Monday, February 25, 2013

No. 465 – Castles Made of Sand

Performer: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Songwriter: Jimi Hendrix
Original Release: Axis: Bold As Love
Year: 1967
Definitive Version: None

After Debbie and I got engaged, the search for a house began in earnest. The latter part of that statement is necessary, because the search began after we’d lived in our Gahanna apartment for a year. After a year, our lease was month-to-month, so we could leave at any moment with 30 days’ notice.

However, before our engagement early New Year’s 1997, the search primarily consisted of looking through newspaper classifieds to see whether there was anything that we just couldn’t pass up. There never was.

Well, I shouldn’t quite say that, I suppose. We took a quick look at a couple houses in German Village, but they only made us realize that we couldn’t afford what we really wanted in German Village, as I noted.

We found one neighborhood that seemed more approachable. It was between Gahanna and Westerville, and we found it while out looking at Christmas lights. The houses were decent size but seemed modest. It was like the neighborhood in which I grew up, except it wasn’t in Upper Arlington, so the houses probably had about $100K knocked off the price.

A few of the houses in that neighborhood, usually corner-lot houses, particularly appealed to me. They looked like spruced up farmhouses, with huge wrap-around porches that would be ideal for a swing and evening hanging out. I was curious to see what one of those looked like on the inside.

The drawback to the neighborhood was it was so new the trees primarily were newly planted twigs. Debbie’s apartment when we began to date had a little woods in the back, and she loved having that and being able to see birds. She wanted a real backyard—with trees. In driving around, we found a farmhouse that was at the middle of a courtyard that backed into a ravine that had a huge woods. If THAT house ever went on sale …

After we got engaged, however, we got serious about looking. Buying a house was a bit intimidating; it wasn’t like buying a stereo or even a car. I certainly had never done it before. Debbie had, and she didn’t want to operate alone. One of her nieces had a friend who was a real-estate agent. Debbie met with her, liked her and hired her.

After a couple weeks, in March 1997, she brought us a few possibles. We culled the list to four where the price seemed right ($150K-$180K). The agent scheduled us to look at three on a Saturday and one on Sunday.

The first house we looked at on a sunny early-spring March day was a farmhouse in the neighborhood that we had had our eyes on. It wasn’t THE house, alas. Instead, it was the least desirable of the farmhouses based on the lot and location, but I finally got my inside view. It wasn’t impressive. The square footage was about 1,800, but it seemed smaller than that. The thing I remember most were smoke detectors high up on the walls—they looked like old elementary school bells. They were huge and ugly.

That wasn’t the only thing that dissuaded me, however. The neighborhood had huge power lines streaking over it, and I knew that that was bad. After my great-grandfather on Mom’s side died, my great-grandmother moved into a condo building that was adjacent to an electric transformer, and I’m convinced that the dementia that formed soon afterward was a direct result. I also since had seen a study that found that close proximity to power lines led to a much higher cancer rate. OK, moving right along …

The next house was in Gahanna. I was geeked about that house, too, because it had a pool, and I’d always wanted a pool. (And, yes, I knew that they cost a lot of money to maintain.) The pool area was done in wood decking and pretty cool, but the house itself was a classic. I called it the Elvis House after one look at the master bedroom, which had thick white shag carpeting and black tiled walls. Holy schlamoley! What year is this? 1974? OK, the bedroom can be redone, but Debbie didn’t want to bother. Next.

The last place was a nondescript house on a cul-de-sac. The things I remember about it were the second-story deck and the huge sloping backyard that didn’t have a single tree in it. Nuff said. I was starting to get the idea that the houses in our price range were mostly like this: You paid extra for trees.

The next day, we found out before we left that our agent couldn’t make that appointment, so we went alone. It was a fine house in Gahanna—simple—and Debbie noted with some surprise that the selling agent was a name she recognized from her youth. “HE’s still selling houses,” she asked rhetorically. Sure enough, it was the same guy.

The house itself was unmemorable—nice, but boring, and at the upper limit of our price range. However, at one point as we walked around the second floor, the agent offered that the couple who were selling were divorcing, so they probably would move quite a bit on the price. Well, he couldn’t have said a worse thing unless he said that the house was the site of a quintuple murder.

Debbie didn’t storm out, but we wrapped up our visit fairly quickly after that, and she told me when we got in the car that when he said that, that queered the deal as far as she was concerned. She didn’t like the idea that he would dispense with that information so willingly. It was real slimy, she said. I didn’t disagree, but I wouldn’t have cared as long the house drew me in. It didn’t.

So it was back to the drawing board. No problem. We didn’t think we’d land anything our first time out; we were only just getting started.

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