Stories Told

A place to start again

Buying a house felt like the last step in reaching a new normal after my divorce. Looking forward to some permanence after three years of transience, I started looking at houses as soon as I was financially able. I wanted to live near my children, in their school district if I could.

We had made our home in the old northwest suburbs. These homes had been a few miles outside the city limits until Indianapolis merged with the county in 1970. Lots are large, up to a half acre. The houses, mostly brick ranches of up to 2,000 square feet, are set well apart. Most have attached two-car garages, but the cars that park outside do so under wide maples, oaks, ashes, and cottonwoods. Homeowners cut the grass on riding mowers and relax afterwards on their decks or in their patio enclosures. This was luxury suburban living for the 1950s middle class when they started to flee the city. The original owners did have to get used to hardships such as walking to the curb to get their mail, not watering their lawns lest they drain the well, and being careful of what they put down the drain so they didn’t foul the septic tank. Even though most of these neighborhoods still lack city services, a strong school system keeps the homes in demand. To make it work, I was going to have to find a three-bedroom bargain, even in this depressed housing market.

On my budget, I kept seeing smaller homes that lacked at least one major feature, such as a second bathroom. Many of them would soon need major updating because they had their original windows or the original furnace from over 50 years ago. Several houses needed real work with fallen gutters, sagging floors, wet crawl spaces, and cracked ceilings. A few were basket cases, like the house with hardwood floors squishy from water damage, the odor of mold so strong that I got dizzy. Looking at these strange and sad cases, I felt like a gleaner picking over the harvested field.

After several months, I found a 1,375-square-foot brick ranch on a quarter-acre lot. It had been on the market for more than a year, probably because the furnace was 38 years old, the carpets were stained, the master bathroom was finished in fake brick and glued-on marble-look laminate, the kitchen lacked a dishwasher, and the third bedroom was teeny tiny. But the house was solidly built, the crawl space was bone dry, the family room had a fireplace, wood floors lurked under the carpets, a deck overlooked a wooded back yard that overlooked a golf course – and, most importantly, the price was right and it was less than a mile from my children.

I almost walked away because of the third bedroom. I wasn’t sure a twin bed would fit in it! But my brother suggested that if I gutted one of the room’s two closets and turned it into an alcove for the bed, it would work.

My son\'s room

So I made an offer, and after some challenges that found the seller drilling a new well, we closed. I went right to work on the bedroom. My brother helped me gut the closet, but I did the rest of the work alone, including repairing and mudding drywall, building shelves, painting, and tearing up carpet. I’ve never considered myself to be terribly handy around the house, but I pulled this project off very well, if I do say so myself.

My son\'s room

While I worked on the bedroom, I started to assemble what I would need to live. I didn’t get much furniture in the divorce settlement – a bright blue futon, my old mahogany dresser, and too many end tables. I bought everything else I needed via Craigslist, Goodwill, and deep clearance sales at Target and Meijer. I carried all my purchases, including a dining room table and six chairs, home in my little station wagon. Some friends and a straight truck helped me move everything else.

Family Room

I wrote last year about my first apartment and how I finished growing up while I lived there. I’m making a new start in my little house, and who knows how I’ll grow while here. But already I have discovered that I’m far handier around the house than I ever thought I was, that I love my house being filled with my sons hoots and hollers as much as I love it when I’m all by myself reading quietly, and that there’s great peace and pleasure in sitting on the deck with a cold drink while golfers hook their shots into my yard. I keep telling my boys we ought to sell the lost balls to pay for the inevitable broken windows!

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5 thoughts on “A place to start again

  1. Looks like a good deal. Glad your crawl space was dry……..then……… I bet you’ve had far fewer surprises than our old place has given us. I like to sit on the back (unfinished porch) or the front (desperately needing tlc) porch and dream about a finished house. I seemed to be a handier handy man when we first moved in than now!

    Nice find with the wood floors.

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  2. Congratulations! I work part time for a person who handles estate sales. This usually means moving the houses sellable contents to our building, organizing it, then auctioning it off. It’s interesting to see houses that will soon be on the market. I have fun wondering how I would change the house… I’ve seen only a handful that didn’t need major updates.
    Enjoy!

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  3. Thanks guys!

    The son who got the tiny room liked the alcove — as did his younger brother, who was jealous. You’d think they’d both be fighting over the other bedroom, which is probably twice the size.

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