“I have a microwave fireplace in my house. The other night I laid down in front of the fire for the evening in two minutes.”
- Stephen Wright
My wife and I are only in our mid-40s and we’ve already bought five houses. My noticeably older, arguably more frugal, and understandably more equity-rich brothers are still living in their first houses. If their mortgages aren't already paid off they must be getting close. We’re not even close to getting close.
We bought our first house in 1989, after three years of marriage. See the pictures above. It was a comfortable 1940’s vintage home. My wife and I painted the house by ourselves and installed a cedar picket fence around a good portion of the property. We planted our first and last vegetable garden in the back yard (it only took one summer to realize that neither of us had a green thumb). We heated the home with a combination of fuel oil and firewood that my father-in-law helped me cut and split. We found it gratifying to pour sweat equity into our house. That is just one of life’s pleasures that I can no longer enjoy, due to MS.
We lived in this first house for five years, until we found and purchased the home of our dreams in 1994.
I still look back at that second house, pictured above, as my all-time favorite. It was an oversized ranch with an in-ground swimming pool and a three car attached, heated garage (and one bay had a maintenance pit like an old-fashioned filling station). If you jumped off the roof of the house at just the right location, your momentum would propel you to the middle of the deep end of the swimming pool. Even after you were aware of this interesting fact, it was a little crazy to actually jump. But what adjective should I use to describe my friend Mark, who was the first to make this leap on the hunch that it just might work? When we had parties I expended significant effort to keep my friends from jumping off the roof. But they were a crafty lot.
The finished basement, shown on the right, provided an ideal party/entertainment venue. We had a pool table, ping pong table, air hockey table, bar, TV, couch, and even a velvet wall-hanging with dogs playing pool on it. I also kept a treadmill in the basement. I was using the treadmill when I noticed what I was later able to identify as my first MS symptom.
We lived in that house for six years. In the summer of 2000, when we made the decision to relocate from Northern to Southern Maine, we put the dream house up for sale.
We didn’t waste much time buying our third house once we arrived in Southern Maine, and we were living in this Scarborough home by January of 2001. I still had not been diagnosed with MS at the time, but we knew something was going on with me. Based on the type of house that we purchased, however, we obviously were not anticipating what my future held. See the pictures below.
What? Is the snowbank blocking your view of the front of the house? That’s winter in Maine- some years.
This was a cool house. I don't know what style to call it, but imagine that you took a two story colonial and split it down the middle lengthwise, and then you took the back half of the house and raised it up one half story. There were four distinct levels to the house, with three short staircases connecting them. When moving around this house I was forever encountering one of these staircases.
In October of that same year my medical mystery was solved. I was diagnosed with MS. A few months later we realized that we were living in the wrong type of house. I was starting to have trouble with all those stairs.
In the spring of 2002 we put our third house up for sale. Our goal was to move into a home that was more suitable for a person with growing mobility problems. At the same time it made sense to buy a house in the next town over- Cape Elizabeth. Kim was a guidance counselor there and both of our kids attended school in Cape. It was becoming a burden for Kim to transport them to and from school each day, with all their combined afterschool activities.
The year 2002 was essentially the peak of the real estate bubble. It was a seller’s market, so we decided to try to sell this house without a realtor. I read a book, purchased an advertisement in the paper (who does that today?), and made a sign. On the Saturday of Memorial Weekend we launched our sales effort. We boldly asked $65,000 more for the house then we had paid, even though we had made no substantial improvements over the 16 month period we lived in it.
Memorial Day was spectacular that year, and this worked in our favor. All the flora was in full bloom. The grass was green and freshly mowed. The swimming pool water was crystal clear, or if you preferred, the ocean beckoned from just a mile away. While we were trying our best to simply enjoy a barbecue party with friends, people kept interrupting us in order to look at our house. Long story short- two parties got into a bidding war for the house, and we sold it that day, without a realtor, for $5,000 over our asking price, and for a $70,000 profit.
When I sensed what was developing on that Memorial day I cut off my alcohol intake to clear my head for the negotiations. But Kim was a little tipsy when she signed the purchase agreement in the late afternoon.
Those were the good old days in the real estate market. Remember them?
Next week…we finally get it right with our current home, but for how long?