When I sent the listing for this three-bedroom colonial in Silver Spring, Md., to my mother in Texas, she responded with an all-caps e-mail message (and an equally emphatic phone message). "THIS IS A VERY GOOD HOUSE," she began, going on to praise the BRICK, SLATE ROOF, GARAGE, even the relatively low taxes. "I WOULD LOOK RIGHT AWAY!" she advised. Denise felt the same. So we made an appointment to see it Saturday, to beat the Open House rush on Sunday. We weren’t going to get burned again.
I’d been scoping out this neighborhood for a while. Last summer and fall I’d looked at two houses on the same street: One , whose final list price was $688,000 -- a spacious (yellow!) five-bedroom with three-and-a-half bathrooms, a comfortable eat-in kitchen and generous yard –- ended up being rented after several months on the market. (Did they really rent it for $2,800 per month? Two-bedroom apartments in our building go for that much. Note to Michael: Maybe we should rent a house?) The other , whose final list price was $570,000 –- an "enchanted English cottage," as the realtor put it, with three big bedrooms but no central air conditioning, a small kitchen and minimal yard -– went off the market after several months when the owners no longer needed to move. Both houses were appealing, but one was a little more than we needed (or could afford) and the other was a little less than we needed (and we could afford a little more). Something in between would have been just right.
So as we drove to see this place yesterday I had one question on my mind: Could this be our Goldilocks house? The location is ideal: Downtown Silver Spring is just a couple of blocks away, the Metro roughly a mile away and a park and library around the corner. From the toys and swings on nearby lawns, it was clear that this was a kid-friendly neighborhood. And my mom was right: The brick was nice (though couldn’t possibly be painted yellow), the slate roof looked sturdy, and yes, there was a garage. It also had three full bathrooms, one on each floor. The top floor was cozy in a good way, and the basement had been nicely finished to include both a play area and a guest area.
So what’s the catch, you ask? In a word: It was small. The large armoire and trunk in the master bedroom were a tip-off to a major flaw: very little closet space. And while I’m no advocate of souped-up kitchens, this one could use a serious makeover. The cabinets were large, but there was very little counter space, and the appliances included a half-sized dishwasher. To get something close to an eat-in kitchen, you’d have to break down a wall into the dining room. But then you’d have no dining room. It would be a costly renovation, not just financially.
We might have been a little more forgiving had the yard been bigger. (I’d seen a nearby house of similar size with similar drawbacks that had a lovely backyard, and sold for $526,000 after languishing on the market for months.) Here the rear outdoor space was very small, with a miniature deck and patio crammed in. It did have a nice side yard, with a beautiful old tree, complete with a swing. A very friendly neighbor (a dead ringer for one of Michael’s brothers, and who had a son nearly the same age as Joseph) came out to say hello -– this is a very sweet little community! -– and let us know that this swing and the corner it stood on were a neighborhood hang-out. For a minute I pictured Joseph playing on this corner with his new friends, selling lemonade. But then I looked back at the house itself, and thought, If only it were just a little bigger….
Denise pressed us with the news that there would be lots of interest in this house because of the location, price and low inventory. She’s probably right. She even suggested ("for grins," she added, knowing I was about to roll my eyes) that this house might be a good investment property: Just a few renovations and, in a couple of years, we could sell it and find a bigger place. That’s market confidence I just don’t share.
(Note from Michael: What she said. Except that I would note, for the record, that brick houses certainly can be painted yellow. O ye of little faith!)