Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Moving on

By Terri Lively

We were just back from the honeymoon when we spied the stack of wedding gifts piled to the ceiling in our dining room. Knowing every inch of every closet and storage area in our small apartment was already filled to capacity, we decided it was time to take the plunge. Ready to take on the responsibility of a mortgage, we began our search for a starter home.

We chose our neighborhood quickly. On day 3, we saw a little diamond in the rough and knew it could be our new home. On day 5, we put in an offer, certain that we were buying at the top of the market (we weren’t), and uncertain that we could afford this house (we could).

As soon as we saw the house, we saw potential for a market bargain. It had fallen out of escrow and it was vacant. Plus it had been a rental house for many years so it needed a lot of work in a multitude of areas inside and out. We put in a ridiculously low offer and crossed our fingers--too cautious to let ourselves be excited but too young to help it.

Here it is! We were pretty excited!
We got it. We have a proud picture of Brenton and I standing in our new driveway, holding our SOLD sign with huge first-time homebuyer’s grins.

My starter house had a laundry list of deferred maintenance projects. When I look at photos of the before and after, I can’t believe we bought it in that condition. But we had vision, and energy. Lots of energy.

We spent countless weekends at the beginning of our marriage learning how to fix our house, our yard, and our partnership. We put hard work and young love into our house. There wasn’t a room in the house or an inch of the yard that didn’t have our blood, sweat, or tears poured into it.

We loved our neighborhood, too. It had great access to the kinds of activities we enjoy. We walked our newly acquired dog for miles around the pathways and adjoining wilderness parks. We also liked the fact that our then non-existent kids could walk to school without ever crossing a major street. We marveled at how safe we were and that no one felt the need to lock his or her doors.

It wasn’t perfect there, though. We were robbed once, although I think we were definitely asking for it by leaving the garage door up. They got my diaper bag, the rat-bastards! Luckily, we stopped them before they could charge too much on my credit cards. And by too much I mean $1,500 in about 90 minutes…because time flies when you are paying T-Mobile bills with someone else’s credit card.

But because the credit card companies covered all of these charges, I grieved the most for my diaper bag. It was fabulous, designer, and stuffed with essentials that I need in my day-to-day life, including my kids’ immunization cards and my son’s favorite stuffed toy. Plus, I had lost my driver’s license. Just the thought of going to the DMV and having to get it replaced made me angry enough to want to wring the neck of the little thief with my bare hands…preferably after I made him or her wait in the DMV line with me.

But in an odd moment of consideration, the thief dropped my driver’s license in the mail and the post office sent it back to me. I didn’t know how to feel about it. Grateful? Yes…but I was also aggravated about being robbed so I guess the best way to put it is. “um…Thanks?”

My look is about the photo, not the burglary...
The police officer dispatched to handle my case was prompt, detailed, and professional. He was also pretty dismissive about the possibility of getting any justice for the crime. He indicated that the perp was young, inexperienced, working alone, and selling my diaper bag at a swap meet that afternoon.

But in spite of our brush with the seamy underside of Orange County we loved living here still, only now we were much more careful about putting down the garage door at night.

We added on to that house for 13 years. We added a remodeled fireplace. We added new kitchen countertops. We added attic and closet storage. We added a garage organization system. We added a home office. We added a bedroom. We added three children. In essence, we added a family inside those walls.

There were a couple of times when we tried to sell our starter home. The first time, however, we decided that we weren’t ready. The second time though we actually put it on the market. The reality of having your home on the market is that you want people to come look at it, even if it means you have to get it ready for a showing just before you head to the hospital to have your third child--at 5 in the morning. Unfortunately, yes, that is a true story.

If you ever want a lesson in humility, read the comments buyers make about your house that you get from the realtors. It will drive you to drink…if you don’t already from having to keep your house spotless, clutter-free with three young kids, and without any personalization whatsoever for weeks at a time.

While we were wrong about buying our house at the top of the market, we were spot on about the fact that we were selling it at the lowest depth of it. We were competing with short sales and foreclosures. This was a time in real estate best summed up with the Limbo-song lyric: How loooow can you go?  We didn’t sell. So we took it off the market, resigned to make it work a while longer.

But life happens and this past fall we moved. Instead of selling, we put it on the market for rent. Meanwhile, packers came and packed up our lives. Movers moved it out on the truck.

When they were done, I walked through my empty house, seeing the memories of our lives playing out before my eyes like scenes from a movie before they faded into memories. Then quick, like a Band-Aid, I loaded my kids in the car and headed off to our new adventure.

I watched my home as I drove away in my rear view mirror, like I usually did because I was obsessed with making sure the garage door was closed. But this time I wasn’t just running errands or going to the gym. I was leaving my home behind. I watched it until I turned off my street and it disappeared behind me.

Before our renters moved in, I went back to my house. I felt emotional as I passed by the kitchen sink where I had washed my babies until they were probably a little too old for it. I gasped when I saw the curtains from the nursery thrown in the middle of the garage floor. I scowled at the Navaho white on the walls, painted over all the vibrant colors that I had carefully chosen over the years to express the spirit of our home, which were now the color of gravel or tofu. I swallowed hard as I passed the spot outside the new bedroom where I hid outside the door not wanting to disturb them while listening to my two oldest children sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" in their tiny little voices for the first time.

But my breaking point was when I saw that the painters had scraped off all the little glow-in-the-dark stars we had put on the ceilings above where my children slept. I found them all scattered on the floor discarded like trash along with the crumpled up masking tape and bits of plastic. So I picked them all up, put them in a plastic bag, and cried like a baby.

I cried for my starter home that was stripped of all of us, like the ceilings were of the little plastic stars that I clutched in my hand. I cried from the stress of moving so far away. I cried about the uncertainty that we could ever find a home we loved as much as this one. I sobbed about it all there on the Pergo floor with my 2-and-a-half-year old patting my shoulder saying, "Don’t cry…it will be okay, mama.”

It seems a little silly, now, to cry over a house. It is, after all, only bunch of wood, drywall and stucco that made up of walls, doors, windows and everything else all contained under a roof. The people who live there are who makes it home.

While I was sad that we were no longer living in our starter house, I like my new house. My new house feels like home now, mostly because of the family that is here with me in it.

Realtors call them starter homes. But they call them that because they are referring to the fact that it is the first house you can afford that will help you get into the next house down the line. But starter home has a whole other connotation to me. It was the first house that we could afford and it was the place where we started our family. It was in my starter home that I really started my life.

It turns out that my little guy, wise beyond his years, was right. I am okay. When I see photos of our early life in our old house, I no longer feel the need to widen my eyes to hide the tears that are pooling on my lower eyelashes. Well, most of the time, anyway. Our starter home was the scenery for the play that was our lives and like a traveling theatre company it was time we were moving on.