As 2018 descended from summer into fall, it became apparent that the living arrangement my partner and I had wasn't working any more. As winter started up, it became clear that it was working poorly enough that I should probably start packing my stuff. It was unfortunate, but these things happen, and better to part on good terms, which we did.
I had built myself a neat little shop at Hogsmeade Hollow (our shared house), though it was a bit on the small side due to lack of real-estate. It had many electrical outlets (one every 3 feet or so), it had lots of light, with skylights and more LED shop lights than you might have thought reasonable. It had a very cool set of swing-out doors, so there was no overhead track, and there was a smaller wicket door in one of the bigger doors. That's where I was building my biplane.
Of course, when it came time to pack up and move out so we could sell the house, the biplane project had to get packed up as well. Even if the new owner could be persuaded to let me keep working there, I wouldn't want to, since it would invariably be a trek to get there from wherever I ended up living -- no way could I afford to live as close in as Hogsmeade Hollow on my own.
So, it all went into storage, and I moved in with some friends who were willing to let me rent their spare room for a few months while I looked for a new house. Not quite living out of a suitcase, but not that far from it, either.
Then commenced the house hunt. For weeks and weeks and weeks I looked at houses. Starting in January, before I'd even moved out yet (which wouldn't be until the end of February), I was looking at houses. There were some... interesting ones, but nothing that really grabbed me.
I saw houses that were in a great location, but too expensive and with no way to have a shop (a full-stop requirement so I could continue building the biplane). I saw houses that had a perfect shop, but the house itself was so dreary that I could never imagine actually wanting to live there. I saw one house near Aurora that had an amazing dream shop that was also plainly illegal and unpermitted, in the zone of rapacious condo developers who would turn in the owner of such a house in roughly 1.3 heartbeats. I saw houses that were a fine combination of house and shop, but far away from where I wanted to be. I saw one house that had clearly been slowly expanded over the decades by an enterprising owner who really didn't know how to design living spaces, so it was a warren of little four foot tall rooms and improbable doors. I would have had anxiety dreams of finding new, weird little rooms for the rest of my life if I'd lived there.
Finally, as spring started to spring, I started to see more promising houses. I had moved out of Hogsmeade Hollow, and was living with my friends, with a 10x25' storage unit packed in a towering cliff to the edge of the door, and I found a house that was genuinely interesting.
It was built in the 90s, and was grey, situated on an odd little square lot deep in the middle of a block, three houses from the road on a private driveway near but not too near Lake City Way. It was the home of some famous session musician, who'd played with the Beatles, and had framed LP covers all over the walls. It had a pretty large 2-car attached garage, and a kind of funky four-bedroom-and-living-room situation upstairs. It was, attractively, about a 5 minute walk from Fred Meyer and some unexpectedly fast buses to downtown.
But. When I thought about it, my approach to this house was, "Well, it checks many of the important boxes on my checklist of Things I Gotta Have in my Next House." It was, simply, acceptable. The price was decent. It had enough rooms for what I wanted to do. It had an acceptable but not great shop space, with potential to be pretty good (but not great). It was, in my mind, a kind of acceptable grey, much like the color of the siding. I totally could have made it work.
That, however, is not a great way to approach a ¾ million dollar investment that should keep me happy for the next 20+ years.
I dithered. I talked to friends and parents and my real estate agents for hours and hours trying to work out if this was a good idea or not. I simply couldn't decide, since my emotional reaction was absent, and my logical reaction was 95% in favor of the place. A noticeable part of me knew it was the wrong choice, but the months of searching had worn me down, and it was ever so tempting to just get it over with, even if it wasn't the perfect house.
Still dithering, and still poring over real-estate listing websites like my life depended on it, I marked out a few more houses that looked like they might be promising, but almost certainly would let me down somehow in person. Agent in tow, we went to look at them, stopping first at the grey house again to see what I thought of it on second inspection. No different, as it happened.
The second house on the list for that Saturday trip was in North Seattle, about 10 blocks north of my previous house on Dayton -- that had been my starter-house, and I'd planned to be there for around 5 years, but ended up staying for 15. This North Seattle house was listed as being a bit over 3000 square feet, and over my maximum price, so I figured it would be a fun lark then we'd move on. 3000 square feet is far too big for just me, though the photos looked pretty good.
I'd taken to bringing along a GoPro style camera that I wore on a forehead harness, so I could record what I was seeing as I walked through all these different houses. They started to blend together something fierce; having a recording of what I'd seen was great for keeping them apart in my head, and occasionally helped me understand some factor I hadn't been paying attention to the first time through. I only made it the length of this North Seattle house before you can clearly hear me say on the video, "You know, I think this is The One."
This house (which I am provisionally calling Brinkley Manor in my head, after the country house of Tom and Dahlia Travers, Bertie's sole good aunt in the P.G. Wodehouse stories of Bertie and Jeeves, which country house is called Brinkley Court -- I think my grandfather would find this funny, if he were around to hear my Wodehouse reference) has a wide front porch with a swinging bench on one side. The front windows contain cut-glass tulips in lead framing, an elegant touch you don't find on modern houses. It has a large living room with a fireplace insert, an unexpectedly open dining room, and a spacious though outdated kitchen with a generous eating nook off the back end. It has four bedrooms, the first of which is on the main floor, and is an odd oversized, elongated shape. Upstairs are three bedrooms and a full second bathroom. And in the back yard, sitting unpretentiously and awaiting my attention, is an oversize 2-car detached garage which is (just barely) wide enough to accept a fully-rigged Marquart Charger biplane, and long enough to (comfortably) accept a fully-rigged Marquart Charger biplane. This house, this provisional Brinkley Manor, has a full basement in which I can stand comfortably upright nearly everywhere. It smells of wooden floors and old-house, an aroma which I find nearly irresistable.
It is, in short, The One.
Of course, it has downsides. The price is the big one -- the listing price was nearly twenty thousand over my maximum price, and had been dropped repeatedly since it was first listed, a discouraging sign. It is possessed of a surprisingly large lot, most of which is covered by lawn, which requires far more care and maintenance than I want to put in. Every single appliance in the place is at least 25 years old, and all appear to be near the end of their lives. It needs a surprising amount of maintenance on the brickwork, which has been let go for too long. It is, frankly, several bedrooms too big for one guy and his biplane project.
However, it only took me about 20 minutes of thinking to realize that I wanted to put an offer in. We called the seller's agent and got the story that there was a previous buyer, but they were first-time buyers and had been utterly freaked out by some heavily-charred floor joists in the basement (properly reinforced and stronger than when the house had been built), presumably in addition to the looming dollar-signs over every appliance and some of the less well-maintained aspects of the house. The price had dropped more than fifty thousand dollars since it first listed, and it had gone pending, then come back on the market. Both of these things are enormous black eyes in the current Seattle housing market. It went on the market in Feburary, in the middle of a giant snowstorm which kept pretty much every potential buyer off the streets and out of open houses, and had been on the market for over a month (another black eye).
All of this added up to the idea that I could offer less than asking price, and be reasonably certain it would be accepted. We actually got Hogsmeade Hollow under similar conditions, with a previous buyer who backed out on the inspection, doing the house a noticeable injury in the market.
We had the previous buyers' inspection report for this Brinkley Manor, and I pored over it carefully: it's a 100 year old house, and had a modest set of 100 year old house problems. Plus it's got a bunch of old appliances that will need to be replaced soon. That's what's wrong with it. All acceptable to me, so we prepared a no-inspection-required offer and submitted it on a Thursday evening. It was countered the next day, within 12 hours: the price was accepted, but the seller (we suspect actually the seller's agent, not the seller himself) required a zero-day inspection period for the title documents.
This still seems a little petty to me, but they stuck to it tenaciously. It seemed to be a reaction to the previous buyers backing out -- they wanted to give me as few outs as possible. The practical effect was that I needed to carefully review the title documents (which should have all been present and available) before saying yes. Presuming I didn't find anything objectionable, we could proceed.
There followed the most stressful weekend I've spent in quite a while. Of course I tried to look over the title documents on Friday evening, and of course one of them was missing. It appeared in the title report as a link, and when I clicked on the link, the resulting page said, "This document has not yet been received from the county." The title report was dated August, 2018, about 6 months beforehand. That document was not going to be arriving from the county. The missing document was the Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions document, arguably the most likely place for Unacceptable Hijinks to appear, so I was very reluctant to just wave my hands and say, "Yeah man, no worries."
But, naturally, the title company was closed for the weekend. My agent pulled some strings, and suddenly in the middle of Saturday, a title report appeared in my inbox for a neighboring lot. Weirdly, the recording number for the document I wanted to see was identical to the one that was missing from the other report. I read it over, and found nothing objectionable (but definitely hilarious: 1. no house worth less than $2000 may be erected on the lot, 2. no barn or other nuisance will be permitted on the lot -- apparently people were moving far from downtown to make little farms in 1921). But it wasn't for my lot, so it didn't really help. There was some back-and-forth about the identical recording number, but that was inconclusive.
I put together some moderately legalistic language for a counter-offer, which basically said, "I'm 100% into this house, but I need 6 hours after receiving the missing title document to make sure it doesn't require me to host a boarding house for evil clowns or something," and we floated it past the seller's agent. No dice.
Then, equally suddenly, on Sunday morning, I received a new title report, dated February 2019, and, hallelujah, it had a working link for the correct CC&R document. Same restrictions. No problem. No clowns. A quick docu-sign session, and suddenly we're under contract. The open house that Sunday was still held, but we presume that anyone who tried to make an offer was told the house was already under contract.
Everything from then on flowed in a pleasantly clockwork-like manner. The loan came through in record time (only about a week), and a few weeks later, I was signing a giant stack of papers asserting that I'd be paying a lot more in rent every month, but I'd have a pretty sweet place to lay my head each night.
On April 24th, 2019, I ditched work early and went to the real-estate office to pick up an improbably bulky envelope full of keys, and take possession of my new house. If I'm very diligent and pay my bills every month, it'll finally be all mine in 2049.