Buying my first house, finally

“up, up, UP!”

houseIt wasn’t until May 8, 2000, that I purchased my first house. My now-wife had bought a two-family dwelling on Manning Blvd. in the early 1990s. When we got married in May 1999, I moved in with her. This was not a particularly good idea.

Even though I had gotten rid of a LOT of stuff, including a sofa I’d purchased only a couple years earlier, the first legitimate furniture I ever bought, the place was still crowded. My dresser was literally on top of hers. This was “inspired” by a fellow on an HGTV show that my wife and MIL were watching; unfortunately, I was also present. The guy said that, when you have limited space, you have to build “up, up, UP!”

I hated it. My sense of claustrophobia was high. More to the point, when I would discuss this with my bride, she’d say, “But I made room for your stuff.” And was the problem. She was making room from her stuff for my stuff.

To his credit, our former pastor had suggested early on that we needed to have a place of our own, where our stuff would reside. In the early fall, we saw a house we really liked. But my wife had returned to graduate school, and it was just too expensive for us.


Then we found another place, on Kent Street, that we thought was charming. A lot of personal touches built by the late pater familias. But a look-see by a home inspector noted a bulge in a wall caused by water damage. He estimated that it would cost about a grand to fix. We asked the owner if she could knock $1000 off the price, or alternately, get the wall repaired first. neither were viable options for her, so we walked away. (You should always be willing to walk away.)

We looked at the previous house we had liked and noticed that the price had gone down about $6000. And we bought it. My wife could not make the closing because of grad school, so she granted me the power of attorney at the closing. We had scraped every dime we had to get the certified check we needed. But as the process went on, I was told that the amount of our down payment was $1800 short, a math error by our attorney.

I was nonplussed. It wasn’t as though we had any more cash. The papers were signed nevertheless. Somehow, and I no longer remember how, my wife and I finagled the rest of the down payment the next day. About a week later, after the semester ended, we hired movers, even though we were going only six blocks away. We had our home.

The obvious: CSNY, Madness.

Houses and dogs and books…

In all likelihood, you will pour every dime into the purchase, so that inevitable first repair of something you did not expect, you probably can’t afford.

Let me answer the rest of the questions from New York Erratic:

What would you say is the most difficult part of buying your first house? Is there something that you wish people would have told you?

I didn’t own my first house until I was 46 when I moved into the house my bride had purchased seven years earlier.

“Everyone” said that you’re “supposed” to own a house. I was never that interested in doing so.

My parents didn’t own a home until I went away to college. So I had no models in this area. While having to move every few years could be a pain, it was less of an encumbrance than a house.

In 2000, we bought our current home AND we were landlords; I HATED that. It was enough to take care of the living abode, but going over to mow the lawn and shovel the snow off the roof – it had a flat roof – was a royal pain. We sold it in 2004, shortly after The Daughter was born.

So to the question:
1) You DON’T have to buy a house.
2) If you do, it would be helpful to be handy with tools, which I am decidedly not.
3) In all likelihood, you will pour every dime into the purchase, so that inevitable first repair of something you did not expect, you probably can’t afford.
4) This will almost inevitably lead to buyers’ remorse. “How did I not notice that the dryer has a capacity of four shirts?” (This is true in our case, BTW.)
5) If you DO buy a house, you may spend lots of money on stuff that nobody can see. I was visiting my cousin Anne at Thanksgiving, and she told of the thousands of dollars spent to avoid flooding in the basement, expenditures no visitor or future purchaser will ever see. Some of our similar improvements involved spending thousands of dollars having a hole dug in the front yard to dislodge a tree root from the plumbing, lest we have sewage in the basement.

A LOT of investment in a house is all but invisible, and that can be REALLY discouraging. If I had it to do over again, I doubt I’d buy a house at all.

The single advantage is that people seem to think you are a “grownup” when you own a home.

Have you ever owned a dog?

Yeah, I was around 10, maybe (give or take two years). We had an Alaskan husky called Lucky Stubbs; I have no idea who named him, but it wasn’t I.

Anyway, he would nip me. I would say BITE but it didn’t draw blood or anything, so nip. But then he nipped one of the daughters of our minister. THEN my father gave him to a farmer where he’d have more room to roam than our tiny city back yard.

PS: after that, I was rather wary of dogs for years.

What’s your favorite spice?

Scary Spice.

OK, I jest. Cinnamon.

Old used books or brand new never read books?

Usually new, unless they are vintage. Books are like cars in that when they’re about 20 years old, they’re just old, but at some point they become VINTAGE. I have a hymnal from 1849, and another book from that period called Verdant Green, and THOSE are, as the kids used, are COOL.

The day they knocked down the Palais

Around 1987-1989, I was living in this nifty apartment in the West Hill section of Albany. I loved this building.

I’m listening to the Kinks recently, not surprising since Ray Davies’ birthday was June 23. The song Come Dancing came on, and, oddly, I got all melancholy.

The lyrics begin:
They put a parking lot on a piece of land
Where the supermarket used to stand.
Before that they put up a bowling alley
On the site that used to be the local Palais.

It reminded me of things as they once were, which are not anymore. My elementary/junior high school, where I spent ten years of my life, was torn down years ago to build some housing that just didn’t mesh with the character of the neighborhood. My grandmother’s house, a few blocks away, where I came home for lunch every day for a decade, is also long gone. My high school merged with the other public high school; I get these nostalgia solicitations to remind me that I went to Binghamton High School. Except that I didn’t; until 1982, it was Binghamton CENTRAL, the Bulldogs, not the Patriots. There are actually a LOT of those places that used to be in my hometown, replaced by highways, or nothing at all.

But what triggered this nostalgic wave occurred considerably later, around 1987-1989, when I was living in this nifty two-family apartment in the West Hill section of Albany. I loved this building. It had two apartments, and when I walked down the hall and inside, I was in the kitchen! The bedroom was next to it. The living room, and the spare room, where I kept my comic books at the time, were in the front of the building. The best thing, though, is when I moved in, I could put all my books and records on the enclosed back porch, taking my time to unpack them without having to trip over them. The landlord, Steve, was pretty OK, too, now that I remember. It was my favorite place living by myself for a lot of reasons.

I’ve been riding my bicycle partway home, and I always ride down North Lake Avenue, but I decided to veer off to pass by the old homestead. It was all boarded up, with the grass around it all overgrown. My heart sank a bit. I know the neighborhood had deteriorated since I was there; still, this made me more than a bit sad. I suppose I could buy it for $31,300, but I fear what renovation would be required.

And that Kinks song, imperfect match though it was, ran through my head. Though I was in my thirties by then, it was as though “Part of my childhood died.” It was, if not my best self, a period when I was quite contented.

Listen to Come Dancing by the Kinks.

What a Mess!

Next time he comes here, he’ll be work on…our foundation, which he also has to do in decent weather; the curse of an old house. Then, he’ll finally get to insulating the OTHER half of the attic.

Generally, I enjoy listening to the podcast of Arthur@AmeriNZ. But on a recent episode, Arthur was describing what a mess his house was, and the fact that he can’t do X until Y is done, and he can’t do Y until Z is done, et al. I nearly shrieked – and not with joy – because it’s pretty much what’s been going on with us.

It’s been going on SO long that the chronology has gotten to be a bit sketchy. As I recall, a couple of years ago, we decided to get the attic insulated. There is a bunch of stuff up there, inevitably. The easiest way to go about it was to move all the things in one half of the attic to the other, which we did, which naturally made that side almost impassable, and difficult to find things in, as you might imagine. Then we waited. And waited.

Our contractor had some emergencies that he needed to do for other people, and a couple for us.

Finally, the contractor did the work on half the attic, in relatively short order. We painted the one side and it looked lovely, as attics go.

So now it’s time to insulate the other side; this was November 2010. Of course, everything that was in the attic is now on the OTHER half. The attic is stripped down to the studs. And we wait and wait. The contractor has flood repairs to do for others. He also – and this is important to do in good weather – replaced our roof.

Next time he comes here, he’ll be work on…our foundation, which he also has to do in decent weather; the curse of an old house. Then, he’ll finally get to insulating the OTHER half of the attic.

We might have sought another contractor for the attic save for the fact that the job was already 2/3s done.

Oh, and when I said that all the stuff is in the attic, that’s not entirely accurate. Some of it won’t fit up there right now. So there are things in the guest room, which has been a tidy, and occasionally untidy, mess for about 24 months. Once the other side of the attic is finished, and then we paint it, the living quarters of the house will be MUCH nicer. Maybe by next summer.

And once the attic is passable, it’ll be much easier to sort what’s there and we can decide what to keep, what to give away, and what to toss, without having to live immediately in it.

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