We Could Live Here—But Do We Want To?

We Could Live Here—But Do We Want To?

We Could Live Here—But Do We Want To?

Our family's search for a house
Feb. 23 2009 1:38 PM

We Could Live Here—But Do We Want To?

A watercolor image in a listing : How quaint! Or is it? The devil in me wondered: Might it be an effort to cover up the truth a photograph might reveal? Or was this house so lovely it inspired a work of art? I had to see it and find out. And after I saw it, I sent Michael over for a second opinion.

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Nora: While the house was not quite as sun-dappled as the painting (OK, it was a cloudy, wintry-mix kind of day), this three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath semi-detached colonial, just a few blocks from where we live now, was indeed quaint. Its brick-and-stone exterior was inviting maybe not put-me-in-a-painting inviting, but pleasing nonetheless.

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Michael: Some guy honked at me as I was pulling in front of the house, which is on a very busy street. (You can too park on the street on Sundays, buddy!) Also, I was late, so the open house was over. Fortunately a very nice man in an overcoat, loafers, and red socks let me in to have a look. (I assume he was an agent.) Still, I was not in the best frame of mind.

Nora: Inside, there was more to please: hardwood floors, an open floor plan, and a first-floor powder room. And the kitchen, though quite small, had a decent amount of counter space (and not granite ones, either). The living room looked out to a deck and a surprisingly large backyard.

Michael: What was up with that kitchen window into the dining room? Very high. Hard to see the people eating. How is a chef supposed to make adjustments between courses to match his cuisine to the palates of his diners?

Nora: If we don't like your pancakes, we'll just have PB&J. Seriously, after I saw this place, I thought: OK, we could live here. I wasn't alone in thinking this, apparently. There was a steady crowd here, and I don't think it was enticed just by the Girl Scout cookies the agent was offering. The basement was nicely finished and opened to a patio and that nice green yard. Upstairs, the three bedrooms were definitely quaint in the other sense, which is to say small but not intimidatingly so, and the closets were surprisingly big.

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Michael: I didn't get any Girl Scout cookies. It's interesting how your view of a house for sale can change depending on whether you see it at an open house. In a way, I think open houses are inherently misleading. Either they're crowded, in which case they tend to ratchet up anxiety: Look at all these people! Do you think they'll make an offer? Is that guy measuring the blinds?? Or they are deserted, in which case, well, they tend to ratchet up a different kind of anxiety: Is there something wrong that I'm missing? Where is everybody? I feel like I'm intruding. I'm sorry, I'll go now.

But to get back to this place, Nora, I think what we both liked about it was its efficiency there was very little wasted space. So even though the rooms were small, they made the most of what they had. It's not like there was a 20-by-20 foyer leading into a tiny living room or walk-in closets for a bedroom barely big enough for a double bed.

Nora: Also, at $624,000, this house is at the top of our price range, but we could probably swing it (Michael: What did the lender say?). Still, much as I liked it, there were, as always, drawbacks: the petite kitchen and bedrooms, but perhaps most troubling, the location. While certainly convenient to public transportation and a commercial strip that includes a beloved local bookstore , this house suffers the flip side of convenience: That brick-and-stone façade faces that aforementioned very busy street, which gets backed up with traffic during rush hour and beyond.

Michael: What does Joe do when the ball goes into the street? That's what I think about. This is usually your department!

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Nora: The ball doesn't go into the street he's not allowed to play in the front yard. He plays in the back. But my deeper concern is what a friend said to me recently: "Half a mil for a 'regular' house is way too much, even with the benefit of being in D.C." (Of course, she lives in Philadelphia. Michael.)  Still, half a mil plus $124,000 is definitely way too much for a house that isn't my beloved yellow one with the porch, which has literally become the gold standard.

At any rate, I had another listing on my itinerary. It didn't come with an artist's rendering, but it did have a funny tag line: "GREAT NEW PRICE---PERFECT FOR THE NEW STIMULUS BILL!!" I guess that means it's priced to sell, but at $699,000, perhaps not to us. Still, the desperate tone of the ad intrigued me. I went on my own, figuring that this one, unlike the previous one, probably won't sell in a couple of days.

The house, a spacious three-bedroom colonial, is located in a neighborhood I'm not very familiar with, but there are things about it I like: It's in a desirable school district, close to a park and a straight shot to a Metro station a couple of miles away.

The scene here was quite different from the previous open house. Not only were there no cookies, there were no people. The agent, who told me she wasn't the listing agent, was refreshingly candid. The house, she said, had been on the market for more than 100 days, and the sellers had finally been convinced to drop the price by $50,000. The implication was clear: These are motivated sellers. She also let me know that houses in this neighborhood weren't selling for what they were three or four years ago. Could this be the kind of bargain we've been reading about ? Might they entertain an offer for, say, $500,000 or less, I wondered?

But wait, did we even want this house? Nice though it was a spacious kitchen (no granite!) and a sweet screened-in side porch were among its appealing features. (But, oddly, the sellers had turned the smallest of the three bedrooms into a very large walk-in closet.) Probably not. Sensing my hesitation, the agent mentioned another house, smaller, she said, but in a more convenient location. Hmm: Michael had mentioned this very same house to me the other day. Perhaps they were onto something. I'd have to take a look ...