Unreal Estate

We have started looking at houses, my wife and I, as a sort of pie in the sky activity, part investment, part forward planning, part daydream. Not that we want to part with our current house, but we don’t know how long it will be tenable to stay here, if we get old and decrepit. But those days are long from now. I think the recent death of our beautiful collie dog has set us back. She was the presiding spirit of place here. We came home to her and we let her “protect” us from the marauding deer in our orchard. Now that she is gone, there is a loss of connection to place which I certainly have noticed. She helped us appreciate the territory a bit more, and now she’s gone.

In any case, we have started looking around for a place which might do as an investment, or a place to live in the winter. Ideally in town. There was a house in the paper last week, in Suttons Bay, which looked ideal. A self-professed “fixer-upper”, it was on the market for only $135,000, in a leafy residential neighborhood. I called up our realtor friend and tried to arrange a viewing.

On Monday night I took my daughter over to Suttons Bay for her choir practice. I decided to drive by the house for the second time and have a look again. The first time we saw the house was the weekend. It is a little old white clapboard house that has been added on to many times, like a cubist painting. Old, obviously. This time I parked in the back alley and decided to poke around. There were old mattresses piled outside (not a good sign), and a sliding wooden garage door half opened, leading to the basement level. I walked in.

It was about a half hour before dark (7:30). I felt a bit guilty, but then again, the place was wide open. I walked into the darkened garage and saw a set of steps leading up to the house proper. There was a stale smell of mouse shit and wet fiberglass insulation. I got to the top of the steps and opened the narrow door which led into the kitchen. Inside the lino was worn through in places. To my left was a primitive utilitarian bathroom, which would prove to be the only one in the house. There were windows broken out and evidence of squatters. The kitchen was primitive, like a fish hatchery. Narrow little steep stairs led to four tiny rooms above, with floors going up and down and plaster knocked off in places to reveal the lath underneath. There was no insulation, but plenty of infestation. This was the kind of stair which the old timers used to seal off in the winter to save heat. My grandparents had a house like this, smelling of rhubarb and dampness even in the summer. I knew I wanted nothing to do with this house, as it would completely dominate my life.

The next day I got an email from my realtor friend. You really know how to pick em, he said. The house had sold already, less than a week after being put on the market, and there was a reserve buyer waiting should that deal fall though. Well, thank god. That makes it even easier for me to walk away. That house would be nothing but trouble.

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