I went and looked at a house yesterday, and it’s got me thinking about the whole four walls and a roof thing. The basic needs in a home might be simple, but we all have the things that we just have to have, or the things we can’t live with. I loved the way the house I saw yesterday looked on the outside – it needed paint, sure, but that’s not a big deal (and definitely something I’d hire out). That it had the only bathroom on the second floor up a set of steep, narrow stairs was a deal-breaker. Although had the First Reader been with me for this walk-through he’d have been grumbling even before we got that far. The furnace in the basement was a gigantic cthuloid monstrosity with massive tentacles of ducts running everywhere up into the house. I have no idea what it burned, but it seemed possible that small children and furniture were not out of the question.
I like the character of an old house. I want good bones, and to be able to rip up the carpets (nasty, dirty, stinking things, and I don’t care if they are virtually new) and reveal lovely oak floors (which this house did have). The First Reader wants insulation, and heating efficiency, and everything on one floor. I want subtle details in woodwork and architecture that they just don’t build in these days. He would like to have no neighbors within sight of the house. All of those are good things. Whether we can find them in one house or not remains to be seen. House-hunting, like a lot of other things in life, is an exercise in compromise.
We’ve already made one compromise: we’re not looking for a place out in the country. We wouldn’t turn one down, but… the affordable houses in our price range are largely in town. And that’s not necessarily a horrible thing, as long as we can manage a decent fenced (or fenceable) yard for the dog. Walking to the library or school is nice, and with the Little Man approaching the age of work, for him to be able to walk or bike to work, or build a business doing lawns, that’s nice too.
What this process is forcing us to do is to consider what the bare minimum requirements in a house are: four walls, a roof. Bedrooms? Well, that can be worked out, but at least three. Four would be nice so one would be the Home Office. Bathrooms? At least one… (we’ve both done outhouses before, we really don’t want to do them again) but two would be better. Kitchen needs are basically counterspace, although I’d really like a window or two. I like lots of light in the kitchen, and enough room to work without requiring no more than one person in there at a time. Heck, we can lose the dining room and even a living room, if I can have a massive kitchen that will fit a table in there. In my house, the kitchen is the heart of the home.
I look at house listings online and have to wonder what the people who designed some of these houses were thinking. Did they assume that no-one was ever going to cook in that kitchen? Was there a trend fifty years ago to just say ‘we’ll all eat at restaurants and maybe TV dinners?’ And closets! Don’t get me started on closets and lack of any pantry space at all. I can’t live without a pantry. If there’s no pantry in the house, I will just have to create one.
Maybe that’s one of the things that attracts me to old houses. Women lived in their kitchens, back in the day, so they made sure they were spacious, well-lighted, and practical. Oh, not all of them, but the vast majority of the houses that were built a hundred years ago are better about kitchens than bathrooms. And bathrooms are another thing… the First Reader makes me laugh because every time we’ve had visitors to the rental we’re in, he shows off the bathroom. We’re both certain that the bathroom was an addition to the house: it’s old enough to have had no running water when built. It’s big, and oddly laid out, but it makes him happy because it’s spacious. Some of the bathrooms you see… you practically need to straddle the toilet to get into the tub. And this isn’t in a house that lacks for square footage. It’s just stupid-built.
So our list of heck-no’s includes no HOA’s, no only bathrooms on the second floor, no ‘shotgun’ bedrooms, no bedrooms that are only accessible through the only bathroom (the house yesterday had one of those, too). List of musts? A window in the kitchen, a fenceable yard, three real bedrooms (one on the ground floor) and a bathroom on the ground floor.
So I appeal to you, gentle readers. You’re a pool of wisdom I know I can draw from: what are your suggestions as we hunt for a house? We’re looking at the house to be ours for five years minimum, this isn’t the forever home if the plan holds. Just until the Little Man spreads his wings and leaves the nest. But I know that many of you probably discovered things about your domicile that you wished you’d have thought of before you made that commitment.
What am I forgetting?