Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Goldilocks Goes House Hunting

This is one of those grainy realtor photos that you find on Trulia or  Not a great shot, horrible lighting, and awkwardly cropped, and yet . . . and yet.  

After months of clicking through homes and feeling like Goldilocks--this one's too big, this one's too small, this one's outrageously overpriced AND too small, this one has no soul, this one has lots of soul but no yard, this one's a gem but in a run-down neighborhood (I've rented and owned my share of those, thank you very much)--I stumbled last week upon a fixer-upper.  That's a glimpse of the living room in the photo above.  It's a Victorian on a pretty, tree-lined street in one of my favorite neighborhoods.  It's near coffee shops, restaurants, and nature trails, it has a large old barn out back and, while the yard is on the small side, there's plenty of room for gardening.

Most of all, it has rooms like this one: hardwood floors, lovely woodwork, two slate fireplaces, and loads of potential.  It's cheap because it needs work, and it has beautiful bones.  Like Goldilocks finding Baby Bear's porridge, when I gaze at the photos, I think to myself, "perhaps it could be just right."

Only one other house has made my heart sing quite like this one during my search these past several months.  It was a pretty Greek Revival with parquet floors that sold for tuppence last June.  Four months later, it was back on the market for twice the amount.  Someone had bought it, "fixed it up" very cheaply (and I think poorly), and turned it over.  Believe me, I know the very same thing could happen with this one if we don't move quickly.  

And yet . . . and yet.  I hesitate.  It's not the fact that the house needs TLC that makes me pause.  That has never scared me before.  In fact, Mr. Magpie and I have bought two homes before, and both times we jumped in without a second thought.  We made an offer on our first home after looking for just one day.  Our offer was accepted and we were moved into the house in a month's time.  We bought the second home, a loft in an old textile mill, while it was still under construction.  In fact, it was basically just a white box with some windows overlooking a canal the day we made our offer.  That's how we've always rolled when it comes to buying homes.  We love it, so we take the leap.

What's different this time?  Honestly, I think it's age and life experience.  I think it is finally finding (or in our case, coming back to) a city we love and can imagine staying in for the rest of our lives.  One might think this would make us more willing to dive in even faster, buy a place, stake our claim.  Instead, we are taking our time, proceeding with caution, tasting many, many bowls of porridge before deciding which one is just right.  I don't mean perfect, nor do I mean lavish.  I think the right home has more to do with a gut feeling than designer back splashes and custom shower heads.  While those things are dreamy, what makes me stop in my tracks when I see certain homes has much more to do with the way sunlight falls on the wooden floors or the care a master craftsman took a hundred years ago when he built the front stairs.  

And all this brings me to wondering what you love in a house.  I'd love to hear what makes a certain entryway or kitchen or porch feel just right to you.


  1. I think you're right about a couple of things especially. Light is HUGE, and so is your informed gut reaction:-)

    Make sure there's room to do the things you love to do.

    Personally, I've enjoyed renovation and redecorating; even though it's taken years, we've put our stamp on the place and I think done well with our stewardship of it. Definitely value added. mcr

  2. Yes, room to do the things we love is definitely a priority for us. And yet, I learned from our first house, that we don't need a huge place, which was an important lesson for us. Even though that house was probably small by many people's standards, we found ourselves buying furniture just to fill rooms that we didn't really need!

    I really like what you said about stewardship. Both houses we bought before were old, and I loved the idea that we were part of a long line of people caring for them. In the case of the loft, it was a very old structure that was finding a new life with us, which I liked, too. Late at night I would sometimes lie awake looking up at the huge old beams, and thinking about all the people who had worked in the textile mill that was now my home.

  3. This is a hard one to articulate - it's a feeling I get. A warm, imaginative feeling which takes over and helps me to see how life can unfold in this place. How dinners would feel in this room, how we'd wake up to that view, how coming in the driveway each night might be.

    In the end, though, YOU are what will make the house. The house will be filled with your art and cooking and friends and laughter. And really, wherever you are, it will be perfect.

  4. I start with a list that includes how many rooms, height of ceiling, windows, garden area...and so it goes on and we go on looking, looking,looking..until one day we walk into a house (and you must walk in!) and we just know!
    The list goes out the window, never to be seen again.
    The only time we were wrong was the house we bought that followed the list. Yes it had everything we wanted, it was sited the right way on the block, a good neighbourhood...everything and it just never worked!!!
    Go with your feelings when you walk through the front door!

  5. I love how you describe that warm, imaginative feeling, Marion. That's just what happens for me, too. Some places just speak to me as soon as I walk in, which is what made house buying so easy for me in the past. I loved both places we bought and am so glad we lived there.

    And, Julienne, I totally agree that you must walk in. I was reading an article last night about a couple who bought a house sight unseen (other than photos). Fortunately, they love it, but I don't think I could do that! I have to feel the energy of the house and sense where the light falls and from what direction. I always have a list, too, but I'm usually surprised to discover things I never knew I wanted or things that don't matter as much as I thought they did when I wrote the list! :)

  6. Having just signed on our future retirement home I know what you mean about being more cautious being older. Why did we choose this house..not really sure other than we think it will fit our lifestyle...,and scarlet splash backs! I loved anothe one instantly but it just didn't work functionally. We were both quite sad about that. But I agree with Marion that we are what makes any house into our own home...our paintings, memorabilia, family etc.

  7. Oh Gigi! That fireplace! The staircase just beyond the doorway! I definitely see why it caught your attention.

    I'm always checking out houses for that first impression I get from the curb. I'm usually trying to determine how it will look clad in Boston ivy or wisteria. :)

    All the best with whatever you decide!


  8. Hello Gigi,

    This house does look like it has wonderful potential... but if you have any hesitation then perhaps it is not 'the one'. I have always felt an instantaneous... 'this is it' moment when we have found properties. I don't think there are any similar qualities in the properties I have lived in but more a feeling that this is 'right' for us.

    I love creating in a home and am always drawn to the abandoned wreck or the fixer upper... I like to stamp our personality into a home and even though it is an enormous task I have always found it well worthwhile...
    Happy hunting... xv

  9. OOOooo... lovely bones, oh, yes! This little fixer-up'er looks/sounds like great potential, Gigi! VERY exciting! When we bought this house we're in now, it was very much in our price range, and that is what carried us the most in our hunt. It was a tired old place that needed a LOT of cosmetic work--paint, paper, etc. It was a long year making it into our place. I feel ready for another place now, much to dear husband's astonishment and fear of moving & selling all over again... ;o) A new town/city, a new place appeals, as apart from family close by and proximity to the sea this towns holds little for us. But until then, our little hold place is home. Light, bright & airy always win me over! Happy Days, my friend. Oh, I'm hosting a little Valentine Swap, stop by if you'd like to join in. :o) ((LOVE & HUGS))

  10. I know just what you mean. I think it's a bit like falling in love, whatever your list may say - you know the minute you walk into a place sometimes, it's all about 'feelings'. But I think we are more cautious the older we get.

  11. When we were looking for the house we are in we made a list of everything we wanted and what we could negotiate. I told the realtor we didn't want a ranch house. Well she found this house and said it was our house and that we must run to see it. I drove by and said, but I told here I didn't want a ranch house. The minute I walked inside I knew it was our house. It had everything we wanted on the list. I have learned to love that it is a ranch house and still love it for all the things it offers us each day from hardwood floors, original tile work, and gorgeous old trees in the back.

  12. I like the look, loving the wood floors, loving vintage.

    my two daughter and one granddaughter live in Maine. I lived in Buxton for one year, ice drove me home, not the snow. maine is beautiful.

    good luck.

  13. I wanted to stop by and thank you for your encouraging words. It is good to be back here; among friends. I wish you a weekend of unexpected warmth, lots of laughter, and a great piece of chocolate. Take care, friend. ~ Relyn

  14. Oh, for me it is wood floors, lots of space, large-ish rooms & lots of light.
    All of which I got when I bought my home. The only one I've ever bought~~it wass the second house on the first day of looking.
    The large, large yard & old oaks sealed the sweet & perfect deal.
    After I moved in I noticed that there is noooooooooo storage. *sigh*
    I still love it, though!

  15. I believe I am just like you. I need to be near coffee shops and bookstores and nature trails. Personality and craftmanship are far more important than designer backsplashes and what not. Oh, and the cozier they are, the more I like them.

  16. We have been casually looking for a smaller house and I am being very, very cautious and picky about it. We bought this house many years ago when I fell in love with the old apple tree in the backyard. I don't think it was necessarily a good decision:)

    Good luck on your house hunting!

  17. my first home is still in my future; it moves closer daily and i know, after an entire adult life of renting - 17 years in the place i am now - what i need. light. light to paint by. light to say good morning to. privacy. privacy to paint in. outside the city limits. trees. small is fine - it is just me - but room to paint in. a porch.

    so i will buy a small bit of land, and will build. thankfully i know jillions of people to help. it will be inexpensive.

    i like that you're taking your time, knowing you have it, knowing you will be here where you are now. the future will take place where you choose. it is worth time.

    that said, i DO love the room in that image!


  18. stone. thick 18 inch walls of limestone. and wide bare floor boards. the rooms don't matter. but i cannot imagine ever feeling truly safe in my home without the stone. oh, and a real throw a log on the fire, fireplace. but i don't entertain the idea of change. and after 15 years of youthful explorations, i bought a house and settled in without a thought of leaving. and the only thing that mattered was the stone. and the neighborhood. and the lake.

  19. How did the loft house turn out after the construction? Looking for the right house is not just about tasting many bowls of porridge (which I love to do). Personally, it's all about being "One" with the house.


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