Editor’s Note: The idea of purchasing and renovating a home is a dream that many carry, but few of us stop to consider the complications and complexities of the process until we are already knee-deep in drywall debris. In many ways, the home-owning process is a Journey like any other, filled with excitement, surprises, and some roadblocks along the way. Lisa Przystup, a writer, florist, and frequent contributor to Front + Main has been kind enough to share her journey of home ownership with us. Over the next several months, we’ll be sharing her story. Enjoy!
Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine
There’s a good chance that it was the van under our street-facing bedroom window that had been broadcasting a syncopated beat from roughly 1:00 am to 3:00 am that did it. Or maybe it was the Sisyphean activity of calling 311 and holding for 20 minutes for a rescue from the tyranny of said van that would never come. Or perhaps it was that commute on the L, packed body-to-body in a subway car bristling with electric anger, my face inhaling some stranger’s armpit. The truth is that it was probably a combination of all these things and a hundred others that finally pushed myself and my husband into the welcoming arms of upstate New York.The beauty of its bucolic rolling hills was so obscene it felt pornographic.The impossible quiet made my ears burn and revel in the cushion of silence. Some of you may not know this, but the sky three hours north is perforated with these twinkling things called “stars.”
In all fairness, there is a large part of me that is in love with the city—it’s the kind of love you allow yourself when you’re young: reckless, irresponsible, and impossibly unhealthy. It was time to allow myself some grown-up kind of love.
We started “looking,” last spring, which is to say that we fell into the black hole that is Zillow/Trulia. While I sat at my freelance office job, Jonathon would pepper my inbox with an army of links to houses everywhere from Saugerties to Bovina. Some of them were dreams-come-true, others had wall-to-floor-to-ceiling pine green carpeting. The dream that you start with begins to dissipate into the reality of things, which is, like almost anything in life, a compromise. I knew I was going to have to train my eye to look beyond face value and utilize my overly active imagination to “look at the bones” or “picture what it could be.” This is harder than you might think. The other thing about looking for a house is that you quickly begin to understand the sneaky asshole that is selective photography—beautifully curated corners leave out the fact that across the street there’s a burned down house that the neighbors are “getting around” to demolish. Or that the archway you fell in love with leads to a room with ceilings lower than a children’s playhouse. You start to get jaded. And this is all before you even pack yourselves into a car and fight the city gridlock to get upstate and look at 4-7 houses a day every weekend of the summer months. In the end, we looked at 19 houses and about only two did I remotely like. The thing is that even if you find a house you like, there inevitably is something wrong with it. It might be obvious, like those terrible perforated drop ceiling tiles or it might be quieter, like the burst pipe of the toilet that’s been leaking waste for who knows how long (there, I just gave you a sneak peek of our home inspection).
We met the house we ended up in on one of the last weekends of the summer (I hate the winter, so for me “end of summer” means end of July, because August is just a swan song). Up until that point, we had been looking everywhere two hours north of the city and, although Jonathon was enchanted by the rolling dairy pastures of Bovina, I balked at the three hour drive. We were just coming off of one of the most discouraging weekends of house viewing yet, so I was pretty open to entertain the extra hour in the car. Turns out tacking on that 60 minutes opens the door to decency and even flat out really, really good stuff. The house we ended up buying was the first one we looked at and we liked it. LIKED it. It was not an “Aha” moment, there was no magical beam of light that opened up in the skies over the house, but it was a lovely thing perched atop a winding hill. Maybe a bit musty-smelling, but that’s to be expected from something built in 1892. It had potential—in truth it had realized a large portion of it already. And most importantly there was. no. carpet. I can’t tell you how encouraging it was to see a nice place. When you’re looking for houses, you need that so very badly. It doesn’t even matter if you get the house or not, it serves as proof that nice houses do exist. We went on to look at five other houses in the area: Delhi, Bovina, and Andes and each one was light years better than anything we had seen up until that point.
In the end, we made an offer on the farmhouse on the hill mostly because it was out of our price range and we felt we had nothing to lose. There’s a certain freedom that comes with endeavoring to do something you know has a slim possibility of happening. Sometimes having that slice of possibility lets too much hope in. What no one tells you is that just by making an offer on a house, you’re already way more emotionally involved than you know. This is when the real roller coaster starts. Your inner dialog becomes a manic back-and-forth of “I could walk away whenever, I’m not even in love with the house. I mean I like it, but I don’t love it,” to you falling asleep to the cinema of planning where all the furniture will go. Then you start talking about the house with people—another thing that no one tells you is that when you’re looking for a house, you’ll serve as a dumping ground for people’s unsolicited advice. I imagine this is also the plight of new parents. People mean well, but if I’m going to be subjected to hearing what I already know from people who think they know better, I’ll just hop on a call with my mother.
I’m going to try to condense the next leg of the journey, because it’s just too exhausting for me to expect you to sit through. The long and short of it is this: we made an offer, the seller countered by coming down a ton, we counter-offered and then he made a ridiculously generous offer back, which sadly was still not enough for our savings account and we made a last and final offer that we just knew in our heart of hearts he would not accept, because it felt insultingly low. At this point, we had already attached ourselves to the house and were beyond discouraged that we were going to have to start the process all over again. We were at Chelsea Market eating our feelings when our realtor called us with the news that the seller HAD ACCEPTED OUR OFFER. This, if you’re wondering, is when that magic beam of twinkling light shone down on us. That high carried us all the way to the first valley of the rollercoaster ride: the house inspection. This is never a fun day for anyone. It’s when you find out all the things that are wrong with your dream of a house. For starters, our house inspector was not my favorite person (and that’s putting it kindly). He walked us through uplifting discoveries like the aforementioned leaking waste pipe, the potential reality of buried fuel tanks on the property—which is a huge environmental and financial nightmare, and to top it all off, the electrical panel was deemed by the inspector and electrician as “incredibly dangerous” and “condemned.” This was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Then there was the porch, which was deemed structurally unsound, as it is being held up by a few carefully placed rocks and cinderblocks (something our friend the inspector neglected to notice or mention in his report) and the roof that topped the balancing act that is our front porch off needed to be replaced. The basement is a “wet basement,” which is a nice way of saying that the floors are dirt and it floods when it rains and insulation is a modern invention our house does not have the pleasure of knowing. I say all this knowing that concessions must be made and no house is perfect but honestly, it’s a lot all at once.
We ended up pulling our offer, renegotiating, and, after a prolonged back-and-forth thanks to too many cooks in the kitchen (our realtor, us, the bank, our lawyer, our lawyer’s secretary, the nagging voice of doubt in both our heads—the seller, the seller’s realtor, and lawyer) and a series of unnecessary incompetent oversights, we made it, impossibly, to our closing day. We signed a novel of papers and walked out of the lawyer’s offices equal parts terrified out of our minds and giddily excited with the electric hope of the future.
Part of that future involves an endless list of renovations. For starters, I plan on using this home as an opportunity to finally execute my dream of white floors. Then there’s painting the rest of it, taking down the wallpaper in the kitchen, knocking down a wall or two (or at least widening the doorways), getting rid of those terrible acoustic drop ceiling tiles, installing a wood burning or pellet stove or both, redoing the bathroom shower, redoing the porch and garage, taking out the cracked tile in the kitchen, weatherproofing, dealing with a “wet” basement, grading the driveway, and catching a mouse or two. In case you were wondering where you’re standing right now, you, my friend are smack dab on the tip of the iceberg. Let’s traverse it together. We could use the company. Stay tuned!