I have now lived in this house for sixteen years, almost to the day. This is the longest I have ever lived in one place.
I find this rather odd, truth be told. If you had sat me down when I was younger and said, “Someday you will be a homeowner in what you now consider to be a small town, somewhere in Wisconsin,” I would have assumed you were on powerful hallucinogens. And yet here I am, a minor member of the landed gentry, on sufferance of the financial institution that holds the mortgage, and a long-standing presence in the local community of Our Little Town.
Kim and I were married and living in an apartment a few blocks away when her dad’s estate was finally settled enough to distribute his property. A note to all of you out there reading this: write out a will. The gyrations that had to be gone through to get that settled in the absence of a will that the State of Wisconsin, in its infinite glory, would recognize as legal, managed to be astonishing in both their complexity and their pettiness.
But eventually we came into a small pile of money.
Now, I would probably have thrown it into the bank and forgotten about it, which is just one more reason why you don’t want me in charge of anything connected with money. Once you get past “try to spend less than you have,” my ideas for money management get awfully thin. But Kim is an optimizer, and she recognized this as an opportunity to move up in the world. So house-hunting became our weekend sport.
We looked at a lot of houses.
Did you know that other people have no taste? It’s true! You – yes you, personally – are the only human on earth who knows how to decorate a house without causing visitors to shake their heads, wash down migraine medication with whiskey, and/or begin to question the wisdom of democracy. You have always suspected as much, I am sure. But now you know.
Of all the houses we looked at, only one struck me as a place I could call home. Like most things of this sort, it was a rather mundane moment that set me off that way – I think I was just rounding the hallway into the top of the stairs to go down to the living room when it occurred to me that I could do that for the next few years, yes I could. Fortunately, Kim agreed.
The fact that the kitchen had the same vibratingly ugly orange and yellow countertops as our apartment – and every apartment Kim had lived in for several apartments back – just seemed a positive omen. They were among the first things to go when it came time for Home Repair Projects, but still. They served their purpose.
It was (and, for that matter, remains) a Cape Cod house, with three bedrooms upstairs and a new basement beneath as a result of being moved several blocks from its original location sometime in the early 90s. The owner at the time was a single man who was moving out of state for a job, and we got the house because he decided he liked us better than the other people who were bidding on it.
Remember when houses actually got multiple bidders?
Actually purchasing the house – moving through the process of getting the money shifted over and the documents signed – was the same gut-wrenching slog through bureaucracy that it always is with settlements. I’m not sure why this is such a needlessly obstacle-strewn process, but it is. And it’s not just that there are a lot of i's to dot and t’s to cross – you’re spending a lot of money to buy something relatively permanent, so of course everyone involved is going to be extremely careful to protect their own interests. It’s that so many of the people involved actively don’t want to help you.
We had to get title insurance, for example. Now, I’ve worked in title insurance, sort of. My mother was in that field for years, and when I was a kid I honed my research skills in the courthouse looking stuff up for her, for which she paid me out of her pocket. So I understand the value of title insurance, and why you want to have it. What I couldn’t understand was why I had to go over to the title insurance company at 4:58pm on a Friday and do my best Glowering Philadelphia Addytood at them until they agreed to add up a column of numbers and enter the total onto an official document so I could take that total over to the only branch office of our bank in town that was open until 6pm and get that total put onto a cashier’s check (using the entirety of the inheritance described above) so we could actually go through with the settlement at 7:30am the following Monday morning. Honestly, people, it’s not that hard.
But there we were, bright and early. The paperwork went through relatively uneventfully. We signed what we needed to sign. The former homeowner wished us luck. And we walked out with a set of keys to Our New House.
That night Kim and I brought over a mattress, a CD player and some CDs, a nice bottle of wine and some glasses, and some candles. We set everything up and then had pizza delivered, just so we could tell the person to come to Our New House. And then we danced around the living room, and spent the night in our own corner of the world.