Monday, August 29, 2011

Reflections on that first house, twelve years ago

I will never forget the experience of purchasing my first house. More than so many other things one might expect, that place change the course of my life and helped define who I am as a person.

I was twenty-one years old at the time.

The house was an 1886 stick-Victorian duplex in the Phillips neighborhood. It was vacant, foreclosed, and winterized. The attic windows had fallen out and pigeons perched in the frames, cooing dismissively as I shivered on the sidewalk.

My budget was $40,000. I was a student and bartender at the time. I have no idea how the loan officer ever even managed to qualify me, given that I kept no records of my tips, but then again, those were different days of lending... my mortgage was sub-prime and the firm from which I got it has since gone out of business (as has the bank with whom I re-financed two years later in order to build an addition on the house.)

My parents disapproved mightily. I recall eating lunch together post-closing, and one of them (I can't remember which) saying “We kind of thought you were going to need us to co-sign for you on the loan. And we were going to say NO.”

My stepfather bought me a handgun, and a police investigator visited me the first week I owned the place. (He just walked right in -since all the door locks were broken- and handed me a wanted flier, asking if the individual pictured was my boyfriend, husband or roommate.)

I was off to an auspicious start.

As I had scraped together every last penny of tips from innumerable, insufferable bachelorette parties at the hotel where I tended bar in order to come up with a down-payment, it was something of a rude awakening when I had the water to the house turned on and discovered that the pipes had pretty much all frozen and burst.

I thought my mother would cry.

I moved in anyway, rationalizing that the SuperAmerica up the street had a public restroom, and that I only needed a day or two to get this situation figured out. (And then I closed myself up in my filthy, unpainted new bedroom to sob in terror and frustration.)

Ultimately, I got a small loan from my credit union (God bless credit unions) in order to repair the plumbing, but not before the ancient, brittle chimney blew off in the first of several spring storms. Luckily, it wasn't as expensive of a fix as I feared when I first spied those bricks strewn across the lawn from behind my floor-to-ceiling dining room windows. I developed an eye-tic which lasted for a month.

In the years that have followed, many people have asked me what drew me to real estate, and to fixing up old homes in particular. I'm still trying to figure out what the answer is. Clearly, it goes back further than this first home of mine. There's something visceral to me about homes. Especially the old ones. But certainly, this first house of mine is part of the equation.

That initial year was rife with stress. But what is easy to forget is the fact that it passed quickly, and that the following years were wonderful, and that the building gently transitioned into something quite beautiful.

That first year was a trial by fire. But the experiences and the memories have kept me going, and I'm proud to say that I would do it all over again if given the opportunity.