I'm only asking because that is exactly what we did, five years ago. Did we get a good bargain? Yes, we did. Would this have been my first choice? Probably not.
There is more to a house than how many bathrooms or square feet it has. Here is the story of our house, and why we bought it even though we knew...
Our Search For a Cheap Starter Home
When we started looking for a home to buy, we were in a hurry. We had planned to delay our future family for a couple of years while we saved up.
But our family planning was an epic fail. With a surprise baby on the way, we needed something better than the drafty, vintage mobile home we were renting.
Real estate is pretty cheap in our area. Its more affordable in most cases to buy than to rent. But there isn't a surplus of empty houses for sale, either.
We were being slightly picky. We knew we wanted:
- Something with three bedrooms
- Something outside of town, preferably with a garage or shed for the motorcycle
- Something that didn't require too much work before we moved in
- Something under $50k
That last part was the easiest. Almost all the listings we looked at were homes that had been repossessed (the state has a pretty bad economy, and people have a hard time hanging on), and about 98% of them had been trashed on the inside. (No excuse for that!)
About three weeks before I was due, the realtor called. She had a house that "fit our needs". It wasn't even listed yet. Hell, she didn't even have a key yet. But she said the shop was unlocked and we could go look around.
Is This a Bad Sign?
I'll always remember the day we first saw our house. It was a sad little yellow and green box sitting on two acres of bare ground. It had a few ugly trees, a patchwork fence, and a little, garbage-filled creek running behind it.
I was immediately torn between my nesting instinct (omigod...I can never get this whole place cleaned up in three weeks!) and my love for old houses that need love.
Pregnancy hormones won out. I didn't want it.
I will also remember that day because I almost gave birth in the shop, during a tornado.
Right after we arrived, the tornado alerts on the truck radio started blaring, and the skies opened up and vomited golf-ball sized hail on us.
We ran to the shop (not easy, mind you...I was actually crippled at the time with SPD). I was already having problems with premature labor, and wasn't really supposed to be out and about...let alone running through a hailstorm.
As soon as we got inside, I was hit with contractions. Trapped in the (very nice) new metal shop building that my husband already adored, we had no phone signal, and those pains were coming faster and faster.
Luckily, they eased up after 45 minutes, as did the hail, but as we drove home with more tornado warnings blaring...I couldn't help feel that it was not the best of omens.
Our House Has a Dark Past
The next day, we went back to see the inside.
If the outside was bad, the inside was even worse. Everything was either brown, puke green, or mauve. Except for the bright red kitchen floor and the bright red carpet in the puke green bedroom.
There were fleas in the carpet. The previous owners had ripped out all the kitchen cabinetry. The only thing in there was a plywood cabinet holding the sink.
There were locks in weird places. There had been some crazy stuff done to this poor house (like gallons of glue on the floors.)
But it had four bedrooms. Two full baths. Some solid hardwood floors. A laundry room!
We had looked at a house with only three bedrooms and 1 bath, no acreage, and more damage a few weeks before. This house was half the price of that smaller home.
I assumed it was the kitchen.
That's when the agent decided to disclose to us that the woman before us had died, so her son just wanted to be rid of the house.
Oh, and by the way...
She committed suicide here.
Stigma Vs. Savings?
What would you do in that situation? Here we were, ready to have our first child. We needed a house, and we weren't exactly wealthy. It fit all of our requirements, plus some. (but minus the DIY that was needed.)
But finding out your family of three may be adding a spectral fourth?
That wasn't an easy decision to make. This wasn't my first time moving into a home where someone had died. But suicide is a bit creepier to me than natural death, accidental death, or even murder.
Along with a house where death has occurred, there comes a certain stigma. And its always more powerful in a tight community where everyone knows everything and everyone. This lady was someone my husband had gone to school with.
But it was stigma that we could buy for less than the price of an SUV.
With some reluctance, we said we would take it.
We Learn More About the Woman Before Us
Our daughter was born before we closed on the house. In fact, it was one of my arguments for leaving the hospital sooner than they wanted.
We started packing before my baby lost her belly-button cord. When she was two weeks old, we went to the closing.
Two weeks later we moved all of our stuff the whole five miles to our home. We were already getting strange looks from people when we told them where we were moving.
They would ask.
Eventually, I did know more. Her obituary described her as a kind and wonderful person. A loving mother, a devoted grandmother. She liked quilting, flowers, and going to church. On the outside, she was an upstanding member of the community.
But I also learned that she had some crazy bad problems behind the scenes, such as addictions to gambling and drugs.
It's not the story you expect to hear about a grandmother that likes to quilt and plant flowers.
What Is It Like to Live in Our House?
Its funny that no one has ever asked us whether or not anything strange goes on here.
We do know a few people that won't step foot in the house. Although our friend (the sheriff) assured us that it happened in the woods behind the house, near the creek. Not in here.
And yes. There are the occasional strange events. For example, just this week, my husband and I were making sandwiches at the counter when the gas stove suddenly ignited behind us.
There have been a few voices, some strange creaks, a few shadowy movements. Usually, the activity is worse this time of year, possibly because this is when she would have been having the hard final weeks of her life.
The strangest stuff happens whenever I am doing big DIY changes to the house. I suppose we don't see eye-to-eye on decorating.
But this isn't my first spooky rodeo. I rarely think about it anymore. I still wonder about the closet in the back room, where we found a lot of blood stains (and evidence that it had been covered in plastic sheeting at one time.)
But the truth is, I really don't want to know for sure. What bothers me more is that it's like she never existed. No one ever mentions her, not even in a small town where she was so well known. Her sons had sold all of her belongings before we moved in.
(We found out later that she had passed away only two weeks before the realtor called us with the house listing.)
The only thing left in the house were locks, sadness, and a pair of faded Mickey Mouse pajamas. The only mention of her (as a person rather than "the-previous-owner-of-your-house") was when I met her sister one day in the store. She thanked me for planting flowers, because her sister loved them so much.
When people find out how cheap our mortgage is, they are always amazed. If they ask why, I just say that it was a fixer-upper.
That's true. But like I said...I love old homes that need love. This house needed the kind of fixing up that can only be done with love, laughter, and happiness.
If there is more to a house than bathrooms and square footage, then there is more to home repairs than screws and paint.
Little by little, we are putting something into this house that money can't buy. Along the way, it became more than the cheap starter home we needed in a hurry.
Despite our love/hate affair with our house, the things that we are still trying to fix, the stuff that has gone wrong...we probably won't leave it.
We may eventually build a new house on this spot of land we've become attached too. Homes go much deeper than the actual walls that are standing at the moment, after all.
And I will probably always plant flowers.
Because Ms. M liked them. And I feel like I owe her that much.