Wednesday, January 11, 2006

When does HWF season open?

We’re house hunting, in our copious spare time at the 19 Minutes home office. This is a pretty unusual situation for me, since the last time I was involved in looking for a house, it was 1976, and I was seven years old. Though to be fair, I may not have had a great deal of input on that particular selection. I certainly hadn't done much reading up on the buying process, save for "Curious George Gets a Fixed-Rate Mortgage." My wife has a little more experience, in that she sat in with a friend of ours when she (the friend) closed on a house a few years back. (And just the fact that I consider that example as proof of anything should show you my level of expertise.)

Not too long ago, my interest in home ownership was limited to snickering at the participants on “House Hunters” on the HGTV network, who seemed to employ the “Three Bears” method of looking for a new place to live (“This house is too small. This house is too large. Say, this house is just right!”) They always showed the prospective homebuyers looking at three houses, as though there was actually some chance they’d choose the first house, even though that would have meant ending the show after only eight minutes.

I’ve lived in a succession of apartments since my senior year of college, and I’ve always figured they afforded me some unique living arrangements without the stress of homeowner activities such as fixing the toilet, or mowing the lawn, or washing the dishes.

My first apartment was directly above the general store in Lisbon, Iowa. It was appointed with vintage 1940s kitchen appliances, which worked out fine for me and my roommate, as this freed us up to make good use of the pizza place two doors down. It was quite the deal at $150 a month, especially when you consider bonuses like the plexiglas that covered the bathroom windows and the network of cracks on my bedroom ceiling. After staring at the cracks every night for months, I finally came to the conclusion that the cracks were a fairly accurate road map of Linn County, Iowa, and went ahead and labeled the roads. But the apartment’s highlight was our newspaper recycling bin, which by the time we moved out, contained nine months’ worth of newspapers and weighed approximately 150 pounds. It was a nice addition to the dining room.

After college, I lived in a couple of apartments in Decorah, Iowa. The first one was in the basement of a house, which meant there was a huge support beam in the middle of the living room. The owners had thoughtfully covered it with indoor-outdoor carpeting, which created the effect of having an enormous scratching post in the middle of the living room. The owners had also gotten around the problem of running plumbing underneath the basement by elevating the toilet on a large wooden box, making “throne” an especially appropriate metaphor.

Sadly, I moved out of that apartment just a year later, taking up residence in a building that had been converted from its previous incarnation, a Catholic school called the “Academy of the Immaculate Conception”. I had a whole bunch of follow-up lines planned in the event I ever brought a date home, which, of course, I never did.

My subsequent apartments were less eventful, unless your standard of measurement includes cockroaches, in which case my apartment in Rochester, Minnesota was pretty eventful.

My wife and I have been renting a townhouse here in Flagstaff for nearly seven years. Like most construction in Flagstaff, it’s made of a hearty combination of plywood and plaster, with beige carpeting accentuated by the occasional cherry Pedialyte stain. It’s on the small size, but it’s worked out okay, despite the twice-a-year inspection visit by out landlady, which is immediately preceded by our twice-a-year cleaning of the top of our refrigerator. She terms it “protecting our investment”, though most of the tenants here refer to it more realistically as “being nosy”.

As I said, though, it’s on the small size and, with a growing 19-month old, it’s getting smaller by the minute. And so my mowing gene is making itself more evident, and I’m beginning to imagine myself raking leaves on a crisp October morning.

So we’re looking for a house. There are several interesting neighborhoods around here, each with its own unique character. But, just to shake things up a little, we’re looking for a house in Milwaukee.

But that’s another story.

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