Sunday, March 27, 2005

In which the Meridians lace up their running shoes and prepare to pursue the American Dream

I had thought about blogging about Terri Schiavo's journey through those stations of the cross known as the Judicial Process, but people far brighter (and dumber, for that matter) than I have done so already. So, I've decided to blog about something no one else has yet blogged about.
This just-completed Holy Week happened to be our spring break, so all this week we Meridians have been looking at houses with the eventual intent of buying one. We are renting at the moment, and we pay much more per month in rent than many people pay for a monthly mortgage payment. So, we figure, when the lease expires this summer why not move out and use that same money on something we can call our own? We've been looking around and doing lots of imagining and calculating. But. It is difficult to think of an activity, with the possible exceptions of Thinking of Marriage or Waiting for the Baby to Come, more filled with equal measures of anticipation and pleasure and trepidation and oh-I-hadn't-thought-of-thats.
We like older houses. We're not averse to looking at older houses rather euphemistically described in the multi-listings as Handyman's Specials or Fixer-uppers, because we both have done a fair amount of such work in the past before we met each other. For both those reasons, we're not looking in the suburbs. Neither do we mind living in neighborhoods that are a bit run-down at the moment but are beginning to change in their character. Oh. And we can't afford a lot of house.
Idealist that I am, I very much like the idea of moving into a neighborhood and restoring an older house and becoming part of the move toward improving the neighborhood. Not "gentrifying" it, though--"gentry" denotes a socio-economic class that we fall well below. We just want to be good neighbors, positive presences. But the houses we've seen are pretty good sized--the smallest one has around 1700 square feet; the largest over 2500 square feet. And while they're in our price range, they're beyond our reach in terms of the money it'd take to make them habitable, much less beautiful. It's been frustrating.
So what have we seen, you ask?
House #1 is one of the aforementioned "fixer-uppers." Actually, its on-line description comes with no such phrase; it's an "as-is," meaning that it's not (legally) habitable in its present state. It appears to have experienced some illegal habitation in the fairly recent past, though. On our first visit there, it had a used syringe on its front porch. I asked Mrs. Meridian if a needle-exchange program was listed as one of its amenities. One of the previous owners of this same house, built in the 1880s with lots of wood trim, had seen fit to paint robin's-egg blue the entirety of the 20-foot banister of the stairway from the first to the second floor of the house. A goodly portion of one of the ceilings is missing in the dining room, and half the floor is missing in an upstairs bathroom (there had been a leak, and someone had been working to repair the plumbing). When I say that the floor is missing, I mean the subflooring as well . . . and the ceiling of the room below it. Yes: only the joists remain there. The original boards of the front porch--an enormous wraparound--rotted away long ago and have been replaced with sheets of plywood.
The realtor who showed it to us said, "This place is what you'd call a 'relationship-builder.'" Another euphemism for "a damned lot of work"?
The second house we looked at is one block off a street that has been named a historic district here in Wichita. However, the house itself, another "as-is," had once been a half-way house for parolees, something the realtor showing the house hadn't seen fit to tell us but which a man living across the street did tell us. No needles here, but inside we did find a spoon with half its handle gone. Its 1st-floor windows are boarded up, so we had to bring flashlights to see the ground floor. But what windows! The individual panes in the parlor windows are easily 4'x4'--and with the original glass in them. How they have survived intact is beyond me. To be direct, though, this place, because it's a huge rambling pile of a house, would require even more work than the first one would.
We've seen one other, in much better shape than these others. Its previous owners have just done dumb things with it. Case in point: the parlor's walls were once bone-white with dark brown wood baseboards and window frames. Nice, no? We know the walls were originally white because the previous owners hadn't yet finished painting the walls a day-glo lime green. They had also painted a single 5"-wide magenta stripe running vertically from baseboard to ceiling by the entrance to the parlor. We don't know what their intentions were for the woodwork in that room but, judging from the fact that in the master bedroom they had painted the trim a sort of tinfoil silver (and the walls near-navy-blue), we can safely bet they had something special planned. One of the other bedroom's walls had a pagoda sketched on it. See? Special.
This one we'd get if we had to choose from the three we've seen: it's up to code (though it needs new lots of things, chief among them being a new roof and a new furnace); it's big (2250 sq. ft.) but not overwhelming; it's 3 blocks away from where Mrs. Meridian teaches, and 2 blocks away from the best panaderia (Mexican bakery) in town. But we're also feeling some ambivalence about our ambitions about fixer-uppering--chiefly, just how much of that we want to do. There exist some smaller houses of about the same age and the same prices that are in much better shape than these bigger ones, so we'll have a look at some of them as well.
The pursuit is on.


jennifer said...

It is nice to read that you are human rather than just some isolated academic musing intellectualisms and moralisms. :)

Congrats to you and yours and best of luck on finding a space that is truly yours.

I'm back to work on my 591 pages of reading (due tomorrow) and research for my historiography. peace!

jennifer said...

I wanted to add that I did write a bit on the whole "right to die" debate concerning Terry Schiavo.
I would love to hear your thoughts on what I wrote, when you're done running perhaps. Take care.

Alex said...

Don't forget all the things that you can't see behind the walls!!!

John B. said...

Jen and Alex (in turn),
I AM human, yes; and believe me, we are very leery of what might be ensconced behind those walls.

I should also add that in my comp classes on Monday and Tuesday I led discussions of a brief passage from Walden, so for the past week I've been haunted by the ghost of Henry David Thoreau saying things like, "You'll be 43 in April, and you're going to be signing a 30-year mortgage??" So: while I'm still hale and hearty enough to be lacing up running shoes, perhaps I should also have a walker ready on down the road.

fearful_syzygy said...

Any news on the house-hunting front?