Our apartment sits on one of the busiest thoroughfares in New England. Working from home, we hear traffic, sirens, neighbors, the train, people shouting outside, our maintenance crew or the city’s department of public works taking on some project. I hate noise—and communal washing machines, sharing a bathroom, summer heat without central air conditioning, washing dishes by hand, living in three rooms with inadequate storage, and parking three floors down.
Our apartment was fine for a year. But I grew to realize I would never be happy there.
My husband, DJ, and I started looking for a condo. My father offered to help, but only a few months into our search, he was diagnosed with cancer. Home shopping didn’t seem so important amid rounds of chemo and radiation. My father went into remission. Our condo search didn’t.
When I brought up the topic again, DJ placated me with a mammoth concession: He’d take on our entire rent, plus parking. He’d take care of dishes and laundry, too. But after a while, even those kindnesses couldn’t touch the feeling I’d outgrown apartment life by years. Plus, he’s a lousy dishwasher and launderer.
DJ and I renewed our search—as our region’s housing prices got kooky. Ordinary 1970s split-levels started going for a million or more.
I continued to look for something affordable. DJ continued to string me along with excuses, and promises about “someday” owning a home. We were stuck in place, and that place was our apartment. Whenever we’d drive out to see some overpriced, broken-down cabin, DJ’d glower silently the whole trip. (Once, he stalked past the seller’s broker, refusing to shake her hand or say one word.) On the way home, overjoyed by reprieve, he’d become animated and chatty again.
I gave up and tried to improve our apartment. We shopped for shelves; I tried to appreciate our neighborhood’s restaurants and shops, our building’s crackerjack—if overzealous—management team, and the apartment’s near-antique fixtures.
But frustration soon bubbled. I could hardly pass a bungalow on the street (any street) that I didn’t make over with my eyes.
After 10 years, I realized: DJ would never move. If I wanted to keep him in my life and own a home, I would have to work around him. I began to save money in earnest.
My therapist suggested I search alone, in secret. After combing through our state’s offerings and finding them tiny, overpriced and mostly awful, I looked north. I told DJ I was taking a day in the country and headed to Vermont, a state I’d always loved. There, I found a twelve-room farmhouse with archways, a trellis, sun- and music rooms, a red circular staircase leading to a third floor…
That night in our Boston apartment, I couldn’t sleep—not because I’d deceived my husband, but because I knew I was about to buy my first home.
When at last I told DJ I was about to put an offer on a house, he quieted his panic by trying to reassure himself no one would give me a mortgage anyway. He was right: My first two lender choices turned me down.
Then, I got smart (so I thought), and asked my realtor for recommendations. I walked away with a mortgage—and a whole lot of tumbledown house. I’d seen its flaws clearly while looking it over before buying, but underestimated the ease of obtaining timely help. And spending all my cash on the house meant most repairs had to wait.
So began a stormy relationship—between me and the house. For every charm, the home revealed three flaws. Though Vermont’s natural beauty bewitched and bedazzled (sunlight streaming over mountains; fields of horses and cows, bright-red barns), night would fall and I’d awaken to scratching overhead. Mice liked the place better than I did, and I even found a surprise from the previous owners: a box of rat poison in a kitchen drawer.
Still. My folks donated cast-off furniture. Eventually, the place looked homey, though one had to ignore the cobwebs, droppings, and sun fade. I swept and vacuumed on every trip. Though nervous by nature, I assumed that, in time, I’d turn that house into a showplace. I bought laminate for the dining room floor, shopped for kitchen cabinets—but spent any discretionary dollars on urgent repairs.
Sometimes, I’d stay a week or two, often just a night. (See “droppings,” above.) I made friends, good friends. Community life included music jams, concerts (on the town green—sigh!), library lectures, farmers markets, stage productions, a writers group, and a bookstore café with the best food this side of Paris. I soaked up these things when I was there, and pined for them when, more often, I wasn’t. Sometimes, I found myself overwhelmed by the house and retreated back to Boston days before I’d intended.
DJ acclimated to my coming and going, but I felt like a child again, shuttling between my parents’ homes, missing activities and friends during my many absences from both. My relationship with DJ suffered, too: When I headed to the closing with a suitcase for my first overnight, he convinced himself I would never return. But return I did when I found the house’s front door ajar. Over time, he did warm to the house a little, and even joined me on trips—though “I hate Vermont; I hate the house” became his constant refrain. To be fair, there was plenty to hate.
I’d always dreamed—OK, expected—DJ would eventually see the financial benefit of owning, get used to the house, the town, Vermont. But I had to admit: the opposite happened. After 10 years, he still hated it. And I didn’t love it as much as I expected. I ran for the safety of our imperfect apartment more often than not.
Two years ago, my handyman-contractor told me $50,000 might help seal the place nicely. As I swept up fly carcasses, I called my father for his opinion. “That means the cost will run closer to $100,000 to $150,000,” Dad said. “They always find some problem in the walls. Also, you’ll never get the house the way you want it. Why don’t you sell?”
Sell? Ridiculous! Just because I had to sweep up a few dozen flies, then head back to Boston before dark because I was too anxious to stay? Well…yes…maybe I’d sell. So I put my beautiful house on the market, where it awaits the plucky buyer who can give it more than I.
Maybe I shouldn’t have insisted on getting my way at all costs. Maybe my husband shouldn’t have, either. He tells me he realizes the mistake of keeping me from my dream—because it’s come between us for most of our relationship. I’ve never stopped pointing out how much more comfortable we’d be in a bigger, quieter, better-appointed space. (He’s conceded that.) So I’m searching—again!—for something that works for us both. Only now, I’m dreaming of the home I want to build.