We fought to buy our first house. At a time when home prices rose faster than the bread I was learning to bake, we looked at property after property, returning home as deflated as the dough I punched down for a second rise. Finally, we found a place on a hill in Plymouth, a Garrison Colonial whose former owners had transferred out of town. Even we knew the longer a house remains vacant, the harder it is to sell. Preapproved for a mortgage and giddy with excitement, we made an offer within 3 percent of the asking price, an offer the owners refused. No counteroffer, just … no.
Affronted, we took our toys and looked elsewhere, coming close to purchasing another house, until a late, higher offer knocked us out of the game. All the while that first house sat. A hurricane toppled trees in the backyard, telephone wires draped in front, and every time we drove by, it looked sadder. The place needed love, we had plenty to share, and after our real estate broker had a tough talk with the owners, they accepted a revised offer. On the last day of the year, we moved in. Happy New Year. It didn’t matter that my father called the house “tired,” or that my mother- in-law spent hours scrubbing dirt and dried spaghetti out of the cupboards. We had vision and understood the phrase “sweat equity.”
Childless then, our Colonial became our baby. We finished floors, tore down wallpaper, and painted inside and out. We added a raised fireplace, and on Saturday nights we turned up the music while I danced on the hearth. We replaced doors and windows and kitchen counters. Outside, we raked truckloads of leaves, took down dead trees, planted roses and other perennials. Our baby grew up, and so did we. In the front yard, we dug a hole for the dogwood my dad gave me for my 30th birthday.
But somewhere along the line, we realized that when we weren’t working on our house, we were often away from it. We both drove almost an hour to work. Our families were far away, our best friends, too, and our dear house, empty on weekdays and sometimes nights, became a temptation. As if we’d sent our child to school to be bullied, while we were off, someone sliced our hoses. Then the house was egged. Pellet-gun holes peppered the new storm windows. After a tomato splattered against a window on a night we were home, we caught the culprits; their parents were suitably horrified, apologies were accepted. But the wound went deep. Not long after, we decided to move.
Still, planting that sign in the grass felt like deserting our firstborn. In a down market, it took almost a year for the right buyers to find it, but, thankfully, they did. The day before we passed papers, we scrubbed every inch of the place and positioned a bottle of champagne on the mantel with a list of the home’s idiosyncrasies. We locked the door with tears in our eyes.