Why one Downtown renter decided to buy a house
My husband Marcelo and I recently decided it was time to take advantage of low interest rates and begin the hunt for our first house. The evening we made the decision, my sleep was filled with dreams of privacy, equity and the right to paint every wall purple should we feel the urge. A few trips with a realtor quickly dampened my initial enthusiasm.
I never imagined I could be so put off by such things as a leaky basement or a bad '80s paint job in an otherwise lovely Victorian living room -- or walk into a large closet and hiss, "They count this as a bedroom!"
Then there's the money side of buying a house: Will I flounder when it comes time to negotiate price? What's all this stuff about closing costs, PMI, "points," fixed rate vs. adjustable rate, etc.?
It's enough to make you run back to your apartment screaming. And, after a particularly harrowing day of house viewing, that's basically what we did.
After peeking into a basement that could only be entered through a rickety trap door in the back porch floor and peering through a black, gaping hole in a crumbling attic wall that was surely a portal to a Stephen King novel, our realtor returned us to our RiverWest apartment. I had a nice soak in the hot tub (which is cared for by the magical maintenance elves), and went to bed, exhausted and willing to pay rent for the rest of my life.
At 3 a.m. that very night, an unearthly sound, louder than hell, shattered Marcelo's and my sleep. It was like a colossal robotic hen laying electronic eggs: "BWAAAAAAA! BWAAAAAAA!"
It took a couple of eggs to realize it was the fire alarm; I groaned myself out of bed. Marcelo, who was still asleep, decided that the horrible noise was our smoke detector, and ran out into the living room to swat it off the ceiling. When the hen kept laying even after the smoke detector was dangling from its wires, he figured it out. I told him that we had to get out of the building, and as I put my down coat over my nightie, he shuffled towards the door in bare feet and boxers. I told him that we might have to go outside into the subzero night, so he went back for his flip-flops and winter jacket. I debated for a moment whether to save my hamster or my laptop, and I grabbed the computer, which holds all of my writing. Sorry, little Cleo.
We walked down the hallway towards the stairwell to the hen's awful tune. People in various stages of dress opened their doors and squinted out into the hallway. One girl leaned out of her door and asked me, "What's going on?" and I shrugged.
Marcelo and I took an unintentional detour through the freezing cold parking garage, and each time he stumbled into an icy puddle in his flip-flops, he swore in his native Portuguese. We eventually ended up in the lobby, which by that time was full of sleepy residents. An older couple stood nearby, comforting their pair of cats that were mewling from inside black carrying cases. Quite a few business people who I had only ever seen in fancy suits and dresses sported rumpled pajamas. I recognized a woman who always wears nice outfits and high heels, and when I looked for too long at the pimple cream dotted on her face, she turned away. The girl who asked me "what's going on" was loudly regaling a group of residents gathered near the water fountain with her alarm wake-up story.
The fire truck soon pulled up, and all us residents gawked as the somber firefighters filed in from the cold. The alarm, lest you forget it, continued to "BWAAAAAAA!" energetically. It was about 3:30 a.m. by this time. I slumped asleep against Marcelo for a few minutes. When I awoke, the alarm had stopped and the group of smoky-smelling firefighters was filing back into the lobby.
"If someone from apartment 209 invites you to Thanksgiving dinner," one of them quipped, "don't go."
They gave us permission to head back to our apartments, which everyone did willingly.
The next day, I pumped Marcus, a maintenance man, for the scoop. He told me that the dude living in 209 was cooking toast or something in his oven (at 3 a.m.!) and forgot about it. The food burned and made a whole lot of smoke, which set off the alarm on the first six floors. The firefighters arrived at 209 ready to put out a blaze, but when they opened the door, they discovered that there was only smoke. They also discovered Sir 209 sitting in his bedroom, calmly surfin' the net and smoking a ciggie. Apparently, he was completely oblivious to the ruckus he had caused and the loud alarm.
You'll recall that I was having doubts about buying a house. Well, this amazing early-morning adventure literally woke me up to the realization that though decidedly more complicated than staying in our apartment, I do want to buy a house. The privacy is worth it. In a house, of course, we won't have the nice workout room and hot tub, or the freedom from mortgage payments and lawn mowing, but god willing, we won't be at the mercy of 3 a.m. toast-burners either.
Stephanie Watson is a freelance writer and, for now, a Downtown renter. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.