Housing Therapy

As soon as Mark’s appointment at K-State was confirmed, a little over a year ago, we started looking for a house (for rent) here in Manhattan.  We had discussed, many times before, what our ideal house would look like.  Fortunately, like with so many other things in our life, Mark and I have very similar ideas and preferences when it comes to our house:  hardwood floors and/or little if any carpet, generous floor plan, lots of natural light, preferably in an older neighborhood, must accept cats, etc.

Using the Classifieds in The Mercury, we made many phone calls, checked google maps (and street views), drove through different neighborhoods, to get a feeling for what was out there, and at what price. 

We looked at a few places, only one of which got us excited but the owner was hesitant to rent the house – he wanted to sell, but we didn’t want to buy (just yet).  We were disappointed and disillusioned.

Then one late Saturday afternoon – it was almost 4 o’ clock I think, and cold, and getting dark, there was snow on the ground -, we decided to look at one more house. 

We walked in and knew that this was our place.   Hardwood floors – check.  Older neighborhood with lots of mature trees – check.  Generous floor plan – oh, yes!  The original house had burned and the new owner decided to move a few walls and add a couple square feet which resulted in an attached garage, a very generously sized living room, and a master bedroom suite with bath and walk-in closet – completely unheard of in this kind of house in this neighborhood of mostly ranch house style homes from the 60’s (think orange shag carpet…). 

He (re)used most of the original hardwood floor, but built thicker walls with better insulation, installed insulated windows, brand-new appliances – basically a whole brand-new, never-lived-in house.

He had no problem with our two cats, nor with the fact that I was going to be teaching piano here.  He seemed very laid-back and easy-going.  The rent was at the upper limit of what we had planned but we felt it was worth it.  

When we moved in, there were still a few things that were unfinished – some of the wood trim outside wasn’t painted yet, etc.  

Making this long story short:  it has been mildly torturous to deal with our landlord.  While he’s here in a matter of 30 minutes when something goes really wrong (backed-up sewer for instance – backed-up because too much building material such as soaked plaster had over the course of many months accumulated in the sewer), he has taken his time with other things, such as installing the remainder of the fence, and a gate, putting down grass seeds (everything was brown and dirt with construction debris), etc. 

Mark and I loathe having to call him – strangely not despite the fact that he’s actually very nice, but perhaps because he’s so nice, and also because at least I and he don’t seem to speak the same language:  today I pointed out to him that there’s a lot of condensation on the windows (it has been unusually cold for unusually long this winter), there has been mold because of this, and some of the windows are frozen shut.  His answer?  While there are many things he knows how to do, there’s nothing he can do about the weather.  ~  I wasn’t complaining about the weather, I was complaining that the house is not adequately protected against weather. 

More stuff like that.  Mark and I often say that we would like to buy this house, because we like it and can see ourselves live here for a long time but also because we could then take care of things ourselves instead of having to call a landlord.

In our frustration, we decided to drive around town after having taken care of some errands, to look at houses.  For ideas, to dream. 

There’s a really fancy new neighborhood on the Westside, one of many actually, and as we were driving through we spotted an unusual house.  It didn’t look as bombastic as the others, it actually looked kinda cute.  As we were getting closer, we saw that it was for sale.  Turns out the developer actually lives in the house, was home, and willing to give us a tour.   Many nice features – gorgeous wide-plank hardwood floors!, an office with glass walls on two sides, and the floor plan wasn’t too bad.  While the house looked cute and non-bombastic from the street, it is actually quite large, built into a hill, with walk-out basement.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not because we have seen it too many times now, despite the enormity of the house (I’d estimate about 4000 sq ft but could be way off), it didn’t feel as generous.  The living room wasn’t much bigger than ours – and our house is 1500 sq ft. 

Mostly, for me, it felt cold.  Which it probably was because it is nearly impossible to keep a house with high ceilings comfortably warm (it was around 10 degrees today, and cloudy).  But it was more than that.  Perhaps in an effort to keep with the style of the house, there were no curtains on the windows, no “window treatment” at all.  The dining room which had plenty of windows on three sides which – as Mark later noted – would invite tons of shelves under the windows for lots of plants which would just soak up the sun all day long, looked sparse and sterile. 

Some of the inside walls were rough stone which looks nicely rustic but also cold.  Hardly any books in the many built-in book cases.  The gas-powered flames in the fireplace looked tiny, radiating no warmth, in relation to the huge mantel.  Lots of stainless steel in the kitchen, and dark marble counters.  Somehow, and Mark felt it too, the house felt like the family was just staying there, camping out for a while.  Not really a home.  Mark says he wants a cozy house that feels inviting to people, to come in for a cup of coffee and stay a while.  That house wasn’t.

$783,000.  That’s more than three-quarters of a million Dollars. 

And then of course the homeowners association which tells you (in that neighborhood at least) exactly what kind of grass you have in your lawn, what kind of shingles on the roof, how many cars in the driveway (I am making that one up).  The house, like all others in that neighborhood – because it’s brand new -, has no trees whatsoever.  Perfect for solar panels.  Not a single house has them.  They heat electrically.  $400 a month in the winter. 

It was good to come home.

Oh, I forgot to mention:  they have a baby grand (one of those stumpy ones) tucked into a corner of the family room downstairs.  Lid closed, fallboard closed.  Looks unused.  Mark thinks it came with the McMansion kit.

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