Monday, April 14, 2008

House on the Borderland (Part One)

Not long after we became fairly certain that a move to Borderland was in our future, we began looking for a house there. Neither of us have ever been home owners. (Well, technically, we own a hippie cabin in Alaska, but that's not precisely what we think of as a "home" home, being as how it's held together with baling wire and frozen spit and it sits on a property warrened out with hidden tunnels constructed out of a series of hollowed out oil drums, buried there by the previous tenant, who was a survivalist nut. Occasionally one of these tunnels rusts through and people and their lawnmowers fall into it. You only think I'm kidding.) So, really, we wanted somewhere to call our own, where we could at last have a dog and maybe a rugrat or two.

When we first interviewed in Borderland, the hospital rep took us out on a tour of the area, showing us the houses and neighborhoods where a lot of the docs live. Most of them were either cramped subdivisions of cookie-cutter two-levels built practically on top of one another, winding around the hills and valleys of the area or were sprawling multi-million dollar homes owned by surgeons and other specialists, the kind that take a staff to keep up and which we could never afford in a billion years, even if we wanted such a McMansion, which we don't. I think our hospital rep thought we might be impressed by them, but to us it just looked like a lot of work. We have no desire to have "a staff" and houses that big would just be more for us to have to clean ourselves. No, our taste tends toward the simple and unadorned, yet still unique, with a little more space from our neighbors, even if it's just a matter of a couple dozen feet. What we wanted was a nice, reasonably-sized house that wasn't a cookie cutter copy of every other house in the neighborhood. In fact, if we could avoid neighborhoods altogether, that would be pretty sweet.

"Maybe we should buy a farm," I said. We know quite a few doctors who own farms because of the tax benefits of owning a working farm. The farm didn't even have to make any money for the benefits to kick in. So I suggested that I could start a less-than-profitable hens & chicks farm in which I would grow crops and crops of hens & chicks spawned from my own strawberry pot full of them, and then fail to sell a one. The wife thought we might need farm animals, too, so I suggested we buy a goat who we would name Douglas Goat and he could keep the grass trimmed so I wouldn't have to mow. Every morning we'd go out and stake him in a grassy part of the yard, pet him on his goat head and he could much away contentedly the whole day long. Idyllic, no?

So we began searching the real-estate websites in search of something cool and possibly farm-like. Before long we found it. Not far outside of Borderland exists a very picturesque A-frame house, with three bedrooms, and three full baths situated on a beautiful section of land and which had formerly served as a bed & breakfast. We loved the pictures, so we contacted the real estate agency that had the listing and went over for a look.

The place was even more gorgeous in person, with a vine-covered stone chimney, coy pond out front, jutting natural boulders around the edges of the property, a walking path through the trees, room for a garden, a heated out-buiding that might be used as an office or home studio. It even had a small barn in the back for Douglas Goat. And while there were neighbors nearby, they weren't on top of you. The place was just fantastic and quite easy to fall in utter love with--which I did.

The inside of the house, however, while completely livable, was still something of a fixer-upper. Probably the most obvious flaws were the floors, which sloped just a teensy bit on both the ground and second levels, though in opposite directions. Cosmetically, there was also plenty to consider. The place had been built in the 1970s and had cheap, plastic cabinets in its kitchen that would have to be torn out and replaced with something better. (I don't know if you've looked at cabinet prices these days, but doing a new kitchen from the ground up is very expensive.) At the same time, both bathrooms in the place, while completely usable, were lacking in the design department and we didn't much like them. (I don't know if you've looked at bathroom prices these days, but doing a new one from the ground up--let alone TWO--is very expensive.) And the bedrooms, all three of them, were pretty small and got smaller as you went up in levels. Their closet space was severely lacking and they just struck us as rooms that really needed a couple of walls torn out and completely redesigned. Adding to this the fact that many of the walls in the house were not made of drywall, but rather of thin wood paneling that gave when you pressed it. Some re-walling would have to be done, though not necessarily right away.

Now, it would be one thing if I had the kind of skills necessary to do some of this myself. The problem is, no matter how many flip this house shows I've watched, at the end of the day I'm just not that handy and am so far from being capable of doing ANY of it that it was pretty clear that this would be the sort of job for which you'd have to hire a contractor or three, possibly over the course of several years. (I don't know if you've looked at how expensive contractors are, these days, but getting them to pretty much gut a great deal of your house is very expensive.) The more we looked at the place, the more our hearts began to sink at all the work it would take to get it where we wanted it. It was a home of fantastic potential, but when you're just starting out in life as a new doc in a new clinic with all the stresses that come with it, do you really want to have to come home to torn out walls, drywall dust and broken plastic cabinetry?

Add to this the fact that it's difficult for new home buyers to get the sort of mortgage that allows for such improvements without a 25 percent down payment that we don't have and you see our dilemma.


1 comment:

Monster Librarian said...

Too bad you all don't live in Michigan--houses are CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP and big...ah, the sinking economy!

An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.