Thursday, March 10, 2016

Want to live at summer camp?

We visit the A-Frame house at the edge of the conservation forest this morning. It is located in a village, a summer camp of cottages long since converted into year-round homes. There is a playground, an outdoor sanctuary, a performance space and a screened dining hall for the occasional potluck. There is a community garden, outdoor checkers, black bear scares, pine trees, babies, dogs and retirees. There are hundreds of acres of hiking trails for trampling and exploring and it’s just 3 miles from the center of our city. We were once quite skeptical of this place of close quartered cottages. From the road, it looks, well, dilapidated. But this house seems different. Along the narrow stone road, there are houses with chipping paint and cracked wood and stained siding with windows wrapped in plastic for winter warmth, but there are also big, luxurious houses on the hill and ones that have that hip, economically tiny house look. The A-Frame is at the far edge of the village where the road turns into a walking path, it’s the one with the doors painted yellow.

We had written a list of features we hoped to find in a home and now I am wondering how the A-Frame holds up to our penciled fantasy.

  • At least ½ acre of land: No/YES… (no individual land because it’s considered shared, but there is a lot to share in the park and the park’s 9-acres of conservation land as well as another much larger conservation area behind it, which includes hundreds of acres and a 40-acre lake.)
  • 1000-1600 square feet: More! –but not too much more. (1771 square feet)
  • Bathtub: NO! Just a shower…but it’s a large square shower, one big enough for our plastic baby bathtub and eventually, showering a toddler.
  • 3 bedrooms: YES! Not technically, but yes.
  • 1 mile from town: No, but close....
  • Pellet or Woodstove: YES! A pellet stove!
  • Move–in ready: Yes! Though it needs a mop, a sponge and some buckets of paint. 
  • Less than $190,000: YES! The asking price currently is $179,000.
  • Easthampton or Northampton: Yes!
  • Newer roof: Yes! 6 years old.
  • Open Floor Plan: Yes!
  • Nice neighborhood: Yes!
  • Conservation land/trails: THE BIGGEST YES!

We like the house.

“Want to live at summer camp?” Scott asks me.

I think I do...!

This house has a monthly condo fee, which pays for snow removal, grass
cutting, tree maintenance and the upkeep of community areas and buildings.
We drive to the bank in the rain. I sit in the car with a sleeping baby and my thoughts, while Scott puts a quarter in the meter and runs in to ask our loan officer if we can afford it. A few minutes pass and he returns to tell me that they can’t lend us as much because of the monthly fee. It’s not entirely hopeless, however, he tells me. We might be able to make it work.

We schedule another showing for Saturday so that our parents can come and tell us in person if they think moving to summer camp is a horrible idea.

Saturday morning, baby wakes me at 6a.m. I lift her out of bed, remove her wet diaper, snap on a dry one and carry her to the kitchen. She sits on the blue and white rug surrounded by pillows, playing, while I fold laundry and sip black tea with honey. She eats a little breakfast in her high chair: rice cereal and pureed sweet potatoes. She chomps and gulps at the water from her jelly jar, her two and a half teeth clinking against the glass. Scott gets out of bed, checks his phone for messages, kisses us good morning, dresses and takes the dog out. I try to nurse and get baby to nap, but she hardly sleeps so when he gets back, Scott makes the pot of coffee, oatmeal and boils some eggs and I put baby in the bouncy seat so that I can wash my face and find my jeans.

My parents arrive and soon after giving them hugs and kisses and mugs of coffee with cream, I am delivering a firm warning.

“The house is not in a normal neighborhood. It’s kind of weird. Picture a trailer park but with houses instead of trailers.” I tell them.

We cram into the car. Dad’s knees touching the dash; Mom and I squeezing beside the babyseat in the backseat; Scott driving. When we get there and pass the other cottages, my parents aren’t alarmed. At the house, Scott’s mother and father are there. Our realtor is there too.

When we enter the house, no one really says anything and I can almost hear the saliva squeezed from their tongues as they bite to silence their first impressions.


“A little paint and a good clean!”

“You could hire someone to refinish the floors.”

“Maybe you could put a bathroom upstairs between the bedrooms.”

They’re optimistic. They see the charm and potential, but mostly, I think they see how much we like it.

The floors are dusty and faded. The paint is chipping in places and there are cobwebs in most corners. Renters reside here currently with two pretty cats. I can imagine this as our home. Amelia learning how to climb those stairs. Sitting for dinner beside the glowing pellet stove. Gardening in pots on the porch. ---I couldn’t really picture us in the first house where we made an offer. I could imagine us in the yard building a vegetable garden and walking to town for coffee and cake, but inside the house, it was too sprawling, too boring to inspire me. It was a logical house for us. Not really an emotional one. --- But this A-Frame at the end of the lane conjures feelings of nostalgia ---as if I were an old lady already, with a crinkling photo album on my lap. It’s us. The exposed pine, the proximity of the forest, all the shelves and cabinets and the big windows. How it’s close to town and close to the woods. It’s the one. I’m sure of it.

I write a letter to the owners of the house. It will go with our offer. It is mostly like my first letter for the first house, but the specifics are re-written.

I want to tell you why we’d love to live in that adorable A–frame cottage of yours, the one with the three floors of rustic rooms, colossal closets and that feeling that you’re in the middle of the deep woods, even though the house is within a unique village.

We send the letter and our first offer of $165,000 to our realtor who passes it on to the seller’s agent.

Late afternoon Sunday, we get word. They very much like our letter, but feel $165,000 is just too low. They send along a list of other homes in the village that have recently sold and for how much. They counter at $175,500.

I draw numbers to add and subtract and circle and discuss. Hypothetical scenarios and the reality join us at the table in our little apartment. Scott makes a decadent pot of beef stew and we devour two bowls each with skinny glasses of frothy stout, while the baby sleeps. They probably expect us to meet them in the middle, counter with $170,000, but it’s been on the market for over 200 days; it is in this little campground condo village; it has renters and it needs paint, floor refinishing and the bathroom and kitchen could use some work.

The next morning, Amelia wakes us by pulling at our face skin and squealing. I change her and put the kettle on. Baby and I sit on the floor playing until Scott gets up. Then we dress and strap the baby into the carrier and the dog into the harness and head to the river for a long walk.

We talk about how we’re most comfortable offering $169,000. There’s some tipping point between $169,000 and $170,000 for us. For whatever reason, that $1,000 makes a big difference in our monthly payments. Our loan officer wrote it all out for Scott the other morning. If they’re willing to sell the house at $170,000 (we are guessing and hoping), then maybe they’d agree to sell it for $169,000. We weigh every possible outcome. What if we lose it? Is that ok? It is. We have time and patience. What if we get it? Is that what we want? It is! So we decide to do it. To go with our gut.

Scott writes the email with our final offer of $169, 000.

"Should I send it?"

"Send it!"

A couple hours later, while Scott is in the shower, our realtor calls his phone. I’m across the room with sleeping Amelia on my lap and I listen while it bleeps with a new voicemail. Scott stops the water. I tell him who has just called.

“I’m lathering up! I’ll be out in a minute!”

“You’re killing me!” I tell him.

His soapy hands squeak and shush as he laughs and lathers. The water is turned back on for the rinse. When he gets out and towels off, he goes to play the message, but before he can, I say,

"We got it!"

Our realtor has just emailed me.

“We can have it for $169,000!”

Scott and I shake hands and squeal as silently as we can, but the baby wakes and looks around with her big sleepy blue eyes and smiles back at us so we tell her the big news, that we’re going to be moving to a house, a whole house just for us! My heart feels like a balloon filling with helium. We did it! We gambled and won! We’re going to be homeowners!