From the first time I toured the hot pink mansion with Barbie and Skipper, I’ve fantasized about what my own dream house would one day look like. Granted, I don’t expect to have an in-home elevator and my husband doesn’t (usually) wear teal mesh tank tops, but like Barbie, I long for a beautiful home for my family.
We’ve had our share of starter situations, some dumpier than others, and are now in a position to find what we hope will be our forever home, a concept both idyllic and fraught with dangerously high expectations. And though we’re still in the trenches of this agonizing pursuit, I have learned a thing or two along the path to our dream home — mostly, that it’s not easy:
1. Attention to detail is critical. The first apartment my husband and I shared didn’t have working drawers in the kitchen — just faux drawer fronts. It wasn’t something we thought we needed to check when touring for new digs, and it somehow slipped the realtor’s mind to mention. Want to test the strength of your marriage? Infuse the newlywed phase with pregnancy cravings that must be sated in a kitchen whose storage capacity rivals that of a Tic-Tac dispenser. (Shout-out to the restaurant next to our apartment building!) Now we know: try to imagine the weirdest and most inconvenient quirk they could be hiding from you before handing over your money. And always check the drawers.
2. There’s a reason you never see small children on HGTV. It’s not easy paying attention to detail when you’re chasing little ones off other peoples’ furniture and convincing them not to pee in all the potties. I feel compelled to bring them, thinking of course they should have a say in this monumental family decision. The problem is my kids base their opinions of a house on the quality of its bath toys and on the depth of its staircases when tumbling down them. Does the house have a sandbox? If so, they are ready to sign and will not want to leave for several hours. Our family even had to adopt a new rule: any toys left in someone else’s pantry are GONE FOREVER. Seriously. We mean it this time. Not turning around. Nope. Not doing it. Okay, last time.
3. You must do your homework. When I was pregnant with our third, we found a big, beautiful home for rent in an affluent suburb, at the end of a lovely cul-de-sac. It had been recently renovated, and to our surprise, was well within our budget. What luck — it didn’t even seem haunted! And then a simple Google search yielded an alarming result: The house was, and apparently had been for years, the headquarters for an adult escort service. It was an actual, illegal whore house, which (thankfully!) had several Yelp reviews — because God forbid you unwittingly hire a two-star suburban hooker. At the thought of my children running through the halls, tripping on sequins and broken dreams while sleazy websites continued to direct oblivious, ehr, clients to our home, we decided to stay put for another year.
4. It’s okay to get emotional. We’re house-hunting in a highly competitive seller’s market, with a wisp of savings and lots of big dreams. Houses sell in a day here, and we’ve lost bidding wars to people crazy enough to pay cash for one. (Sidenote: Who ARE these people? And if they have so much cash laying around, why aren’t they using it to buy an even better house? Oooh, I have more dollars in my pocket than a suburban prostitute; I’m gonna go live DEBT-FREE. Whatever.) I’ve had my heart broken a few times over the loss of what I thought was our family’s forever home. I’ve cried into my fair share of cheesecakes after seeing house after house that we can’t afford or won’t fit us or smells like old people breath. It’s a big decision that will have a lasting impact on a family, and the most amount of money a person can reasonably expect to ever spend on anything. Go ahead and feel the feelings. Bring cheesecake.
5. The dream might not exist. This is a tough one for sentimental romantics like myself, especially when we place so much pressure on ourselves to find a house that will suit us until we’re old and gross. We hope that in the short window of time we have, our perfect home will become available and we can buy it and live happily ever after. What I’m chasing is a feeling, more than a bedroom count or proximity to a blue-ribbon school. Just like the cosmic click you’re supposed to feel when you meet your soul mate or first catch a glimpse of yourself in THE wedding dress, I want to walk into a house and have it feel like home, feel like us. As our window of opportunity closes, though, we have to accept reality: that we may have to settle for walking down the aisle in polyester shoulder pads toward the smelly groom with a receding hairline. I think this happened to Barbie’s friend, Midge.
Maybe we’ll find it. Maybe we’ll create it in whatever space we find. Maybe a dream home only becomes just that when you fill it with your family’s love. The dream lives on in all of us who know we are lucky to be able to house-hunt at all.
To all the other first-time home-buyers out there, I wish you good luck in your searches. But know this, as the most important piece of advice I can bestow upon you: If you show up to my dream house with a mesh tank top and a wad of cash to buy it out from under me, I will cut you.
Happy house hunting!