Sunday, August 12, 2007

Flirting with another life

I had intended to head this post with a photo I took from our veranda a few weeks ago of the mountains with a hint of snow on them. However my i-Book has developed sudden Internet connectivity problems and I'm typing this on Hamish's new Mac.

After a night of wind and rain we woke to a beautiful Wellington morning. Suddenly it feels like spring. It was warm and still enough for us to eat our pancake breakfast out on the veranda. The mountains seemed large in the distance and close enough to touch.

We were planning to go to this open home. It was as though our house knew, and it decided to turn on the charm offensive. We opened up the big sash windows in the lounge and in our bedroom, and the cats hopped inquisitively in and out all morning. Then, just before we left, our house tried one more trick to prevent us from being unfaithful. As we were preparing to go our dishwasher started beeping continuously. There were no lights on the display and the dishwasher engine continued to hum, even after we opened the door. After a great deal of head scratching we ended up having to pull the dishwasher out from its cubby under the bench and flick the switch at the wall.

Eventually, after a bit of a detour through Wilton, we found the house in Garden Rd. I first saw this house for sale some months ago in a real estate magazine. The idea of being able to live so close to the botanical gardens, in a brand new modern house, was enough for me to contemplate leaving our lovely old villa. Luckily for Hamish, at the time the Tender closed the next day, so I had to let i go. However the home is now back on the market.

It turns out that the house had originally been under offer, with the sale conditional on the current owners obtaining a code of compliance from the council. To get the code of compliance a leaning retaining wall has to be repaired (an irony, given the dodgy retaining wall below our own house), some flashings on the house fixed, and some railings fixed. The real estate agent told me there was a quote for $8,000 to repair the retaining wall, and a total cost of around $20,000 all up for everything needed to gain the certificate. However the current owners are no longer speaking, are living at opposite ends of the country, and just want the house gone. The first sale fell through after they refused to do anything more. They're now open to any offers. The first was for $460,000, but they will look at anything over the valuation of $360,000.

Now, $360,000 for a house on Garden Rd, even with all that work needing doing on it, is a bargain. In the middle of winter in a cold old house, the idea of living so close to town in a nice new place was overwhelmingly appealing. Hamish was quite rightly sceptical when I told him, with his experience of dealing with clients with houses under construction and the difficulties involved in dealing with the council. We wouldn't be able to live in the house until the council issued the certificate. It probably wouldn't be insurable, and the whole process could drag on for months. However I knew that I would always wonder if I didn't go to take a look. Not to mention the possibility of reducing our mortgage.

The walk-up access was indeed less than perfect. A path as angled and slippery as our own, some new but unstable wooden stairs. It wasn't bad enough to put us off, but it wasn't an improvement over our own access. However the living room was as stunning as the photos suggested, with all that glass making the most of the expansive view.

However we knew fairly instantly that this wasn't a place we were going to turn our world upside down to buy. For a start the house was very much in an unfinished state. It had clearly been rushed to bring to market, and the tradespeople had knocked it around, damaging the weatherboards outside the front door, scuffing skirting boards. The landscaping was weedy and overgrown, the fencing unfinished. Inside the house the fittings were fairly standard and roughly done. Hamish pointed to a phone jack coming out of the wall, the wire disappearing down underneath the carpet.
There was nowhere for Hamish's LCD, no space for the piano. But these issues could have been overcome. The living space WAS lovely, and the kitchen would have been great to cook in with its view out to the harbour.

Up one flight of stairs and we were in the first bedroom, with a small balcony and view out to the harbour, but with an oddly ugly pale green feature wall. A small laundry was tucked into an alcove in the hallway, up another flight of stairs was the second bedroom. Neither room was particularly large, although both had large windows and good views. They were warm and there was no smell of damp. The bathroom was as gorgeous as the photo in the advertisement suggests, and both of us could imagine lying in the bath in front of the window looking out. However the bathroom was one well-finished room in a house that had been hurried over. The back yard above the house was black berry-covered and daunting. The house ended abruptly, and where you would expect another door to the rear of the property, there was just a wall.

However it was the atmosphere of the house that probably put me off the most. We already knew from the real estate agent that the owners had probably split. From the few possessions scattered in the house I guessed that the husband had been camping out. There were a few jackets and shirts in the wardrobe in the main bedroom, some books on the shelf. Worst of all, however, where the photos. A wedding photo in the kitchen, a montage of happy couple photos in the spare bedroom. This house was telling us a story, and that story was of loneliness and abandonment. I've never felt a house so sad. It needed a couple to pick up the pieces and love it, but that couple wasn't going to be us.

Hamish checked under the house for crawl-space, I chatted to the agent about contact details for builders and the code of compliance officer, but we both knew we wouldn't be following up on our visit. We went off to Aro Cafe to meet a friend for coffee, then we drove home. As we were turning into our street the mountains called hello. I remembered turning this way the day of our own open home, and I wondered why I'd been flirting with another house. We came home to the high ceilings, the old floor boards, the yellow and red walls in the kitchen, the wooden benchtops, the native garden, the veranda, the mountains, did I mention the mountains? Even the mad, winding path that takes us down into our private little haven.

It took a brief flirtation to remember why I love this place so much. How could I imagine leaving? Even the crazy angle this place is on, the wonky veranda, leaning retaining wall, the overgrown garden, dodgy wiring, cold in winter, the now-broken dishwasher. This place is us and we're not meant to live in a pristine, shiny new environment. I don't think we'd feel comfortable.

This place is home. So no, we're not leaving.

1 comment:

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