In her book, House Lessons: Renovating a Life, author Erica Bauermeister writes, “A house is a quiet partner; you have to listen carefully.”
Her insights have given my wife and me cause to look back at the lessons our homes have taught us. While I agree with Bauermeister that sometimes our home speaks softly to us, I ‘ve found that in other cases, it yells.
Here are a few things we have learned from being homeowners.
- Love isn’t just between two people. Bauermeister draws from her own experience as a Realtor in recalling clients who said they were looking for one thing but couldn’t help themselves from falling in love with another. That may explain how my wife and I put a down payment on our first house against my father’s advice and in spite of the fact that it was being offered “as is” with a shaky foundation and a hole in the bathroom floor. But it had a clawfoot tub! (we were into antiques at the time) And it had a big yard! (albeit you couldn’t see it from the street because of overgrown vegetation). And it had a front porch! (okay, so it slanted a little). And it was in our price range (as long as my mother-in-law could loan us the money for the down payment). Our decision wasn’t so much driven by logic as it was by feeling. As Bauermeister explains, when we’re in the housing market, we’re not necessarily looking for a house, we’re looking for a home that “fits our soul.”
- Sometimes you have to work together to get the job done. As you’ve probably guessed by now, our first home was a fixer-upper. And while we did everything from lay floor tiles to install a brick patio, the most challenging job we faced was hanging wallpaper. To add to what is often a grueling task, the paper we chose was very attractive but on the thin side, and when hanging in 10-foot sheets, had a tendency to rip. Let’s just say there was so much cursing and yelling going on that we had to close the windows. But once we got the right timing down for the teamwork needed, we managed to get the job done with fewer casualties (and a lot less swearing).
- Think of all the possibilities. My wife and I have never owned a brand-new home. Instead we’ve bought houses with potential. With our first house, we both saw it, or I should say, we both felt it. With our second home, here in Lake Oswego, it was my wife who steered us in the right direction. “If we ever want to live on this lake,” she explained, “this home is our entry ticket.” That was back in 1986, and she was right. The price of entry was low enough that we were able to buy a cottage on one of the canals that once again, needed work. After living there for six years, our next-door neighbor was planning a move and asked if we were interested in buying. It was a dark, neglected daylight ranch, with none of the charm that our cottage had. But this time I saw the potential. I poured my wife a glass of wine, had her stand on the back deck and imagine all the possibilities the large, flat backyard offered to our growing family. She conceded and 18 years later we have accrued a lifetime of memories raising our kids here.
- Compromise. Sometimes our visions aren’t always in sync. Two summers ago, I wanted to extend the lawn in our backyard which required eliminating this one natural area populated by a bamboo-like plant that my wife loved. She remembered our kids playing in it when they were little and she also just liked the variety they brought to our yard. Today those plants are still in our yard but in a different location so I got my added lawn square footage and she can still watch those stalks sprout up every summer. I see my clients negotiating the artful compromise among themselves often when they are looking to buy a home. They are not always on the same page, but find ways to agree on a house that comes closest to what they are both looking for.
- Breaking up is hard to do. The problem with falling in love with your house is the fact that when it comes time to sell, breaking up is hard to do. We rented our first house out for two years before selling it to make sure we had no intention of moving back to California. Just like with any breakup, once we were into our “new relationship” with our cottage in Lake Oswego, it was much easier to let go. A few years back during the housing crisis, we thought we might need to sell our Lake Oswego home. It was a gut-wrencher for all of us, and we had our kids write down memories to put in a box that we planned to bury in the yard. Fortunately, the market turned around and 12 years later we’re still here. But we know that time will eventually come. Judging by what worked before to ease the heartbreak, we hope to have a good sense of where we are going next so that we’re looking forward to our next move with excitement and not back with regret.
I’ve learned a lot about homes not just as a homeowner but also as a Realtor in Lake Oswego and the Portland metro area for over 30 years. Let me put that experience to work for you! Give me a call at 503.939.9801, and or check out my website. I look forward to hearing from you!