House hunting is a rancid, horrible chore. It’s made even worse when working under deadline, in a place you’re unfamiliar with, and when in fact, you’re not actually HOUSE hunting, but more apartment hunting, as in looking for a place to rent.
J and I recently spent a week in southern California looking for our new place to live, and if you followed along on Twitter, I found all sorts of ways to complain bitterly about the process. We arrived on a Tuesday evening, and were out the door at 9am on Wednesday morning, brimming with hope and with a couple appointments already lined up. DAMN, we thought to ourselves, we are so fucking organized, this is going to be a piece of cake.
Yeah, right. J and I have both been homeowners for the better part of 6 years, and with that comes adult furniture (you know, the kind you didn’t have to assemble yourself) and some belongings we might consider “nice” and a sort of idea, in our heads, of how much space we need and what sort of amenities we require (washer/dryer, amirite?). We’re less driven by the cost of the monthly rent than by whether or not we can actually envision ourselves comfortably spending the next year (at least) in this particular arrangement of square footage.
It would appear that outside of New York City, renting is seen as the province of the young, poor, and those in need of a stepping stone towards the next step in the great American dream- homeownership. And the available inventory of rental properties in southern California reflects this- miniscule two bedroom flats charging astronomical sums based on their proximity to the beach, bizarrely laid-out townhomes, and really, really, really dirty bathrooms.
My favorites (if by favorite, you understand that I mean, if I’d seen these places under more objective circumstances, I would have laughed my head off, but as it was, I was thisclose to sobbing), were these two gems:
The Freakishly Small Two-Bedroom: from the exterior, this place had much going for it- only 6 units, close to the beach, close to J’s new office, and a jungle of tropical plants. But inside it was a home made for elves- I imagine J and I would have had to sleep in twin beds in DIFFERENT rooms. I am sure it would be the perfect place for a young single individual with nothing but disposable IKEA furniture, if any furniture at all. For us, on the other hand, it would have required a complete and total reorganization of all belongings, and by reorganizing, I mean selling the couch. It was a no. And since no one is interested in an actual blow-by-blow of all the places we looked at, let me just say that this was ONE OF THE BEST.
The What the Fuck Upstairs Downstairs: In our approach to finding the perfect rental, we each had a list of things we thought were indispensable, and mine were a washer/dryer in the unit, because OMG, AM TOO OLD TO COLLECT QUARTERS, and J’s were, inexplicably, a garage. J loves her some storage, I suppose, so this listing featuring a two-car garage was pretty much the best thing J had seen all day. We should have known, when we walked in, and the owner showed us the garage in question FIRST, that we were looking at the best feature this place had to offer. And indeed, the garage was grand. It was clean, and modern, and contained storage solutions (jesus fucking christ, can’t you just call it a cupboard?), and LO, we thought to ourselves, if this is the garage, what magical wonders await us in the actual apartment?
The front door of this apartment opens onto a tiny foyer, and there is a door across this tiny foyer that opens into the bathroom. The MASTER bathroom. It gets better, because off to your left is the master bedroom, and the door to the garage. Yes, you read that right. You can walk from your garage into your BEDROOM. From this same tiny foyer, you walk UP a set of stairs to the kitchen, dining, and second bedrooms. People, this arrangement is totally mystifying. Perhaps I am one of those people incapable of “thinking outside the box,” but bedrooms go upstairs, and kitchens go downstairs, and you certainly don’t open the front door to see a toilet staring back at you. We did not submit an application.
By Wednesday night, we were sort of done, and I’d be willing to bet money that J had had the same thought I did, to wit, FUCK THIS SHIT, let’s stay in Seattle.
The good thing about California is that it is relentlessly sunny, so at least we weren’t doing this in the rain, and each day dawned bright and full of possibilities. [Aside: it has been raining more or less nonstop in Seattle, with only brief interludes of sun designed to keep us from collectively jumping off the Aurora bridge, so the sun played a not insignificant factor in our decision to soldier on].
So, Thursday dawned brightly, and a couple of cocktails the night before and a king-sized bed made it seem like we could do this all one more time. I had put in exactly one call, off an ad I found on Craigslist (how DID people find places to live before the internet? Did we really circle ads in the paper in red pen?), and half-way to our morning appointment, the landlord called me back. I never know how much of this is bullshit rigamarole, but he told us he had multiple applications in, so we’d better hurry, if we were interested.
Two hours later, we parked the car in front of the cutest Craftsman home in all of Long Beach. This was the first actual free-standing house we’d seen, and the lawn was clipped, the picket fence clean, and there was a sweet porch just dying for a swing. My mind was made up almost instantly. In the interest of full disclosure, the Craftsman style of home is highly prevalent in Seattle, and I think part of me wanted to hold onto Seattle in some way, and apparently that way is a house with hardwood floors and built-in cabinets.
It only got better from there- ceiling fans, dining room, washer/dryer hook ups, back porch, claw-foot tub. I must have literally had stars in my eyes, because J kept glancing at me sideways, hoping, I think, to keep me from showing all my cards. Read: humping the landlord’s leg. He made more noises about hurrying and applying, and if we hadn’t of had another appointment two towns over, I might have plopped down on the floor of the place and filled it out then.
J and I looked at more places that day, a bunch more, but everything paled in comparison to what I already was calling our house. We hustled back to the hotel to apply, sent in our applications, and waited. I think I might have thought the house hunting was the worst part, but the real worst part is knowing what you want and having to wait for someone else to tell you you can have it.
We only had to wait until Saturday morning, when the landlord called to say we’d gotten the house. There might have been jumping on the hotel bed.
It’s funny- each step we take forward in this process has a hidden, bittersweet part I never anticipate. J getting the job in California meant we’d actually have to move. Selling the house here meant we were really going to have to pack. Getting the Craftsman meant that we’ll have to go there, and all my favorite things about Seattle will have to be re-found: coffee shop, yoga studio, hippy dippy grocery store. I am excited, really I am. But the leaving behind… well, I suppose I gotta do that too.