Root Down

My grandfather famously said that when you buy a house, you buy work. (I think it goes without saying that my grandfather was German). And with our first home purchase, we’ve certainly bought work.

Of all the places we saw in the eleven months we spent going to open houses, our new place came with the longest list of things to change. The windows are metal-framed and single-paned. For reasons the sellers were unable or unwilling to explain, it appears that someone with a BB gun opened fire on some of the windows, leaving a spray of marks on the glass. The kitchen hasn’t been touched in years. There’s no in-unit laundry, something we’ve grown accustomed to, and  the home inspection brought up some work on the deck.

(view from the deck)

But we made an offer because it was the first place we’d seen that had so many of the things we were looking for: top floor, some historical details, good light, and extra room. We wanted outdoor space and this place had both a deck and a yard. And since it’s three blocks from where we’ve been renting, we know the neighborhood well. We knew that over time we could fix up a place, but neighborhood was one thing we wouldn’t have control over.

The work is daunting, though. While I love looking at Schoolhouse Electric light fixtures and getting to buy things like Heath house numbers (Mr. WholeHog found our numbers as seconds and bought them weeks before we actually owned the place), shopping for new appliances is awful. I’m appalled by the ovens with special buttons just for chicken nuggets, or the freezers with a slot labeled ‘pizza’. And the initial bid for updating the kitchen and bath was downright depressing.

And yet, work is one of the reasons I wanted to own in the first place. Although both renters and home owners have to contend with someone else’s design decisions, home owners have the option of changing their home to better meets their needs. Renters just have to make do, and I was tired of making do.

We’d made lots of temporary improvements to our rental. We added a closet in the bedroom and an IKEA piece for additional counter space in the kitchen. We lasted a year without a dishwasher before we brought in a portable dishwasher that attaches to the kitchen sink. But there’s lots more we could do — and more that I’d like to do — there’s just no reason to.

We were bumping up against other limitations of renting, too. I’ve long wanted to have a dog, but few SF rentals allowed dogs. Although I love the idea of community gardens, we’ve been on the waiting list for a plot in a nearby garden for over two years now. I’ve read that the average wait in SF for a community garden space is three years, but it can be much longer. We looked at one place for sale near a community garden that had a 10-18 year wait list.

Although it sounds like an Oprah-ism, over time it began to seem like buying a place would give us the best chance to live our Best SF Life. It’d allow us to live in a place that we could make our own, to finally get to having a dog and space to garden, and to see what it was like to feel a sense of permanence here.

Some fellow home owners warned me that I might feel buyer’s remorse after we closed on our new place, but instead I’ve felt optimistic. Although we have many home improvement projects on our plate this year, it’s work I’ve wanted to do for a long time.


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