A happy place to hide…

Last year on this day I wrote that I was amazed a year had gone by and that “feels like there’s been some part of the place under construction for most of that time; not to mention an ever-lengthening list of projects yet to come.” As much as I would love to say that the second anniversary of buying Fortress Jeff finds that to be less true, of course it isn’t. The place is still a near constant construction zone (though fortunately this year’s efforts have been less dramatic) and the project list has only continued to grow.

It’s taken a while to get to a place where it feels like I’m not walking into someone else’s house that just happens to have all of my stuff in it… but I’m pretty much there now. Except, of course, for the occasional discoveries of little things that leave me wondering the logic behind why things were done a certain way when they built the place (like mystery light switches) and the perplexing rational behind not putting this place on a full basement.

All things considered I think I can be happy hiding from people here for a good long while.

A year later…

As most of the rest of the Western world is busy celebrating Easter, I’ve mostly spent this Sunday morning trying to wrap my head around the idea that one year ago almost to the hour I was sitting down and signing my name on 37,361 pieces of paper that allowed me to borrow a horrifying sum of cash and move into a far better house than I imagined possible. I won’t say that the year has been all sunshine and roses – it feels like there’s been some part of the place under construction for most of that time; not to mention an ever-lengthening list of projects yet to come.

Now with that being said, and despite the general pain in the ass of being a homeowner, this place ranks among the better decisions I’ve ever made. Good bones, good neighborhood – and neighbors I can’t even see for three seasons of the year – it’s a hard place not to like. The longer I’m here, the more I change to suit me versus suiting the last guy to live here, the more I like it.

I’m already struggling to imagine that a year ago I was standing in the middle of a totally empty house wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into.

Starting at $500,000…

I’ve had several distinct experiences as a homebuyer. I’ve had the experience of buying into a brand new subdivision with streets still unpaved, a hundred lots still for sale, and the mixture of fear and curiosity in wondering if and when the project would ever be finished… and what kind of wackadoodle neighbors I’d end up with. More recently I bought into an established neighborhood whose tight restrictions and price of admission helped cut down on the wackadoodle, outwardly at least. Here in exurbia we seem to keep our crazy more inside the walls than up on blocks in the front yard.

Having been thoroughly scorched by the bursting bubble of 2008/9, two of my biggest priorities were finding an established neighborhood that would still be sought after when it came time to sell (as opposed to one that was still under construction, and suffering though several iterations of developer-gone-bankrupt) and driving down my offer price low enough to hopefully not lose my ass again. I won’t claim to have timed the market, but I feel good about how closely I was able to meet those goals.

I feel even better about it now that I’ve seen a sign going up just across the hill from my little cul-de-sac. It’s well out of my eye line, separated by a stream and a couple thousand yards of trees, but I heartily welcome any developer in the next neighborhood over who wants to list “3 to 10 Acre Estate Lots Starting at $500,000” in their promotional material. It’s good for property values and mercifully keeps that tract free from higher density projects. Since it’s the last stretch of land available for development in my immediate area, I was ecstatic to see it being chunked out in such big portions. Elitist? Yeah, maybe, but like it or not a house is as much an investment as it is a home and I’m in favor of just about anything that will help drive the value up – despite what it will inevitably do to my next property tax bill.

With the rest of the immediately surrounding land being state managed or otherwise being entangled by woodland protective covenants and restrictions, barring an unforeseen calamity prices only have one way to go… though given my decidedly mixed track record with real estate I could be absolutely and completely off the mark.

Two months in…

For lack of a better update, after making the first two of 360 scheduled payments the whole “new house thing” is coming along nicely (I’ll just set aside the discussion on storm water and runoff management for the moment). The boxes are almost all unpacked, with the empties being passed along for others who had use for them. A few rooms still look awfully sparse – a surprisingly nice side effect of trebling the square footage you occupy. The empty maw of the dining room was filled in with pieces that have been knocking around the family for over 100 years. The 3rd and final bedroom is an ongoing effort that has been part staging area for all the other rooms and part catch all for the things that don’t fit in anywhere else. Under other circumstances that would have been the designated home office, but in this case other more convivial locations were available.

The stacks of cardboard have even disappeared from the garage. I’ve resisted the temptation thus far to organize that space on the fly so it’s still basically controlled chaos. With the rest of the house whipped into livable shape, though, it should be long before I jump in to get tool racks hung and bring my own brand of order to everything piled onto shelves and ever available flat surface. One temperate weekend afternoon should suffice to get that effort out of the way. Like the back bedroom it’s not one of those tasks I’m chomping at the bit to dive into. Since both require some serious organizational planning, I’d like to give it some time to ferment and then do it right so I only have to do it once.

I find myself still finding out the quirks and oddities of the house. There’s nothing earth shattering, but odds and ends I wish I’d have known about when I was writing up the pre-closing “owner will repair” list. All things considered though, the place is starting to feel like a home – or my home at any rate. I look forward to being there at the end of a long day not just because it’s where my stuff is or because it’s where other people aren’t, but for reasons far more intangible.

To be honest for the first few weeks I was confronted by “oh God what did I do” more often than I thought possible. The house and its nuances were all strange to me. Everything felt not-quite-right. It’s safe to say I’m well past that initial break in period. Sure, I still want to gut the master bathroom down to the studs and replace the tragically white composite kitchen countertops with something more substantial, but I won’t feel at all strange about doing it now. It’s taken a couple of whole-house cleanings, a few weeks of cutting the grass, and a whole bunch of rearranging furniture, but it feels indisputably mine now… and that’s not bad for being just a couple of months in.

The hood…

I’ve been so busy talking about the house and the move that I feel that I’ve neglected talking about the neighborhood. The new place, as much as I might want it to, does not exist in a vacuum. That being said, this is about as decent a subdivision as I’ve really ever come across. Acre lots are the minimum, with most being a little closer to two. No more than 40% of any lot can be cleared. Translation: Even in areas where the neighbors are closer than you’d like them to be, there are still plenty of trees between you and the next guy so if nothing else you have the illusion of space.

It’s the kind of neighborhood where everyone (except me) is out jogging on Saturday morning. It’s the kind of subdivision where everyone’s trash cans hit the curb at 6AM on the dot. Except mine, of course. I’m the redneck neighbor who throws it all in the back of the truck and hauls it away myself. Everyone has a fire pit instead of a burn barrel. I wonder if I cut a 55 gallon drum in half if it’ll look enough like a “fire pit” to get away with it.

Since the weather was nice and I wanted a chance to eyeball the people living on my left and right, I took a bit of a walkabout this afternoon. In order proceeding from my left it’s mom, dad, and two kids; ditto; mom, dad, three kids; mom, dad, two kids; mom, dad, four kids. That’s where I stopped. I know this because house-for-house ever single homeowner was out doing yard work this afternoon and I tamped down my inner hermit enough to make introductions. It’s almost a company town, with at least one half of most of those couples working for the government in some capacity. The rest are commuting to Baltimore, Philly, or Wilmington. I’m apparently a rare an exotic species in my hood – single without dependent children. Other than that, I’m living the stereotype of exurban bliss.

My friends living in DC or Baltimore would probably find this place as deeply unnerving as I find those cities… but now that I’ve had a weekend of “living” here rather than just spending time taking things out of boxes it feels more and more like the only right choice. I’m over the natural uncertainty of transition and find that I really do like it here.

And I’m not just saying that because the HOA Architectural Control Committee approved my plan to put up a fence in 36 hours. Over a weekend. Clearly these are my kind of people.

Entrenched and natural…

I’m glad to say I had the wherewithal this afternoon to make it back to the new house instead of following the well-worn path to the old. Given my tendency towards routine and habits, I’m calling it an accomplishment. While we’re on the topic of habits, I hadn’t quite realized how much being in a new place would though my week-day schedule totally out of whack. I hit all the marks on time (even a few minutes ahead of normal), but couldn’t shake the feeling of being off. I wonder how long it takes for new habits to feel entrenched and natural. By the time they do, it’s probably not something you even notice.

The dogs survived their first day alone at the new place, so that’s something. It’s going to take a while before I’m managing everything quite so well. I’m ready to have a deep, passionate love affair with this house, but it’s going to take some time before I start thinking of it as “home.” I have a funny feeling that getting the last bedroom/current storage area sorted out, unpacking the garage so I can do more than squeeze the truck in, and getting the giant stack of flattened cardboard out of the dining room will go along way towards making that happen.

In the meantime I’ll be trying not to let my OCD take over and remember that sleep is actually a good thing.

A week later…

image2So I’ve been scarce for a while and I feel badly about that. A week after moving I’d like to report that everything is up and running and normal life has resumed without much of a hitch. As long as you don’t look too closely the house might even give that impression. For the most part flat surfaces are clear(ish), closets aren’t straining their doors, and all the lights and appliances work.

It’s a start. I say start because I still can’t seem to figure out where anything is. I find myself wandering around from room to room alternately forgetting what I was originally looking for and then finding something that I want to put somewhere else. Then, of course, there’s also the “catch all” room that still has boxes stacked around every wall and the dining room that was pressed into service as a temporary cardboard recycling center. The house is clearly reminding me that moving isn’t an event so much as it’s a process – a time consuming, exhausting, madding process.

Aside from the obvious items I knew I wanted to address coming in – reworking the master bathroom, installing a fence, and a few others – the house is busy informing me about other projects that will image1need my attention sooner rather than later. There are grading and drainage issues in the back yard and landscaping that will take a season or two to beat into shape. There is carpet that needs stretched and cleaned. There are approximately 1,372,261 nail holes that need filled and painted. It’s a well put together house, but despite being easily rated move in condition it’s going to be a work in progress for quite some time.

The dogs are slowly setting in to their new routine as well. They’ve adjusted to being lead around on a leash temporarily better than I have to be honest. They’re still barking at every bump and tump when the washing machine runs or the furnace kicks on, but other than that there the move hasn’t caused them any apparent trauma.

I could use another week or two to really get things settled here, but work beckons… which I suppose is a good thing as in a few weeks I’ve got to start paying for this mess.