Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The heart behind the wood and nails

My hands are clammy. My mind is racing. My heart is doing little jumps inside my chest. I’m checking my email every five minutes, waiting for that message from our Realtor saying our offer on a house was accepted. “Don’t get emotionally invested in the home buying process,” everyone says. Easier said than done!

Home buying, like other major life milestones (choosing a spouse, college, etc.), requires lots of planning and rational thought, and The Hubs and I came at the process with that in spades -- complicated Excel spreadsheets tracking our budget and spending, lists of our “must-have” and “would-like-to-have” features in our future home, a list of a handful properties we’ve been eyeing that we handed to our Realtor. We took a first-time home buyer class and did lots of research. When we showed up to look at houses (eight!) last Saturday, we each had a clipboard, a camera and our own checklists and questions to ask -- and some Power Bars and bottles of water, to fuel the search. Would you expect anything less from this Red Binder Girl and a detail-oriented engineer?

With a clear idea of what we wanted and how much we could spend, it didn’t take us long to find the one. A few hours after touring houses, we emailed our Realtor to say we wanted to make an offer. Monday night, we made an offer. Tuesday, the sellers countered, and we made another offer. It’s not a done deal yet -- the sellers still have a little under six hours as I write this to accept the offer and sign the papers -- or say no thanks. Thus, the sweaty palms, frenzied mindset and stomach flips -- did I mention the stomach flips yet?

Despite all our lists and spreadsheets and practicality, our bodies know this is an emotional process, especially for a right-brained girl like me and a guy who, despite his outward appearance, is pretty sentimental deep down. We’ve been trying hard not to get attached to this house, but it’s hard to sign your financial life away for a piece of property without envisioning how you’d live there -- what your furniture would look like in it, what great dinner parties you’d have, where you’d put the Christmas tree. Without this thought process, every house is the same -- wood and nails. There's a reason why they say the home is where the heart is.

Keeping my emotions out of it was hard while we toured houses, especially those currently occupied. It was weird to see pictures on the refrigerator, clothes in the closet and water droplets in the tub. The reporter side of me wanted to observe all the details and learn more about these mysterious people.

In the house we’re hoping to buy, U.S. Navy memorabilia decorated the walls. The documents signed by the sellers showed the wife signing for her husband. I couldn’t help but start to form a picture in my mind -- a husband in the Navy, shipped overseas or transferred to another base, his family in Maine left to sell what had been their home for six years. Who knows if any of this is true, but separating out the family from the house was harder for me than I thought it would be.

It made me think about when my parents sold my childhood house when I was 12. I remember being angry we had to leave, even though the new house was bigger and better (to smooth things over, my parents promised we’d get a pool -- and 13 years later, that still hasn’t happened. I’ve given up on that dream). What made matters worse is that our new house wasn’t finished when we had to move out, so we spent three months living with my aunt and cousins. My pre-teen, angst-ridden self enjoyed telling people I was homeless, as if I spent every night in a cardboard box outside the 7-11 instead of in a perfectly nice house (okay, I had to share a room with my parents, but still). In my head, I thought of all the terrible things the new owners were doing to the place I grew up. Who were these new people in our house that made us leave even before we had a new place to go?

Now, I wonder if maybe the kids living at this house we want to buy feel the same way about me. While it’s a happy time for The Hubs and I, it’s likely a sad time for them. But I try not to dwell on that, or else I’d never make it through this process.

Instead, I think about our own kids, and the memories they’ll have in this house, if we do buy it. And someday, if we decide to move, it’ll be the place our kids remember as their first home. It’ll be the house, like The Hubs said, that our kids will drive by with their boyfriends or girlfriends, going real slow to see how it’s changed, saying, “This is where I grew up.” How are you not supposed to get emotional thinking about that?

But, if someday we do make the kids move, we will not pull that pool trick. That’s just mean.

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