Glenn and I have been “driving” around Zillow a lot lately, looking to see what’s out there in the real estate world since we know we need a lot more space for these growing kiddos of ours. Between the two of us, we’ve virtually driven all around north Pinellas county where we live, pausing to show each other something here or there, swiping through pictures of bungalows, ranches and, our very favorite, mid-century moderns.
On Wednesday night we were in the living room, “driving” around together, and there was a particular neighborhood I was trying to find when THIS house popped up in the right column as one of the suggested houses. Even as a little thumbnail my heart quickened and I immediately clicked on it to see more. One of the top things we are looking for is a house with character…nothing cookie cutter…a house that looks like an architect lives there. This was the first house we’d seen that instantly struck both of us as just that. We clicked through the pictures with excitement, saw that there were 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms! A pool! A big yard! Trees! A cool office for Glenn with built-in bookshelves! Mid-century modern design with cool horizontal windows and a huge front door! The one drawback was the price, well above our budget, but for once I ignored the “frugal Jenni” voice that dictates much of our lives. It had been on the market for one day, and while it was 9:45 at night, we were so excited that I immediately sent the listing to our (amazing!) realtor Anne and we piled the kids into the car to drive past it, since you can tell a lot about a neighborhood by driving through it at night.
We turned down the street and were relieved to see it was quiet with streetlights and didn’t strike fear in our hearts. As we drove down a big hill, we saw the house on our left with lights on and cars in the driveway. A realtor and couple stood in the driveway talking. At 10:19 at night!
“Are you the owner?” Glenn asked?
“No, I’m a realtor,” she said, annoyed with us.
“Are you putting in an offer?”
“There are already several offers.”
My heart sank as we drove out of the neighborhood. Oh well, I thought. I guess it wasn’t meant to be. “It probably needs flood insurance anyway, at the bottom of that hill,” I said. All along, I had said, “Whatever is meant to happen will happen,” and I justified that we really couldn’t afford the house anyway, so it was probably a good thing. But I was SAD. Glenn, too. I emailed Anne when I got home and told her what the other realtor had mentioned.
That night I dreamed we were in the house. Someone else had purchased it and they were trying to make plans for what they were going to do with it, but we were spending the night there, kids too, and begging them to let us have it instead.
My phone woke me at 7:45am, before even my crazy kids were up, and it was Anne. I usually do NOT answer early morning calls but did this time anyway since I knew it must be something about the house. She wanted to go see it first thing, and my first response was “no we can’t” because Glenn was heading off to an important meeting in Sarasota and I had all three kids with me and plans with some friends in a few hours. But as I hung up, I had that nagging feeling that I needed to get my act together and figure it out. Glenn and I started strategizing how we could make it work so we had a chance. Maybe I could drop the kiddos off at my friend Katie’s house for a little while to go look at it? No, her kids are late sleepers and that would be SO rude to do. Maybe I could just take them with me? I texted Anne and told her I would have all three crazy kids with me if she was up for it, and she was, so we all started getting ready to head out the door. Glenn really should have gone straight from our house to Sarasota, but I convinced him to at least drive by it with us in hopes that he would be able to get in quickly and then leave. He felt strongly enough about it that he called on the way over and postponed his meeting.
Anne was delayed in traffic, so we got there first, parked in the wide circle driveway and walked around the exterior. The entrance, while a bit odd with the strange, slightly off kilter doorknob, was grand, with a planter that went from the outside in. We walked around to the side garage, into the huge backyard with lush green grass. Peeked through the “screen” of the decorative concrete blocks common in mid-century Florida architecture that we’d been noticing around the area lately and appreciating to see the pool inside, thankfully not green like another home we’d previously seen. An old swingset sat bedraggled and neglected in the corner of the yard and we talked about where we would put our custom playhouse that of course we would have to find a way to bring along with us. Carter and Collin scampered around the yard, excited and not quite understanding what was going on. As we walked back out front we realized we could park a car at each end of the circle driveway and our kids could ride their bikes all around the front.
Anne arrived and we entered through the garage. The house was vacant with a lot of the current owner’s belongings in the garage, but we could see there was room for a workshop for Glenn on the far side. And a bathroom on the way in to the house. We entered in the long, bright family room with a full wall of sliding glass doors letting in plenty of sunshine. It felt like home as soon as we walked inside.
At this point I can barely remember our tour because it was kind of pandemonium with the boys running around and Glenn and I getting more and more excited. The master bed and bath were off the family room, bedroom big, bathroom tiny. Anne commented that she’s pretty sure the interior design firm, Margie’s, she’d worked for in the 80s had done the decorating, because the cornice boards, splashy wallpaper and borders were their specialties. “Thanks a lot!” I joked with her. Yes, wallpaper was EVERYWHERE.
The office we’d seen in pictures was at the front of the house, separate enough that Glenn could get some work done, but still close enough that he would still be a part of our daily life. It had books, magazines and an old computer monitor still sitting in it.
We walked back through the family room and into the foyer. A separate foyer was a big wish list item since our current front door opens right into our (always messy) living room so the FedEx guy, our neighbors, the pizza guy and everyone else who knocks sees the chaos of our home when we open the door. It had a turquoise front door with mint green wallpaper and the other side of the planter we’d seen from outside the front door with mirrors above it.
It led into the living room with a big white brick fireplace. Getting ahead of myself, this was where I could see our first big Christmas tree (we’ve used a little, fake one every year while the kids have been small, up high so they couldn’t reach it) with a fire in the fireplace (ambiance only because seriously, who needs a fireplace in Florida), and the kids excitedly opening their presents. A piano sat there now, which of course the boys opened and began playing while we shushed them off of it and asked them to please keep their hands to themselves!
We stepped up into the dining room, which had some great mid-century furniture in it (“You should ask the owners if you can keep it!” Anne said.), then into the kitchen, which left a bit to be desired but was big and had good bones. I could see the Ikea cabinets we would install and the quartz counters. The sink window looked out onto the pool, where I could see the kids splashing around and hear them shrieking with laughter.
The large floating staircase led up from the dining room. “We’ll have to do something about this,” I said as we went up, holding little Rory who is into everything lately. Original hardwoods were on the floors upstairs, where we went in each of FOUR bedrooms.”So wait, this actually has 5 bedrooms PLUS an office?!?!” I practically shrieked. Since our kids are small, we probably wouldn’t use the downstairs master at this point and we looked at the only bedroom upstairs with an attached bathroom. TINY! But I was willing to overlook this. The bedrooms all had nooks with built-in desks for the kids to do their homework in. The back bedrooms had sliders leading to a long balcony (in rough shape) overlooking the pool. Glenn mentioned turning this into a little elevated garden, something we’ve never been able to contemplate since the squirrels at our house now eat everything they can reach.
We sat down at the cool dining room table to write the offer. Glenn went through a few details with Anne while I chased the kids around and looked at a few other details (e.g. thermostat is downstairs, and I saw the door frame in the master where the previous owners had marked the heights of their children). We decided to go just slightly above asking price to show we were serious. The boys found a snowflake Christmas ornament and started throwing it up through the open staircase. Then Glenn signed the papers and headed out while we finished up the offer. I put Rory down where she immediately started climbing the stairs. With so many stairs in the split-level house, chasing her would become a full-time job, or should I say, even MORE of a full-time job than it already is.
After everything was signed (and my stomach was completely in knots as I realized the financial burden we might be taking on), we walked around a bit more. Went out the kitchen door onto the patio and looked at the pool, which does need some work, but looked to be functional. Of course I know nothing about pools, so who knows. We went outside and walked around the yard. The neighbors have one very large dog (St. Bernard?) and one very small dog (Pug?) who greeted us as we walked out from their side of the short chain-link fence on that side of the property. Collin clung to my leg, terrified of dogs, but still said hi to them.
Finally it was time to leave and head (very late!) up to Kidz World of Play to meet our friends. I spent the next 45 minutes on the phone with the mortgage company pre-qualifying for a mortgage. My mom came over afterward to watch the kiddos, originally scheduled so I could get some work done, but in this case so I could scan and send over our financial life in paperwork to the mortgage company for the rest of the afternoon.
Late that afternoon Anne called to read me the realtor’s email: “Thank you very much for your offer, but we’ve accepted a much higher offer.” They’d had SEVEN offers that day. We discussed getting in as the backup offer, then I hung up and called Glenn, who was now driving home, to tell him and told my parents, since Grampy had stopped by on his way home from work. I looked at the FEMA flood maps and found that while there are a lot of homes that require flood insurance in that neighborhood, this one didn’t, and I emailed Anne to let her know with a frowny face emoticon. I also mapped out the distance to Carter’s school: 5 minutes. Big sigh.
The next day she called back to say that the offer had fallen through (!!!) and they were asking us and the two other highest offers to give them our best offer. She wasn’t too keen on the whole bidding war concept since you have no idea what the other people are doing and you are basically bidding against yourself, so we had decided not to participate. But after hanging up the phone and talking it over with Glenn, we decided we needed to at least go a little bit higher, even if it was financially stupid to do so. Did I mention we really wanted this house?! We decided to go up another few thousand and I planned a whole emotional response where I took a picture of OUR door frame with the kids’ heights marked and commented on how I’d noticed theirs and was hoping we could continue ours in their beautiful home. But in the meantime the original offer worked itself out and once again we were out. Seriously?! Anne promised to keep trying to get us in there as the backup offer, but we were losing hope since she didn’t hear anything back from the other realtor. Then as we were on the phone discussing how she would try one more time in the morning, he emailed her back and accepted our backup offer! She frantically got the paperwork done, emailed it to us to sign virtually and got it straight over to his office.
We have spent the past week plus trying NOT to focus on the house and yet at least a few times a day we find ourselves sitting on my laptop with the Zillow page up, flipping through the pictures, discussing things we would do (maybe we could turn the breakfast nook in the kitchen into a pool bath, or the balcony garden idea I mentioned earlier, or how we could use the downstairs master as a playroom until the kids are bigger and then we could knock down the wall to the garage bathroom to make it a big master bath). Then we get sad all over again because it’s not ours. I am trying to stay positive and hope that the universe has sent enough signals that this SHOULD be our house.
We have looked at pretty much every house listing on Zillow in our price range and have a found a few others that have potential, but nothing that makes my heart flutter like Woodcrest does. If it doesn’t happen, then I have to assume that it really wasn’t meant to happen. That we should stick to our original plan of staying put where we are, adding on some more space, finishing off our “snowball” get-out-of-debt plan of paying off our credit cards and student loans (getting there!), and then finding a bigger place in a few more years when we can better afford the mortgage.
But that being said, I will end with the ultimate in nerdiness. Have you heard the phrase “when God closes a door, he opens a window”? Well as I was cruising around Zillow I realized that this neighborhood is actually SHAPED LIKE A WINDOW. So I Photoshopped the red lines on the map. See that little heart there in the top right pane? That’s where I want to raise my family. I want to take that big old house and make it shine like the beautiful mid-century modern homes in Glenn’s architecture books. I want my children to run laps around the downstairs. I want that Christmas morning I visualized in the living room. I want to make it into the “forever home” we have talked about finding to settle down and stay put for years to come.
If by some twist of fate the owners of this beautiful home end up reading my words, please know that we have fallen in love with your house, and if by some twist of fate it ends up ours, we will do everything we can to honor its past and make it even more beautiful for our future.