We’re house hunting. It’s so strange to even type those words. It seems like the most natural and simple thing in the world until you’re actually doing it. Once you’re in the thick of it, it seems to dredge up some quite unexpected things.
In my case, it began with the financial. I wasn’t exactly surprised by anything on my credit report. I basically knew what I needed to fix, and had some idea of how I wanted to do it. The hard part was showing that report to my boyfriend and answering his questions about everything on it. It isn’t his fault, it’s just that I had become more independent than I had realized, and letting someone else into my finances felt a lot more vulnerable than I thought it would. This is a man I’ve lived with for two years, with whom I fully intend to spend the rest of my life, and with whom I consider that I have no secrets, but going through my credit report with him was a level of nakedness that I had not experienced at any point prior.
To be honest, I find the whole thing nerve wracking. Although my salary is a bit above the average household income for our city, with housing prices off the rails and climbing more every day, the homes in my budget are few. Of course, I want to stay in my kids’ school district, but it’s about $100k more than I can spend in order to do that. Surely, we can get a nice townhouse, but the boyfriend needs an office to see clients in home, so that won’t work. We need a large house. He insists the kids will hate me unless they all have their own bedrooms, so four bedrooms and an office is what we need, on a shoestring budget. This house, if it exists, is going to look like the 80’s threw up on it, and we’re going to be renovating it for the rest of our lives. Even so, in large part, I’m excited. I will take 80’s vomit over paying one more penny to my shiesty landlord. I will take equity over money down a rathole. I will take knowing where my kids will grow up for the rest of their childhood over wondering how much my rent will be when I renew my lease.
We haven’t been too open about the fact that we’re house hunting, but people give us unsolicited advice anyway. I guess we’re to that phase of coupledom where people start asking when we’re going to get married, when we’re going to buy a house, and when we’re going to get a cat. Thankfully, people don’t ask us about babies. We have enough of those already. Plus, I’m in my 30’s, he’s in his 50’s, and we’re ready to just enjoy life with big kids, and several cats. But yes, unbeknownst to most of our friends and acquaintances, we are working on buying a house. No news on marriage yet. We’re in no hurry.
Anyway, people seem to have no idea what the housing market these days is like (lucky them), and say awesome things like, “Just save up 20% and get a condo”. Thanks, but that’s actually a horrible suggestion. First of all, we have school age kids, so anything that resembles a starter home that we’re going to have to upgrade in a few years is an instant no-go. They moved from school to school enough as military brats, and I want them to be able to go to the same schools until they graduate, so moving from an apartment that we rent to a condo that we own isn’t exactly an improvement in the day to day sense, and these days, it’s not exactly temporary. When you buy something, you’re pretty much stuck with it because with housing prices going up as much as they are, yes, you will build equity, but everything else goes up just as fast, and with a cutthroat housing market where homes stay on the market for only a couple days and are often subject to bidding wars, the odds of moving up are slim. In this market, when you buy, you have to be ok with staying in whatever you get.
This hasn’t been all negative, though. This morning, I scanned in my DD-214 (Army discharge papers) and took the steps to get my Certificate of Eligibility from the VA for a VA guaranteed mortgage. I guess those couple years I spent in the Army may have been worth something after all.
I downloaded my pay stubs from my job at the state DOT, and my previous job at the City. I looked at my W-2 form from the past year, which showed the cash value of my salary and benefits package. I suppose those years in engineering school, and all the time I’ve spent commuting, networking, and trying to be a better engineer today than I was yesterday, have been for this.
I look at my boyfriend, and how excited he is to be buying a house with me. He loves this stuff. I hate it, but he loves looking through listing after listing, scrutinizing paint colors, and cabinet styles, and what kind of trees are in the yard. I don’t even know how to make heads or tails of any of this, but I’m happy that it makes him happy.
In all this, I think that maybe success isn’t what we think it is when we’re wide-eyed 18-year-olds thinking we’re going to take over the world someday. Success might not look like a Georgia mansion and a Nobel Prize by 30. It probably doesn’t look anything like that. Maybe, just maybe, success looks like a sensible job designing bridges for the state, and a home about as old as I am, in a neighborhood with good schools, where the commute downtown is bearable, but the prices are low enough to still take the kids to Disney World every other year, and visit family in Florida or Europe on the others.
Maybe it’s the fact that raising all these kids on an engineer’s salary is not easy these days, but it’s feasible, largely through the ingenuity of a man who is cool headed when I’m anxious, understands home buying better than I ever will, has been through every inch of my credit report, and for some unfathomable reason, loves me anyway.
I am grateful to be here for this. I strongly feel, for the first time in my adult life, that we are going to be ok.