Suddenly, we bought a condo!
We wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told us at the start of this summer that we’d be homeowners by October. Me, I was satisfied with our spot beside Union Station and the Capitol — but at the same time we didn’t want to rent forever, and while the location was great for enjoying the requisite DC sights at a moment’s notice, it was less than optimal for the task of raising a family later in life.
So we resolved to buy. Then we decided we weren’t ready to buy. Then we decided that yes, we should take advantage of this market and buy. That turned to doubt as to whether our finances could handle the downpayment on a 2BR in the DC area. Finally after weeks of agonizing we decided we could scale down expectations and settle on a relatively large 1BR in North Virginia. So we were finally ready to buy.
The first-time homeowner tax incentive didn’t hurt either.
The rest of it happened faster than we expected. We looked at a bunch of properties along the Orange Line, put in a bid on a cheap 2BR foreclosure overlooking the swimming pool of a quiet garden-type condo — and were of course quickly outbid by about a dozen other potential buyers. Instead we went for our backup property choice, a neighboring 1BR with an unconventional angular layout and about 750 square feet of space –which might sound small to the average US house-dweller, but for the price we paid with its proximity to DC and the Metro, and compared to our much older 575 square foot apartment, it was a castle.
Milestone after milestone passed with few obstacles: credit checked, loan approved, good-faith deposit sent, bid accepted, property under contract, inspection done, association docs reviewed, closing date scheduled — when at the eleventh hour the other shoe dropped and the seller’s realtor told us his client had gone bankrupt, could not afford closing costs, and wanted to pull out and relist the property if we could not cover the shortfall.
Pulling out now would have been a breach of an already signed contract, and our realtor made clear that this constituted grounds for a specific performance suit. So followed days of doubt, delay, and negotiation, at the end of which all involved parties agreed to pitch in and we ended up paying higher closing costs at settlement than originally expected, for the sake of a smooth sale. (We did later consult with a lawyer as to the expedience of pursuing a specific performance suit but decided that the cost and effort involved would have exceeded the value of any settlement reached compared to the extra amount we paid at closing.)
And so we closed on the condo, and became homeowners. A week of overlap between our move date and end-of-lease allowed us time to finish packing and shuttle a few items to the new place to lighten the move load, but that made the packing process and moving day itself no less stressful. The very last night before moving was a sleepless haze of panic amidst a mazelike mountain range of boxes and unpacked clutter. At about 4AM a packing tape shortage necessitated a walk to the 24 hr CVS on Mass Ave, and at 6AM another walk to the 24 hr Au Bon Pain in Union Station provided a hurried, almost surreal last breakfast on the floor of our apartment.
Gulliver’s was our moving service of choice, and their guys arrived with a truck on the dot at 7AM to begin hauling furniture and boxes. A drive in the truck up the beltway, a flurry of boxes and furniture flying down the halls, forms signed, check handed over, and just a couple of hours later the biggest part of the move was done. (All this time, Pandora was locked up in a closet with food, water, and a blanket to keep her safe from the flurry of moving. We brought her in a carrier the next day by taxi.)
We spent the next few days bringing leftover items over by Metro and taxi, and left a bunch of old things to be sold at the apartment tenants’ yard sale. Since then it’s been unpacking, furnishing, and organizing. Amy’s old Yaffa Blocks have given way to relatively fancier IKEA shelving units, and our old bedframe, makeshift folding nightstand, and antique dresser have been replaced with a genuine oak bedroom set.
It’s of some help that the property includes a small separate storage unit (about 100 sq ft) where we can stow objects of infrequent utility which would otherwise take up valuable closet space. Of slightly less help are the two spaces in the parking garage, which for now we plan to lease to neighbors as our carless lifestyle continues, aided by the condo’s closeness to a Metro station. A car is definitely in our future, though, as the new suburban neighborhood is far less walkable than our previous environs at Union Station — the sacrifice we make for affordable home ownership. This means I will have to re-learn how to drive, after over a decade of carlessness.
The awesomest aspect of this grand life change for me, however, is that we finally have a dishwasher. I have hand-washed my own dishes for almost as long as I can remember, even after moving to America. No immigrant’s dishwasher dilemma for me; after our ancient, tiny apartment kitchen with its undersized sink and cloggy drain, having an actual dishwasher is a huge burden lifted from our lives, and a technological marvel which I will never take for granted.
As for Pandora, she took to the new place immediately, adapting with almost no difficulty at all. No litterbox location problems, no hiding under the bed without eating for days, and she loves the bigger space and the texture of the new carpet.
So that’s what’s been keeping us busy the last couple of months. I’m a pretty slow unpacker and organizer — especially after the Internet connection has been set up — and the stress of getting property-related affairs in order has caused me to fall behind on a bunch of stuff, online and offline. Even now there’s a stack of unsorted mail staring at me from the dining room table, and my Christmas list is still a mess of unchecked boxes.
But hey, we own a place now, however small. The Lord has been kind to us in a time of widespread hardship, and we are grateful and humbled.
(I guess this means we’re Virginians now, by the way.)