This week, I went to Massachusetts to find a place to live. I may have seen too many episodes of House Hunters, because I only allowed myself three days to accomplish this, including a half day at the office. But I felt fairly confident. This is to be a short term rental, to give me a chance to become more familiar with the area, and more settled in my job, before I make the long term commitment of buying a house. So, it didn’t have to be perfect. The priority was someplace reasonably close to work, with a good setup for Daisy Petals. I was hoping to find a charming little townhouse, in a converted old house, and was seeing a good selection online in my price range.
What I didn’t feel confident about at all, in fact I think terror would have been a better description, was the idea of renting a car and driving myself around the area. I think it’s safe to say I have a rental car phobia, and it’s not unfounded. Several years ago, while visiting Salt Lake City, I crashed my rental car into a pole in a parking garage. It wasn’t a serious accident, but it left me scarred. On top of that, for the last 13 years, I have been driving a Mini Cooper, which by its very nature is a tiny car. My depth perception is attuned to small, and even requesting the most compact rental available, they just seem giant to me. I also worried a lot about finding my way around. My comfort level is subpar here, and I fretted more about this aspect of the trip than I did about finding a place to live!
I picked the car up at the airport, and found my way to my hotel, about 30 minutes away, surprisingly easily. My sister had just tutored me in using Google Maps, which made it pretty simple to follow directions. The car, a Hyundai Elantra, was a smooth ride, and while larger than the Mini, it wasn’t so big that it was scary. To make things even easier, I had teamed up with a real estate agent, who had offered to pick me up Monday morning to tour several houses, all of the converted townhouse type that I was looking for. It all felt almost too easy.
The first house I toured was downright scary! In fact, I’m pretty sure it was haunted. Dark, tiny, and with an odor I can’t quite describe. I spent about two minutes there before telling the agent there was no way I could live there. The second place was equally depressing, with an added bonus of being on a busy highway, with trucks rumbling by so close that the house shook. The third house, by comparison, was livable, but weird. It had more rooms than I needed, but only one teeny bathroom, on the top level. It was also at the top of my price range, and the move in fee was 3 times the monthly rent, including first, last and nonrefundable broker’s fee. And, there was construction going on next door. Still, I told the agent it was a possibility, as she dropped me back at the hotel to consider my options.
Now I was feeling a little anxious, the clock was ticking. I remembered I had seen a condo complex online and had made a note of it as a “last resort” so I called them and made an appointment with a leasing agent. I fired up the Elantra and Google Maps and made my way over. The leasing agent, a very nice woman named Natasha, gave me an enthusiastic presentation and escorted me through a model, a two story, two bedroom unit. The property is quite nice, and backs up to a beautiful nature preserve, but it lacked the charm that I thought I was looking for. What it did have, however, was round the clock property management, including snow clearance. It also had a fitness center, pool area (open from Memorial Day through Labor Day), internet readiness and wiring for cable. The move in fees were approximately half what they were in the townhouse, and I could start the lease mid-month, when I plan to arrive, as opposed to having to take it Nov. 1 and pay for an empty home for two weeks. The advantages were making sense.
Just as I was about to commit, the real estate agent texted me that she had more townhouses for me to look at. Tempted as I was to just say no and sign the damned lease and be done with it, I agreed to meet with her the next morning. Wanting to be upfront, I explained to Natasha exactly what was going on, and told her I would make a decision the next day.
I’ll be honest, I was hoping to hate the places the agent was showing me, so my choice would be easy. Inevitably, I loved two of them! The last house, especially, had all of the charm I was looking for, in an adorable town. Additionally, it was clean, bright, had a brand new fancy kitchen with a Viking stove (a fantasy of mine) and a wine refrigerator (a fantasy I didn’t even know I had). I felt tortured by the decision. I also felt a twinge of guilt towards the agent, who had so dutifully lined up houses and taken me to see them. With the townhouse, she would get a finder’s fee. With the condo, nada. But I realized that I needed to make a sensible decision, as opposed to an emotional one. The end deciding factor was that the condo had a bricked in patio for Daisy, while the charming townhouse didn’t even have a fenced yard. I remembered my priority, Daisy. And thought about snow plowing, Wi-Fi, and a property manager. And so I took a 10 month lease, assured the agent that I would call her when it was time to buy, and can take that time to search for a more permanent home that has both the charm I dream of, and the practicality I need.
Lease signed, the trip was drawing to a close. The last hurdle was my early morning flight. I set my alarm to leave the hotel at 5:30, plenty of time to return the rental car and have a leisurely breakfast at the airport before my 7:30 flight. As I drove down the Massachusetts Turnpike (or Mass Pike, as the locals say) in the pre-dawn hour, I silently congratulated myself on how well the whole rental car thing had gone, and how foolish I had been to worry so much about it. That may have been my fatal mistake!
I had Google mapped my way back to the airport, but had not even thought about googling the specific address for the rental return. I figured it would be easy to find through signage. But I somehow missed it, and ended up shooting right out of the airport and ended up right back on the Mass Pike heading away from the airport. And now it was peak commuting time, and the traffic was crazy! I frantically tried asking Siri how to get back to the rental drop off, but that bitch chose that moment to be “temporarily unavailable.” Swearing and cursing, I eventually turned myself around, got back to the airport, and…did the exact same thing again! I am proud to say I didn’t cry, but I came close. It was a freaking nightmare! My freaking nightmare! I finally made it to the rental car drop off an hour later than I intended. With half an hour to make it to my gate, I sweated my way through baggage drop off and had a very kind airport rep escort me to the priority line for security. Even then, there were probably 10 people ahead of me, and just as my bag was about to go through, the x-ray machine broke! At that point, before I had a heart attack, I just had to remind myself that it wasn’t the end of the world, that it would all work out. Breathe in, breathe out. I got through security with minutes to spare, already past the time that the gate was supposed to be closing. I didn’t even bother to put my shoes back on, but ran, oh yes, pell mell, through the airport like a woman on fire. And, I was the last person to board that plane, breathless and sweating!
And so that ends my tale of adventures in renting…at least for now.
So, here’s what’s happening. About a month ago I wrote about my new job, and the fact that it would involve my moving to Massachusetts by the end of the year. Well, since that time, things have been moving right along, with some hiccups just to keep it “interesting,” and a million details to be worked through. The very day I started my new job, I put my house on the market. I listed it at what I, and my realtor, thought was a very competitive price. There were two reasons for this, first the fact that I wanted it to sell fairly quickly. And while my sweet little house is very charming, it hasn’t been updated with all of the latest bells and whistles, and it needs a little love. I have the granite countertops, but not the stainless steel appliances that now seemed to be considered a necessity. The house could use a paint job on the exterior. And of course there’s that bell ringing poltergeist! But to me, it’s a lovely comfortable home, and I’ve been happy here. I felt sure someone else would see it and love it as much as I do.
This is the second home I’ve sold, but my first house sale was a unique experience. This was in 2004, at the height of the real estate boom. The house received multiple offers the day it was listed, and I sold it considerably above the asking price. I knew we were in a very different market this time around, and didn’t expect to sell it immediately, but I hadn’t given too much thought to what it would mean to live in a house that was on the market. I quickly realized it meant keeping the house, which is always pretty tidy, in impeccable condition at all times, with most of my personal daily clutter tucked away. Additionally, because I work from home, I didn’t have my agent put a lockbox on the house, and so I took on the task of showing the house to all prospective buyers. That became a bit of a drag! Basically I would let the people in (by appointment only), and then try to make myself as scarce as I could, to give them freedom to walk around and form their own impressions. But given that my house is small, and I didn’t want to totally leave strangers alone in my house, this inevitably meant that I was close enough to hear their comments. Many of the people that came through were investors looking to buy the house as a rental property, so they were inclined to be fairly critical. It was hard for my sensitive soul to remain unaffected as I would hear things like “this house has a ridiculous layout” (really?), and “where’s the other bathroom” (no, seriously!). Even with that, in the first week, I received two offers, and was excited to think this was going to be a quick process. But just as quickly, both offers fell through.
For a few weeks, nothing happened. There were buyers coming through every few days, but no offers. An open house one Sunday that had me exiled from home for the day, unfortunately it was about 105 degrees that day and everyone else stayed away too. I was stressed about it. My contract requires me to move by Dec. 31, but I really want to make it happen sooner, to try to beat the winter that I know is coming. Finally, I decided to go out of town to visit my sister for a weekend, and to leave the house to my realtor to deal with. That weekend, as I was having fun in San Diego, an offer came in, and stuck. It’s always a precarious thing when a house is in escrow, and anything can happen. But we’re about halfway through now, and I feel fairly confident it’s safe to talk about it. The great thing is that the house is going to a nice family who seems to love it as much as I do. And they own a dachshund!
With that hurdle done, the next thing is to find a place to live. Next week, I’ll be going to Massachusetts. I’ll have 3 full days to rent something, probably effective Nov. 1. I’ve been looking online for weeks, and have a good sense of what I want, and where, and a decent, if not robust, budget for achieving that. I finally decided this week to work with a rental agent who can help show me places. While there will be a fee associated with that, I need the help. Doing this all on my own is hard. I feel emotionally exhausted and I haven’t even moved yet, but really, coming hard on the heels of two years of employment uncertainty and anxiety, with nary a day in between to just take a breath and relax, this has been an extremely stressful time. I’m so grateful to my friends and family who have had to put up with me through all of this, and let me tell you, I have had some bad moments. All I can do at this point is just keep checking off boxes on the to do list, keep moving forward, keep making plans and organizing, and look forward to the day when I am finally settled in my new home. And, let’s face it, knowing me, at that point I will find something else to fret about, but maybe I can at least enjoy a honeymoon period of serenity first.
I’m excited about all of the new adventures that await me, but I’m definitely scared and anxious. It doesn’t take too much at this point to throw me off my game. This week I had a trifecta of getting some unexpected news, and then having both my credit card and my home computer hacked. For a couple of days, I wasn’t sure I could keep it together, it seemed too hard. I wanted to retreat, stay in one place, reject all idea of change. I wanted every single thing to stay the same as it has been, in the way I was safe and comfortable with. And it took a little while to come to terms and realize that it was just fear. Fear of the unknown. I had to remember that it was all okay, that it will all be okay. New things are coming, but new things can be wonderful. There’s a whole life out there waiting to be lived, and while there are going to be times that are rocky and uncomfortable, there are also going to be so many days, months, years ahead, filled with adventures, new friends to be met, new places to go, a new life to be lived. All that and I get to keep all of my old friends and loves too. It’s a blessing, and I need to remember that, and just stay strong and as brave as I can be. You may wonder why I titled this post “Riding the Waves” when it has absolutely nothing to do with surfing, but that’s sort of how my life feels right now, trying to stay afloat, not drown, and every now and then, catch that beautiful, perfect wave. And I don’t even know how to surf! Let’s all see what happens next, shall we.
The end, for now