Thursday, September 1, 2016

How to Choose a House

            Kim and I are in the process of finding a place to live for what Kim calls “Stage IV” (she does not speak in Roman numerals, but I think it appropriate). We know what Stage V is – that’s V out of V – and we’ll get there when we have to. But for now we are looking to Stage IV: not yet in wheelchairs and still able to feed and dress ourselves, though Kim is not sure I’m not a V in the dressing category.

            One technique is to look at everything you can find on, hoping you will see something that grabs you. We’ve even tried the old-technology version of that: driving around looking for “For Sale” signs.

            Of course, there is always looking with the assistance of a realtor, which I suppose that is what the smart and serious house-shoppers do. The problem, for realtors working with us, is that once we get our criteria clearly established in the realtor’s mind, we discover that what we love the most has little or nothing to do with those criteria. For example, after being very clear to Alice, our patient Up North realtor, about our budget and our wanting a house surrounded by nature, at least three acres but preferably ten or more on a stream or lake, we discovered and almost purchased a downtown Traverse City cigar factory that had been remodeled to include an apartment, offices for lease and a full gymnasium. And the asking price is more than double our absolute maximum amount. Alice took it all in stride and even helped us try to find a way to pay for it without, you know, our actually getting jobs. Alice has a delightful sense of humor, which is required when working with people like us.

            Kim has mentioned a number of criteria she has in mind, ones that realtors have difficulty programming into their searches. Qualities such as “magic,” “charm,” and “funky.” She pairs these qualities with her eye for “my-father-was-a-carpenter” craftsmanship. Her sense of smell is keener than mine, as we have occasionally noticed in our daily lives together, and she puts this sensitivity to good use in assessing possible issues with dampness in the house and yard. She also appears to have an unerring knowledge of when a fireplace is “ugly! horrible! yecchh!” thus disqualifying a potential home. It’s important to Kim whether our furniture will “go” in our new house, though I figure that if the doorway is wide enough it should “go” just fine. She also can tell if a house has any closets, and this is, evidently, important to her. And she wants to be able to photograph wildlife in our back yard – though none was evident at the beloved cigar factory. Kim knows what she likes and needs.

            With that in mind, I have nevertheless identified some of my own criteria:

·      How much work will it be? Kim works all the time anyway, so this factor doesn’t really matter for her, but I need to know how much the yard work, gardening, and home maintenance will take time away from my relationships with my kindle and computer?
·      How incompetent will I be made to feel? Fix the tractor? Adjust the groundwater heat pump? Maintain an organic garden? Cook dinner?
·      Does it have cable? If not, is there a way to use a satellite dish that will allow me to use my Netflix?
·      Does it have a swimming pool? I don’t want a swimming pool. Too much work and potential incompetence. If I can call maintenance to take care of it, then it might be OK.
·      How bad it the traffic? From the more frequent honking of horns from cars swerving around me, I am getting a sense that my driving “skill set” is not what it used to be. Either that, or all the other drivers are speeding, reckless, unpredictable, or impatient and ill tempered. So I’d like to live where those young drivers are not bothering me. I’d like to be able to get my car out of my driveway and make the occasional left turn.
·      How close is it to a Starbucks? Not an actual Starbucks – I’m using Starbucks as shorthand for “civilization.”
·      How close is it to a good hospital? When I have a stroke, I don’t want to be taken to a hospital in a snowmobile.
·      How much transition hassle will fall on us? It’s not that I’m in a hurry to leave our apartment, where calling maintenance is a convenient answer to some my questions above, and moving will be about the same level of work and inconvenience no matter where we are going or when we go. No, I’m contemplating the hassle factor of designing and building a house, or possibly doing a major remodel before we move in. We are looking, for example, at a great 1920s stone house in northern Michigan that is too small for all of our stuff, and it lacks a garage – a serious issue in the ice and snow. We can buy it (provided the seller drops his price by 33%) and then tear down the shabbily built modern “guest house” on the property and build a cool garage with an apartment upstairs. This takes time. And this project would be about 400 miles north of our current apartment, so it would take about a year of hassle, driving back and forth to supervise, move in stages, etc. On plus side, this stone house is a short walk to the hospital – though not so short if I am staggering, half paralyzed, through two feet of snow.
·      Does Kim like it?
·      Does Kim love it?

            Pia, the realtor we have been working with here in Southeast Michigan, had been sending us daily suggestions based on a number of parameters she entered on a computer program that selects houses that match. After last week’s meeting (at a Starbucks) where we explained some of the above criteria, she decided that the system of parameters does not work for flakes (my word, not hers) like us. We explained that our criteria are more like guidelines than real parameters.

            Pia is cheerful and hardworking by nature, and we are putting those qualities to the test. Tomorrow we are seeing three more properties that she suggested, all of which look promising. As we drive to see them, Kim and I will look for “For Sale” signs along the road.

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