bought my house several years after 2001, and ran afoul of the Patriot Act because I sold my share in a polo/polocrosse horse to a friend, to add to my down payment. All kinds of documentation on the horse (and my employment and travel histories) were required before the loan would go through, and I couldn't understand why. Found out years later from a friend who's a district attorney that buying/selling horses, especially Thoroughbreds and quarter horses, is a very common way to launder drug money here in South Texas.

ETat said...

Yes, owning your own house is superior to being a part of a human anthill, for an independent and self-sufficient person.
If I knew how to drive and had a car I'd moved out of my coop apartment long time ago - or maybe wouldn't be looking for it in the first place.
Your cash purchase reminded me of my own, and the uncertainty apparent in the lawyers' exchange is familiar, too.
However! We differ on the baseball streaming first days of post-9/11 world. I remember my disbelief when coming across sports programs on TV - as if nothing happened, people yelled and clapped from the benches of filled-to-the-brim stadiums. The Hole in the Sky, the ash cloud above my city was there, for days, for months -and people could speak of something else, could watch and follow baseball, could even laugh! It was inconceivable.