Monday, December 17, 2007

Fun Monday

This week's Fun Monday is hosted by Kitten, who wants to hear the story of your house. I'm going to cheat a little and write about a former house, because the story of my current residence is a little boring. It's a new house, built explicitly to produce rental income. It's huge, clean, and boxy.

I want to write about the first house we ever bought, a 3-bedroom Colonial in Wheaton, Illinois. In 2001, after five years of renting in Chicago, we decided to make the move into home ownership. We didn't want to move out of the city (if you know Chicago at all, we were around 4400 N & 2000 W) but we knew we couldn't afford to live in our neighbhourhood.

We started by looking at condos in Evanston, a town we both liked. But the more condos we looked at, the less impressed we were with the idea of buying one. It seemed like all the hassle of home ownership coupled with all the hassle of apartment life. We could hear the neighbour's TVs, smell their dinners, feel their footsteps on the ceiling. We decided what we really wanted was a house, with four outside walls and a roof, a yard, a driveway and a garage. We wanted to own more than the air inside of an old apartment.

Again, geographical desirability met pricing considerations head-on. Even though more than one smarmy mortgage broker assured us we could qualify for a jumbo home loan, we knew that would be a mistake. So we had to look at other cities. I don't know how exactly we ended up with Wheaton. We wanted something on the Metra line and we didn't want to live in a cookie-cutter development.

Six weeks after we started looking at for a place, our real estate agent lined up 5 showings for us. It was a Sunday, around St. Patrick's Day, and I think the Oscars were on that night.

When we got to the third house, the woman who owned it was in the house. She hadn't gotten the message about the scheduled showing, but she allowed us to come in and look around anyway. A large pool table dominated the living room - it was, in fact, the only piece of furniture in the living room. A note explained its origin - single mother, three teenage kids, the pool table was a place that they could all gather and enjoy themselves.

When I walked through the dining room and saw the kitchen, I shut my notebook. The kitchen was absolutely tiny. I had my heart set on a big open kitchen with an island. This kitchen was had about 4 square feet of floor space. I wandered politely through the rest of the house, and when we got outside, Peter said "That's the one." I laughe because there was no way I was going to live in a house with that kind of kitchen.

After seeing the rest of our choices (number 5 did make the decision tough), we decided to make an offer on the house in Wheaton. I have a vivid memory of sitting in the realtor's office, feeling like I was going to vomit because the whole thing was moving so quickly and becoming so real and I had never before promised to buy anything that cost so much.

The negotiations were concluded over the phone that night and we had a contract in a few days. We closed on a day that helped out the seller, and then gave ourself a few weeks to paint, get furniture, and prepare to move. We were glad we did that because it took the seller a few days to get everything out of our house. (Just for future reference, in case you ever need to know, it takes a special sort of drill to take apart a pool table.)

Over the course of the next three years, I fell in love with that house. It was the perfect place for Peter and me at that time. It wasn't so huge that we rattled around in it but it was big enough that we each had our own space. Our bedroom was big and airy, an addition to the original house. Through some quirk of architecture, the entrance into our bedroom was through the smallest bedroom. We turned it into a library but everyone who ever came to visit us remarked on what a good nursery it would make.

I even learned to work with the kitchen. My brother took out a section of cabinet and I replaced it with a butcher block table, which had a pull-out leaf. That gave me an extra 6 or 8" of workspace when I needed it, folded out of the way when I didn't need it, and still provided some amount of storage. The thing about a little kitchen is that it keeps you disciplined about keeping it clean because there's just no space for extra junk on the counters.

As happy as I am in my new life in the Middle of Nowhere, I still miss the little house in Wheaton. Some day, we will be able to build our own house. While I don't think we'll end up with a Colonial, I imagine we will work hard to incorporate the spirit and the ambiance of our first house.


At 17 December 2007 at 21:29, Blogger laurie said...

ah, a lovely post, as usual.

it reminds me of how frightened i was when i bought my first house-the price! my god! it was $36,900!!!!

which is about what people now pay for a new car.

my first house was tiny, too, and perfect in odd ways that i only realized after i'd been living there a while. right by the woods. a big wood-burning fireplace with built-in bookcases on either side. a wood-burning sauna in the basement.

why did i ever leave?

At 17 December 2007 at 21:41, Blogger Lil Mouse said...

i've driven near chicago a couple of times, being from illinois for the first 28 years of my life. it was insane. cookie cutter. when my husband remarks about jobs near chicago i imitate a gingerbread man and say cookie cutter in a weird voice. so awful! we're in a cookie cutter fourplex right now, but we're just praying for the days of a big house to rattle around in.. sigh..

At 17 December 2007 at 22:12, Blogger Pamela said...

I think I would miss our home if we moved. We raised our family here -- but the world has encroached on our country setting

At 17 December 2007 at 22:15, Blogger Sauntering Soul said...

What a sweet story! I'm glad you were able to love it after you moved in. My place is tiny too, but I feel comfortable and that's really all I want.

At 17 December 2007 at 22:55, Blogger Tiggerlane said...

You were SO SMART not to do the jumbo loan! I think that's one reason for so many foreclosures nowadays. Buying that first home is so scary - but it sounds like you adjusted very well. And I agree on the small space - it helps you keep down clutter! I hope I can NOT clutter our new home!

At 18 December 2007 at 03:14, Blogger laurie said...

hey! you gotta keep up, girl! i have another award for you at my place, and i don't think you ever got the previous one!!!!!!

At 18 December 2007 at 03:20, Blogger Kaycie said...

My first house wasn't what I wanted when I began looking. It had one of those galley kitchens with indirect lighting, circa 1979 or so. If I stood in the middle of the floor and spread both arms I could touch the counters on opposite sides of the room.

I ended up really loving that house.

At 18 December 2007 at 08:54, Blogger ChrisB said...

There is something rather special about a first house. My first house back in the 60's cost a little under £3,000 (about$6,000) but that was a lot of money back then. When we sold it 4 yrs later we made £1,000 ($2,000) and were over the moon so buying and selling was very different back then.

These days I think it must be pretty scary for young folk just starting out!

At 18 December 2007 at 13:38, Blogger kitten said...

I have always wanted a kitchen with an island also.
I have our winner post up.

At 29 December 2007 at 16:09, Blogger Terri said...

I have only once had a house with a big kitchen - it was the reason we bought the place. Loads of cupboard space, a double eye-level oven, masses of workspace... {sigh}...
Actually that seems rather strange for someone who hates cooking, LOL!

Anyway I just popped in to wish you a belated Merry Christmas and an early Happy New Year!!!

At 29 December 2007 at 17:03, Blogger -Ann said...

Laurie - Wow. That sounds like a lovely (and crazily affordable house).

Lil Mouse - Hope you get that big house, in a neighbourhood where the houses have some variety. :)

Pamela - I'm not sure I could handle that - I've grown quite used to country living.

Sauntering Soul - I'm glad you're happy with your place.

Tiggerlane - Good luck with the clutter. (And I am also so glad about the jumbo loan - I couldn't understand how the load guys could come up with such conclusions from the same set of incomings and outgoings. Now I know they were all crooked. :))

Laurie - Doh! I am so very behind.

Kaycie - I didn't even have to spread my arms out to touch both countertops. Ah well, it's not the size of the kitchen... :)

Chrisb - It is terrifying. Anytime you're looking at numbers that can be said in terms of million (quarter-of-a-million, half-a-million), it is scary.

Kitten - Thanks for hosting - it was a fun Fun Monday.

Terri - Cheers! I am already jealous of your kitchen.


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