House House House!

Buying a new house is a scary business. I’m sure for everyone who does it, on some level it must be. Our case was no different.

Our top priority was to find a house we could afford in a nice, quiet, decent neighborhood while staying in or as close to the city as possible. Our wish list also included keeping the square footage we had in the old house, getting a nice two-car garage, 4 bedrooms (two up and two down, please) and 2 baths. Um, and a decent kitchen. I had a huge and beautiful but poorly laid-out one in the old place, and I wanted something functional. There were other items on the wish list, but those were the most important ones.

We looked and looked – really, Julie and I did most of the looking since our old house sold relatively quickly, and we thought we were going to close almost immediately (HA! that didn’t exactly happen) but at the time, I was feeling considerable pressure to find the right house quickly. As lovely as the in-laws are, none of us wanted to live out of boxes in their basement for any longer than absolutely necessary. Anyway, while Joe was at work, and Julie and I spent several days with our lovely agent Sharlene scrounging through every available house in the Twin Cities major metro area that came anywhere close to meeting our needs and our price range. Joe joined us for a couple more outings. The pickin’s were looking pretty slim, and I was starting to resign myself to a longer search – the kind where you jump at each new listing hoping it will be the one.

Then we saw our house. A nice quiet pocket in St. Louis Park, an inner-ring suburb, and our pocket is almost at the border with Minneapolis – so we are actually closer to some of our favorite places in the city than we were in South Minneapolis. The school district is known for its quality, so we can plan on sending Julie and the baby to public schools eventually versus forking it over for private ones. Sharlene mentioned that her son and daughter-in-law live right across the street and love the neighborhood. They happen to be friends of Joe’s best friend from college, so that was a pretty high recommendation.

Inside, I was reminded of the house my mother bought after the divorce. Owned by a little old lady who had done nothing to it for years, the superficial condition was horrid, but there was a gem beneath the grime. This house was owned by a little old couple who had also gotten way behind on their upkeep, and he had been a “handy-man” type who added all sorts of -ahem- interesting shelves and cubbies in and around the house. Every single room needed paint. There were plumbing issues, electrical issues, and the kitchen would need to be gutted. The upstairs carpeting was old, stained and smelly. There was clutter and junk everywhere, and the house showed so poorly it had been on the market for months.

But I thought I saw the gem shining through. It has a good layout- a huge living/dining room, a narrow but potentially efficient kitchen, two bedrooms up and two down, something that was much harder to find than I expected, but also something quite desireable in my eyes. Joe and I each like to have our own office spaces, and having them on the main floor makes sense so that we can use them while the kid(s) are asleep upstairs where they can sleep through any noise we might make. There is a large finished basement room that, once spruced up, will make a nice rec room – a place for all (or some of) the toy mess to go, a place for an extra couch an TV for nights when we both want to watch something different or he wants to play a game or whatever. A place, when the kids are older, for them to hang out with their friends.

The upstairs, added on in the 50s, was full of built-ins that needed new hardware and a better paint color scheme, but would update nicely to modern retro. And the space was big. My friend Elizabeth saw it (on a Sunday when I was here painting by myself and having a freak-out about the color scheme I had chosen) and commented on how I have a knack for finding houses with good closet space. I guess she’s right.

Anyway, I knew this was our house when I saw it. Joe took a little convincing – we were talking about an awful lot of work to be done, much of it ourselves, and this is not a word that he cares to hear when it comes to his private life. I felt like I was sticking my neck out all the way. That gem better be there underneath the dust and grime.

We worked in shifts and with huge help from Joe’s parents both painting and watching Julie so we could paint and polish. I spent weeks making phone calls and meeting contractors to arrange plumbing, electric work, kitchen design, carpeting, and other things like dumpsters, locksmiths, refinishing hardwood floors, you name it. By the time we moved in last week, we had the upstairs repainted and on seeing it completed, I felt like one of those people on the cable remodeling shows. Even though I had been there for the whole process, I couldn’t believe how different and wonderful the upstairs felt with just a new coat of paint and carpeting. (Oh, uh – and Joe and his dad ripped out a nasty old built-in in our bedroom and put up new trim all around the walls. No small feat that) Still, I had a much-needed glimpse of the gem before we piled it full of boxes and furniture and took up residence despite the main floor being totally NOT DONE YET.

It’s only been just over a week since we moved in, but it stretches much longer when you’re trying to pick through boxes trying to figure out what can be unpacked even though the living room, dining room, and both offices still need to be painted. Well, we spent this weekend on the living room/dining room and finished painting in there today. It looks GREAT. We just finished putting most of the furniture back in place, and I am so happy. In our old house, our living room was long and narrow, so it was hard to host very big groups of people without half the people sitting on the floor or at the other end of the room. Here, we have a nice, square seating area to hold 8-10 of our friends if we have them over for football or something. And it just feels good. The gem shone through tonight.

I needed that, as we’ll accept delivery this week of our new kitchen cabinets, which won’t be installed till early October. In the mean time, they will sit cluttering up our living room (because they need to be in the same climate as the room where they’ll be installed, according to the manufacturer, so they can expand and contract to fit the space properly or something like that). We will have over a week of no kitchen cabinets at all since Joe and his dad are going to do the demolition over a weekend, then the electrician and plumber need a week to come in and do their thing, and then the installers will take a couple days to do their stuff. This is if everything goes well. Also in the mean time, we hope to complete painting in the offices, which means moving the mountains of boxes currently in them down to the basement or somewhere so we can actually reach the walls.

But the gem is here, and it is starting to shine. I am pretty sure we made the right decision. This place is starting to feel like home. And the neighbors are great so far. Everyone we’ve met – from the friendly family of four with a dog across the street one way – to the older couple with the wild lawn ornaments next door who moved in on their wedding night 52 years ago – to the eastern european couple behind us – to our agent’s son across the other street – well, they hardly could have been half as bad as the rental property we were 10 feet from in the old house, but they are all beyond our wildest dreams for good neighbors.

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